Aquatic Plants - What's in Bloom?
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Common name: pineapple
The pineapple plant is in the bromeliad family. The fruit is actually made up of hundreds of berries that have fused together.
On his second voyage to the Caribbean in 1493, Christopher Columbus and his crew were the first Europeans to taste the sweet fruit. Because it resembled a pinecone, Columbus dubbed it “The Pine of the Indies.” It was then introduced to Spain when Columbus brought it back, as a gift, for queen Isabella.
In the Victorian Era, the pineapple became an icon of hospitality after seafaring captains placed fresh pineapple on their gateposts to signify the man of the house was at home and receiving guests. They were also a sign of wealth because they were expensive and difficult to procure. Some people who couldn’t afford to purchase them rented pineapples to display in their homes.
Native to: all tropical regions
Calanthe are unlike most orchids in they are terrestrial, meaning they grow in the ground rather than epiphytically on other plants. Also unusual is that the genus is divided into two groups – deciduous species and evergreen species. Many of the species found in the Conservatory are deciduous. The pleated leaves shed at the end of the growing cycle, leaving behind only the pseudobulbs. The new inflorescence emerges from the pseudobulb at the start of the next season.
In Greek, calanthe means "beautiful flower". The flower's delicate pink or white petals and sepals form a fan shape that tops the prominent lip.
Common name: cotton
Location in Conservatory: Aquatic Gallery
Native to: Central America
After a flower withers it leaves a pod which is called a cotton "boll". The boll is actually a fruit that contains small seeds surrounded by white fibers. As the boll ripens, it turns brown. The fibers expand, the boll splits, and cotton is exposed. The fiber is stripped from the seed by ginning and the lint is then processed into cotton.
Cotton plants have a variety of other uses. Seeds yield a semi-drying and edible oil used in shortening, margarine, salad and cooking oils, and for protective coverings. Cottonseed meal is protein rich and is fed to livestock.
Location in Conservatory: Aquatic Gallery
With a few exceptions, bromeliads are monocarpic plants. This means that once they are done flowering, the plant dies. Fortunately, the flowers usually last months and many bromeliads produce offsets from the parent plant (also called "pups").
Guzmanias have spectacular flowers that seemingly last forever. As a result, they are commonly cultivated as house plants. Another attractive feature adding to their popularity is that their leaves have no spikes. Though they are monocarpic, Guzmanias are not easy to keep alive past the flowering stage because they often don't live long enough to produce offsets.
Common Names: Lobster claws, false bird-of-paradise
Native to: Tropical Americas, Pacific Islands
Heliconia is a genus of flowering tropical plants with approximately 225 species. The majority of Heliconia species are native to tropical Central and South America; however, several species are found on islands in the West Pacific. Heliconias thrive in tropical conditions and habitats that have an abundance of water, sunlight, and rich soil. The inflorescence, or cluster of flowers, are quite distinctive and range in colorful hues of red, orange, yellow, and green. The inflorescence consists of brightly colored, waxy bracts (specialized leaves at the base of flowers) arranged alternately on the stem that enclose and protect small flowers.
Heliconias support a diversity of ecological relationships with various organisms. Hummingbirds are the principle pollination of Heliconias in the Americas. The flowers produce an abundance of nectar and the color, shape, and curve of the flowers are adapted to specific hummingbird species. Several species of Heliconia open their flowers at night to attract nectar-eating bats for pollination. Additionally, multiple species of bats use the leaves and foliage to construct habitats and shelters. Heliconia species with upright bracts are known to collect rainwater and support a community of minute, aquatic fauna.
Interestingly, the name Heliconia is derived from Mount Helicon, a mountain in southern Greece that is known in Greek mythology to be the home of the Muses.
Location in Conservatory: Aquatic and Potted Plants Galleries
The Hibiscus captures the magic of the tropics by combining the lush, deep greens of the foliage and the bright colors of the flowers. The plant serves many purposes in different cultures.
The red Hibiscus flower is traditionally worn by Tahitian women. A single flower, tucked behind the ear, is used to indicate the wearer's availability for marriage. Dried hibiscus is edible, and is a delicacy in Mexico. The tea made from hibiscus flowers is known by many names in many countries around the world and is served both hot and cold. The beverage is well known for its color, tanginess, and flavor. Certain species are also beginning to be used more widely as a natural source of food coloring, replacing synthetic dyes.
Many of the 300 species have a classic structure with five overlapping petals arranged in a trumpet-like whorl. A long reproductive column protrudes from the center of the petals. The column is covered with stamens, the “male” part of the flower that produces pollen. At the tip of the column are five spots, or stigmas, which are the “female” part and act as the receivers of the pollen.
Common name: Japanese lantern
Native to: tropical eastern Africa
The red or pink flowers of this Hibiscus are distinctive in their frilly, finely divided petals that curve up and create a globe shape. A long reproductive column protrudes from the center of the petals. The column is covered with stamens, the “male” part of the flower that produces pollen. At the tip of the column are stigmas, which are the “female” part and act as the receivers of the pollen.
Native to: Africa, Madagascar, Asia, Pacific Islands
Medinilla are a species of evergreen shrubs with white, pink, or orange flowers. The flowers are arranged on a "panicle", which is a branched cluster of flowers. When pollinated, the plant bares showy berries. The leaves on many species of Medinilla are arranged in a whorl or are alternating. This allows the maximum amount of sunlight to hit each leaf instead of blocking sun from hitting the leaf below it on the stem.
Common name: fanged pitcher plant
Location in Conservatory: hanging next to the bench in Aquatic Gallery
Native to: Borneo
The fanged pitcher plant is a myrmecophyte noted for its mutualistic association with a species of ant, Camponotus schmitzi. Myrmecophytes means "ant-plant". These plants possess adaptations that provide ants with food or shelter. In exchange, ants aid the plant in pollination, seed dispersal, defense, or gathering of essential nutrients.
What makes the N. bicalcarata so unique is that the fluid in the pitcher contains far less acidic enzymes then other Nepenthes species. This is what allows the ants to survive inside the pitcher. They travel down the pitcher walls, drag the drowned insects back up, and then rest the insect on the lip where it is devoured. While eating and swiming, the ant defecates in the pitcher and fertilizes the plant.
The two fangs that give N. bicalcarata its name are unique to this species and bear some of the largest nectaries in the plant kingdom. The purpose of these structures has long been debated among botanists. They have been thought to deter mammals from stealing the contents of the pitchers, though the more intelligent mammals like monkeys have been observed tearing open the side of the pitcher. Other botanists suggest that the spines likely serve to lure insects into a precarious position over the pitcher mouth, where they may lose their footing and fall into the pitcher fluid, eventually drowning and becoming prey to the ants.
Common Name: water lily
Location in Conservatory: Aquatic Gallery
Native to: waterways throughout the northern hemisphere
Water "lilies" are not related to true lilies nor are they related to the lotus. The plant’s name Nymphaea comes from the Greek word for "nymph", which are supernatural feminine beings associated with springs.
The blue water lilies found in the Conservatory are striking because of the contrast of the blue sepals and petals and the yellow stamen which contain the pollen.
Some Nymphaea need tropical climates and others can be grown in a Bay Area backyard. The leaves of hardy water lilies, which can be grown in non-tropical areas, have smooth edges. The leaves of water lilies found in tropical regions, like the Amazon, have scalloped edges.
Common name: South American slipper orchid
Location: Potted Plants Gallery
Native to: Mexico, South America
Plants in the genus Phragmipedium are new world lady slipper orchids, named after their shoe shaped pouches. The pouch is a modified petal, also called a lip. The pouch traps insects, which are forced to escape through a backdoor exit, depositing pollen as they squeeze out, thus pollinating the flower. A distinct trait of "Phrags" is that their flowers bloom sequentially, one after another. Each bloom lasts about two weeks; meanwhile, another bud is developing. The entire flowering season can last from six to eleven months. Depending on the species, the colors can range from green, to a soft mahogany-pink, to a dazzling orange-red.
Common names: dwarf pomegranate
The pomegranate has been cultivated over millennia throughout the Mediterranean, Middle East, tropical Africa, and southeast Asia. Introduced into Latin America and California by Spanish settlers in 1769, pomegranate is also cultivated in parts of California and Arizona.
The pomegranate has been mentioned in many ancient texts, notably in Babylonian texts, the Book of Exodus, the Homeric Hymns and the Quran.
Pomegranates are used in cooking, baking, juices, smoothies and alcoholic beverages, such as martinis and wine. In recent years, it has become more common in the commercial markets of North America and the Western Hemisphere. Manufacturers of pomegranate juice have liberally used evolving research results for product promotion, especially for apparent antioxidant health benefits.
The French term "grenade" for pomegranate has given its name to the military grenade. Soldiers commented on the similar shape of early grenades and the name entered common usage.
Location in Conservatory: Aquatic Gallery near northeast door
Native to: Peru and Ecuador
Sanchezia speciosa is an evergreen shrub that grows in the understory of tropical forests. The large variegated leaves have defined yellow veins and grow in an alternating pattern on the stems. The tubular yellow flowers emerge from red bracts. Many plants in the Acanthaceae family have a tubular flower or corolla and a showy bract, which protects the flower as it forms and attracts pollinators after the flower emerges. Examples in the Conservatory include the yellow and red Thumburgia mysorensis on the arbor in the Potted Plants Gallery and the purple Thumburgia grandiflora vine above the bench in the Aquatic Gallery.
Common Name: climbing oleander
Location in Conservatory: Aquatic Gallery
Native to: West Africa
Despite its beautiful rose scent, the winter-blooming Strophantus gratus is actually quite wicked. The plant is a source of ouabain, a glycoside poison that can cause heart problems.
Extracts containing ouabain have long been used by Somali tribesmen and other groups to poison hunting arrows. It is rumored that a sufficiently concentrated ouabain dart can bring down a Hippopotamus, probably as the result of respiratory or cardiac arrest. Not realizing their toxicity, Ancient Egyptians and Romans first used plants containing cardiac glycosides medicinally for heart ailments. Modern medicine has since developed synthetic forms of ouabain and tested it as a heart medication and for cancer therapies.
Common Name: Sky vine, clock vine
Native to: China, Nepal, Burma, India
Commonly known as the sky vine, Thunbergia grandiflora is a vigorous tropical vine that can grow well over 30 feet. The dark green leaves are covered in fine hairs and can be variable in shape between elliptic and heart-shaped. Showy trumpet-shaped flowers droop on vines and are lavender blue in color with a pale yellow center. In some tropical areas, the sky vine is considered an invasive weed since it can smother and outcompete native vegetation. The scientific name Thunbergia commemorates Carl Thunberg (1743-1828), a Swedish physician and botanist, who was a protégé of Carl Linnaeus and botany collector in South Africa and Japan.