BOTANY, n. The science of vegetables - those that are not good to eat, as well as those that are. It deals largely with their flowers, which are commonly badly designed, inartistic in color, and ill-smelling.

AMBROSE BIERCE (1842-1913)

Plants

Quite Interesting Plants


Wolffia angusta is the smallest flowering plant ever discovered. A dozen plants can easily fit onto the head of a pin. They look a bit like frogspawn.

Lithops julii looks exactly like a pile of pebbles, as a way to camouflage in the desert regions of southern Africa. Meanwhile, Selaginella Lepidophylla is a species of Mexican desert plant noted for its ability to survive almost complete desiccation. During dry weather in its native habitat, its stems curl into a tight ball and uncurl when exposed to moisture.
 
Welwitschia mirabilis only grows 2 leaves during its entire lifetime, which is about 1000 - 2000 years. It never needs more than three inches of water per year to survive and gets most of it from ocean fog. It is found in Namibia and is said to be rather tasty if baked in hot ashes.
 
Hydnora africana smells like faeces, which it uses to attract pollinating dung beetles. Rafflesia arnoldii stinks of rotten meat and attracts flies. Amorphophallus titanium, also known as the ‘corpse flower’, also smells of rotten meat (although its name means 'big misshapen penis'). On a more pleasant note, Cassia Diddimobotria has leaves that smell of peanut butter and the Lizard Orchid Himantoglossum hircinum, according to collector Tom Hart-Dyke anyway, ‘smells of Refreshers candy bars’.
 
Dracaena Cinnabari is known as the Dragon Blood Tree, because its red sap was believed to be dragon's blood brought up from the soil where the ancient beasts had been buried. The sap was much sought after as a medicine and a dye.
 
The largest meat-eating plant in the world is the giant Montane pitcher plant (Nepenthes rajah) of Borneo has a pitcher the exact same size as a tree shrew's body.  It uses tasty nectar (which is also a laxative) to attract tree shrews, then ensures its pitcher is big enough to collect the feeding mammal's droppings, which provide nitrogen. As the result, it is also known as the Toilet Plant.
 
Yareta (Azorella compacta) is a plant that looks almost like a green slime growing on the rocks of Peru and Bolivia.  They grow just one-and-a-half centimetres a year and some are over 3000 years old.
 
Jaboticaba (Myrciaria cauliflora), also known as the Brazilian Grape Tree is notable for having large purple fruits that grow directly onto its trunk. This design evolved in order that it could be pollinated by animals that are unable to climb very high. Children like to eat the fruits and the best way to do so, apparently, is a ‘Jaboticaba Kiss’ where you pry them from the trunk directly with your lips. One writer described the noise of a jaboticaba kiss as ‘plock, pluff, pituy’.
 
The squirting cucumber or exploding cucumber (Ecballium elaterium) is a Mediterranean plant of the cucumber family which will explode when touched, propelling its seeds in a sticky mucus at over 60mph for up to 30 feet.

Queen of the Andes


Puya raimondii is a member of the pineapple family and is known as the 'Queen of the Andes'. It grows up to 10m in height and has the world's largest inflorescence (cluster of flowers).  It was unknown to Europeans until it was discovered by contemporary of Darwin, French scientist Alcide d'Orbigny, in 1830. It is found mostly in Bolivia, but also in Peru and can stand changes in temperature (other plants in the area grow close to the ground due to the cold mountain air) due to an anti-freeze-like sap that it produces.
 
The name 'puya' comes from a Mapuche Indian word meaning 'point' and this describes the plant’s tall flower spike. Puya raimondii doesn't grow a single flower until it is 70-150 years old but, when it does, it grows around 8000 of them all over the tall spike. The whitish-green blooms, each resembling a lily, turn purple with age and attract hummingbirds. Some birds that come to visit sadly stab themselves to death on the plant's spiky leaves. The spikes are also a danger to livestock. Once the plant has flowered, it dies. A single plant can have six million seeds.

The Joy of Orchids


Orchids have long been beloved of plant collectors but they are anything but rare. The Orchidaceae is believed to be the second largest family of flowering plants on earth (only the Asteraceae – daisies, asters, sunflowers, dandelions, marigolds etc. - is larger), with between 21,950 and 26,049 currently accepted species, found in 880 genera.
 
The number of orchid species equals more than twice the number of bird species, and about four times the number of mammal species. It also encompasses about 6–11% of all seed plants.
 
Many orchids exhibit extraordinary mimicry; an estimated one-third of all orchid species use ‘deceptive pollination systems,’ most commonly by imitating a nectar-providing species but without any actual nectar.
 
Bee orchids both look and smell like female bees. They produce flowers which are visual imitations of bees, as well as fake bee pheromones to encourage bees to 'mate' with them.
 
The flying duck orchid uses sexual deception to attract male wasps. The insects attempt to mate with part of the flower that is shaped like a female wasp.
 
The world's smallest orchid is just 2.1mm wide and is found in Ecuador. Its petals are just one cell thick.
 
When orchids Pterygodium pentherianum and Pterygodium schelpei live side by side, Pterygodium pentherianum puts its pollen on the bee's front legs, whereas Pterygodium schelpei puts it on the bee's abdomen. This means that one bee can carry pollen from two distinct species without mixing it.
 
The name ‘orchid’ actually means ‘testicle’. Hare's ballocks, sweet ballocks, or ballock('s) grass are popular names of several species of orchis, from their testicle-shaped tubers. And a castration - a testicle removal operation - is more properly called an 'orchidectomy'. 

FREDERICK TURNER

The colour and shape of flowers are a precise record of what bees find attractive.

No Parking


In 2009 a new species of whitebeam tree was discovered in Watersmeet in Devon and named Sorbus Admonitor. ‘Admonitor’ means to admonish or tell off. It was so named because it has had a ‘no parking’ sign nailed to it for many years.

Brachyglottis repanda is otherwise known as the bushman's toilet paper plant, it has soft White velvet leaves - apparently useful in an emergency.

An entophyte is a plant growing inside an animal (or another plant).

Four times as many species of plants live on land as in the sea.

Table Mountain has more species of plants than the entire UK.

Vanilla is an orchid.

If you put plants into previously plant-free offices, productivity goes up by 15%.

There is a baobab tree in South Africa is so large that a pub has been established inside its trunk.

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