Botany Photo of the Day
In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.

December 2007 Archives

Dec 30, 2007: Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima

Well, this is it folks — 1000 consecutive days, and now it's time for a (small) break. I suspect the next posting will occur either on Thursday or Friday this week, so BPotD won't be gone for too long. I thought I'd share a photograph from the home of my youth today.

These black-eyed susans grow in a south-facing, sandy-soiled shallow ditch a few miles from where I grew up. I don't have any particularly striking memories about this little patch of plants (perhaps a hundred individuals in good years), other than the general cheeriness I associate with them and learning the name Rudbeckia when identifying this taxon for the very first time using the “Wildflowers Across the Prairies” book.

Rudbeckia hirta var. pulcherrima is distributed throughout much of the USA and Canada. In some jurisdictions it is not native, but instead introduced and naturalized, e.g., California (Jepson Manual's treatment of the taxon).

Wikipedia has a short article on black-eyed susans, including a lengthy list of alternative common names (blackiehead, brown betty, brown daisy, brown-eyed susan, gloriosa daisy, golden Jerusalem, poorland daisy, yellow daisy, yellow ox-eye daisy), but I'm sticking with what I first learned it as commonly. More intriguing than the Wikipedia page is this extremely lengthy weblog post from Hank of A Lake County Point of View: “A Tale of Two Susans”. You probably could spend hours reading that post if you followed all of the links, but particularly salient is the mention of the origin of the name Rudbeckia: it is named in honour of the Swedish scientist Olof Rudbeck the Younger. Named by whom? Rudbeck's pupil, Linnaeus. And as this year draws to a close, so does the tercentenary celebration of Linnaeus. Finishing a run of a thousand consecutive Botany Photo of the Day posts with mention of Linnaeus seems about right.

Botany resource link: Since you'll need more reading material while BPotD is on hiatus, do investigate the excellent series on the Washington botanist Wilhelm Nikolaus Suksdorf recently reprinted in the Botanical Electronic News: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

Dec 29, 2007: Viola atropurpurea

Viola atropurpurea

On the heels of the 5000th comment posted a couple days ago, today's milestone achieved is the 1000th entry (on the 999th consecutive day, due to the double entry earlier this year). What better way to celebrate than with violets?

For most of you, I'll guess that you've never encountered violets that looked like these before. It is unfortunate that these plants never flowered in the garden before dying, so I don't have any photographs of them in bloom, nor have I been able to track down an online photograph elsewhere. Images of related species of rosulate (“leaves forming a rosette”) violets in bloom do exist, though they are also rare. For examples, scroll down to the middle of the page in Alpine Garden Society Expedition to Northern Patagonia: November-December 2005 for photographs of six different species of rosulate violets.

Like the other species in the link above, Viola atropurpurea is also native to Patagonia, i.e., southern South America. Within the violet genus, these rosulate species are all grouped together in the Section Andinium, named for the Andes.

A description of the species is available from the Rock Garden Plant Database: Viola atropurpurea. The peculiar growth-form helps individuals survive the high-altitude environment by reducing water loss, ameliorating sub-freezing temperatures for the entire above-ground plant, optimizing light interception and protecting the apical meristem, or the growing tip of the plant, from temperature damage.

On the subject of Patagonia and land conservation: a couple weeks ago, the local weekly independent newspaper had an article about a Canadian company planning “to industrialize Patagonia for the first time”; see: Canadian pension funds linked to controversial project in Patagonia. In a world of environmental ills, I'm particularly incensed about this one as I seem to be partly responsible for this project through both my country's pension plan and perhaps my workplace plan. I'm going to be asking a few questions in the new year about this... In the meantime, this topic led me to discover the weblog Patagonia Under Siege and find this summary article about the issues via onearth.

Dec 28, 2007: Taxodium distichum

Thank you to Regina Alvarez, Director of Horticulture and Woodland Management at the Central Park Conservancy in New York, for sharing today's photographs. Much appreciated!

The first photograph of bald cypress is from an ice storm that occurred a couple weeks ago, while the landscape perspective photograph of the stand of trees includes the same individual in autumn colour, along with one of the park's visitor centers.

Taxodium distichum was previously featured on BPotD, so I'll add two more links to the mix: Taxodium distichum from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's Native Plant Database and the Kemper Center for Home Gardening's entry on Taxodium distichum both provide additional photographs, as well as cultivation, descriptive and economic information about the species.

Dec 27, 2007: Cirsium edule

Cirsium edule

This wildflower medley photograph is from one of the trails near Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park during the summer of 2006. Cirsium edule, or edible thistle, is joined in this image by a paintbrush (I think it is Castilleja hispida, or harsh paintbrush), a species of Lupinus and an unknown member of the aster family with white ray-flowers (perhaps Erigeron peregrinus, or wandering daisy).

The epithet edule means “edible”; the Plants for a Future Database briefly describes its use as a food, particularly by First Nations peoples.

The Flora of North America has a detailed scientific account of the western North American Cirsium edule. The USDA's PLANTS database has a distribution map for Cirsium edule, and I note with some surprise that their maps now show distributions in Canada as well as the USA.

Dec 26, 2007: Justicia californica

Justicia californica

When descending from the upper reaches of Palm Canyon in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park (after seeing the Washingtonia filifera), I noticed a half-dozen hummingbirds swarming around this shrub, commonly named chuparosa. Chuparosa also happens to be the Spanish word for hummingbird.

Justicia californica is native to southern California, southwest Arizona and northwest Mexico. A floristic account of the species is available from the Jepson Manual.

Dec 25, 2007: Pinus wallichiana

Today's photographs and entry are courtesy of Douglas Justice, the garden's Curator of Collections. – Daniel

This pine is a favourite of mine, being both exuberant in growth and delicate in overall effect. Himalayan pine produces long, relatively soft needles in fascicles of five on long, shoots that retain their smooth silvery sheen for many years. See the Wikipedia entry and the page at for more information. The blue-green of its needles, the shape of its cones and the regular, whorled branching is somewhat typical of white-pines (compare with Pinus strobus, Pinus monticola and Pinus flexilis), but its crown is broad, at least in the cultivated material I’ve seen. According to Keith Rushforth (Conifers, Christopher Helm, London, 1987), nearly all of the soft pines (Section Strobus) “do not like exposure.” In the David C. Lam Asian Garden, the Pinus wallichiana pictured is sheltered on a southeast-facing hillside with a variety of other exotics under mature Abies grandis (grand fir).

VanDusen Botanical Garden (Vancouver’s other botanical garden) also has a collection of Pinus wallichiana in its Sino-Himalayan Garden, and like ours, the trees are of unknown provenance. Sometime in 1981, I was working at Massot Nurseries, a large wholesaler in Richmond, BC (just south of Vancouver). One of my duties as a shipper was alternate truck driver, and one day I had occasion to deliver a load of these Himalayan pines (now in #5 pots) to the still developing VanDusen Garden. The plants had originally been grown at Hybrid Nurseries, a forest seedling grower, whose owner at the time, Bruce Morton, was interested in disseminating exotic conifers around the Vancouver area. At VanDusen, I met a kindred spirit in Gerald Gibbens, the gardener for the Sino-Himalayan Garden at VanDusen. Gerry had recently returned from an internship at Windsor Great Park and was still high on the experience, which he explained in some detail as we unloaded the pines. Ten years later, Gerry made it possible for me to intern at Windsor—a seminal experience for me. Windsor was not only a way to ease myself out of the nursery industry, but it was my starting point on the road to a career in public horticulture. What a great tree!

Dec 24, 2007: Kniphofia 'Christmas Cheer'

Kniphofia 'Christmas Cheer'

A big thanks to Gary Z. of Davis, California for submitting today's photograph. Gary provided a lot of commentary with his image, so I'm going to liberally cut-and-paste from his message.

Gary writes: “The photograph was taken in my Pollinator Garden in Davis, CA. on 12/3/07. The hummingbirds like 'Christmas Cheer'. The first time that I saw a Kniphofia 'Christmas Cheer' was on a bicycle ride through the UC Davis Arboretum's Storer Garden on a foggy morning, and when I saw it I said “Wow!” It looked like it was lit up. I had get one of those. I ordered it from Cistus Nursery in Oregon, the ‘Home of Zonal Denial’”.

I also appreciate the following links that Gary sent along: information on Kniphofia 'Christmas Cheer' from a hummingbird listserv, the African Garden with reams of Kniphofia information, and, finally, the weblog Asphodelaceae Anonymous (which was new to me, but sadly doesn't look like it's been updated in some time).

Dec 23, 2007: Rodgersia podophylla

Rodgersia podophylla

This close-up photograph of the flowers of Rodgersia podophylla or rodgersia was taken in June of 2006, but the resemblance to snowflakes makes it seasonal for this time of year as well (at least to folks in the temperate and arctic northern hemisphere).

Rodgersia podophylla is native to temperate east Asia, where it is a plant of moist woods. It performs well within the David C. Lam Asian Garden here at UBC – too well, perhaps. The garden's Rodgersia collection has been the subject of much consternation in recent years, as it can be very difficult to tell the species apart and the species hybridize readily. This isn't very advantageous when an institution is trying to ensure accurate labeling. Fortunately, the leaves of this species are quite distinctive; see the account on Rodgersia podophylla on the BBC Gardening web site for an image of the leaves. Wikipedia's entry is currently quite sparse, but it does have a photograph of the entire 1.5m or so plant: Rodgersia podophylla.

Dec 22, 2007: Parkia biglandulosa

Parkia biglandulosa

Another thank you to Dinesh Valke of India aka dinesh_valke@Flickr of India today, for sharing one of his images with BPotD (original). Appreciated as always, Dinesh.

The genus Parkia is named after the African explorer Mungo Park. It has thirty species, distributed across the tropics. The species in today's photograph, Parkia biglandulosa, is native to Malaysia, but despite its Asian origin, one of its common names reflects what some once thought might be its native distribution: African locust-tree. Perhaps the first encounter with this species by European explorers occurred in Africa, where the species had been cultivated. For what purpose? Lost Crops of Africa provides a clue: “Seeds roasted, also a substitute for coffee; seedlings also consumed.

A close relative of Parkia biglandulosa, Parkia speciosa, is also consumed as a food. As an aside, those of you who are fans of Bohnanza will note that one common name of Parkia speciosa is stink bean.

The densely-flowered tennis-ball sized inflorescence of Parkia biglandulosa is only covered with open flowers for one night, according to Mabberley's “The Plant Book”.

Dec 21, 2007: Taiwania cryptomerioides

Today's photographs and entry are courtesy of Douglas Justice, the garden's Curator of Collections. – Daniel

Taiwania, or coffin-tree, is currently recognized by most authorities as consisting of a single species, which ranges from SW China to Myanmar (Burma) and Taiwan. According to the entry on Wikipedia for Taiwania, it is the tallest species in Asia, at 80m.

UBC Botanical Garden has three wild collections of Taiwania cryptomerioides, all derived from sites in Taiwan: Tahsuehshan, 2200m (accession pictured), Tachien, 2200m, and Hsiuluan, ~ 2000 m (foliage detail accession pictured). Little seed is available outside of Taiwan, as the species is rare and now protected in China. Despite the relatively low elevation and southerly provenance of this species in Taiwan, our plants appear to be reasonably hardy in the David C. Lam Asian Garden (USDA Zone 8), having never suffered frost damage in more than 20 years. Our taiwanias are located in a variety of environments, in forest under the shade of mature Alnus rubra, Acer macrophyllum, Abies grandis, Thuja plicata and Tsuga heterophylla, and in the open. Some plants receive irrigation (our thin soils and dry summers necessitate supplemental irrigation for many ornamentals), but most have to fend for themselves. A few of the plants in the open display yellowing foliage, but all plants are growing strongly and many are strikingly beautiful, displaying the typical drooping branch tips, blue-green curtain-like foliage and narrow conical habit.

None of our plants has started coning (as outlined in our interpretive sign), although there was a report in 2006 of what could have been male cones in the upper branches of one of our oldest trees. To our knowledge, no cultivated Taiwania in a North American or European botanical garden has ever produced a seed cone. There is a point to wanting our taiwanias to produce seed cones, beyond having bragging rights. Upon reaching reproductive maturity, the leaves change from awl-shaped (similar to Cryptomeria japonica) to smaller, more appressed and scale-like (see illustration of a branch with cones via This is example of foliar dimorphism due to heterochrony. More significant (from a botanical point of view) is that Taiwania appears to have “features crucial to the understanding of the evolution of the cupressaceous cone, characteristic of the families Cupressaceae and Taxodiaceae, and provide further evidence for the need to merge these families”. See Farjon and Garcia's Cone and ovule development in Cunninghamia and Taiwania (Cupressaceae sensu lato) and its significance for conifer evolution and Schulz and Stützel's Evolution of taxodiaceous Cupressaceae (Coniferopsida).

Dec 20, 2007: Old UBC Botanical Garden

Old UBC Botanical Garden

This image is a scan from the garden's John Davidson lantern slide collection. UBC Botanical Garden has been continuously operating as a university botanical garden since 1916, but it has not always been in the same location. When the Point Grey campus was originally constructed, the garden occupied the heart of the campus. This image from that era gives an idea of what it looked like; formal evolutionary beds for teaching purposes formed the core of the garden, with an arboretum of mostly native plants ringing the edges. Much (95%?) of these original plantings have since been destroyed.

There is one object that connects the first iteration of the botanical garden with the present third version. The plinth in this image now stands at the centre of the modern Physic Garden, though the sundial on it has since been replaced.

Dec 19, 2007: Actinotus helianthi

Actinotus helianthi

Thank you to Monocotyledon@Flickr aka Margaret Morgan of Sydney, Australia for sharing another Australian plant image with BPotD (original | BPotD Flickr Group Pool | Margaret's weblog: Growing Passion). I rarely manipulate other people's images other than cropping or a very subtle amount of contrast enhancement, but when I do, I like to admit it. This one is pretty obvious anyway – I've cloned out a distracting strand of fibre in the upper-right corner of the original image. If that's not alright with you, Margaret, let me know and I'll post the original (and thank you!).

Flannel flower, or Sydney flannel flower, is native to eastern Australia. As you call tell from the green-tipped white leafy bracts subtending the globular cluster of small flowers, its common name is the result of the woolly surface on the bracts (and indeed, most of the above-ground plant). The Australian National Botanic Garden provides an excellent intern-written article about Actinotus helianthi, which covers details about the name, the ecology of the species and a fair description. The Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants also has a page on Actinotus helianthi, but I note it disagrees with the ANBG version regarding propagation success of fresh seed.

Wikipedia's entry on Actinotus helianthi provides a link to an artwork incorporating the flannel flower: the Waratah window.

On a different topic, a few of you have asked what's happening to BPotD after it hits the thousandth entry in a week-and-a-half or so. To be truthful, I haven't had much time to give it a lot of thought or move the institutional wheels much; I've been busy with the project you'll see at the end of January. The attempts I've made at securing funding for a student intern haven't progressed very far, but that's just the reality of the university's situation. Other ideas, like setting up an easy way to make small donations, are going to take some time and require nudging along the university's central development office in adopting new models for giving.

I suppose we don't brag often enough (we are Canadian, after all). I was interviewed for the local paper a few weeks ago (the article will appear in January) about the garden's web site, but perhaps I should share a few stats with you now that might appear in the article. The garden's web site, thanks to BPotD and the forums (and thanks to the many, many people who freely contribute on the forums), receives roughly the same amount of web traffic as Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew's and Missouri Botanical Garden's web sites. During summer months, the site receives over 300 000 unique visitors over the span of month, and half a million visits including repeats. The garden's budget is roughly 1/50 that of Kew or Missouri, so the web presence of UBC BG far outstrips what it should proportionally have. The idea of inviting people to the site to talk about plants seems to be a successful one.

Back to the topic at hand, though: it is looking like the work on BPotD may be distributed among a few of the other staff members, at least until funding can be secured for an intern. I'm planning to contribute a couple times a week, as long as it can be done during regular work hours. Also, I'm hoping to convince the bryophytes class at UBC to contribute one entry per week from January to the end of March. For UBC's Research Week celebrations in mid-March, I'm also hoping that researchers and grad students at UBC will contribute a week's worth (or more) of entries about their plant research. So, BPotD is not going to go away, it just might operate in fits and starts until we figure out a new and sustainable way of doing it. The good news, though, is that I'll be able to make the long dreamed-of improvements to the site once I have more free time and attention.

Dec 18, 2007: Myriophyllum aquaticum

Myriophyllum aquaticum

Another thank you to van swearingen@Flickr (original | BPotD Flickr Group Pool) for sharing an image with BPotD. Do note that even though this is the correct orientation of the photograph, the image posted on Flickr has been rotated by 180 degrees. I agree with the photographer that it appears more attractive that way, but you can judge for yourself.

Parrot's feather or Brazilian water-milfoil is native to most central and southern South American countries; you can observe it, though, in many other places. It is difficult not to notice the words “invasive”, “weed” and “alien” when browsing through the search engine result summaries. The species is present in the Global Invasive Species Database (Myriophyllum aquaticum), where it lists the alien range of the species as “Australia, Europe, Indonesia, Mediterranean, New Zealand, South Africa, United Kingdom and United States”.

The Washington State Department of Ecology provides an excellent fact sheet on Myriophyllum aquaticum. In part, it explains the spread of the species: its use in outdoor and indoor aquaria as well as aquatic gardens. Escapes from cultivation occur, as well as misguided intentional plantings. Attractive as it is, it can form a thick layer at the water surface, blocking light from penetrating deeper into the water body. Subsequent population declines in microscopic algae lead to an eventual withering of invertebrate and fish populations.

Dec 17, 2007: Drosera menziesii

Drosera menziesii

Thank you once again to UnclePedro@Flickr from Perth, Australia, for contributing an image to BPotD (original | BPotD Flickr Group Pool). Appreciated once again!

Drosera menziesii, or pink rainbow (Flora of Western Australia has photos of the pink flowers), is native to Western Australia, primarily in winter-wet areas and swamps. It is named after the Scottish naturalist Archibald Menzies. It is likely that Menzies collected the species during the Vancouver Expedition's brief stay in Western Australia, but I haven't been able to confirm.

All members of the sundew family are insectivorous. Of the three genera in the family, Drosera, Dionaea and Aldrovanda, one hundred and fifteen species are recognized. Of these, one hundred and ten species belong to the genus Drosera. One-third of these 110 species can be found in the biodiverse Western Australia, though the genus can be found on all continents except Antarctica.

Modified leaves bearing stalked mucilaginous glands entrap insects and secrete digestive enzymes. In most Drosera species, sessile glands on the leaf surface absorb the nutrients from the externally-digested insect, providing the plant with the nutrition it is often not able to retrieve from the poor soils it can often be found growing in. Please refer to the section on leaves and carnivory in the Wikipedia article on Drosera.

Dec 16, 2007: Bryoria fuscescens

Bryoria fuscescens

Apologies for the late entries recently – I'm finishing up a big project (that you'll get to see at the end of January or so) and all that goes with that, so opportunities for rest are taken when I can get them.

I'm fairly certain of the identity of this lichen, though it could be another species in the genus. If it is Bryoria fuscescens, its common name is speckled horsehair lichen or pale-footed horsehair lichen. The epithet fuscescens means “becoming dark”. The related Bryoria fremontii is regarded as “the most widely used edible lichen in North America” (see edible horsehair at the Lichens of North America site).

Bryoria fuscescens is widely distributed across North America and Europe, particularly in association with montane and boreal forests. It is commonly found on conifers.

Dec 15, 2007: Larrea tridentata

Here are some close-up photographs as a follow-up to yesterday's entry on Larrea tridentata.

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum provides an excellent article about the Zygophyllaceae or caltrop family, with over half of the text dedicated to the Larrea tridentata. The article highlights some of the oddities about this species, such as its biogeography (it is the only species in a genus of six species to be found in North America – the rest are in southern South America), the number of insect species reliant upon it (60, including 22 species of bees!) and how it is among the world's oldest living things. Some of its common names are also discussed, including one that would bea good nickname for one of my cats (hediondilla).

Dec 14, 2007: Larrea tridentata

Larrea tridentata

During a March drive into Death Valley National Park on what seemed like an exceptionally dark night, I was able to identify this species as being in the surrounding area from the car without even seeing it. The smell of the plant wafted into the car from the vents, and there was no mistaking it: creosote.

I'll share some close-up photographs of creosote bush plant tomorrow, but this habitat shot illustrates what Wikipedia calls “the peculiar regularity in the spacing of individual plants within a stand”, i.e., instead of forming dense stands, there is always spacing between individuals. There aren't any citations currently associated with the Wikipedia article on Larrea tridentata, but the reason for the spacing seems to be the extremely effective water-absorption abilities of mature plants preventing the establishment and development of seedlings.

Dec 13, 2007: Bejaria resinosa

Bejaria resinosa

Thanks once again to Andreas of Bogotá (aka Quimbaya@Flickr) for sharing an image of a wild plant from Colombia (original | BPotD Flickr Group Pool). This is another photograph from the set that Andreas has assembled on Cerro de Usaquén. Much appreciated again!

Most often, this shrub or tree species (from 0.25m to 6m) will be encountered in the scientific literature as Befaria resinosa. The differences in the name of the genus is due to an error on the part of Linnaeus. An explorer named Mutis sent the first specimen of the genus to Linnaeus in 1761 (after encountering it in Colombia), with the name Bejaria in dedication to Bejar, a friend of Mutis. Linnaeus, however, misread the j for an f, and so published it as Befaria. Many publications have since repeated the name Befaria. Recent taxonomic works use Bejaria, however — it seems a proposal to correct the error in 1994 was accepted.

Bejaria resinosa is native to Venezuela, Ecuador, Colombia and Peru, where it goes by a number of common names depending on the country. More broadly speaking, the genus is commonly referred to as “the rose of the Andes”. As of 1991, the genus consisted of 15 recognized species, though earlier treatments recognized thirty-five species or more — some species are highly variable (including Bejaria resinosa), thus causing the taxonomic confusion.

The New York Botanical Garden has a scientific account of Bejaria resinosa, where it makes special mention of some non-scientific uses, including: “It is used in Colombia (Cundinamarca) for fly paper, hence the names matamosca and pegamosca (fly killer and fly sticker).”. A description of the genus is available, as well: Bejaria.

Dec 12, 2007: Chamaedorea pinnitafrons

Chamaedorea pinnitafrons

Today's photograph is courtesy of van swearingen@Flickr (original | BPotD Flickr Group Pool), who took the image at the New York Botanical Garden. Thank you!

Often, you will hear of insect pollination (entomophily) or wind pollination (anemophily), but I'll wager you rarely hear about insect-induced wind pollination — the pollination mode used by this understory palm of Mexico, Central America and northern South America (see: Listabarth, C. 1993. Insect-induced wind pollination of the palm Chamaedorea pinnatifrons and pollination in the related Wendlandiella sp.. Biodiversity and Conservation. 2(1): 39-50). I'll quote from the abstract: “In C. pinnatifrons both sexes flower synchronously during the dry season. Prior to anthesis, the pendulous male inflorescence is inhabited by numerous thrips (Thysanoptera) and Ptiliidae (Coleoptera). Staminate flowers open by a small basal slit between the petals. At anthesis pollen is shed and the movements of the insects inside the flowers trigger pollen release in small clouds. Thus, the powdery pollen becomes airborne and finally air currents act as a vector, carrying pollen to the inconspicuous female plants, which usually are not visited by insects.

Today's photograph is significantly post-pollination, as these are the ripening fruits on a female plant. An image of the male inflorescence, though, is available via the Palm & Cycad Societies of Australia: Chamaedorea pinnitafrons.

A fact sheet on the species is available via PalmBase, or the Palms of Ecuador database: Chamaedorea pinnitafrons. The image on that page is somewhat broken, but if you click on the area where it is supposed to be, you'll witness another image of a male inflorescence. The fact sheet, in addition to providing details on morphology and distribution (seemingly limited to South America, so that's a bit of a discrepancy), also provides a list of Spanish, Siona and Cofán common names.

Dec 11, 2007: Montanoa hibiscifolia

Montanoa hibiscifolia

Another thank you to Rosa, aka contemplar@Flickr, for sharing a photograph with BPotD (original | BPotD Flickr Group Pool). Like the previous time a photograph of Rosa's was featured, if you visit Rosa's weblog, Blog De Cheiros, you'll find an entry about this species with more photographs.

Montanoa hibiscifolia is commonly known as tree-daisy or, in Australia, the Anzac flower. Native to Mexico and Central America, it has been cultivated in a number of tropical areas. Unfortunately, it has become weedy in many places where it's been introduced for ornament including Hawaii (or read this PDF fact sheet), northern Queensland of Australia (PDF) and Zimbabwe.

Tree-daisy is a woody member of the aster family. It can reach heights of 8m (26 ft) and form dense stands. The link to the Hawaiian web page above shares more photographs of the plant, where you can more clearly observe that hibiscifolia, meaning “leaves of Hibiscus”, is well-deserved.

Dec 10, 2007: Scutellaria baicalensis

These photographs were originally slated to appear in August when the images were made, but after attempting to verify the identification of the plants, I discovered they weren't the species suggested by the label. The labeling error has since been corrected and I've updated the names on the previous photographs I've taken.

Scutellaria baicalensis is known as Baikal skullcap or Chinese skullcap, reflecting on its east Asian native range: Korea, China, Mongolia, Sibera, and the far east of Russia. It is one of the fifty fundamental herbs of Chinese herbology, a fact also noted by the Plants for a Future database. The New York University Medical Center reports on the current state of Baikal skullcap flavonoid extracts in Western medicine: “Highly preliminary evidence suggest that baicalin can enhance the activity of antibiotics against antibiotic-resistant staph bacteria. Other highly preliminary evidence suggests that baicalin, wogonin, and baicalein may have anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, liver-protective, anti-anxiety, and antihypertensive effects. However, for none of these uses does the evidence approach the level necessary to truly establish a treatment as effective”.

Due to the potential medicinal uses, discussion papers have been made about the possibility of this and other members of the genus Scutellaria becoming a medicinal crop. A similar evaluation of the use of skullcap has been published by the Saskatchewan Crop Development Branch.

Whatever the medicinal uses and crop potentials, I find myself enjoying it for its ornamental virtues: long-lasting purple flowers on up-curved stems with bright-green foliage. It grows in a tidy clump in the Alpine Garden, flowering late in the summer.

Dec 9, 2007: Conostylis setosa

Conostylis setosa

A new contributor today – thank you to Western Australian UnclePedro@Flickr for sharing a photograph with BPotD (original image via the BPotD Flickr Group Pool). It's always appreciated to get a blend of photographic styles.

The Haemodoraceae, or bloodroot family, is divided into two subfamilies: the Haemodoroideae are found in the tropical Americas (including se USA), southern Africa, parts of Australia and southeast Asian islands; the Conostylidoideae, to which today's species belongs, are exclusively found in the southwest of Australia. The eighty or so species within the Conostylidoideae contribute significantly to the nearly 3000 endemic species found within this biodiversity hotspot.

Conostylis setosa, or white cottonhead, has a limited range centred mostly around Perth, though this is not surprising given the endemic-to-southwest-Australia nature of the entire subfamily. Smoke and heat from fire is part of the southwestern Australia climatic regime, and both play a role in the germination of the seeds of this species; Conostylis setosa was the first Australian non-leguminous plant shown to require smoke- and heat-treatment for germination. Many plants have subsequently been shown to have similar requirements.

Botany resource link: Learn about a rare ecosystem, inland rainforests, via the Northern Wetbelt Forests of British Columbia web site. “The Northern Wetbelt of east-central British Columbia contains outstanding examples of globally rare ecosystems — inland temperate rainforests and subalpine forests located more than 500 km from the ocean.” Click on More -> Where to See for details about trails where you can visit these intriguing plant communities.

Dec 8, 2007: Ricinus communis cultivar

Ricinus communis

Anne from Alberta (aka annkelliott@Flickr) shares another of her great images with BPotD (original | BPotD Flickr Group Pool). Thank you, Anne!

As a child, I thought castor oil was an extract from animals (beavers, specifically). I suppose I can blame that on childhood logic after learning the French name for beaver. It was only much later when I learned that it was a plant derivative from the species in today's photograph, Ricinus communis, or the castor bean plant. Wikipedia provides a detailed summary of the chemistry and uses of castor oil. In particular, the use as an instrument of intimidation is both interesting and disgusting.

Despite the many uses of castor oil, Ricinus communis also happens to contain a deadly poison, ricin. The entire plant is poisonous if ingested, but the seeds are particularly potent; one chewed seed may be enough to kill a child, see: ricin toxin. The Cornell web site also contains a page about the plant itself, Ricinus communis, where it explains that ricin is water-soluble and hence will not find its way into castor oil during the production process provided proper precautionary measures are taken (thanks to Anne for the link, as well).

The widespread tropical and subtropical cultivation of Ricinus communis has made it difficult to determine its original distribution. The Handbook of Energy Crops, in addition to providing extensive details about cultivation and production, suggests Ricinus communis is African in origin. The comprehensive photographs of the species available on are accompanied by a write-up suggesting an Asian origin.

Dec 7, 2007: Swallenia alexandrae

Thanks once again to Michael Charters (of for contributing some images to Botany Photo of the Day (submitted via the BPotD Submissions forum | original image in this thread). Michael has also been busily updating his “What's Blooming at the Los Angeles County Arboretum?”, if you haven't visited that site for a few months.

Like yesterday's Hibiscus clayi, Swallenia alexandrae is an endangered species. Its common name reflects its locality: Eureka Valley dunegrass. This Californian endemic only grows on the shifting sand dunes of this small area located in the northern part of Death Valley National Park.

The scientific description and naming of this species was first published in 1963. Fifteen years later, it was listed as an endangered species. Part of the reason, it is fair to say, is due to its restricted locality – it would have to be considered vulnerable to stochastic (random) events even if human disturbance wasn't an issue simply because of the narrow ecological conditions and area in which it is found. Unfortunately, as is too often the case, human impact on the species has resulted in a decline. Prior to attentive management of the area (and prior to this area being added to the park), off-road vehicle recreation was responsible for destroying plants. The wheels of the vehicles would tear apart the rhizomes of the plants (a rhizome is illustrated in the first photograph), subjecting them to water loss and eventual death.

The increased monitoring of the site after off-road vehicle use was banned helped stabilize the population (though as the above link notes, the ban was not always observed). Two more recent threats have emerged, though: competition with Russian thistle (Salsola sp.) and sandboarding. The spread of the non-native Salsola had been helped along by the disturbances of the off-road vehicles – the “gift that keeps on giving”, so to speak.

A scientific description of the plant is available on this page – sorry, no obvious link to related pages can be found with this resource, but it's on the Conservation Management Institute's web server. More photographs of Swallenia alexandrae are available via CalPhotos.

Dec 6, 2007: Hibiscus clayi

Hibiscus clayi

A thank you to frolickauai@Flickr for today's first-time contribution to Botany Photo of the Day (original | BPotD Flickr Group Pool). Much appreciated! Do investigate frolickauai's other photographs on Flickr – plenty of plant photographs.

Hibiscus clayi, or Clay's hibiscus (or Hawaiian red hibiscus), is an extremely rare plant in the wild; as frolickauai notes: “This flower is on one of only four naturally occurring members of Hibiscus clayi in the wild.”. The wild, in this case, is Kaua‘i, Hawaii. Conservation efforts are underway to expand the population beyond the four individuals, and botanical gardens in the area are part of the effort (ref: US Botanical Garden summary). Despite being in a forest reserve, the remaining individuals remain under threat. The profile of Hibiscus clayi on the US Center for Plant Conservation notes that competition with alien plants is the current major problem, although the initial decline was due in large part to cattle grazing (cattle are no longer a threat, though feral pigs are another issue).

The Plants of Hawaii site contains photographs of Hibiscus clayi in cultivation, as well as a resource page about the species.

Dec 5, 2007: Cavanillesia arborea

Inspired by the photographs of baobab a few weeks ago, Nikolaus von Behr sent along these photographs of the “Brazilian baobab”, or barriguda, from the country's dry interior forests (map). Thank you, Nikolaus!

The Encyclopedia of Earth entry on Atlantic dry forests makes special mention of Cavanillesia arborea: “Dry forests are fairly dense, up to 25 to 30 meters (m) high and characterized by tree species such as Cavanillesia arborea, Cedrela fissilis, Schinopsis brasiliensis, Astronium urundeuva, Aspidosperma macrocarpa, and Tabebuia sp. The most remarkable tree is certainly Cavanillesia arborea, with a huge, bottle-shaped trunk that reaches its maximum diameter of 1.5 m or more about 3 m above ground level. It attains heights of about 27 meters.”. Like most forests of the world, this region is under pressure: “Approximately 70 percent of the native forest has largely been destroyed. Because these forests grow on relatively rich soils, they are prime candidates for clearing both irrigated and dry-field agriculture. Furthermore, the high biomass of these forests makes them important sources of fuel for Brazil's steel and pig iron industries, which run entirely on charcoal. The most diverse dry forests on flat terrain and rich soil have been completely removed”.

The Smithsonian Institution's Centres of Plant Diversity site also has a section dedicated to these forests: Caatinga of North-Eastern Brazil. It has an excellent description of the floristic elements of the region.

On a different topic, Eirik aka pannicle@Flickr relayed to me his photographs of banana flowers and fruits after seeing yesterday's entry on the related Strelitzia nicolai. I thought I'd share the set with other folks who enjoy BPotD. In particular, check out this photograph of the developing fruit.

Dec 4, 2007: Strelitzia nicolai

Another tip o' the hat to David Tarrant for sending along some of his photographs. Instead of being taken in Mexico, however, these images (of an African plant) are from New Zealand a couple weeks ago. Thanks again, David!

The diminutive well-known relative of this species has previously been featured on BPotD: Strelitzia reginae. While S. reginae grows to a height of about a meter (3 ft), Strelitzia nicolai can easily exceed 6m (20 ft). The vernacular name “giant bird of paradise” seems to be appropriate. Other common names include white bird of paradise and Natal wild banana (the Strelitziaceae are fairly close relatives to the Musaceae, or the banana family).

As already noted, Strelitzia nicolai is native to Africa; more specifically, southeast Africa from Zimbabwe to South Africa where it grows near the coast in forests and dunes. Like many African plants in cultivation, Plantzafrica has an excellent article: Strelitzia nicolai. The article explains the doubly-royal scientific name: “The name Strelitzia was given to honour Queen Charlotte, the wife of King George III of England. She was from the house of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. The name nicolai is in honour of Czar Nicholas of Russia”.

Cal's Plant of the Week has also featured Strelitzia nicolai. Plants of Hawaii also has images of this species, but they are mostly of young individuals growing in strip of land along a parking lot: Strelitzia nicolai.

Dec 3, 2007: Strongylodon macrobotrys

Strongylodon macrobotrys

Thank you once again to Anne from Alberta (aka annkelliott@Flickr) for sharing one of her images with BPotD (original | BPotD Flickr Group Pool). Appreciated as always!

I'm glad to find out that a jade vine specimen is still grown in one conservatory in Canada. I recall reading this article by Art Drysdale that seemed to suggest it'd be difficult to find another vine (in a public institution) after the one at Allan Gardens Conservatory was lost.

Strongylodon macrobotrys is considered one of the “vanishing treasures of the Phillippine rain forest (see: jade vine). Its decline is due to the deforestation of the dipterocarp old growth forest for timber (Dipterocarpaceae). Despite the loss of its native habitat, jade vine is widely cultivated in other tropical areas so it is not considered threatened by the scientists behind the International Legume Database & Information Service (ILDIS).

The cyan or jade colour of the flowers is fairly rare in the plant world. One of the clever folks on Flickr, Morabeza79, has taken a photograph of both Strongylodon macrobotrys & Ecbolium viride in his Hawaiian garden and accompanied the photograph with links to a few of the other cyan-flowered plants.

Dec 2, 2007: Lewisia rediviva

Lewisia rediviva

Bitter-root makes its fourth appearance on BPotD, this time in a close-up with long, pinkish-white petals. See the previous entries for more information on this species: a close-up of a Lewisia rediviva flower with short, white petals, a hand-tinted 1920s photograph of many Lewisia rediviva flowers and a related modern photograph of many Lewisia rediviva flowers.

This species can also be found with deep-pink flowers, but I've not seen this variation yet.

Dec 1, 2007: Eryngium creticum

Eryngium creticum

Eryngium creticum, or Crete eryngo, is native to southeast Europe, western Asia and Egypt. This photograph is from mid-August in the E.H. Lohbrunner Alpine Garden.

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