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Results tagged “euphorbiaceae”

Mar 25, 2013: Jatropha gossypiifolia

Jatropha gossypiifolia

Today's entry was written by Botany Photo of the Day work-study student, Bryant DeRoy. He writes:

Thank you to Anne Elliott (annkelliott@Flickr) for today's image of Jatropha gossypiifolia, contributed via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool. Jatropha gossypiifolia (commonly known as belly-ache bush) is a member of the Euphorbiaceae. It is native to New World tropical and subtropical regions from Mexico south to Paraguay, as well as many of the islands in the Caribbean. It is a large shrub or smaller short-lived tree, usually reaching heights of around 3.5 to 4.5 metres (8-15 ft.). The leaves are glossy with 3-5 lobes, and range from dark green to brick-red in colour. The margins, veins and petioles are sparsely covered in large glandular hairs. Jatropha gossypiifolia is commonly cultivated as an ornamental in tropical or warm arid environments, but its popularity as an ornamental has allowed it to naturalize in many regions outside its native distribution. It is now considered a noxious weed in some of these regions, including parts of Africa and Australia. For a highly detailed account of this species as well as additional images, see the Prota Database's website: Jatropha gossypiifolia.

Belly-ache bush's common name comes from its toxicity to humans (and other animals) when ingested. The major components responsible are the phytotoxin curcin and purgative oils (aka hell oils), both of which are found concentrated in the seeds. Despite its toxicity, some of the chemicals found in Jatropha gossypiifolia have been found to have medicinal qualities. This species has been used in traditional medicine throughout its native and introduced habitat for the treatment of ailments ranging from fever to cancer. For a highly detailed summary of this species chemical make-up and history of usage, visit the site of the International Programme on Chemical Safety: Jatropha gossypiifolia.

Jan 30, 2013: Euphorbia punicea

Euphorbia punicea

Bryant is the author of today's entry. He writes:

Thank you to Anne Elliott (aka annkelliott@Flickr) for today's image of Euphorbia punicea. Another image of this species was submitted by frequent BPotD contributor 3Point141: Euphorbia punicea, also shared via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool.

Jamaican poinsettia is an evergreen succulent shrub that is native to Jamaica, but has been introduced to other parts of the Caribbean and southeastern United States (mainly Florida). Euphorbia includes an exceptional diversity of species, ranging from cactus-like succulents to the widely cultivated Euphorbia pulcherrima (poinsettia) that is often used for decoration during the December holidays in some parts of the world. To see some examples of the diversity within Euphorbia and the Euphorbiaceae, check out the site of the International Euphorbia Society. Even solely within Euphorbia punicea there is observed to be much morphological variation, see: Rikus van Velduisen. 2006. Some Notes on Euphorbia punicea Swartz and Related Species (PDF). Euphorbia World. 1(3):5-8?.

Euphorbia punicea begins to flower near mid/late December and may continue to do so until around July; the development of flowers is thought to be triggered by slightly shorter days. This species typically grows to 3-5m high (although a few much taller specimens have been described), and is commonly found on rocky limestone soils in its native habitat. The pink structures are bracts, and their bright colouration is triggered by the process of flower initiation. A combination of anthocyanins and flavonols pigment the bracts. Bract colour (from red to pink) in related Euphorbia species has been observed to vary in part with the proportion of anthocyanins to flavonols, see: Stewart, RN et al. 1980. The anthocyanin and flavonol composition of three families of poinsettia colour sports. Journal of Heredity 71:140-142.

Mar 28, 2012: Antidesma bunius

Antidesma bunius

Katherine is the author of today's entry. She writes:

Today's photo is thanks to 3Point141@Flickr (original image | additional image | Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool).

Antidesma bunius has a multitude of common names in English and many other languages. In English, these include bignay, Chinese-laurel, currant tree, wild cherry, and salamander-tree. According to USDA GRIN (linked above re: English common names), Antidesma bunius has two synonyms: Antidesma dallachyanum and Stilago bunius. A third synonym, Antidesma dallachyi, is recorded by the Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants site.

This dioecious woody species grows to about 5 meters tall. With male and female flowers on different individual plants, it should be apparent that the plant in today's photograph is a female. In the wild, the species is present up to elevations of 900m. Antidesma bunius is a widely distributed species (see GRIN link above) of temperate and tropical Asia, Queensland, and on islands of the central Pacific, but it is also cultivated widely outside of its native range in other tropical and subtropical areas.

According to the Australian Tropical Rainforest Plants site, "the fruit of [Antidesma bunius] is used in North Queensland to make jams or syrups and was once very popular and sought after". However, it is oft considered bitter as well. Wikipedia's page for Antidesma bunius elaborates, noting that "while the majority of the indigenous population tastes bignay as sweet, people of European ancestry often find it bitter to the point of inedibility. This phenomenon is inversely linked to the taste perception of phenylthiocarbamide [...]" (see: Henkin, R and Gillis, W. 1977. Divergent taste responsiveness to fruit of the tree Antidesma bunius. Nature. 265: 536-537). In addition to the species being used for food, Antidesma bunius has some economic value for its wood, though the National Herbarium Nederland page on Antidesma mentions that the scent of the bark is "not so great".

Feb 22, 2011: Neoshirakia japonica

Neoshirakia japonica

Second last in this short series on plants of Japan, today's photograph with a return to autumn colours for a day is courtesy of stevieiriswattii!@Flickr (original image | | Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool). Thank you!

Through a series of taxonomic twists and turns, Neoshirakia japonica is the current name for Sapium japonicum as accepted by the Flora of China: Neoshirakia japonica. This is in part due to research by Hans-Joachim Esser, summarized here: Neoshirakia, A New Name for Shirakia Hurus. (Euphorbiaceae). In brief, before being sunk into Sapium and commonly accepted as Sapium japonicum, the species had been published as Shirakia japonica. In most cases, when a previously-published species name is to be resurrected due to additional evidence supporting the previous understanding, it would simply revert (so, in this case, back to Shirakia japonica). In the intervening years, however, it was discovered that the genus name Shirakia had already been applied to a fern -- and according to the rules of botanical nomenclature, two vascular plant genera can not have the same name. The end result was that the new genus Neoshirakia was published, with Flora of China researchers currently attempting to determine whether it contains 2 or 3 species.

Neoshirakia japonica is known commonly as the Japanese tallow tree, and it is native to Japan, China and Korea. The taxon is mentioned by Bean in Trees & Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles, so presumably it is hardy to zone 8 or 9. For this deciduous shrub or small tree (to 8m or so), Bean makes particular mention of "The leaves turn bright crimson in the autumn."

Dec 24, 2010: Euphorbia pulcherrima hybrid

Today's photographs are courtesy of Ana Margarida Silva of Portugal, who sent them along as a season's greeting to everyone who contributes to Botany Photo of the Day, including readers, commenters, photographers and writers. Claire wrote today's entry:

For a holiday theme, today's post will be about the well-known Euphorbia pulcherrima of the spurge family, Euphorbiaceae. The poinsettia! Called Cuetlaxochitl by the Aztecs, the poinsettia is a native to Mexico and Central America and has been used by humans for centuries before 16th century legend linked the species to Christmas. The Aztecs used Euphorbia pulcherrima as a red dye (from the floral bracts) and also medicinally for reducing fever (antipyretic, much like aspirin). The true inflorescence--a cyathium--is small and grows in the centre of the richly-coloured bracts.

Euphorbia pulcherrima has a long history as a Christmas flower before it was brought to North America in the 19th century by Joel Roberts Poinsett, the Mexican ambassador for the United States. In Mexico, the flowers of the species are sometimes called Flores de Noche Buena (Flowers of the Holy Night -- Christmas Eve). The legend behind this name and its symbolism stems from a story about Pepita, a young Mexican girl, who had nothing to offer as a gift for the birthday of Jesus. Pepita was told by an angel to bring roadside weeds to the church, and as she lay her humble gift on the altar, the weeds miraculously bloomed large red flowers.

The poinsettia is a very popular plant commercially during the holidays (almost all are sold within the six weeks before December 25). A near-monopoly on commercial production existed until the early 1990s in the USA due to a production secret. Euphorbia pulcherrima requires a strict light schedule and temperature regime to produce the vividly coloured bracts, but this wasn't a secret in comparison to how to produce consistent, compact flowering plants. The grafting technique to do this is no longer secret, though, and production has now shifted to parts of the world where labour is less expensive.

If you are worried about poisoning, the tales of toxicity are untrue. Euphorbia pulcherrrima is a mild irritant to the skin and stomach. Copious amounts of leaves ingested would only produce minimal symptoms and discomfort.

Wikipedia has more information on cultivation and images of the many varieties of poinsettia which can come in nearly any color in the wild (except blue or purple) and are cultivated in white, red and pink (though red, unsurprisingly, is the most popular).

Happy holidays!

Oct 26, 2010: Manihot esculenta

Most of today's entry was written by Claire with respect to the first photograph. I've added the second photograph and a little bit of commentary at the end. Claire writes:

Ton Rulkens (tonrulkens@Flickr) provided us with this beautiful photograph via the BPotD Flickr Pool of the flower of Manihot esculenta 'Maria' taken in Chimoio, Mozambique. Thank you Ton for helping us continue with the plant diversity and food series!

Manihot esculenta, or, commonly, cassava, manioc or yuca is a member of the Euphorbiaceae or spurge family. It is originally known from Brazil and Paraguay, but has spread to nearly all tropical regions around the world. There are no known wild types of this plant--it has been classified as a cultigen (like rice), i.e., it is only known from cultivation. The largest producers of Manihot esculenta are Nigeria, Brazil, and Thailand. As it needs at least eight months of sun, and does not tolerate frost well, the plant can only be cultivated in the tropics (and does particularly well in savanna climates).

The large, starchy root is often used as the edible part of the plant (although the leaves can also be eaten if prepared properly) and is the staple source of food for much of the equatorial world. Approaches to processing of the root by different cultures ranges from boiling or baking, to drying or fermenting. Because of its high and pure starch content, cassava has many uses. It is typically known in the temperate world as the ingredient of boba or pearls in tea slushes and tapioca (tapioca pudding anyone?). In countries where it is the staple carbohydrate source, people make alcohol, paste, flour, pudding and syrups out of the root. In addition to a human food, the cultigen is also beginning to be harvested as a biofuel for ethanol production as well as for animal feed. The Animal Feed Resources Information System states that the leaves and stems are used to harvest protein meal for animal feed. Almost six tons of crude protein can be obtained per hectare!

Due to Manihot esculenta's high content of cyanogenic glucosides, cassava is toxic when eaten raw or processed improperly. Cyanides released from the cyanogenic glucosides can cause a disease called konzo, which is permanent and paralytic. Of the two varieties, sweet and bitter, the bitter plants have the highest concentrations and the disease is common in women in children in rural parts of Africa where the bitter variety is very common. The root must be processed and prepared properly in order to remove the majority of these toxins.

Daniel adds: the second photograph features some cassava chips I picked up on the weekend (I knew Claire was writing about cassava this week). These have since been shared with most of the UBC Botanical Garden staff, and it seemed to me that everyone thought they were tasty, if not delicious.

Jul 13, 2009: Euphorbia sikkimensis

Euphorbiaceae consists of about 320 genera and between 7500 and 9000 species, making it one of the largest plant families. The family is for the most part comprised of herbs, but it includes several tree and shrubby species among its ranks as well. Though the majority of species are native to either southeastern Asia or the tropical regions of the Americas, the family is quite broadly distributed, ranging into southern Europe, the Middle East, and South Africa as well. In general, specimens bear alternating leaves along with monoecious (i.e., separate male and female) flowers, and fill their stems with a toxic sap of milky-white latex. The family is perhaps best known for the raw materials that one of its genera (Hevea) offers to the production of rubber.

Euphorbia, which is named for the ancient Greek physician Euphorbus, is a diverse genus of over 2000 annual and perennial herb, shrub, and tree species for which, historically, humans have found a number of ornamental and medicinal uses. The genus, first described by Linnaeus in the 18th century, occurs mainly in the dryer regions of the tropics and is particularly diverse in Africa. Though different habitat and climate conditions have caused Euphorbia species to undergo divergent evolution, many of these African species find similarly succulent (water-retaining) counterparts in southwestern North America and in Madagascar. The genus's common name, spurge, emerged from the medieval and early modern use of several species' sap as purgatives.

Euphorbia sikkimensis, the plant featured in today's photo, can grow to about 90 centimetres in colonies of herbaceous, mostly unbranched stems arrayed with alternating, conspicuously midribbed leaves of dark green. In the early summer months, the plant crowns itself with a series of bright red buds that later erupt into softly-leveled, star-shaped inflorescences of lime-green and vivid yellow. The species is native to the elevated forests and alpine meadows of southeastern Asia (India, Bhutan, China, Myanmar, Nepal), and its root is commonly put toward medicinal ends. Our plant is sited near the entrance of the David C. Lam Asian Garden, and came to us in 1978 from Hillier Nursery.

Jun 17, 2009: Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow'

Euphorbia griffithii 'Fireglow'

With today's posting, we welcome summer student, Stephen Coughlin, whose duties include Botany Photo of the Day. This entry was written by Stephen and the photo was taken by Eric La Fountaine.

Euphorbiaceae (the spurge family), which consists of around 300 genera and 7500 species, is native to both the temperate and tropical climate zones. Euphorbia griffithii is a metre-high herbaceous perennial that hails from the eastern Himalayas to the mountains of Myanmar (Burma) and western China. It ignites into bloom in early summer. The cultivar 'Fireglow', which is more deeply coloured than the species, welcomes visitors at the entrance to UBC Botanical Garden with a series of chromatic juxtapositions simultaneously subtle and strong: on its floral bracts, rich reds mix with searing yellows and oranges as if on the palette of an Old Master, while the dark burgundy of the stem and the green of the waxy leaves lend further contrast and contribute to the intensity of the blazing blooms above. This intensity culminates in the fall, when the floral apparatus turns brick red.

The vividness of the bloom, which to some suggests a measure of resilience and assertion, is indeed matched by the vigour with which 'Fireglow' confronts its surroundings. The species is robust enough to withstand both hostile pollutants and the vast spectrum of weather conditions associated with Zones 4 through 9; E. griffithii tends toward the invasive, however, at least in garden situations. Paraphrasing renowned gardener and garden writer Christopher Lloyd, the species is aggressive, and its sustained struggles when matched with a similarly dominant species leave the gardener only to referee. In addition to these somewhat bellicose tendencies, 'Fireglow' has another menacing trick up its sleeve. While the plant's capacity to repel the onslaughts of deer and other animals is undoubtedly a benefit in the garden, gardeners beware, for the milky sap that fills the stems of this beautiful spurge is toxic.

For those wishing to explore the plants of the Himalayas, Laboritoire d'Ecologie Alpine has a searchable database, Flora Himalayan Database, which provides links to other Himalayan flora resources (Original French).

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