Location: Central and North-western America, or tropical botanical gardens

Gustavia superba. Late 19th century illustration. Biologia Centrali-Americana vol. 5 Botany. Plates tabl. 22

Gustavia appears to be a gloomy, nondescript plant…but the flowers…the flowers, are nothing short of spectacular!

If we could interview a Gustavia of it’s ambitions, we might hear it say “I’ve always wanted to be a lotus.” And we must commend that Gustavia has achieved just that!

The flowers which resemble true lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) because of the pinkish hues, are very large being around 12cm across. So similar are the flowers of Gustavia to the lotus that it has been called the Heaven Lotus. Other than Magnolias, there would seem to be very few other trees (if any) that can boast of single blossoms of such magnificence. Amazingly, this tree has no familial connections to either the lotus or the magnolia, belonging instead to a botanical family called the Lecythidaceae, to which other famous trees like the brazil nut tree, monkey pot tree and the Cannonball tree belongs (these are also must see trees which will be written about in other posts!).

Gustavia superba (Heaven Lotus)

Flower of Gustavia superba, photographed in Singapore Botanic Gardens, 2003

If Asian-like religions were to originate in the region where Gustavia dwells, I have little doubt that the Gustavia blossom would be the sitting place of many deities.

Next time you are in a tropical botanical garden, pay first and foremost, obeisance to the Heaven Lotus.

Status: Seen in cultivation in an urban location in Singapore

Location: Various – South America, Tasmania, New Zealand, Hawaii

Over half a decade ago I was taking a stroll at the Cascade Gardens just outside the famous Cascade Brewery in Hobart, Tasmania and I saw a gigantic herb, the Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera manicata). This megaherb is one I would now certainly include in my Botanical Bucket List. Moral of the story – items in one’s Botanical Bucket List can be found, often times, in the most unexpected places.

Members of the genus Gunnera are truly worth seeing, and I am not just talking about the large ones (We’ll come to that). First and foremost, Gunnera belongs to a family of it’s own, the Gunneraceae and depending on who has the last say at the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group, Gunnera might be the only genus in this family. In addition, the Gunneraceae is a largely Gondwanan family of plants, i.e. it belongs to ancient plant lineages that originate from the Southern Hemisphere. The Gondwanan ancestry of Gunnera is evident in the distribution of it’s members in Africa, New Zealand, South America and Tasmania.

Gunnera manicata in cultivation. My diminutive brown wallet on the leaf as a scale

There are 40-50 species of Gunnera, so to make sure we don’t have to live for over a hundred years to find them all, it might be prudent to focus on the ones really worth seeing – the largest of the lot. I am obviously making a value judgment here.

Fortunately, one of the largest Gunnera species is possibly also the easiest to see, as my experiences go. I imagine that most temperate botanical gardens, and possibly even many urban gardens will have specimens of the Giant Rhubarb (Gunnera manicata). This magnificent herb from Brazil has leaves up to 2m wide and over 3m long.

The harder to see species are no less interesting. G. peltata, from Chile, supposedly grows to a height of over 5 m. Yet another, G. magnifica, is alleged to have leaf buds 60cm long and 40 cm thick, possibly earning the title of the plant with the largest leaf bud.

The Big Guns of the plant world are always worth seeing!

Status: Seen in cultivation the gigantic but by no means the largest Gunnera manicata. Also seen a small native Tasmanian species, Gunnera cordifolia.

Location: Japan (see specific directions see here)

The internet is one of the best places to stimulate excitement and desire. The moment I laid my eyes on this photo I knew I had to visit it. It was a restaurant sitting on the top of a gigantic tree!

Restaurant on a tree in Japan. Image credit: Offbeat Earth

Look at the size of the cars in comparison to the tree trunk. If this is a real tree I can’t help but wonder what magical forest with similar sized trees must have surrounded it in times past. I am beyond curious to find out what sort of tree it might be too. Even if it is an entirely man-made structure (which I seriously doubt), I think it is still worth a visit.

Still I think I’m going to have to see it in the flesh before I believe it!

Status: Yet to See

Location: Northeast India, Cherrapungee.

I’ve got to see this living bridge in India. It was practically woven out of the fallen trunks of the betel nut palm (I am assuming Areca catechu) and the roots of the Indian rubber tree or Rubber fig (Ficus elastica). Unlike other man-made bridges, this living bridge pracically gets stronger with age, as the fig’s anatomizing roots become thicker and stronger.


I think this living bridge is a sterling example of how humans can live harmoniously with the natural environment.

Status: Seen Ficus elastica on numerous scores but certainly not in such a form!

Additional info on the living bridge

Cherrapungee.com

Being a bryologist there was no way I could avoid delving into the marvelous world of mosses and it doesn’t take very long before one stumbles upon a picture of what is possibly the world’s most magnificent moss, Spiridens reinwardtii. The eminent botanist William J. Hooker was so impressed by this moss he the word ‘noble’ when describing it.

Illustration of Spiridens reinwardtii. In Botanical Miscellany Vol. 1 by William Jackson Hooker, 1831

S. reinwardtii is a forest dwelling moss and appears to have a rather wide distribution. According to the Global Biodiversity Information Facility and a few other sources, the moss may be found in Australia, Taipei,  French Polynesia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia, New Caledonia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines and probably in a number of other Asian countries.

Spiridens reinwardtii climbing up a tree. Photo credit: Vivipanda


S. reinwardtii has a somewhat fan-like lifeform. It grows up tree trunks like a vine but then sends out horizontal and branched shoots which are somewhat parallel to the ground. S. reinwardtii must be the largest moss that exhibits this kind of lifeform. I have seen a picture of a man challenged in size whilst standing beside a fabulous specimen of Spiridens growing up the bole of a tree. Individual fronds looked way bigger that the palms the man in the picture.

To stand in awe of a giant tree is an experience that is commonly written about, but to be in awe of a moss… few people get that privilege. That day shall come for me!

Status: Yet to See

Barklya syringifolia (Crown of Gold)

In the rainforest of Northeast New South Wales to Queenslands there resides a spectacular tree known as the Crown of Gold (Barklya syringifolia). Flowering or not, the heart-shaped leaves are ornamental but when the time is ripe, it brandishes splays of bright yellow flowers which cannot fail to delight. So showy are the flowers of this tree that it has earned it’s place as the floral emblem of Gladstone, Queensland.

Barklya syringifolia flowers

Barklya syringifolia is a member of the Fabaceae or the pea family. Where it stands within the pea family is still not clear but it is probably most closely related to Redbuds (Cercis spp.) and Orchid-trees (Bauhinia spp.). The genus is named after Sir Henry Barkly (1815-98), a governor of Victoria, Australia from 1856-1863. The species name ‘syringifolia‘ refers to the leaves from that resembles that of  liliacs (Syringia spp.).

Barklya syringifolia leaves resemble that of the temperate Liliac (Syringia)

I’ll be going to the Australian tropics soon to do some postgraduate research and I’ll be looking…

Photo credits: Black Diamond Images (see also Identifying Australian Rainforest Plants, Trees and Fungi Flickr group)

Status: Yet to See

Links to info on Barklya

Brisbane Rainforest Action and Information Network – Barklya

Gladstone SGAP – Barklya

Buxbaumia, Bug-on-a-stick

January 25, 2010

Bug-on-a-stick, Buxbaumia. I have no idea what gives this moss it’s common name but even the scientific name seems to ring of ‘bug’. Other common names for this moss include Bug moss, Humpbacked elves, or Elf-cap moss.

Buxbaumia aphylla. Image credit: Clea Moray

There are about 12 species of Buxbaumia worldwide and the genus comes under it’s own family, the Buxbaumiaceae. In Tasmania, Australia where I currently reside, there are allegedly 2 species of Buxbaumia, B. aphylla and B. tasmanica. I have seen neither. Frankly I’ll be overjoyed to see ANY Buxbaumia.

Although this plant is not a flowering plant like what the bulk of this blog is going to feature, it comes under my list of plants to see before I die because it has an:

1.Interesting life form

It is a botanical curiosity in the moss world. Unlike most other mosses, it does not have any apparent leaves. When not in ‘fruit’, the plant consists simply of algae-like filaments.

Because of the very unique algal-like existence that it exhibits, bryologists (or plant scientists who specialize in mosses and related plants) used to think that mosses like Buxbaumia was an evolutionary link between algae and and the first bryophytes.

However, more recent research suggests that Buxbaumia is as ancient a lineage of mosses as previously thought and that it’s algae-like characteristics is a derived trait.

2. Interesting fruit morphology

The ‘fruit’ or more accurately, the sporophyte or capsule, has a very unique flattened shape, which makes it instantly recognizable once seen. This unique capsule structure has been interpreted as being a transitional between that of primitive mosses and modern ones.

Status: Yet to see

Links to info on Buxbaumia:

Bryophyte Flora of North America – Buxbaumiaceae

Wiki entry – Buxbaumiaceae

The tea mangrove (Pelliciera rhizophorae) is a mangrove tree that belongs to a rather obscure botanical family, the Tetrameristaceae. Mind you, this is the current Angiosperm Phylogeny Group concensus. Other botanist have linked to to the tea family (Theaceae) or even tried placing it into a family of it’s own, the Pellicieraceae. In any case, uniqueness characterizes this obscure mangrove tree.

I first saw a photo of Pelliciera rhizophorae in the classic textbook, The Tropical Rain Forest by P. W. Richards, and I was hooked.  Pelliciera rhizophorae has a very strongly swollen and fluted trunk, presumably an adaptation to the mangrove conditions which in it makes it’s abode. The fruits are very distinctive, being shaped like a top.

It is probably among one of the least widespread of mangrove trees, an interesting phenomena given the efficacy of ocean currents as a propagule dispersal mechanism. According to P. B. Tomlinson in The Botany of Mangroves, the species has a limited distribution on the coast of central and northern South America and also on the Atlantic coast. It was allegedly found in the Old World tropics before as well.

The rarity of the tree is quite evident – there are few pictures of it online. Rafael J. Araujo from Flickr is a researcher of mangrove habitats and has kindly permitted me to use some of his excellent photos of Pelliciera. I can’t wait to take some shots myself!

Status: Yet to see

References

Calderón-Sáenz, E. (1984). Occurrence of the mangrove, Pelliciera rhizophorae, on the Caribbean Coast of Colombia with biogeographical notes. Bulletin of Marine Science 35, 105-110. [pdf may be downloaded here]

Rationale for the blog

January 16, 2010

Hi world!

Welcome to my new blog. I thought I might set up a blog on a very specific topic: to list all the plants I’d like to see before I die. I guess it is also a means to track my progress.

Happy botanizing.

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