Plant Sleuthing #101

One of my many tasks as the Coordinator of Greenhouse Facilities is to identify and label all of the plants living inside of the Tucker Greenhouse, the plants living in the surrounding outdoor flower beds, and the plants living in the Tucker Mini-Prairie.  Many plants were labeled when I began working here, but many were not.  I therefore work almost daily on trying to identify mystery plants.  The internet, dichotomous keys, and plant books are most helpful, but recognizing & knowing which morphological characteristics belong to which plant family helps to narrow the search.  Once the plant’s family is determined, finding the genus and species of that plant is much easier.  In attempting to identify a new plant, one should generally consider the following;

1.) Is the plant a monocot or eudicot?

2.) Leaf type (simple, compound, other)?

3.) Are the leaves alternate, opposite, whorled?

4.) Flower and/or inflorescence type?

5.) Number of flower parts, etc.?

Yesterday, I figured out the identity of a mystery plant located in the north greenhouse growing in the middle bed.  It blooms every December here in the Tucker Greenhouse.  Its common name is the Palm Bromeliad, and its scientific name is Pitcairnia corallina. It is found in the Bromeliaceae family.  I knew the plant was a monocot by its leaf venation (parallel), & its flower part number (multiples of 3), but it had leaves like the Cast Iron plant, Aspidistra elatior, but it had weird spine-like projections on the leaf petiole, and the Cast Iron plant doesn’t.  Also, the Cast Iron plant has very different flowers. This mystery plant also reminded me of a palm plant, except it didn’t have compound leaves like palms do. The flowers and the inflorescence reminded me of a Bromeliad, and the underside of each leaf has a sort of glaucous covering (a whitish, waxy coating that can be rubbed off) much like a lot of Bromeliads do.  I just refused to believe this plant was a Bromeliad though……..Turns out, it is a Bromeliad.  My advice on attempting to identify a mystery plant is to be patient, and turn over every leaf.  I’ve posted photos of the Palm Bromeliad below, along with its beautiful, bright red, racemose inflorescence.

green plant

Palm Bromeliad plant-Pitcairnia corallina

image of a green leaf

Glaucous vestiture (covering) on the undersides of each leaf

image of a red inflorescence

Raceme-like inflorescence of the Palm Bromeliad. This typically is found growing prostrate on the ground at the base of the plant.

image of a red flower

Close-up of an individual flower within the inflorescence

image of a flower and a leaf

An individual flower laid next to the petiole (leaf stalk) of the Palm Bromeliad leaf. Note the spines!

image of a red flower

Close-up of the anthers and pistil inside of an individual flower.

image of a red flower and a leaf

Three petals removed, three sepals, six stamens, and one pistil attached, along with spine-like petiole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mother of Thousands

Kalanchoe daigremontiana, commonly called ‘Mother of Thousands’, is a succulent plant found in the Crassulaceae family.  This plant is native to the arid, mountainous regions of southwestern Madagascar.  This particular succulent plant has become a common house plant throughout the world simply because it’s so easy to propagate.  A word of caution though about bringing this plant into your home, it is toxic! The ‘Mother of Thousands’ plant contains a toxic cardiac glycoside called ‘Daigremonianin’, which can be fatal to cattle, pets, or small children if any part of the plant is ingested.

The ‘Mother of Thousands’ plant has lost the ability to produce viable seed, or sexually reproduce itself, so it has evoloved another method of replicating itself.  Its common name ‘Mother of Thousands’ refers to the fact that tiny plantlets, or replicates of the mother plant, are produced along the margins of each one of its leaves. “Many plants reproduce by throwing out long shoots or runners that can grow into new plants. But mother of thousands goes further: the plantlets are complete miniature plants that become disconnected from the mother plant’s circulatory system and drop off, allowing them to spread rapidly and effectively. The houseplant has lost the ability to make viable seeds and only reproduces through plantlets,” said Neelima Sinha, professor of plant biology at UC Davis.

If you’d like to see the numerous ‘Mother of Thousands’ plants at the Tucker Greenhouse, look for them in the Desert room, growing in clumps in a bed toward the west end.  Because of the ease with which this plant reproduces itself, it has become quite weedy in the greenhouses.

image of a succulent plant

Mother of Thousands plant with tiny plantlets on the leaf margins

image of a succulent plant

Another photo of tiny plantlets produced on the edges of the leaves of the mother plant

image of a succulent plant

This is a photo of the unopened flower buds of the Mother of Thousands plant. In the next few days and weeks, these plants will be in full bloom. Look for the salmon colored blooms when visiting the Desert room.

Succulent symmetry

There are many families of succulent plants located in the Tucker Greenhouse.  I’ve posted some photos below of a few showing the beautiful symmetry of their leaves.  Enjoy!

image of an Agave plant

Agave sp. Asparagaceae family

image of a succulent plant

Crassulaceae family

image of a succulent plant

Crassulaceae family

image of a succulent plant

Crassulaceae family

image of a succulent plant

Crassulaceae family

image of a succulent plant

Haworthia reinwardtii Xanthorrheaceae family

image of a succulent plant

Haworthia cuspidata Xanthrrhoeaceae family

 

Pomegranates in Missouri?

Punica granatum, commonly called Pomegranate, is found in the Lythraceae family.  Pomegranates are deciduous shrubs, native to the middle east (Persia or modern day Iran) and northern Africa.  They are known for the unique & very delicious red fruits.  This particular plant started blooming before Thanksgiving break and continues today. The Tucker greenhouse pomegranate is located in the far south greenhouse on the newly created bench of edible plants.  For more information on this very cool plant and its healthy fruits, click on pomegranate

image of a red flower

Pomegranate flower bud just starting to open

Newly opened Pomegranate bloom

Newly opened Pomegranate bloom