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.