The Tucker greenhouse contains collections of many different types of fruit trees, from Guavas, to Cacao, and from Pomegranates to Suriname Cherries. But today, we have Bananas. They’re not yet ready to eat, but I’ll be posting photos of the banana flowers as they mature, and I’ll be including photos of the harvest and the eventual eating of a Tucker greenhouse grown banana.
Bananas are found in the genus Musa, and the family Musacaceae. The banana inflorescence is surrounded by a maroon colored bract. This leaf-like bract does two things; it protects the inflorescence, but its color also acts to attract pollinators like bats or birds in the wild. The banana plant has unisexual flowers. The flowers in the photo below are female flowers. The unopened bract hanging down below the female flowers contains the male flowers. If you look closely, you can see tiny green banana fruits below the female flowers. Botanically speaking, a banana fruit is actually a fleshy berry formed from an inferior ovary.
Compass Plant head inflorescence
Silphium laciniatum, commonly called Compass Plant is a native Missouri plant found in the Asteraceae family. Compass Plants can reach heights of 3 meters or more. They have a head inflorescence, typical of members of the Asteraceae family. Several heads are alternately arranged along the thick, hairy stem. The leaves of the Compass Plant are most unusual as they are aligned vertically on the stem. The name ‘Compass Plant’ comes from the fact that the basal leaves on the plant tend to align their edges or margins north and south.
Like other members in the Silphium genus, the ray flowers on the head, or capitulum inflorescence are yellow with darker yellow disk flowers in the center of the head. Many different kinds of pollinators visit the Compass Plant throughout the growing season.
“Long-tongued bees are the primary pollinators of the flowers, including bumblebees, Miner bees, large Leaf-Cutting bees, and others. Short-tongued Halictine bees and Syrphid flies also visit the flowers, but they are less effective at pollination. Occasionally, Sulfur butterflies and Monarchs may visit the flowers for nectar. Several species of insects are specialist feeders of Compass Plant. This includes the uncommon Okanagana balli (Prairie Cicada), whose grubs feed on the large taproot, while a Rynchites sp. (Silphium Beetle) and its larvae feed on the flower heads and stems. The larvae of Antistrophus rufus and Antistrophus minor (Gall Wasp spp.) feed within the stems, forming galls that are not visible from the outside. Nonetheless, they attract the hyperparasitic wasp Eurytoma lutea, whose larvae feed on these gall formers. Similarly, the larvae of Mordellistena aethiops (Tumbling Flower Beetle sp.) feed within the stems, while the adults may eat the flowers. The oligolectic aphid Iowana frisoni sucks the juices from the flowering stems.” –http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/
Check out the State Champion Buttonbush tree (Cephalanthus occidentalis, found in the Rubiaceae family) on the south side of the Tucker Hall greenhouse. This tree is covered with numerous pollinators!
Cornus drummondii, commonly called Rough-leaved Dogwood, found in the Cornaceae family, is blooming in the Tucker Woodland Garden.
Cornus drummondii is a small tree or large shrub with opposite leaves that are rough on the top side of the leaf and wooly on the underside. The flowers are white and bloom in clusters, with each flower having 4 petals. Rough-leaved Dogwoods are native to Missouri, and can be found growing in dry, rocky woods, These trees form thickets as they spread from underground stems.
Monarch butterflies aren’t the only insects interested in milkweed plants. Just today I spied a red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophthalmus) on a Asclepias syriaca plant right outside of the Tucker Greenhouse. The scientific name for this beetle is Latin for ‘four eyes’. This beetle looks as though it has four eyes since each antenna bisects its eyes. They are also called milkweed longhorns because of their long antennae.
When I first saw this beetle, it was sort of hiding down in the whorl of the leaves, but it had clearly been chewing the leaves. It turns out that milkweed plants in the genus Asclepias are the host plants for this beetle. Milkweed plants contain certain toxic alkaloids, so it has been surmised that the beetle gets a certain amount of protection from predators by ingesting these toxins. If you’d like to learn more about these cool insects, click here.
Check out these very colorful Milkweed beetles below.
Milkweed beetle on an Asclepius syriaca leaf
Asclepias tuberosa, commonly called Butterfly weed, is found in the Apocynaceae, or Milkweed family. Butterfly weed is a native Missouri, drought tolerant plant with orangish yellow flowers. These beautiful flowers usually start blooming in June and continue through August. The Tucker Rock Garden milkweeds have just now begun to bloom. These flowers are a nectar source for many different butterfly species, honeybees, digger bees, leaf-cutting bees, Halictid bees, thread-waisted wasps, Sphecid wasps, and even Hummingbirds.
The leaves are a very important food source for Monarch butterfly larvae. To read more about the very cool Monarch butterfly/Milkweed relationship, click here.
If you look closely at the top left in the photo above, you’ll see two lady bugs mating. I looked a little more closely and saw that this particular milkweed plant had several milkweed or oleander aphids on the stems. Ladybugs love to eat aphids and are often used as beneficial insects to feed on plant pests like aphids in greenhouses, so it’s no wonder these ladybugs congregated on this plant. To read more about oleander aphids, click here.
The genus ‘Asclepias’ comes from the Greek god Asklepios, the god of medicine. Asclepias tuberosa is also called pleurisy root and was once considered to be a cure for pleurisy (inflammation of the lungs). Species names are often adjectives that somehow describe a given plant. In the case of Asclepias tuberosa, ‘tuberosa’ refers to the tuberous root system of the plant.
The seed pods of Butterfly weed are called follicles. Botanically speaking, a follicle is a dry, dehiscent fruit composed of a single carpel and opening along a single side. The seeds themselves are packed tightly inside the follicle. Later on in the fall when the follicle dries and opens (dehisces), seeds emerge with an attached tuft of silky hairs that aid in seed dispersal when blown in the wind. The pictures below show the dried milkweed follicle packed with seeds equipped with these soft, silky hairs.