This beautiful small tree is located in the middle bed of the north greenhouse. It is a native of the forested areas of South Africa.
Oncopeltus fasciatura (Hemiptera), or large Milkweed bug. The picture above shows a group of milkweed bugs in various stages of growth on a milkweed seed pod. These bugs undergo incomplete metamorphosis. The nymphs look just like the adults, but don’t have wings and are a different color.
Oleander aphids, Aphis nerii, are bright yellow aphids that feed on several ornamental plants within the Apocynaceae family. You may see an occasional brownish looking aphid in the bunch. These have been parasitized by the parasitoid wasp, Lysiphelbus testaceips.
If you get a chance, look closely at a milkweed plant. Chances are, it will be covered with insects of all kinds.
Drimia maritima, commonly known as Sea Squill is found in the Asparagaceae family and the subfamily Scilloideae. Sea Squill grows from a very large bulb. It is native to southwestern Eurasia, and north African coastal regions, mainly along the Mediterranean Sea. This large bulb sends ups 8 to 10 leaves in the spring, and by fall these large, leathery, linear leaves die back. At that point, the bulb then produces a tall spike-like racemose inflorescence (blooming first from the bottom upwards).
The Tucker greenhouse Sea Squill is located in the hallway to the right of the entrance doors right before entering the north greenhouse.
Carissa grandiflora, commonly called Natal Plum, and found in the Apocynaceae family is a native of South Africa. Stop by the Tucker greenhouse, enter the Desert room, and immediately smell the Natal Plum’s perfumed scent……it’s lovely. This plant is quite drought tolerant. The Tucker greenhouse specimen has never produced any plums, but I’ve learned that they are edible.
Like most members of the Apocynaceae, or Dogbane family, the Natal Plum has white, sticky sap that can be toxic. The plant itself can grow to heights of 5.5 meters, and it has double-pronged thorns almost 5cm in length.
This unopened flower bud looks a little bit like a balloon. As the bud develops and the flower eventually opens, you’ll see five purple petals in a bell-shaped or campanulate flower shape. You’ll also see an anther tube through which the style grows before spreading apart (plunger pollination).
As the style elongates through the anther tube, it gets covered with pollen and the five light-colored anthers lay prostrate against the petals or corolla.
Eventually, the style opens up into a five-branched stigma.
Helianthus mollis, commonly called Ashy or Downy sunflower is a predominant species in the Tucker Mini-Prairie, and it has been blooming for weeks now. This plant belongs in the Asteraceae or Daisy family, one of the largest plant families on earth. The root system of this plant is rhizomatous, allowing it to spread uncontrollably underground. It can spread very aggressively, and its root system exudes allelopathic chemicals that can inhibit the growth of other plants surrounding it. Common habitats for this plant are dry to mesic prairies, sand prairies, rocky glades, & roadsides. This plant would take over this tiny patch of ground called the Tucker Mini-Prairie if we didn’t constantly cut it back and remove seed heads.
Lots of different types of pollinators visit the flowers of the Ashy sunflower. Primarily bees visit the flowers for nectar or pollen. Goldfinches are partial to the seeds of this plant. Two caterpillars of the butterflies Chlosyne nycteis (Silvery Checkerspot) and Chlosyne gorgone (Gorgone Checkerspot) feed on its leaves.
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.
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/