Plants in the Gardens – Oddities & Ends

Plants in the Gardens – Oddities & Ends

By Harry E. Luther, Curator of Living Collections, Director, Mulford B. Foster Bromeliad Identification Center

Rather than pick a family or genus to write about, I have decided to write about a number of odd, interesting, and mostly unrelated species from the Gardens living research collections. In the jargon of modern systematics and phylogenetics, I will cover a grade rather than a clade.

Many tropical plants, epiphytes and more conventional ones, have features not often seen in temperate garden plants. These features nearly always are related to how the plants make a living and reproduce.

From time to time, our specimen of Guzmania globosa is exhibited. The mucus covering the inflorescence is thought to protect the developing flowers and fruits from pathogens and herbivores in its pluvial forest home. The answer to the most frequently asked question is “it has virtually no taste.”

 A few other guzmanias also suffer from the nasal discharge syndrome. Many plants form relationships with ants, and ferns are no exception. The species of the tropical asian genus Lecanopteris house ants either within or beneath their large rhizomes. Flowers smell nice, right? Visitors who have crossed the “Wall of Stink” produced by our Bulbophyllum phalaenopsis and relatives may disagree. Any plant relying on flies or carrion beetles for pollen transport is apt to produce odd odors including cadaverous ones. Another example is Amorphophallus. The cones of cycads, are often conspicuous on the Gardens’ plants but none approach the size of the cones produced by a garden hybrid of Encephalartos munchii. This is a case where we know the mother but the Amorphophallus gigas father is a mystery for the time being.