Thursday, February 17, 2011

Pinguicula ehlersiae

This neat little Mexican butterwort is flowering in the UConn greenhouses right now. Mexico is a hotspot of butterwort diversity, with about 25 different species. Pinguicula ehlersiae, like the majority of Mexican species in the genus, shows strongly seasonal growth. During the summer, when it tends to be rainy and humid in its habitat, it produces large, flat leaves that catch small insects in sticky secretions. In winter, P. ehlersiae grows the stubby, succulent leaves seen here, and can withstand a certain amount of drought. One usually thinks of carnivorous plants like the butterworts as being denizens of bogs and other wet places, but some Mexican Pinguicula grow right next to cacti, agaves, and other familiar succulent plants.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Don't Taste the Rainbow

Amorphophallus bulbifer is ripening a lot of fruit this year, at the UConn EEB greenhouses. In spite of appearances, and the fact that birds or some other animal disperser probably eats them, it would probably be a bad idea for a person to sample these berries. Amorphophallus is an aroid (family Araceae), a group known for being toxic to humans. In many aroids, all parts of the plant contain microscopic calcium oxalate crystals, which irritate the lining of the mouth and throat, causing intense pain and swelling that can be life-threatening if the airway becomes constricted. In some aroids and for some people, the crystals can even cause pain and rashes on the skin of hands exposed to sap from cut plant parts.