Mrs. Dr. V's Plant File (New plant added 4/6/17)

On this page, I'll introduce some of the really strange plants we see on this trip. This is a very personal selection; really, most plants are somewhat weird and unusual when you get to know them. This page will get updated each time I see something especially interesting, or just need a break from thinking about and working on Mathematics.

Dodder (cuscuta)

Dodder looks like someone threw up a pile of packing material. It is a parasitic annual member of the morning glory family.  Dodder seeds germinate in/on the soil, but then find a host plant by following VOC's from those plants. It inserts suckers (actually modified roots) into the host's vascular system and thus gets nutrients and water. Dodder has none or very weak photosynthesis (note yellow color), so it needs a host to survive. Reading up on the websites of various agricultural extension services (U.Minnesota, Purdue, Michigan State, Texas A&M), I learned that dodder is very hard to control as its tiny seeds are easy to spread accidentally and can survive 60+ years in the soil. While it can not use grasses, it can attack many other crop plants (see Michigan State Extension Service for more info).

Resurrection Fern (pleopeltis polypodioides)

This little epiphyte would make a perfect houseplant for those of us with a brown thumb. Resurrection fern is remarkable for its ability to loose most of its water (3/4 of it during a normal drought, up to 97% in an extreme drought, according to the national Wildlife Federation's website) and still come back to life as soon as it rains (or as you water it). Most plants die if they loose around 10% of their water.  Resurrection Fern can survive  decades, some even say 100 years, without water, so you could keep it even if you never water it in your whole life.
Here is what my little fern looked like when I found it on the ground and adopted it

Here it is after a day in the dessert sun for demonstration purposes

And here it is a few hours after I felt guilty and watered it.

Texas Department of Transportation   (TxDOT)

Ok, so this is technically not a plant, but completely amazing to me. 

After the Texas Highway Department was organized in 1917, officials noted that wildflowers were among the first vegetation to reappear at roadside cuts and fills.  By 1934, department rules delayed all mowing, unless essential for safety, until spring and early summer wildflower seasons were over.  Today, TxDOT buys and sows about 30,000 pounds of wildflower seed each year. More than 5,000 species of wildflowers along with native grasses flourish along the state's roadsides, thanks to nature and attention from TxDOT.

TxDOT's wildflower program helps highways look good but also reduces the cost of maintenance and labor by encouraging the growth of native species that need less mowing and care. The grasses and wildflowers also help to conserve water, control erosion and provide a habitat for wildlife.

(all information from  Texas DOT wildflower program)

The pictures below were taken along the I-10 corridor in the greater San Antonio area.

Saltwort  (salicornia europea) Queller (German)

This is a plant I first saw in the Wattenmeer (intertidal zone) in Northern Germany. Saltwort is a halophyte (salt lover). It can tolerate up to 70 g/l dissolved salts, much more than the salinity of ocean water (≈ 40g/l).  If you do a google search "halophyte salt remediation", you find a lot of scientific articles talking about how these plants could be used to decrease salinity of soils. Salinity of soils can be a problem in areas were evaporation is more than precipitation/irrigation and salts accumulate.

Besides being a tough little plant, it is also edible and delicious, wonderfully crunchy and salty.

Strangler Fig (ficus aurea)

One of the things that struck us is how competitive life is here in the subtropical areas. Up North, we have plants that climb on each other and race each other to the sunlight, but down here they fight dirty.

Strangler fig is a native tree that can grow up to 60ft.  Its seeds can get stuck in rough bark or in the crook of a branch.  The little seedling at first lives like an epiphyte, sending down aerial roots to the ground.

These roots will eventually join together to form giant, strong roots that will choke off the growing tissue of the host tree, killing it.

Gumbo Limbo, aka Tourist tree (bursera simaruba)

This tree made the cut of weird and unusual because of its name.  It got the name “tourist tree” because its red, peeling bark resembles a very bad case of sunburn….

1 comment:

  1. Yay for the Plant File! This is really great - thank you, Mrs. Dr V (aka Dr Mrs V). And a big thank you to Lady Bird Johnson for all her efforts to protect national wildflowers!