What flower stinks like rotting flesh? Which tree was named after a Civil War soldier? What plant is named after a kind of cheese? Plants and the way humans describe them are a fascinating study.
The starfish flower (Stapelia species) is also known as the carrion plant because of its stink. Like rotting flesh, the smell of the five-pointed hairy blossom attracts flies. But this is a useful relationship for the starfish flower, because the flies pollinate it. This was especially helpful in its native arid regions of South Africa, where flies are abundant.
Although the blooms stink and attract flies, starfish flowers are often grown by avid gardeners. They are easy to grow and do not need much water. They thrive in warmer climates.
Another fascinating plant is the crown of thorns or Christ plant (euphorbia milii). Although this shrub has pretty yellow or pink flowers, the stems are thorny. It originated on the island of Madagascar, but there is evidence that it had been brought to the Middle East by the time of Christ. The legend that this plant was used for the crown of thorns worn by Christ could have derived from the pliable nature of the thorny stems that would have made possible the weaving of the stems into a circle.
The sap (latex) from the stems can be extremely irritating to the skin. Its toxicity protects it from herbivores. The crown of thorns is related to the poinsettia, the castor bean and cassava.
The tall royal palm has the genus roystonea, named after US General Roy Stone who is best known for his defense of the McPherson farm during the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg. General Stone’s part in building roads in Puerto Rico led to the royal palm being named after him.The royal palm is native to the Carribbean islands and nearby Florida coast. It is the national tree of Cuba. Their ability to release their large fronds in strong winds is thought to protect them from being toppled by hurricanes.
Although we relate ebony to the color black, there is a plant called green ebony. A native of South America, jacaranda ovalifolia has a greenish wood, blue flowers, and ruffly foliage. As with many beautiful plants, it is toxic.
Which plant is named after cheese? The Swiss cheese plant, or monster deliciosa. The Swiss cheese plant is not a native of Switzerland, but of Mexico and Central America. Just as Swiss cheese has holes, so do the leaves of the Swiss cheese plant. It is also called monster fruit, fruit salad plant, Mexican breadfruit, Locust and Wild Honey, Delicious Monster, and split-leaf philodendron. This creeping vine can grow up to 20 meters as it winds its way up a tree trunk. Its unripened fruit is toxic, but properly harvested and prepared ripe fruit tastes somewhat like pineapple.
The fascinating variety of plant life on earth will always inspire people to name and describe plants with creativity and humor.