Not much in the way of a caption needed here. As the poet said: “He that loves not the Hibiscus has a Soul assuredly viscous…”
A BOUQUET OF HIBISCUSES ON ABACO, BAHAMAS
I haven’t featured flower species for a long time. There are a number of reasons why this webular location is low on flower power. Under duress, I’d probably say that, though gorgeous and a joy to all, flowers and plants are essentially one trick ponies. Or maybe peonies?
Essentially the drawback with flowers is that they don’t fly and they can’t swim. There’s no motion to them that isn’t caused by an outside agency such as a breeze (unless you spend time actually watching them grow, I suppose). I feel more comfortable with more mobility around me.
The hibiscus is surely one of the prettiest flowers on Abaco or indeed anywhere else. Mostly they are pentamerous, which is to say 5-petalled; and they have an unmistakeable central adornment that I’ve had to check the name of. Then I discovered that someone on Pinterest had done the heavy lifting for me with all the other parts of a hibiscus.
One exception to the usual pentamerous arrangement is the white hibiscus shown below.
I have also remembered to check the correct plural of ‘Hibiscus’. Some while back, I examined the candidates for the correct plural form for more than one OCTOPUS. I thought I might now be back in that strange Greco-Roman arena where -uses or -usses compete with -i or -odi for primacy. Thankfully, it is simply ‘octopuses’ and ‘hibiscuses’. And even if, technically, a different form could be insisted on to be correct, it will still sound wrong.
Another striking hibiscoid variant is the beautiful coral hibiscus, with its elegant construction and extravagantly fringed petals.
These flowers are powerful insect attractants, especially for the butterflies. One of the only partly successful photos I have ever taken of the annoyingly perpetual motion Polydamus (Gold Rim) Swallowtail is below. There’s nearly half a wing at rest. And even that isn’t sharp.
Readers who have stuck with this blog for a while (thank you both) may recall my enthusiasm for the excellent way in which the Bahamian Government honours the wildlife of the Bahamas with frequent special issues of stamps and coins. You can find out more with these links: BAHAMAS STAMPS and BAHAMAS CURRENCY. Even the hibiscus has been featured on the coinage, not once but twice. And on stamps several times over the years.
Personal resolution: to try not to leave it for more than 2 years before the next floral feature
All photos Keith Salvesen / Rolling Harbour; thanks to anon Pinterester for the flower part pic; and to 123RF for the stock stamp photo
BOUQUET OF ABACO FLOWERS (1): HIBISCUSES
‘HIBISCUSES’ as the plural for more than one Hibiscus schizopetalus looks wrong somehow (hibisci?) but is in fact right. It’s similar to the problem with the correct PLURAL OF OCTOPUS, a name that is also of Greek and Latin origin. The ‘schizo’ part reflects the division of the petals (though this characteristic surely applies plenty of other species).
The flower above is being visited by the familiar and lovely POLYDAMAS SWALLOWTAIL or Gold-rimmed butterfly. They are extraordinarily difficult to photograph when their wings are open – they flutter by, and carry on fluttering non-stop. I have always found it hard to get an entirely in-focus open wing shot. And when I say hard, on reflexion I don’t think I ever have…
The hibiscus is kind of mallow, a large and colourful family found throughout the world in warm-to-hot areas. Apart from the bright colours and pretty looks, the plant makes for a nice cup of tea (cf camomile tea) that some say may help to lower blood pressure.
There’s a lot of technical stuff to say about the petal construction and leaf forms, but I prefer to leave you to look it up if you want a deeper analysis than I am minded to give. I love flowers to look at and even to grow – who does not – but unlike the mechanics of birds, botanical intricacies seem *whisper* quite dull.
IS THERE A STIGMA ATTACHED TO THESE FLOWERS?
Yes indeed, but not in the more common usage for disgrace, disrepute or dishonour. In the botanical sense, it is the central part where the pollen of a flower is to be found. It’s the part that the bees are looking for.
Besides the tea / blood-pressure reduction benefits of hibiscus mentioned earlier, the plant is used in many places round the world for folk medicine for a variety of ailments. I don’t actually know if it is used in the Bahamas, where bush medicine certainly has its place in the treatment of some conditions. Any comments on this would be welcome.
ABACO PLANTS & FLOWERS: AN ORCHID MYSTERY
Recently I was contacted by someone who had found an unusual orchid on Abaco and wanted to find out more about it, starting with ID. Lucy, an English botanist who has been visiting Abaco with her husband for many years, discovered a strange wild orchid species that did not appear in any of her books. So she turned to Detective Harbour who, unknown to her, is mostly paralysed with hopelessness when it comes to plant ID (except hibiscus, obvs). But he can sometimes find the people who know these things…
Lucy’s photos showed a striking, tall-stemmed plant growing from an exposed round root. She found 3 plants in Cherokee near Watching Bay; and another growing randomly beside the road at the airport – ‘bizarrely’, as she points out. She (and I) assumed the orchid to be a native species, and hopefully a rare one. I couldn’t track it down online so I got the views of Mark Bennet at the Leon Levy Preserve, and the BNT plant expert Ethan Freid. Both agreed that the orchid is Eulophia graminea.
This raises the ‘Brown-headed Cowbird Conundrum‘. The plant is here on Abaco. By rights it has no business to be. It has probably arrived from Florida, where it has no business to be either. So the big question is, does its presence impact on native flora species in any adverse way?
- Is it a benign addition to the plant species of the Bahamas, that in 100 years time will be fondly viewed as a native and appearing in books / online as local.
- Or is it an unwelcome intruder, quick to spread and slow to eradicate, aggressively gaining an increasing hold on the precious soil and water resources on Abaco and exterminating the native orchid species in the process (cf in the UK Himalayan Balsam / Giant Hogweed / Japanese Knotweed).
- Or somewhere in-between – not exactly welcome and trouble free, but something the local flora can get along with, without unacceptable levels of damage to the local species. Just about tolerable.
Well, I’m afraid Eulophia graminea is in category 2 – the real brown-headed cowbird category. It was first discovered in Miami in 2007. The bulbs from which the plants grow are hard to dig up. They are covered in little roots, each one of which has the potential to become a new plant. Already it has spread rapidly in Florida, and has now been found growing in most types of plant habitat, from maritime to rockland. In other words, it is not at all good news.
The word ‘orchid’ comes from the Latin Orchis or orchideæ, and Greek ὄρχις (orkhis). This means a testicle, and is based on the shape of the root. In medieval England, orchids were called ballockwort. To this day the surgical procedure known as an orchidectomy refers to the removal of one or both testicles. Moving swiftly on…
Credits: Lucy and Mark Davies (1 – 4); Bob Peterson Wiki (5); Scott Zona Wiki (6); Mark Bennet, Ethan Fried & Laine Snow for ID; University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants, Plant Directory for research; Online Etymology Dictionary for Orchid definition…
HIBISCUS ON ABACO: BLOOMING MARVELLOUS
I’ve been deleting old photos from past Abaco trips to free up space for some new ones. Why did I keep all those dreary back views of small birds? How many black shadow pics of Turkey Vultures flying high in a blue sky does one need? What’s with the blurry butterflies? Then I came across a clump of hibiscus photos taken in the Delphi garden last March. Can’t have too many of them, so here are a few to enjoy. In two weeks we will be among them again, and no doubt I’ll take
a lot a few more. As if there aren’t enough already.
ADMIRABLE ADMIRAL BOUGAINVILLE & HIS EPONYMOUS FLOWERS ON ABACO
By the second half of the c18th, no respectable nautical expedition was complete without at least one naturalist or geologist on board. Within a few decades, that intentionally sweeping generalisation would include Charles Darwin himself. Louis Antoine, Comte de Bougainville (1729 – 1811) was a French admiral and explorer, and a contemporary of Captain James Cook. However the well-known ornamental vine to which Bougainville lent his name might more properly be called Commerconia… or indeed an even more obscure name.
When Bougainville set off on a voyage of circumnavigation in the 1760s, he took with him a botanist, Philibert Commerçon. He was the first European to examine and ‘write up’ these plants, his findings being published in France in 1789. One attractive theory is that the first European actually to observe these plants was a woman called Jeanne Baré who was Commerçon’s assistant, and indeed his lover. He is said to have sneaked her on board, despite regulations, disguised as a man. If this is right, this would make Jeanne Baré the first woman (let alone cross-dressing woman) to circumnavigate the globe. And perhaps make her entitled to be immortalised by having the plant ‘Bareia’ named after her. But I guess Admirals had more clout in plant-naming circles than female stowaways – or indeed botanists on board their ships.
As first printed in 1789, the plant was spelled ‘Buginvillæa’, an unexplained variation from the Admiral’s true name. The ‘correct’ spelling for this plant did not finally settle down until the 1930s, when a botanical consensus was reached. Nonetheless, many variations still persist (most usually with the addition of an e after the n). I myself spell it any-old-how and let the spell-checker take care of it…
STOP PRESS Further research suggests that the name of the plant was ‘gifted’ by Commerçon to the Admiral, a self-effacing tribute or possibly a rampant piece of sycophancy – or (my own theory) to avoid being keelhauled when his ‘valet’s’ gender was apparently unmasked by the ship’s surgeon. In what precise circumstances, one longs to know…
Credits: Delphi plants courtesy of Willie the Gardener; photos RH; text-assists by ‘Magpie-Pickings’
BLOOMING MARVELLOUS: FLOWERS OF ABACO
The flowers and plants below were mostly photographed in the grounds of The Delphi Club, Abaco or nearby. I expect most or many are already securely on the SD chips or hard drives of every visitor to an agreeably floral place like the Bahamas. Who can resist a pretty flower? I have confessed in earlier plant-based posts (links below) to a certain lack of aptitude around flowers. They just… are. Let’s see how this pans out – corrections and (for the last two) IDs welcome.
FIRECRACKER PLANT RusseliaMARSH FLEABANE (WITH HONEY BEE) PlucheaHORSERADISH TREE (WITH CUBAN EMERALD HUMMINGBIRD) Moringa oleiferaBISMARCK PALMBANANASThese were growing just outside our bedroom. Pity they weren’t quite ripe…
I’m beginning to struggle now. The next two plants are probably completely obvious, but I am losing my floral grip. Suggestions welcome via the comment box or email (Bridget on Tilloo, that means you…)
STOP PRESS ID within 24 hours, thanks to Nick Kenworthy who says via the comment box that this bright pink one “is loosely referred to as the Orchid tree (or Hong Kong Orchid Tree) as the blooms are very like an orchid but it comes on a tree rather than a plant”. I’ve checked my cheat books, where it is named Bauhinia pupurea, aka Orchid Tree, Butterfly Tree or (from the leaf shape) Bull Hoof Tree. The tree originates from India and Southeast Asia. Nick has undoubtedly nailed it, for which many thanks. One more to go…
STOP PRESS 2 Nick has solved the second ID as well. His interesting information about this striking waxy plant can be seen in detail in the comments below. The answer, in a word, is ‘Jatropha’, of which there are a great many varieties – and quite a number of informal names, most of which (‘Firecracker’; ‘Star of Bethlehem’) are confusingly assigned to other plant species as well. It doesn’t feature in either of my Caribbean plant /tree reference books, so my amateur eyes didn’t actually let me down this time… This plant (there was were two of three) was in a small park area by the beach at Treasure Cay. I haven’t seen it elsewhere on Abaco.
Here are the links to a couple of my previous Abaco flower / plant posts:
A BUNCH OF FLOWERS (the most recent)
FLOWERING ON ABACO (an expedition with Ricky Johnson)
THE LIFE CYCLE OF THE ATALA BUTTERFLY Eumaeus atala
I’ve been planning a post about this lovely small butterfly for some time. I posted a close-up photo of one taken last summer at ATLALA PICS (worth clicking to enlarge to see its cute curly tongue) but I wanted to find out more about them and their strikingly-coloured abdomens. This led me to the excellent butterfly (& co) website of STEPHANIE SANCHEZ. Click her name to be transported to her intriguingly and Greekly named HEURISTRON pages for a wealth of Florida-based lepidoptera information. With Steph’s kind approval, the following post is based on her Atala work, and includes her amazing images of the life cycle of the Atala with captions. The blue links below will take you to the relevant pages of Steph’s site, where you will find plenty of advice about Atala-friendly plants.
THE STAGES FROM EGG TO BUTTERFLY
LARVAE Red caterpillars with yellow markings, hatch from the eggs and eat the host plant. They shed their skin several times while they’re growing up. (You can look up “larval instar” if you want to get more technical than that.)
CHRYSALIS The caterpillars eat, and grow, and then they hang from the bottom of a leaf on the Coontie, shed their skin one last time, and turn into a chrysalis.
BUTTERFLY Inside the chrysalis, the caterpillar turns into the butterfly. When it’s done, it crawls out and hangs upside-down to extend and dry its wings before it flies away.
Up close, the white rounded eggs have tiny hairs on them
COONTIE (Zamia floridana or pumila)
The eggs hatch into these bright red and yellow caterpillars
When the caterpillars have eaten and grown enough, they hang under the leaf, shed their skin a final time, and turn into a chrysalis. The one below is undergoing the change; you can see how different it looks from the bright red caterpillars
On a very new chrysalis the yellow dots on the back of the caterpillar are still visible
Then as it ages, the chrysalis darkens to a more opaque soft brown that darkens more the older it gets
Finally, a day or so before the butterfly is ready to emerge, you can start to see the red abdomen through the bottom of the chrysalis
The little spiky brown splotches near the chrysalides are the shed skins of the larvae
When they first crawl out of their chrysalis, their abdomen is swollen with fluid and their wings are squished and tiny. They hang upside-down and excrete fluid, and also pump fluid into their wings to expand them
This is a good time to hold them; they can’t fly away. Be sure to let them hang upside-down though, or their wings will dry wrong and they will be unable to fly. Also watch out for the goo they poo because it can stain your clothes
All of these Atala Photographs were taken in Broward County, Florida by ©Stephanie Sanchez
WHY THE BRIGHT RED ABDOMEN? I suppose it’s obvious that this is one of nature’s warning signals. But are these insects inherently toxic, or are the toxins acquired by ingestion or some other process? Lifting wholesale from Wiki, which puts it as well as I could (+ useful links), “The host plants contains toxic chemicals, known as cycasins, and the bright coloration of the adult is believed to be aposematic. Birds and lizards attempt to prey on the adults, but find them distasteful and learn to avoid the brightly patterned butterflies.”
Steph advises “if you want Atala Butterflies in your butterfly garden, you’ll need at least a dozen Coontie plants to keep a colony alive; more is better. They tend to stay close to home, so they’re a fun butterfly to garden for because you can continue to enjoy watching them in your garden after they become butterflies. Some other butterflies tend to emerge and fly off.”
OTHER LINKS LITTLE BUTTERFLIES (Atala etc page of Barbara Woodmasnsee’s butterfly website. Nice pics!)
Time to face up. Time for flora. This post has been… er… post-poned several times. When I first started this blog, it was an adventure into the unknown. Basic computer skills. Zero blog experience. Scant knowledge about much (any?) of the subject matter. Looking back at early posts there is evidence – plenty – of floundering and general incompetence while I gradually learnt more. The birds and other wildlife came quite easily; the flora not so. Apparently I even carry a bunch of flowers in an odd way (opines Mrs RH), under one arm like a rugby ball. Don’t all men? Oh! Just me, then. Anyway, it’s time to try again and brave the land of petal, stamen and pistils at dawn. Here are 20 plants that you will come across on Abaco. Many were photographed at Delphi or in the nearby coppice and pine forest. A couple were in Marsh Harbour, 2 more were at Sawmill Sink Blue Hole. The beautiful Cannas are from Hope Town, with thanks to Abaco Island Artist Brigitte Carey. Some will be known locally by different names – I’d be interested to hear them via the ‘comment’ box.
ANGEL’S TRUMPET (Datura Candida) CANNASCOCONUT WHITE FRANGIPANI (Plumeria)YELLOW FRANGIPANI (Plumeria)YELLOW FRANGIPANI (Plumeria)MARSH PINK (Stellatia Maris)MORNING GLORY (Convolvulus)MOSS ROSES (Portulaca)OYSTER PLANTRED HIBISCUSPINK CORAL (FRINGED) HIBISCUSPINK PENTAS (Pentas lanceolata)RED PENTAS (Pentas lanceolata)PLUMBAGO / CAPE LEADWORT (Plumbago auriculata)ROYAL POINCIANA / FLAME TREE (Dolonix regia)SPIDER LILY (Hymenocallis littoralis)THATCH PALMWILD ALLAMANDA (Urechites lutea)BIRD OF PARADISE FLOWER (Strelizia)BANANAS at the Delphi Club
THE BIRD OF PARADISE FLOWER
The Bird of Paradise Plant Strelitzia is a native of South Africa, but its exoticism and all-round fabulousness has ensured its export to other parts of the world with suitable climates. These plants can be found throughout the Bahamas, including Abaco. It’s fortunately a plant that is impossible to confuse with any other, an added attraction for non-floral people… Here are a couple of my images of the plant about to flower, and having burst into flower
And here is a flower recently photographed (June 2012) in Marsh Harbour, Abaco
The ‘Flora’ part of ‘Flora and Fauna’ is a bit of a blind spot for me except in a very basic daffodils-tulips-roses english gardening sense. So it was with a massive sense of relief that, browsing through (namecheck here) ‘Dr Ralph’s Abaco Forum’, I stumbled across a comprehensive blog about the flora of Abaco with excellent pictures and very informative descriptions, posted by Iris Spikes. She includes notes about the plants that are poisonous, and those that have medicinal / antidotal properties. For example poisonwood and gumbo limbo trees grow side by side, as poison and antidote – you can find them growing together along the Delphi drives (the gumbo limbo fruit is especially popular with the Abaco Parrots).
With thanks for permission, I have added the web link to the Blogroll list so that you can get to it straight away. Please note that there are two linked posts – you get to part 2 from the link at the end of part 1.
Here are a few random flora images of ours, most now readily identifiable… Almost all (including the bananas outside our room) are from the Delphi gardens or beside the drives – and one cheat that is much more Abaco than UK
An epiphyte (or air plant) is a plant that grows upon another plant (such as a tree) non-parasitically or sometimes upon some other object (such as a building or a telegraph post), deriving its moisture and nutrients from the air and rain and sometimes from debris accumulating around it and not from its host