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 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