CAN BE AS FASCINATING AS ANIMALS
once was told that my newspaper columns had too few plant examples compared
to animals. The person who told me was Joab Thomas, who died in March
was an excellent botanist whose advice was worth listening to. Animals
indeed tend to be action figures whereas most plants appear passive
unless the wind is blowing. But plants have their own stories, and some
of them are intriguing. At the time of Joabs death, I dedicated
my column to him. Parts of the following are from that column.
kill and eat millions of animals every year. In addition to having a
wide diversity of insects on the menu, carnivorous plants eat other
animals, including small birds, frogs and mammals.
that capture and digest animals occur in many parts of the world, and
several live in North America. Pitcher plants, in which insects fall
into a highly effective pitfall trap, are among the best known.
the column, or pitcher, is only a few inches high, but it
can be almost 3 feet tall in the yellow trumpet pitcher plants. With
downward-pointing hairs around the lip of the column and digestive liquor
at the bottom of the flask, pitcher plants mean certain death for many
A bug tottering
on the edge of the tube could soon become part of the plant world, as
it is digested and absorbed. The most spectacular pitcher plants are
from Kinabalu National Park in Borneo, a region with the greatest concentration
of pitcher plant species in the world. One of these, the rajah pitcher
plant, has tubular flasks large enough to capture rats, and it can hold
more than a quart of digestive fluid.
produce their own heat internally, a trait usually reserved for birds,
mammals and a few other animals. Perhaps the best-known U.S. plant with
heat-producing properties is the eastern skunk cabbage.
Northeast, skunk cabbages are among the earliest plants emerging in
the spring, often pushing directly up through a covering of snow that
is melted by their generated heat. Some skunk cabbages have been reported
to raise their temperature 45 degrees higher than their environment.
heat-producing plant is the voodoo lily, a tropical species of Southeast
Asia. With a beauty typical of other lilies, the voodoo lily has a striking
purple flower and reaches a height of almost 3 feet.
their ornamental appearance, voodoo lilies have a trait that might diminish
their popularity in the garden. During the period of pollination, the
flowers heat up. Temperatures inside a flower in the cool shade can
reach 110 degrees F, at which time, the plant smells like rotting meat,
which attracts pollinating flies.
trait we are often interested in is size. How long is an anaconda? How
tall is a grizzly standing on its back legs? How much does a largemouth
bass weigh? What about plants what is the biggest flower in the
world? The answer: Rafflesia.
Indonesian rainforests, this plant is truly distinctive because all
you see is flower. It has no leaves, no limbs, no roots. In fact, Rafflesia
does not even have chlorophyll. It is just a giant, eye-catching 3-foot-wide
flower weighing 40 pounds. It has parasitic filaments that feed off
the roots of a type of vine.
learned about all of these from a plant taxonomy course taught by Joab
Thomas. All serve as superb examples of the diversity of life and the
many plant secrets and mysteries that await our understanding.
an amazing individual who was chancellor of North Carolina State University
and president of the University of Alabama and Penn State University.
He was an outstanding botany teacher who made people realize that plants
are exciting. I think of him at this time each year when flowers will
soon be everywhere and all of the trees will have leaves.
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