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Preview: Botany Photo of the Day

Botany Photo of the Day

In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.

Last Build Date: Thu, 26 Aug 2010 16:28:41 -0800

Copyright: Copyright 2010 The University of British Columbia Botanical Garden and Centre for Plant Research. NB: See individual entries for license to use information.

Cymbidium sinense 'Da Shun'

Thu, 26 Aug 2010 16:28:41 -0800


Continuing with the series on "Biodiversity of China", here's another orchid contribution from Eric in SF@Flickr (also see: The original image can be viewed via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool. Always grateful for your contributions, Eric.

Of the twenty-five to thirty thousand species of orchids in the world, China boasts approximately 1400. Of these, nearly 500 are endemic. Cymbidium sinense, despite being named after China (sinense), is not among the endemics -- it has a range extending to Japan, India, Burma, Thailand and Vietnam. Chinese cymbidium has been cultivated and hybridized for nearly a millenia (since at least the Southern Song, with 'Da Shun' being one of the dozens, if not hundreds, of cultivars.

One of the main attractions of Cymbidium sinense is the fragrance. From what I've read (but haven't experienced), each cultivar produces a slightly different scent. On 'Da Shun' (and the species in general), Eric describes the fragrance as "...heavenly and intoxicating. There are multiple high-end perfumes based on [the scent of the species and cultivars of Cymbidium sinense]".

In the wild, the species grows in "forests, wet and well-drained shaded places in thickets along streamsides" at elevations of 300-2000m (1000-6500ft.), according to the Flora of China.

Wyethia helianthoides

Tue, 24 Aug 2010 16:15:05 -0800

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A brief interlude from the "Plant Biodiversity of China" series (and only a brief entry), since I'm presently concentrating on trying to repair the weblog software after an "upgrade" yesterday morning. I think I have the notification system working (we'll see with this entry, and sorry about the new entry notification yesterday due to a spam comment(!)), but I still have to fix the commenting system -- so, no comments on today's entry or previous entries until that is repaired.

For those of you who have received duplicate notices about today's entry, I apologize. I had to give up on an attempt to "upgrade" the software that runs Botany Photo of the Day because it broke more things than it fixed. So, after publishing today's entry with the upgraded system (and seeing how much it broke), I decided to revert to the old system, with a database backup from Monday at 2am local time (no comments were lost, though, since there hadn't been any). So, while I sort out what to do next, we'll stay on this version of the software for the time being.

Wyethia helianthoides is known as white mule's-ears or white-rayed wyethia, and is native to the northern Great Basin region of the USA. Additional photographs are available from CalPhotos: Wyethia helianthoides and the Malheur Experiment Station: Wyethia helianthoides.

Metasequoia glyptostroboides

Thu, 19 Aug 2010 18:00:05 -0800

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Continuing with the "Plant Biodiversity of China" series, here is a species we grow in UBC Botanical Garden. The first photograph is from 2002 or 2003, while the second was taken in January 2005 (I've added it for those of us currently experiencing summer conditions). The write-up for today's entry is again courtesy of one of the students from Dr. David Brownstein's "Research in Environmental Geography" course, Eva Lillquist. A thank you to Eva for the work. Eva writes:

Metasequoia glyptostroboides (common name dawn redwood) is an ancient tree species that once existed in abundance worldwide. Due to glaciation, almost all Metasequoia were killed, with the exception of a few populations in a restricted area of central China. First discovered in the early 1940s, scientists Dr. Wanchun Cheng and Dr. Hsenhsu Hu later uncovered plants growing in several sites in the Sichuan, Hubei and Hunan regions of central China. Prior to the discovery of living trees, Metasequoia was thought to be extinct, as it had only ever been encountered in fossilized form. As it was once nominated to be China's national tree, Metasequoia glyptostroboides holds significance to the national identity of China.

In 1980, the Chinese Government deemed the Metasequoia glyptostroboides to be critically endangered in the wild (although the species has been cultivated in roughly 50 countries). Estimates suggest there are currently only 5,400 trees still living in central China.

Efforts for conservation have been concentrated within Hubei, where the largest number of dawn redwoods reside. Conservation efforts, however, face challenges: due to population growth and an increased need for land development, habitat loss is a significant threat (particularly from rice cultivation). Another hurdle for conservation is the considerable debate about why Metasequoia glyptostroboides is endangered. While conservationists argue that the species has reached near extinction due to human disturbance, others, particularly those employed in the logging and wood harvesting industries, argue that numbers of trees are declining due to natural causes, creating a rationale that does not support the future conservation of the species.

Currently, the Chinese government has made significant efforts to address immediate conservation problems through policy work and the creation of protected wilderness areas. However, due to conflicting views about the use of land, and the use of Metasequoia wood for construction, the government must now focus on gathering greater support from different parties, including non-governmental organizations, stakeholders, and the public to generate awareness about threats to the species, the tree's significance to science, biodiversity, and national identity, and how these issues link with local industrial practices.

Eomecon chionantha

Wed, 18 Aug 2010 17:00:05 -0800


Another round of thanks to J.G. in S.F.@Flickr for contributing an image to BPotD (original image | Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool). This continues the series on the plant biodiversity of China.

Eomecon chionantha is known in English as either dawn-poppy or snow-poppy. The species is widespread in eastern temperate China, where plants grow in woodlands with moist soils and dappled shade.

Christopher Grey-Wilson, in his 1993 book Poppies, extols the virtues of Eomecon chionantha as a garden plant. In addition to the "simplicity of its elegant white flowers", he mentions that the leaves retain interest for much of the growing season. For a photograph of an entire plant, scroll down this page on perennials growing at the Botanic Gardens and Arboretum of Mendel University of Agriculture and Forestry, in Brno, Czech Republic. You can also read about an Ontarian gardener's experience with Eomecon chionantha at Teza's Garden. Grey-Wilson concludes his account of Eomecon chionantha with "Amongst the gaudier and more brazen races of poppy this ones makes a pleasant and subtler contrast and for that reason it is often dismissed as a 'planter's plant'. This is generally taken to mean that none but the most dedicated gardener would dream of growing it, or, indeed would want to but this surely would be wholly unjustified."

The underground components of Eomecon chionantha have a couple interesting properties. First, the lengthy underground stolons "ooze an orange-red sap when cut", according to Grey-Wilson. Secondly, an extract from the rhizome (or root-stalk) has been investigated as an economic source of a molluscicide by Chinese scientists. Gardeners will be familiar with molluscicides, such as snail or slug bait, for control of these sometimes pests. The impetus for researching Eomecon chionantha, however, was for a different reason: to find a potential method to control fresh-water snails. Snails, particularly in Asia, Africa and South America, can carry the parasite that induces schistosomiasis, "the second most socioeconomically devastating parasitic disease after malaria".

Tsuga forrestii

Tue, 17 Aug 2010 17:00:05 -0800

This month's biodiversity theme at UBC Botanical Garden is the "Biodiversity of China", so we'll begin a week-long series on plants from that floristically-rich part of the world. Today's photograph is courtesy of my colleague, Eric La Fountaine. The write-up for today's entry is largely based on the student work of Adam Underhill, who participated in Dr. David Brownstein's Geography 419 course here at UBC, "Research in Environmental Geography". Thank you to Adam and Eric for sharing! Adam writes: The common English name of this species is Forrest hemlock; the name given to the species by local Chinese residents is lijiang tieshan. Tsuga forrestii is a tree species in the Pinaceae located solely in China. The species is found in three southwestern Chinese provinces: Guizhou, Sichuan and Yunnan. These areas of China all have relatively moist climates. Tsuga forrestii often dominates its forest stands, although these stands are few and far between.The species is threatened by a significant increase in habitat loss, particularly due to logging. Tsuga forrestii is described as an evergreen conifer, with flattened needles and silvery white bands beneath the leading shoots. It can grow to 25m (80ft). The bark is grey to brown, scaly and often deeply furrowed, purportedly to protect the plant from predatory birds and insects. The branches are arranged in a flattened pattern, "spraying" outward from the trunk with a slight arch downward. Cones are borne on year-old twigs and seed cones take roughly one year to mature. After maturation, the seeds fall to the ground where they may persist for several years before sprouting. The wood of this species is moderately strong, pliable and lacks resin ducts, making it a candidate for the logging industry. The decline of similar species considered to be of more commercial value in the logging industry has lead timber corporations in pursuit of a new species to fill the void. The most popular use of hemlock wood is in the pulp industry. There is a very clear and defined relationship between this species and humans. The main threat to this species results directly from human action in terms of logging, manufacturing and urbanization. A study undertaken in the Yunnan province found that there was a significant destruction of biodiversity caused by a loss of habitat due to increased levels of logging. It was determined that, in this particular region, there was a cutting volume of 40 million m3, despite government regulations of 3 million m3 in 1998 and 0.83 million m3 in 2000 (Yang 2004). This significant amount of clearcut logging, coupled with ignoring government regulations, not only removes species from the region but destroys the habitat in which they grow. After this clearcutting takes place, the previous forest is often not given the opportunity to replenish itself. The area is subsequently used for growing cash crops such as rubber, sugar cane and tropical fruits. Another impact of logging is the pollution left behind, from machinery and equipment, that may damage the soil and water table, further restricting a livable area for this species. These factors have led the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to classify this species as vulnerable to extinction. It is clear that measures need to be taken in order to mitigate further problems and preserve this species. The first step necessary for preservation is to strengthen policies on biodiversity conservation as well strict monitoring on logging practices in areas with vulnerable species. The creation of a species database for the region would also be very beneficial as it would allow for proper monitoring of not just Tsuga forrestii, but other vulnerable species in the area. A species database should coincide, in order to be most effective, with a protected area of forest where any human interference, such as logging or farming, is illegal (Yang 2004). The surrounding community also needs to be aware a[...]

Saxifraga bronchialis

Fri, 13 Aug 2010 16:10:05 -0800

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Two people to thank for the photographs today. The first image is from Anne Elliott, aka annkelliott@Flickr (original image via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool), while the second image is from Anna Kadlec@UBC Botanical Garden forums: (original via the Botany Photo of the Day Submissions Forum). Thanks to both of you!

Spotted or matted saxifrage has a western North American - eastern Eurasian distribution, where it preferentially grows in rocky areas of mid- to high elevations. It is perennial, typically reaching 20cm (8in.) in height. The word Saxifraga means "stone-breaker", a characteristic well-illustrated in Anna's other photograph. Webb and Gornall in A Manual of Saxifrages explain the epithet bronchialis was thought by Gmelin (in 1769) to be derived "from information given to Linnaeus that the plant was used by the natives of Siberia as a cure for respiratory complaints".

The authors also note that this was likely one of the last species to be named by Linnaeus for his Species Plantarum, as there are no herbarium specimens in the Linnean herbarium, London bearing this species name. The likeliest explanation is that the specimen LINN 575.37, named as Saxifraga aspera on the sheet, was recognized by Linnaeus as being a different species (and he named it Saxifraga bronchialis in the book). However, upon assertion that it was a different species, Linnaeus should also have annotated (written a note on) the sheet with the new name, and it appears he neglected to do so. In other words, Linnaeus published the name Saxifraga bronchialis without a physical specimen to back it up (generally a naming no-no), unless one makes the positive assumption that he intended to add the name to that specimen but forgot.

Calla palustris

Thu, 12 Aug 2010 18:00:05 -0800

I suppose if one wanted to be pedantic, this would be the only species one could call a calla lily (though it's not a lily), as Calla palustris is the sole member of its genus. What many English-speaking people generally call calla lilies are members of the related genus, Zantedeschia. To be fair, though, species now named Zantedeschia were (all?) formerly in Calla.[...]

Orobanche californica subsp. californica

Wed, 11 Aug 2010 18:00:05 -0800


It's been a while since BPotD has featured a contribution from frequent commenter Eric in SF@Flickr, so here's one from his weekend trip to Point Reyes, California (original image via the Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool). If you're a relatively recent reader of BPotD, you may not know that Eric also runs Thanks again!

Including all of its five subspecies, Orobanche californica (or California broomrape) is native from British Columbia to Baja California, extending as far east as Montana. Subspecies californica, however, is restricted to coastal areas of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon and California where it parasitizes the roots of species of Grindelia (Asteraceae). Other subspecies are typically associated with different genera in the Asteraceae.

This subspecies of California broomrape reaches 5-27cm (2 to 10.5in) in height. Its coastal requirements mean that it is typically found in sandy or heavy soils below 150m (500ft.) in elevation (when it is found -- it is uncommon throughout its range).

Additional photographs are available from Eric in S.F. or the Burke Museum: Orobanche californica.

Botany / photography resource link: local BPotD reader Verity G. sent along the following link for your interest: X-rays of Flowers by Hugh Turvey from the UK's Telegraph. More of Hugh's (non-flower) images can be seen at gustoimages.

Cathedral Provincial Park

Mon, 09 Aug 2010 16:30:05 -0800


Last week, I visited British Columbia's Cathedral Provincial Park for hiking, photography, and botanizing. Though I've yet to identify anything rare in what I photographed, it was a pleasure to visit the area for both the scenery and the sheer diversity of flora and fauna. I'm estimating, but I'd guess at least a hundred different plant species were in bloom, including mass displays of Lupinus, Valeriana & Arnica in the subalpine and, only hinted at in the bottom of this photograph, the yellow-flowering Dasiphora fruticosa (née Potentilla fruticosa) at or above treeline.

The trees in the valley above and around Glacier Lake (if clicking on the Google Maps link, it is misnamed Cathedral Lakes) are mainly Larix lyallii, or alpine larch (sometimes called subalpine larch). The populations in this part of southern British Columbia and adjacent Washington state (where it occurs in larger extent) are considered disjunct from the main part of the species distributional range in the Rocky Mountains. I have read that the hike from Quiniscoe Lake to Glacier Lake is spectacular in mid- to late September, when the needles of Larix lyallii turn golden and begin to fall like a light, soft snow. But that will be a trip for another year...

Styrax tonkinensis

Wed, 04 Aug 2010 13:52:37 -0800

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Curator of Collections, Douglas Justice contributed today's photos and wrote the article.

UBC Botanical Garden's collection of Asian Styracaceae includes two species of Rehderodendron, three of Sinojackia, one Melliodendron, three Pterostyrax, one Halesia and eight species of Styrax, including this one.

From what we've seen, virtually all Styrax species are attractive plants and certainly worth growing for their small stature, fragrant, star-shaped flowers and hanging, nut-like drupes; however, some of the more obscure, recently collected taxa are problematic in terms of their identification. This has been helped enormously with the on-line availability of the Flora of China keys and illustrations, and the suberb new book, New Trees; Recent Introductions to Cultivation by Grimshaw and Bayton (2009), where many recently collected species are described.

This particular plant was grown from seed collected in the Huaping Cathaya Reserve, in northern Guangxi, China by Tom Hudson, plant explorer and manager of the Tregrehan Estate in Cornwall. Styrax tonkinensis is native to mixed forests at between 100 and 2000 metres elevation in southern China and adjacent Indochina. Our plant refuses to flower when it's supposed to (the printed descriptions all say May to June), waiting instead until the last week of July to open its blooms.

Asplenium scolopendrium var. scolopendrium

Tue, 03 Aug 2010 14:07:12 -0800


Asplenium scolopendrium or hart's tongue fern is an evergeen limestone-loving plant. Two varieties of the genus exist. They are nearly impossible to distinguish by form—the clearest distinction is that the American variety is tetraploid and var. scolopendium is diploid. Variety scolopendrium is found primarily in Europe, but is also found in parts of Asia and northern Africa. Variety americana is rare and found in isolated populations in North America. Some botanists place one of these populations, found in Mexico, into a third variety—lindenii. Our plants and virtually any found in cultivation are of var. scolopendrium—var. americanum performs poorly in cultivation—it barely survives in the wild. Plants are quite variable and the species hybridizes with other Aspleniums. Several forms have been selected for ornamental use.

Asplenium scolopendrium spreads by rhizomes to form drifts in shady areas, growing slowly, but needing little attention from the gardener. The erect leaves are 10-60 cm long and 3-6 cm wide—in extreme cases they may grow to 90 cm by 10 cm. The two rows of lines of sori arranged along the rachis of the leaf were thought to resemble a centipede. The species takes its name from this appearance—scolopendra is Greek for centipede.

Liriodendron chinense

Mon, 02 Aug 2010 10:00:02 -0800


Liriodendron has just two species Liriodendron tulipifera, native to eastern North America and today's featured plant Liriodendron chinense, native to China and northern Vietnam. Although the species have been geographically separated for more than 10 million years they are still interfertile. They differ very little in form, the leaves of the American species being slightly larger and the Asian species lacking the orange colour found in the flowers of Liriodendron tulipifera. Liriodendron chinense is rare and endangered in its native habitat. It is grown for timber and as an ornamental tree. The leaf shape of Liriodendron is quite distinct and the similarity of its outline to the shape of a tulip flower gives rise to the common name, tulip tree, which refers to either species.

I enjoyed photographing the leaves of this species back lit by evening sun--some lit--some shaded dark. They are in all stages of development turning each direction. A display to rival the flowers.

Happy BC Day to everyone.

Chlorogalum pomeridianum

Fri, 30 Jul 2010 09:38:44 -0800


Thank you to maljo@UBC Botanical Garden forums for sharing today's photograph with us (original via the Botany Photo of the Day Submissions Forum). Appreciated!

Wavy-leafed soap plant or California soaproot was well-used by First Nations of California and southwest Oregon. Daniel Moerman's Native American Ethnobotany has over a half page documenting its utility. Some examples, in the format of "First Nation | Type of Use | Summary":

  • Cahuilla | Dermatological Aid | Saponaceous material used as a dandruff shampoo
  • Pomo | Dermatological Aid | Plant juice rubbed on area affected by poison oak
  • Wailaki | Gastrointestinal Aid | Decoction of bulbs taken for stomachaches
  • Miwok | Winter Use Food | Stored, dried bulbs used for food
  • Costanoan | Brushes & Brooms | Fibrous bulb covers tied in bundles to make brushes
  • Luisenõ | Brushes & Brooms | Bulb fiber made into small brushes used for sweeping up scattered meal after pounding acorns
  • Mewuk | Caulking Material | Made into a white mucilaginous paste and used to coat baskets
  • Cahuilla | Hunting & Fishing Item | Saponaceous material used as a stupefying ageny and placed into streams to catch fish
  • Karok | Soap | Bulbs pounded, mixed with water, and used as a detergent for washing clothes and buckskin blankets
  • Mendocino Indian | Decorations | Green leaves formerly pricked into the skin to form tattoo marks
  • Mendocino Indian | Fasteners | Bulbs roasted and the juice used as a substitute for glue in attaching feathers to arrows

Or, if you prefer a written narrative: you can either visit Wikipedia's entry on Chlorogalum pomeridianum or visit Wayne Armstrong's page on soap lilies in California. I recommend the latter because it contains additional photographs of the flowers and plants, as well as an image of the fibre-covered bulbs of Chlorogalum pomeridianum. Wayne also explains the physical chemistry and biochemistry of saponins, responsible for the soap-like properties associated with this species and its relatives.

Botany resource link: I updated the science weblogs listing yesterday (bottom right of the main Botany Photo of the Day page). Most were deletions, but I also added Kew Blogs, so I thought I might point out the link here as well. On that note, if you have suggestions for science weblogs I should add (particularly plant-related ones), post a comment with a link and I'll consider adding it to the list in early August.

Butomus umbellatus

Thu, 29 Jul 2010 13:49:05 -0800


Thank you once again to Marianne, aka marcella2@Flickr, for contributing a photograph to Botany Photo of the Day (original image | Botany Photo of the Day Flickr Pool). Always glad to have an image from a vascular plant family that hasn't yet been featured on BPotD!

Butomus umbellatus is the sole member of the monotypic genus Butomus, itself in turn the sole member of the monotypic Butomaceae. The closest living relatives to this freshwater aquatic are species in the Hydrocharitaceae (a family that includes both freshwater and marine aquatics).

Known as flowering rush (though it isn't a true rush), Butomus umbellatus has a distribution that spans much of Europe and western Asia. Introduction into North America (believed to be for use as a garden plant) has resulted in widespread dispersal through the north temperate parts of the continent, and it is considered an invasive species. The page on Butomus umbellatus from the Noxious Weeds of King County explains the difficulty in controlling this species once it has established, so preventing dispersal is paramount.

For additional photographs, see the Flora of Israel's page on Butomus umbellatus or the Robert W. Freckmann Herbarium's page on Butomus umbellatus.

On a technical BPotD note: a few people have noticed that BPotD images are failing to display completely on a consistent basis. I believe this is because of the IUCN Red List "Species of the Day" box that appears at the bottom of the daily posting. The "Species of the Day" is an embedded feed -- meaning that for it to display, the IUCN web server is contacted each time a BPotD daily page is loaded and then the IUCN web server supplies the graphic. I think that from time to time, the IUCN web server gets overloaded -- and this halts the loading of the BPotD page (and images) while your browser tries (and tries) to gather the information it needs from the IUCN server. Two possible solutions: 1) you can reload / refresh the page when this does occur (Ctrl-R on a PC with Firefox, or hit the reload button); or 2) I can remove the IUCN Red List Species of the Day box (which will be done anyway come Jan. 1). My preference is for option 1.

Photography resource link: the landscape photography of Joel Truckenbrod (portfolio), emphasizing the Upper Midwest of the USA.

Chiranthodendron pentadactylon

Wed, 28 Jul 2010 13:45:05 -0800

...and yet another thank you to frequent BPotD contributor Jim in San Francisco (aka J.G. in S.F.@Flickr) for submitting today's set of photographs (original image 2 | [...]