Dragon Blood Tree

Dragon blood trees are a reality of another fantasy.

  • Dragon blood trees are an evergreen species of tree, endemic to the woodlands of the Socotra islands of Yemen, located in the Arabian Sea near western Asia.
  • The scientific name of the dragon blood tree is Dracaena cinnabari and it is from the family Asparagaceae, a family of plants that flower, and in the subfamily Nolinoideae.
  • ‘Dragon blood trees’ are also known as ‘Socotra dragon trees’, and they can reach a height of 5 to 10 metres (16.4 to 33 feet).
  • Dragon blood trees grow in a shape that resembles that of a mushroom, with branches that are shaped like large sausages and form in a dense structure; while sturdy long, narrow leaves form on the ends of the branches in clusters, and they can be as long as 60 centimetres (2 feet).
  • Moisture is absorbed by dragon blood trees from mist or low cloud cover, and often the moisture trickles down cracks in rocks to the roots below.
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Dragon Blood Trees
Image courtesy of Rod Waddington/Flickr
  • Dragon blood trees generally bloom in February, and they produce many small flowers that grow in groups, and are coloured a creamy white to green colour.
  • Numerous berries form on dragon blood trees after flowering, and they have a diameter of approximately 1 cm (0.4 inches); are of an orange to red colour when ripe; and contain from 1 to 3 seeds.
  • Dragon blood trees are listed as a vulnerable species as reproduction has noticeably declined, likely due to a changing climate, over-harvesting and human interference.
  • Dragon blood trees are known for excreting a blood red resin that has been used as dye or varnish, as well as a form of traditional medicine since ancient times in Rome, Greece and Egypt, and the resin is still used in modern times.
  • Many young dragon blood trees of present times have failed to grow branches in the dense canopy typical of older specimens, and this has caused conservation concerns, as the canopy allows new plants to grow in its shade, and prevents moisture loss around the base of the tree.
Bibliography:
Dragon’s Blood Tree (Dracaena Cinnibari), n.d, Wildscreen Arkive, http://www.arkive.org/dragons-blood-tree/dracaena-cinnabari/
Dracaena Cinnabari, 2016, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dracaena_cinnabari
Miller A, Dracaena Cinnabari, 2004, The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, http://www.iucnredlist.org/details/30428/0
Saudi Journal of Biological Sciences, ScienceDirect, 2015, http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1319562X15002065
Socotra Dragon Tree, 2016, Global Trees Campaign, http://globaltrees.org/threatened-trees/trees/socotra-dragon-tree/

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Tree Tumbo

Tree tumbos are true desert plants.

  • Tree tumbos are a species of large plant native to the Namib Desert of southern Africa, and due to their dry and lifeless appearance, they are commonly considered the ugliest plant alive.
  • A ‘tree tumbo’ is also known as ‘welwitschia’; in Angola it is named ‘n’tumbo’, meaning ‘stump’; in South Africa it is called “twee blaar kanniedood’, and has the literal translation of ‘two leaf diehard’; and the plant is known as ‘onyanga’, a term meaning ‘desert onion’ in the Herero language.
  • The scientific name of a tree tumbo is Welwitschia mirabilis and it is from the family Welwitschiaceae, with the plant being the sole extant species in the family.
  • Tree tumbos only grow two leaves, that can reach a length of 4 to 9 metres (13 to 29.5 feet) each, and the leaves tend to split along their length as the plant ages, so that the plants often appear to have multiple leaves.
  • Tree tumbos were first discovered in 1959 by Friedrich Welwitsch, a botanist from the Austrian Empire, who marvelled at the plant at first sight; hence its scientific name ‘Welwitschia mirabilis’, which honours the botanist’s discovery, while ‘mirabilis’ means ‘wonderful’ or ‘marvellous’ in Latin.
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A Tree Tumbo
Image courtesy of Joachim Huber/Flickr
  • The diameter of a tree tumbo can be as much as 9 metres (29.5 feet), and the height of the plant is generally from 0.5 to 1 metre (1.6 to 3.3 feet), though they can be as tall as 2 metres (6.5 feet), and while they tend to be short, they are considered botanically a tree, albeit very slow-growing.
  • Many specimens of tree tumbos are very old, up to 600 years, while others could be as much as 1000 years in age, with some specimens suspected to be at least 2000 years old.
  • Tree tumbo plants are either male or female, either producing male cones that are pink to red in colour, or female cones that are a combination of pink and bluish green; and the cones have a length of 1 to 8 centimetres (0.4 to 3.1 inches), with the smaller ones being male.
  • Tree tumbos are thought to be pollinated by a type of flying insect, that are attracted to the nectar that the cone like flowers produce at the centre of the plant; and once fertilised, the female cones produce papery coated seeds that are scattered by the wind, however, statistically only one in every thousand seeds will grow into a plant.
  • To remain sufficiently hydrated in the harsh desert climate, tree tumbos use their long tap root to draw water from underground, as well as absorbing moisture from fog and other precipitation via their shallower root system.
Bibliography:
Notten A, Welwitschia mirabilis, 2003, Kirstenbosch National Botanical Garden, http://www.plantzafrica.com/plantwxyz/welwitschia.htm
Welwitschia mirabilis, n.d, Encyclopedia of Life, http://eol.org/data_objects/12497003 
Welwitschia, 2016, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welwitschia
Welwitschia mirabilis, 2014, Info Namibia, http://www.info-namibia.com/info/plants/welwitschia-mirabilis
 Welwitschia mirabilis (tree tumbo), n.d, KEW Royal Botanic Gardens, http://www.kew.org/science-conservation/plants-fungi/welwitschia-mirabilis-tree-tumbo

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Grass Tree

Finding a grass tree specimen is not too difficult in Australia.

  • Grass trees are a genus of roughly 30 species of perennial plants that are native exclusively to Australia.
  • ‘Grass trees’ are also known as ‘grass gum-trees’, ‘yakkas’, ‘balgas’, and ‘balga grass’, as well as ‘blackboys’, though this name is somewhat controversial due to the plant’s comparison to indigenous Australians.
  • The scientific name of the grass tree is Xanthorrhoea and it is from the family Asphodelaceae, a family of flowering plants.
  • Grass trees generally have an almost spherical cluster of long, spiky grass-like leaves that form at the top of a trunk.
  • The small flowers of grass trees grow along a tall cylindrical spike that can reach from 1 to 4.5 metres (3 to 15 feet) and sits above the plant.

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  • Grass trees can take a very lengthy time to grow; however, they can also live to be 600 years old; and the plants, depending on the species, can grow to 6 metres (20 feet) in height, not including the flower spike.
  • Not all grass tree species have trunks, while some have branched trunks, yet others may only branch if they have been damaged.
  • Some grass tree species have a natural procedure for combating bushfire devastation, by growing new flower spikes directly after experiencing a fire.
  • Grass trees have been traditionally adapted by indigenous Australians to create spears, particularly using the plant’s leaf resin as an adhesive, and the plant’s flowers have also been made into a sweet drink.
  • In World War II and prior, the resin of grass trees was put on tins and other metals to combat rust; and the resin was also used to create a lacquer; and sometimes used in churches to create a pleasing aroma, by burning the substance.
Bibliography:
Genus Xanthorrhoea, n.d, PlantNET, http://plantnet.rbgsyd.nsw.gov.au/cgi-bin/NSWfl.pl?page=nswfl&lvl=gn&name=Xanthorrhoea
Pawlan M, Australian Xanthorrhoea, n.d, Pawlan, http://pawlan.com/monica/australia/
Watson P, The Grass Tree: Its Use and Abuses, 2004, Australian Plants Online, http://anpsa.org.au/APOL33/mar04-5.html
Xanthorrhoea, 2016, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xanthorrhoea

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Leopard Lily

Leopard lilies are on the prowl.

  • A leopard lily is a species of perennial flowering plant, native to China, Japan and India in central Asia.
  • ‘Leopard lilies’ are also known as ‘blackberry lilies’ and ‘leopard flowers’, and the plants have green sword-like leaves, that grow in a fan formation.
  • The scientific name of the leopard lily is Iris domestica and it is from the family Iridaceae, the family of irises, though it was formerly known as Belamcanda chinensis.
  • The height of a leopard lily plant can reach from 60 to 90 centimetres (2 to 3 feet) and a clump can spread out to 22 to 60 centimetres (0.75 to 2 feet) in diameter.
  • Leopard lilies have showy flowers that are coloured yellow, orange or red, or often a combination of those colours, and they have red or dark orange spots.
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Leopard Lily
Image courtesy of Odonata98/Flickr
  • The seeds that form after a leopard lily blooms, have the appearance of blackberries, as the glossy black seeds grow together in a cluster.
  • Leopard lilies grow best in conditions where there is full sun, and soil that is well drained.
  • Leopard lily plants grow from rhizomes, and these have been used in traditional Chinese medicine to treat asthma, malaria and swelling, among other health issues.
  • Leopard lilies bloom in the summer months, and the flowers are around 5 centimetres (2 inches) in diameter, with six petals.
  • Leopard lilies are commonly used for ornamental purposes in the garden, and the seed stems and flowers are sometimes used decoratively as dried or fresh cut flowers.
Bibliography:
Iris Domestica, 2014, Some Magnetic Island Plants, http://www.somemagneticislandplants.com.au/index.php/plants/518-iris-domestica
Iris Domestica, 2016, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iris_domestica
Iris Domestica, n.d, Missouri Botanical Garden, http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=b690

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White Snakeroot

White snakeroot is one root you do not want to eat.

  • White snakeroots are perennial plants, found in the eastern parts of Canada and the United States, in North America.
  • The scientific name of white snakeroot is Ageratina altissima and it is from the family Asteraceae, the family of daisies, and the plant was previously specified as Eupatorium rugosum.
  • ‘White snakeroots’ are less commonly known as ‘richweeds’, ‘tall bonesets’ and ‘white sanicles’, though other plant species may also be called these names.
  • White snakeroots grow in sunny to partly shady areas, typically to a height of 90 to 150 centimetres (3 to 5 feet).
  • The small flowers of white snakeroots are of a white colour and grow in clusters; and they bloom most commonly during the summer and autumn months.
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White Snakeroot
Image courtesy of White Wolf/Flickr
  • White snakeroots are poisonous to many livestock and humans, and symptoms can include trembling, intestinal pain and vomiting, and it can be fatal if left untreated.
  • White snakeroots plants grow from rhizomes that multiply, and they are easily grown from seeds that form after flowering.
  • Cows that have eaten white snakeroot will have toxic milk and meat, and this causes poisoning, or ‘milk sickness’ as it is known, in humans if they consume the products.
  • White snakeroot rhizomes have been historically been used to treat snakebites when made into poultice, hence its common name.
  • White snakeroots can be used ornamentally, prominently in cottage-themed gardens.
Bibliography:
Ageratina altissima, 2016, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ageratina_altissima
Ageratina altissima, Missouri Botanical Garden, http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=a747
White Snakeroot, n.d, Illinois Wildflowers, http://www.illinoiswildflowers.info/woodland/plants/wh_snakeroot.htm

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Starfish Flower

Starfish flowers really want to let you know when they are around.

  • Starfish flowers are a species of succulent, rather than a cactus, and they are flowering perennial plants, native to South Africa.
  • ‘Starfish flowers’ are also known as ‘giant toad plants’, ‘carrion plants’, ‘carrion flowers’, ‘giant zulus, and ‘starfish cacti’.
  • The scientific name of the starfish flower is Stapelia grandiflora and it is from the family Apocynaceae, the family of dogbanes, and is in the subfamily Asclepiadoideae.
  • Starfish flower plants produce large flowers with five petals, mostly in summer months, and the flowers resemble a starfish and grow to be 5 to 15 centimetres (2 to 6 inches) in diameter.
  • The blooms of starfish flowers tend to be purple, red, or brown in colour, sometimes with a tinge of orange, and they are covered with hairs that are coloured white, purple and/or red.
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A Starfish Flower
Image courtesy of Steve L Martin/Flickr
  • Starfish flowers generally release a stench that is likened to that of a dead animal, intended to attract insects such as flies to pollinate the flowers.
  • Warm climates are best for growing starfish flowers, and they prefer sunny to partly shady conditions.
  • Starfish flower plants are often used for ornamental purposes, however they can also be used to attract irritating insects away from living areas.
  • The green vegetation of starfish flower plants is multi-stemmed, and typically grows to 10 cm (4 inches) tall, while the plant can grow to a diameter of 50 cm (20 inches).
  • The centre of starfish flowers can be a breeding site for insects, such as flies, where their eggs are sometimes deposited.
Bibliography:
Carrion Plant, Starfish Flower, Starfish Cactus, 2016, Dave’s Garden, http://davesgarden.com/guides/pf/go/59151/#b
Grant B, Starfish Flower Cactus: Tips For Growing Starfish Flowers Indoors, 2016, Gardening Know How, http://www.gardeningknowhow.com/ornamental/cacti-succulents/starfish-flower/growing-starfish-flowers.htm
Stapelia grandiflora, 2015, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stapelia_grandiflora
Stapelia grandiflora, n.d, Cactus Art, http://www.cactus-art.biz/schede/STAPELIA/Stapelia_grandiflora/Stapelia_grandiflora/stapelia_grandiflora.htm
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