Friday, August 1, 2014

These flowers look like Princess Jasmine's slippers

There are pretty flowers, there are beautiful flowers, and there are magnificent flowers.  This post is about a magnificent flower - jade vine, or Strongylodon macrobotrys (1963-72801).

"Eye catching" doesn't do it justice

The showy blooms of jade vine
are definitely worth making a trip
to a larger botanic garden to see
Like I said, the flowers are the feature that first caught my eye.  My co-hort Nathan and I had spent hours exploring the Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden in the sweltering Miami heat.  Towards the end of the adventure, just as my enthusiasm was waning, I saw a glimmer of jade from a pergola in the distance.  My slow, tired trudge transformed into a quick step as I hastened to the tropical vine pergola.

The whole structure was draped with these really spectacular teal racemes.  Apparently each floral spray can grow to around 4 feet!  The individual blossoms that adorn each raceme look like they could be shoes for a Princess Jasmine doll.  They're violently teal, just like the Disney princess' outfit in Aladdin. Although the flowers are borne on a long raceme, they're not very large.  A flower may be about 6 cm in length.

And this isn't necessarily a brief show of blossoms.  According to the manual Flowering Plants and Ferns of Mt. Makiling, the jade vine will flower from January to June, and again from November to December in its natural habitat.  That's quite a long blooming period!

Gargantuan fruits

Given the somewhat dainty nature of the flowers ("dainty" is not the right word, but I can't think of a better one), I was absolutely floored by the massive size of the fruits when I first saw them in Kew's Princess of Wales Conservatory.  They're like mangoes!  Is it any surprise that out of all the fiddly flowers that bloom, only one or two fruits develop? 

The showy blooms of jade vine
are definitely worth making a trip
to a larger botanic garden to see
In the wild, Strongylodon are pollinated by bats.  That's not feasible for plants grown in conservatories, such as Kew's Princess of Wales or Palm House.  However, rather than forgoing hope for developing these huge fruits, Kew practices hand pollination.  When Nick from Kew was giving the interns a tour of the Princess of Wales Conservatory, I asked about the contents of his tool belt.  Sure enough, he had a small paintbrush that he uses to pollinate flowers like the jade vine. 

Fun fact -- you can actually track some of the maintenance details of specific plants in Kew's living collections database.  This exact plant was successfully hand pollinated by Simon Creed in 2013.  Simon pollinated the flowers at the end of March, and the seed was ready for collection the first week of May that year.  For those of you who haven't been following NEW at Kew, Simon is a young horticulturalist who just graduated from Kew's apprenticeship program on Friday.  Congratulations Simon!

If you've only seen the flowers, it's worth making a second visit to see this plant in fruit.  Depending on various factors, there should be fruit around this time of year.  In its native range, jade vine fruits in May and September.  It doesn't seem to follow that set schedule in cultivation.  Kew's specimen has some large fruits right now.

Is it from outer space?

The fruits are really something to
marvel at as well
I have trouble wrapping my head around the idea that these splendiferous flowers are naturally occurring someplace on this planet.  However this species is native to the Luzon and Mindoro islands in the Phillipines.  You'll find their teal blooms draped from vines that are clinging to the steep slopes of Mt. Makling, up to 1,000 meters up in altitude.  This mountain is actually a volcanic mountain, although it hasn't erupted in recorded history, or at least since the 16th century.  The mountain rises from the Laguna de Bay on Luzon Island.

As you may have read in the previous few posts, this plant is not listed as endangered or threatened by the CITES database or IUCN red list.  However, Kew's living collection database states that this species was on the IUCN red list of endangered species in 1997.  I wonder whether this plant has made a recovery in the wild, or if there is a problem with their website.

Appreciating this plant

This is not a small plant.  Unless you
live in a tropical climate, it would
be best to appreciate at a botanic garden.
This tropical plant has a USDA hardiness zone rating of 10 to 11.  This means that unless you live in a tropical climate like Miami, it isn't really feasible to grow Strongylodon as a landscape plant.  Some enthusiasts may be tempted to grow as an interior plant, but that wouldn't be practical either.  Remember, the jade vine is native to the warm, humid cliff faces and river banks of the Philippines.  If your house isn't tropical, this plant won't be happy to grow there.  Also, it would just be too big to keep inside. 

Rather than growing at home, I recommend interested parties to visit a botanic garden that has a conservatory.  If you live in a small city, your local public garden may not have this plant (or a conservatory), but seeing this plant in bloom makes the journey to a large garden, like Kew,  Fairchild or Missouri Botanic, totally worthwhile.  Check with the garden first to make sure that it is in flower or fruit.  I can attest that seeing this magnificent plant in full bloom is worth the trip!

If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please feel welcome to leave a comment or send me an email.

To see more photos from this week, be sure to check out the album "A Whole New World with Jade Vine" on the Plante on Plants Facebook page.  "Likes", shares and comments are appreciated.

All photos and videos were taken by Amanda Plante at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew unless otherwise stated in the caption.

Sources:
  • Center for the International Trade in Endangered Species database
  • Fernandon, E.S.; Sun, B.Y.; Suh, M.H.; Kong, H.Y.; Koh, H.S. (2005).  Flowering Plants and Ferns of Mt Makiling.
  • Kew's Living Collections database
  • Pancho, J.V. (1983).  Vascular Flora of Mountain Makiling and Vicinity (Luzon: Philippines) part 2.
  • The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources Red List of threatened species
  • The Plant List website
  • The Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew website and staff

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