Showing posts from January, 2020

Of Porcupine Palms and Bears

 Needle Palm, Rhapidophyllum hystrix, is an interesting species patchily distributed in the Southeastern U.S. The sole member of the genus, it’s generally found in river floodplains and moist bottomlands. It’s scarce or endangered throughout most of its range. In Florida, where numerous populations occur, it can often be found on moist riverbanks, growing above water-loving Dwarf Palmetto, Sabal minor, and below Saw Palmetto, Serenoa repens, which thrive on higher, drier sites. Of course, “higher” when referring to topography in the Sunshine State, is a subtle descriptor. Needle Palm develops stubby, clustering trunks; highly dissected palmate leaves arise from stems that are armed with long black spines.  Its flowers and musty or foul-smelling fruit are a formidable deterrent to larger creatures that might consume them. It seems that the species isn’t very good at reproducing.  Seedlings tend to germinate too close to the mother plants, thus most don’t thrive. Needle Palm …

The Queen of the Andes

The biggest species, the tallest inflorescence, the longest-lived, perhaps the most dangerous? Puya raimondii is the leviathan of bromeliads, plants in the family Bromeliaceae. As an imposing organism growing in dramatic habitat, it’s an attention-getting member of a relatively unloved genus.
The species is native to the high Andes of Peru and Bolivia, found on rocky slopes between 9,800-15,700 feet. Exposed to harsh sun and extreme levels of ultraviolet light, freezing cold, and desiccating wind, the plants grow to 15 feet tall. When in flower, their spike-shaped inflorescences reach up to 50 feet.  

Puya raimondii is well-adapted to its challenging environment. The slow-growing plants retain their dead fibrous leaves as an insulating skirt for their woody stems. Leaf edges are fiercely armed with sharp, hooked teeth that catch and resist releasing any vulnerable creature that attempts to investigate the plants.

Perhaps due to the hazard they might pose to livestock, or maybe just f…