(n.) the spontaneous opening at maturity of a plant structure, such as a fruit, to release its contents
I’ve always considered myself more of a bee than a squirrel – it’s the flower, not the fruit, that catches my eye. With this plant, however, everything BUT the flower shouts out for attention.
Hanging from a jointed stalk (much like a kinked chain), tiny little lanterns appear first soft and green, then turn crisp and brown to eventually spill seeds from the seams. In the botanical vernacular, each fruit is a schizocarp (fruit that splits into segments) that is also dehiscent (each segment splits along a seam when dry in order to release the seeds).
It’s rare to find a soft broad leaf here in the subtropics and these light gray-green leaves stand out from the bright green narrow grass blades they climb upon. The dense hairs that cover each heart-shaped leaf must help protect against sun and water loss, because we’ve been dry for a month and these plants seem very hale and hearty.
But… Where Have All the Flowers Gone?
(And just because it’s in my head now and has been since yesterday’s search for the elusive bloom, here’s a link to the Peter, Paul and Mary version of that song. I’ve sung it at numerous campfires over the decades… I’d love to pass that torch to you.) I searched every individual plant I saw for flowers, but found only fruits. After about 10 minutes, I conceded defeat to the sun and the sweat and the call of the ocean just 20 feet away. But it turns out that dip in the ocean was just what I needed. It cooled my brain enough to ponder the problem more comfortably and I came up with a plan. If I found young green fruits, there might still be a few straggling late-bloomers on the same plant. So when I left the sea, I went back to dry, sun-bleached ridge. I looked, and I looked, and I looked some more and was rewarded with… one.
One Tiny Little Bloom:
A skinny stem sprouted from just above where the leaf met the stem (the axil), with the same dislocated joint that is more obvious on the fruit. The droopy angle pushed the bloom face-down, so the only eyes to see the 5 pale yellow petals must belong to the lizards, mice, and insects crawling beneath. I had to cheat and hold the flower up to get the images below.
Once you notice all the features that make this plant special (inflated and dehiscent fruit, jointed flower stem, solitary flower borne from the leaf axil, to name a few) it’s pretty easy to identify it… but not as simple to name it. One of my favorite traditions in science is the retroactive policy of modifying plant names to acknowledge the work of past scientists – and this plant has had multiple names since 1753. Somebody is always poking around in old journals and herbariums to check for previous collections and publications of specific plants. For now, at least, we can settle into Herissantia crispa, thanks to George Brizicky. He created the current name for this plant based on previous names and descriptions, including (but not limited to):
- Sida crispa 1753
- Abutilon crispum 1787
- Sida imberbis de Candolle 1824
- Abutilon imberbe (de Candolle) 1831
- Gayoides crispa 1903
- Bogenhardia crispa 1954
- Herissantia crispa (Linnaeus) Brizicky 1968
Or you can simply call it by one of its common names, Bladdermallow.