"There is no excellent beauty that hath not some strangeness in the proportion" Francis Bacon 1561-1626

Monday, 28 January 2008

Leaf of the day: The Rubber Plant and some Alien Sex!

This good leaf has been sitting quietly on the side of my desk for 2 days now, after I rescued it from a heap of thinnings. The gardener has been round the apartments cutting and pruning, ready for the new growth of spring which will no doubt gallop in apace once the weather warms up. It is showing some scars from the big ugly freeze with various cuts and bruises but I am glad to have immortalised this handsome sturdy leaf. It has quite a presence.
One of the most interesting aspects of living in a semi-tropical climate is that plants which you have only known in England as treasured and exotic house plants, carefully nurtured at some time, effort and anxiety, are here wantonly seeding themselves around and sometimes creating a bit of nuisance. Every bit of waste ground, every crack in the pavement and every neglected-for-a-second building will have some kind of exotic vegetation pushing up through it, scrambling over it and round it, insinuating itself into the basic fabric of the city. I saw a pretty little fan palm peeping out of an old lamppost base the other day. The ficus family is one of the main culprits.

My Ficus Elastica is a member of this interesting Fig family .. all of whom rely for pollination on a specific tiny fig wasp. Because it needs no other pollinators, the tree doesn't bother much to produce big showy flowers. The tiny 'flowers' are clustered inside the fruit we call a fig, correctly called a 'synconium'.
Normally these plants are propagated commercially by cuttings or air layering but I did find this alarming headline in the 'New York Times' by John Noble Wilsford, May 1988. If you want to read more go here
Its amazing what a little fig wasp can do!

' Aided by Alien Insects'
'Alien fig wasps invading south Florida have perked up the sex life of the Ficus tree. They have what the trees had been missing: a knowing and generous way with pollen.

Naturally, this has led to a proliferation of little ficus trees, and they now threaten to overrun lawns, crowd out forest vegetation and send out implacable roots to undermine the concrete and brick foundations of society. ....

On the University of Miami campus at Coral Gables, more than 150 seedlings have been counted around nine large Ficus microcarpa trees,'Eternal Vigilance' which had previously been infertile outside their native ground in the Asian tropics.
Doyle B. McKey, associate professor of biology at the University of Miami, said it would take ''eternal vigilance and constant maintenance'' to contain the spread of Ficus, particularly in the suburbs, where it is already as familiar a part of the landscape as shrubs and trees. "

Friends, we live in dangerous times!

p.s. 'Aliens' and 'Sex'!......I bet I am topping Google ratings today.

The Rubber Plant