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

Friday, 14 March 2008

Leaf of the Day: Carrion Cactus

Never tell people that you are interested in unusual things.. you never know what they will give you!....

I had a blissful day today. Firstly I went to the Orlando Museum of Art to see the Norman Rockwell exhibition and then on to Leu Gardens. The Rockwell was a really interesting show and I am writing a separate post about it.
As I was lingering in the citrus grove at Leu getting my fix of orange blossom scent, Pedro came by on his buggy and decided I should see some of the interesting things in the gardens. He showed me the most delicate little orange tree with tiny oranges, the calamondon, which grows in his native Philippines, the exquisitely scented osmanthus known as the tea or sweet olive, leaves with bright red veins, pretty little annuals with flowers like orchids, the star anise tree with its aniseed scented leaves, the herb arugula and of course because I am British we went to see the tea plants.
I came back with tea seeds, a piece of resurrection fern, some little calamondons, a snippet of a red crown of thorns to hopefully propagate and this lumpy piece of the carrion cactus.

photo from wikipedia










This extraordinary plant the stapelia giantea also known as the starfish cactus produces a big star shaped flower that both looks and smells like rotting meat. The flower's often red, wrinkled, and hairy surface mimics a small dead animal which, together with its smell of decomposition, attracts flies, who, hoping for a nice meal of putrefying flesh, trample around this wrinkly hairy surface collecting pollen as they go. How does a plant "know " to mimic a dead animal? Triffids really don't seem so impossible do they? The one good thing is that the flower doesn't snap shut on the visiting flies. They are left to go on their way and pollinate others.
I do hope I can get my little piece to grow. Apparently the smell of the flowers is not too bad if they are kept outside!

I had such an interesting time and Pedro is a mine of information about the plants, recipes, mythology, superstitions and philosophy.. he told me that you should not say thank you for the gift of a plant, so I just had to thank him for all his help instead.

Not much time for drawing today so a quick sketch. The structure of the plant is interesting in that the stem has 4 sides which sit at right angles to each other.
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Carrion Cactus


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