Field of Science

Jade vine - Another ludicrous flower to enjoy

The jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) is a tropical liana (woody vine) from the Philippines. If you know your plant families, you’ll recognize these flowers as beans/legumes right away (1 standard petal, two lateral petals, and two petals forming a keel housing the stamens and pistil) except what a color! This pale blue-green color is very unusual flower color, but it shows up well in dim light against a dark and green background, which abounds in the rain forest understory where the Phactor works.

Each individual flower is about 2 inches long. And like wisteria, which the Phactor is told flowers, his own vine providing no evidence of this at all, the inflorescence hangs upside down, so each flower twists 180 degrees on its stalk to present itself right side up. Some tropical fruits have a similar pale blue color, again to show up well against a dark background, and the Phactor promises to show you one soon.

The inflorescence of flowers is a foot or two long and hangs down from the vine on long cord-like stems. And this combined with the color tells me that the pollinator is a nectar foraging bat! A similar bean (Mucuna holtonii) grows in the neotropics, but the flower color is just a pale greenish, however the upper petal of this bean’s flower acts as a sound reflector to bounce the bat’s sonic signals back at them (research conducted by Dagmar and Otto
von Helversen; you meet the best people while doing field research.). Jade vine is now fairly common in conservatory collections at botanical gardens, like the New York Botanical Garden which is where this picture was taken (eat your heart out GrrlScientist).

The flowers work by lever action. The weight of the bat pushes the keel down forcing either the pollen laden anthers or the stigma out the tip of the keel to make contact with the bat’s body. Unfortunately never having seen bats and the jade vine in action, I don’t know how exactly the two interact, and very unfortunately, the native habitat of both are threatened by deforestation. It’s depressing to know that someday such organisms may only live in cultivation. At least this Asian import won’t escape into the wilds of the Bronx.


nora dioca said...

love it!
this green is very cool!
compliments for your work in nature
:) chiara

ilex said...

Like something Aubrey Beardsley would draw. Minus the (human) nudity.

The Phytophactor said...

Minus the nudity! Where's the fun in that? Always wondered about Beardsley's dreams, or maybe that is what he painted.

Actually, the Phactor, art aficionado that he is, favors a comparison of these flowers to Georgia O'Keefe's "Blue-green music". Hmm, guess you'll have to look up an image. That she painted this picture in 1919 makes it all the more amazing.