Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Dead Stick Plant

Some plants do not attract much attention, sometimes because people only notice gaudy, sometimes because they are relatively uncommon or quite strange and people just don't know what to make of them, and sometimes because they are not meant to be noticed. The dead stick plant (Cynanchum marnierianum) is a leafless succulent consisting of long slender, pendent stems that look quite dead, perhaps the perfect houseplant. It has been suggested that the plant avoids herbivores by being so cryptic, but since its native habitat are dry forests of Madagascar, the coloration might simply be a filter for intense tropical sun. However if the dead stick plant is not indeed dead, then seasonally it bursts into bloom and the stems are covered with these delightful 1 cm diameter chartreuse bird cage flowers. The more taxonomically more sophisticated among you may immediately recognize the flowers as rather typical for members of the milkweed family which contains many stem and leaf succulents. This is what discounts the cryptic coloration story; milkweeds are usually pretty well protected against most herbivores. These plants actually do make good house plants if you have a sunny place for a hanging basket and like a bit of bizarre among your plants and can avoid over watering.

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