Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Miniature holly

A favorite small shrub in our glasshouse is this week's Friday fabulous flower, commonly called "miniature holly" (Malpighia coccigera) because of the glossy, spiny margined leaves. Like many members of this family (Malpighiaceae) the flowers have spoon-shaped petals, here ruffled and fringed to boot, and while not large they are produced in great numbers making for a very attractive display. This species, native to the West Indies, is used as a tropical ornamental. The fruit is a red berry and edible, as are several larger species whose fruit are better known as Barbados cherries or acerolas. The flowers have a funny fragrance, not altogether pleasant. In between the upper three petals glandular sepals can be seen that secrete an oily substance as a reward for the bee pollinators. The genus is an honorific for Marcello Malpighi (1628-1674), professor and naturalist at Bologna. He was an early anatomist making contributions to both botany and zoology (malpighian tubules).

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