Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Coral plant

Better late than never with the Friday Fabulous Flower; our internet service has been a bit flaky lately.  At any rate with the late summer flowering doldrums upon us, and so many plants damaged or dormant or just toasted because of the heat and drought, a quick peak into our glasshouse revealed a plant that really likes the heat, coral plant (Russelia equisetiformis).  This common name probably comes from the coral pink flower color of many common varieties.  The specific epithet means "form like Equisetum" or horsetails.  The resemblence isn't obvious to me, but the drooping stems of the subshrub (shrubby but not really woody) are nearly leafless and those that do occur are in whorls.  That must be it; reduced leaves in whorls.  Some time back Russelia was in the snapdragon family (Scrophulariaceae), but that family has been fragmented and combined with other families on the basis of molecular studies, so now this genus is in the Plantaginaceae, the plantain family (not the banana kind, but the lawn weed kind).  This sort of surprises people because the plantains have non-showy flowers and therefore showing little obvious simliarities to bird pollinated flowers like this genus.  As a hummingbird plant, these flowers do not show the bilateral symmetry typical of many of the insect pollinated flowers associated with snapdragons.  These plants find a lot of landscape use in the tropics and subtropics because they are pretty tough and droop attractively from planters and raised beds.

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