Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower(s) - all around weirdness

OK, now before you read on, what family of flowering plants does this specimen belong to?  In fact some may wonder if it is a monocot or a dicot given that the flower parts are in multiples of three.  Although virtually all textbooks and field guides so delineate monocots and dicots, actually flowers with parts in multiples of three are a shared character between monocots and dicots.  And you just might notice the very dicot palmately compound leaves.  TPP remembers the first time he encountered this vine.  As a new botany teaching assistant my assignment was to provide a specimen of a monoecious plant, one with both staminate and pistillate flowers, i.e., "unisexual" flowers, on the same plant.  Wow! What a find.  Dragged it into the lab and labelled it "monoecious".  Job done.  The professor in charge, a grand old man of the department, wasn't satisfied.  "What is this?"  Why, Professor, surely you recognize that!  Where upon TPP decides maybe it would be a good time to grab his Gleason and Cronquist and figure out what this actually was.  A bit later the Professor seeks me out in my office with the plant in question in hand.  "Exactly what family do you think this is in?" he asked.  After looking at it carefully, TPP replied calmly.  Well, Professor, this is a bit unusual, and it is a new one on me, but if a guess has to be made about the family, it would be Lardazabalaceae.  "Harrumpf!"  Yes, did you get it right?  The Lardazabala family, just your plain ordinary totally weird family.  Firstly, this cultivar has cream colored flowers and the wild type has purple (pistillate) or lighter lavender colored (staminate) flowers.  Each inflorescence consists of one larger pistillate flower with 6-9 (mostly 6, this one 8?) protruding and cylindrical pistils, and three petalloid perianth parts (neatly side stepping the sepal or petal question).  The rest of the flowers are staminate, each with 6 stamens that have rather broad, flat, one might say leafy, anthers.  (If you looked closely with a lens or dissecting scope you would find rudimentary stamens and pistils in the pistillate and staminate flowers respectively.  When actually hanging free, the pistillate flower hangs above the staminate flowers.  TPP often wonders how this whole thing works in the wild; here in N. America the plant doesn't seem to have any takers.  Akebia quinata is an ornamental vine from east Asia that does sometimes escape or more often over grows its boundaries.  Although it seems to ignore warnings of impending cold, the vine is quite hardy.  This one hides our recyling and trash bins quite effectively. 


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