Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Gunnera

Gunnera is one strange plant. It is found at higher altitudes in the wet tropics, and it's a huge leafed herbaceous perennial.  People say it looks like a big, coarse rhubarb. Really? The rounded radially-veined, lobed leaf blades can be more than a meter across, and stand a couple of meters high on a stout, prickly looking petiole, big enough to provide shelter from a rain. This young plant isn't that big yet.  Systematically this genus is a basal lineage of the true dicots (eudicots), that includes most of what used to be called dicots. The problem here is that "dicot" plants having a pair of cotyledons, embryonic leaves, does not form a single lineage because the Magnoliids are dicots, and so are the ANA basal lineages of flowering plants except for waterlilies that have one cotyledon (monocot) but otherwise have dicot characters, and then there are gymnosperms that have two cotyledons as well. Monocots remain a lineage, a good taxonomic group, dicots aren't. So remember the old monocot/dicot how to tell them apart table. No? Then don't bother. This nice image is courtesy of my old friend Dr. Chips who lives in a mild enough, wet enough climate that Gunnera can grow there (lucky duck) if mulched in their winterish season.  It has quite strange flowers that are borne on large columnar inflorescences; even TPP isn't sure what constitutes a single flower, but he's never had flowering specimens to examine first hand.  Pretty weirdly fabulous on the whole. 

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