Sunday, March 12, 2017

Taiwan 2. December Wildflowers

The large grass, Miscanthus sinensis, dominates much of the
open land in Taiwan, with spectacular bloom spikes in
In my previous installment, I focused on some of the spectacular cultivated plants of Taiwan. Here I return to my core subject of wildflowers.  We usually use the term wildflower for native plants, as opposed to cultivated plants and invasive weeds from elsewhere.  In Taiwan, however, it is sometimes difficult to tell what is truly native and what has been brought from somewhere else.

In the spectacular Taroko Gorge, a species of Hibiscus greets
December visitors.

A close-up of the Hibscus from Taroko, which may
be either H. taiwaniensis or H. mutabilis
People, known today as Taiwan Aborigines, have been in Taiwan for at least 6000 years, having migrated here from southern China.  Those first people most likely brought some plants with them, on purpose as well as by accident.  Their descendants didn't stay put , and became master boat-builders and navigators. The ancestors of the Austronesian people who  eventually colonized much of the Pacific,  parts of Asia, and Madagascar., originated in Taiwan . In their comings and goings, these sailors probably brought other plants.  300-400 years ago, another wave of immigration from the mainland, this time of Han Chinese, came to the island, giving rise to ethnic Taiwanese.

With the introduction of Chinese civilization to Taiwan came more trade and active interest in horticulture, and likely more "non-native" plants.  Be that as it may, these are some of the  wild plants that I found blooming in Taiwan during the month of December.

Our three weeks in Taiwan took us to Taroko Gorge, Alishan, and Sun Moon Lake in the central mountains, as well as tropical Kenting National Park in the south, and Yangmingshan National Park in the North.

A species of Pandanus from the southern end of Taiwan.
Ipomoea pes-caprae grows along Taiwan's beaches as it does
in Florida and tropical beaches around the world.
So we saw truly tropical plants, such as screw pine (Pandanus spp.) and beach morning glory (Ipomoea pes-caprae) which can be found on tropical and subtropical beaches throughout the world.  Surprisingly, we also saw many plants blooming in the central mountains, where it was already decidedly chilly.  Except for the highest peaks, there is no real winter in Taiwan, so one can find flowers year-round.
Phoenix hanceana is the native member of the date palm
genus in Taiwan.  Here it is growing along the wind-swept
coastal bluffs in Kenting National Park.
Evolvulus alsinoides is another member of the 
morning glory family, Convolvulaceae.

Yellow members of the sunflower family, Asteraceae, 
are common in the mountains. 

Another late-blooming yellow Asteraceae from the mountains
Tithonia diversifolia blooms abundantly on mountain slopes
west of Alishan.

A morning glory, Ipomoea cheirophylla, is common along
roadsides throughout Taiwan.
A wild begonia blooms in the Yangmingshan National Park  near Taipei.

A yellow member of the mint family, Salvia nipponica, continues
to bloom in Yangmingshan at about 2500 ft elevation, despite chilly
December temperatures.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Taiwan 1. Island of Flowers

The coastline of Taiwan consists of hundreds of  miles of
sandy beaches as well as rocky cliffs.
Imagine Florida, with its subtropical climate and sunny, palm-lined beaches.  But instead of a patchwork of lakes and swamps in the center, imagine a mountain range, with peaks reaching to almost 13,000 feet. Well, then you'd have Taiwan. The mountains add hugely to the botanical diversity of the island, being clad in tropical to subtropical rain forest at the  lower elevations and mossy cloud forests higher up. Snow falls in the winter at the highest elevations. So it is an exciting place for a botanical excursion. 
The massive central mountain range of Taiwan contains many peaks over 10,000 feet in elevation.

Taiwan is actually smaller and a bit further south than Florida.  It's roughly 1/4 the size of peninsular Florida, which makes its massive mountain range even more impressive.  Its northern tip is at about the same latitude as the Everglades, and its southern tip would be somewhere in Cuba.  The Tropic of Cancer runs through the middle of the island.  But you get the analogy: Florida with a touch of the Andes.

I was recently there, as often, for non-botanical purposes, but with camera ready, I recorded as much as I could of the plant life I saw.  This first installment can be considered a special version of this website, which should be called "I brake for not-so-wildflowers," as I will focus on the cultivated plant life of Taiwan.  Cultivated plants are often also quite brake-worthy.

Visitors from all  over Taiwan enjoy the many varieties of chrysanthemum displayed at the annual show in December.

The first weekend after our arrival in late November, my brother-in-law took us to the former residence of the late President, Chiang Kai-Shek, which is now the site of the annual Chrysanthemum Festival.  Chrysanthemums originated in China, where there are many wild relatives.  The Chinese began cultivating and breeding Chrysanthemums over 3500 years ago, and now there are thousands of hybrids and cultivated varieties.  They are derived originally from Chrysanthemum indicum, but have involved hybridization with other species.

Some non-chrysanthemums, such as this Liatris, add
variety to the exhibition.
Chrysanthemum trees are constructed for the annual show.
Numerous varieties of chrysanthemum are
displayed and labeled.

Traveling around Taiwan, one sees many other cultivated plants, including marvelous varieties of tropical fruit, orchids, flowering trees, and plants that make a Floridian feel at home, like hibiscus, orchid trees (Bauhinia spp.), bougainvillea, and at the time I was there, poinsettias blooming along the highways.  Even some of the weeds are the same, like the annoying beggar tick, Bidens pilosa, whose prickly achenes will stick all over your clothes if you carelessly walk into a patch of them.

Betel nut palms (Areca catechu) are everywhere in the Taiwan
One thing not common in Florida is the betel nut palm, which is literally everywhere in Taiwan.  That is because formerly the disgusting habit of chewing betel nut was widespread here, as it has been throughout southeast Asia and the Pacific.  In fact it is still relatively common in Taiwan, though chewing in public is strongly discouraged.  Betel nut contains a mild stimulant, and is habit-forming.  It is sold primarily in peculiar little glass-enclosed booths located with fair frequency along city streets and highways.  Distinctive flashing lights outside the booth identify the facilities to prowling betel-addicts.

Radiating spokes of flashing
lights indicate the location of
a betel nut booth.
The booths are typically "manned" by attractive young women, and this evidently is part of the modern betel nut culture - a little eye-candy to go along with your chewing pleasure.  Signs in many places boast that they have the most beautiful betel nut "queen" at their facility.   There are stories that in some locations the girls are dressed in bikinis (or less!), and you can only imagine where that might lead.

The other major attraction among the cultivated plants of Taiwan is the variety of fruit.  We arrived during the sugar apple (Annona squamosa) harvest season, and had the pleasure of sampling two different varieties: the standard sugar apple and the pineapple sugar apple. The tough skin of the sugar apple separates around its scale-like units when ripe to reveal the sweet creamy fruit surrounding several to many hard black seeds.  Dragon fruit and bananas were also fruiting, but they tend to be ripening all year long.
Giant models of sugar apple fruits welcome
visitors to one of the major growing areas in
Sugar apple fruits are protected by paper bags as they ripen.
Sugar apples are ready for customers at a roadside stand.
Roselle is the fruit-like fleshy calyx of Hibiscus
sabdariffa, and quite popular in Taiwan.

Calla lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica) for the florist trade are grown in
running water in Taiwan.
One surprise was to find a calla lily farm in the mountains east of Taipei.  We'd just come down from Yang Ming Mountain, where we had seen a rich community of native plants (to be described in a future installment) and were looking for a lunch spot.  Someone recommended  a new restaurant, which happened to opened by a calla lily grower in the middle of his farm.  Calla lilies are native to South Africa (see South Africa, part 1), and of course are a staple of the floral trade throughout the world.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Australia 4. An excursion in New South Wales

Eastern New South Wales is a land of gentle, rolling mountains and coastal
plains covered in green forest.
Hakea multilineata is a spectacular member of the Proteaceae.
After several weeks in Western Australia, I flew to Canberra, Australia's capital, to visit my old friend from Papua New Guinea, Heinar Streimann.  Heinar at this time was the resident expert on bryophytes at the Australian National Botanic Gardens in Canberra.  We decided to "go bush" for old times sake, and the surrounding state of New South Wales has plenty to offer.   The eastern part of New South Wales prevents quite a contrast to Western Australia, and indeed to most of this rather arid continent.  The dominant color is green, as lush forests dominate from the coastal areas up to the mountains.  Wildflowers are to be found in great diversity, but not in the dominating displays we see in the drier west.  Here, some of the most interesting plants have no flowers at all and live in the shade of the large eucalyptus trees that dominate nearly all of Australia's forests.Wildflowers are most evident in open habitats in the lower elevations.  Orchids, legumes, and members of the myrtle and protea families are prominent here as elsewhere.  I was only able to scratch the surface here, but this brief sample will hopefully inspire you to visit for yourself.  I don't have tools at my disposal to properly identify all the flowers displayed here, so any of you who know these plants, please don't hesitate to send me identifications or corrections.
This coastal heath is dominated by Allocasuarina

Allocasuarina nana has jointed green stems and  rudimentary leaves.  The flowers are 
tiny, and hidden in reddish cone-like clusters.
A ground orchid in the genus Glossodia.
 Cakile edentula (Brassicaceae) struggles to keep above shifting beach sand.

Boronia megastigma (Rutaceae) is a common shrub in the lowlands of New South Wales.

Isopogon anemonifolius is another member of the widespread southern hemisphere
family Proteaceae.  The bloom is a compound head of many small flowers.

The tubular red flowers of Epacris longiflora (Ericaceae) are similar to some of the heaths
in South Africa, and  are probably also pollinated by nectar-feeding birds.
Epacris breviflora has shorter, white flowers.

Dracophyllum secundum is a third member of the
Ericaceae blooming during my visit.
The bright blue flowers of Dampiera diversifolia (Goodeniaceae) fill a fertile space between rocks.
The legume, Kennedia rubicunda, creeps along the
Forests in the Snowy Mountains are dominated by tall Eucalyptus trees, with an
understory of tree ferns.

Despite their tropical appearance, the tree ferns of
the snowy mountains are cold-tolerant. These have
been coated with snow in a late season storm. 
The taller tree ferns are in the genus Cyathea, and the
shorter ones in the genus Dicksonia.
Tmesipteris is a relative of the common fern relative, Psilotum.

Tree ferns frame an inviting waterfall in the Snowy Mountains.

Many tree ferns in this area have been poached, their trunks hacked off for the horticultural tree fern fiber trade, or for
rooting and sale as specimen plants.
Anybody know what this is?
Or this?

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Australia 3. The Incredible Carnivores

Carnivorous plants, such as the clump of
Cephalotus at the lower right, often grow
in boggy marshes.
Everyone is fascinated by carnivorous plants.  Earlier, I documented the species found in Florida, but the numbers there pale in comparison with those to be found in Australia. According to the epic 3-volume work on Australian carnivores by Allen Lowrie (1987, 1989,1998), there is one unique pitcher plant, Cephalotus follicularis, three species of Byblis, 19 species of Utricularia, one species of Nepenthes, and the one aquatic species, Aldrovanda vesicularis.   However, the king of carnivores, in Australia and the world as a whole, is the genus Drosera - the sundews.  Lowrie lists just over 100 species, many divided into subspecies. The number of recognized species has increased over the years.  Florabase now lists 110 species for the state of Western Australia alone, which is where the majority of Australian species reside.

Cephalotus follicularis is a pitcher plant endemic to Australia.  It is not related
to the pitcher plants in the genus Nepenthes
One of my goals in Australia was to see as many of the sundews as possible, and maybe even to see Cephalotus growing in the wild.  With only a couple of weeks in Australia in October of 1998, I of course could only skim the surface of this vast assortment of carnivorous plants.  I had to confine myself to the southwestern corner of the country for my primary exploration, but later had an outing in the Snowy Mountains of New South Wales with my friend Heinar Streimann. Sundews were abundant everywhere, however.  Whenever I stopped my car beside the road, I had to step carefully to avoid these prolific, though often tiny plants.
Many species of Australian sundews
produce their trap leaves along upright
The bright orange flowers of Drosera hyperostigma are larger than the rosettes
of trap leaves that produce them.
And I did find Cephalotus!  At the Botanic Gardens in Perth, I asked where I might find them, and they referred me to a nurseryman who was propagating them for the hobbyist trade.  I visited his nursery and saw the baby pitcher plants being groomed for the market.  The owner was at first reluctant to reveal the location of a wild population, but I assured him that the only thing I would take was photographs, and he relented.

Drosera macrantha climbs by using its sticky traps to grab onto supporting shrubs.
After I drove to the location and climbed over a locked gate, it didn't take long to find them.  They were growing in the shallow water of a sedge-filled marsh, forming conspicuous reddish  clumps.  Similar in overall appearance to the tropical pitcher plants of the genus Nepenthes, and less so to our American Sarracenias, Cephalotus is unrelated to either and classified in a family of its own.  The pitchers form as specialized leaves intermixed with ordinary flat leaves, unlike those of Nepenthes, which typically  form at the end of each leaf.

Having satisfied my desire to see the unique pitcher plants, I focused on Drosera, and was soon flabbergasted by the variety of growth forms.  There were the tiny rosettes, which were the most familiar form, but also tall forms with leaves spread out along an upright stem.  Some of these were even vine-like, using their sticky trap leaves to adhere to the branches of shrubs as they climbed.  Later, in the mountains of the east, I would encounter the forking sundew, Drosera binata - a very different sort of beast!

Drosera menziesii is a climbing species with large
pink flowers.
There were all manner of colors in the flowers of the sundews, and sometimes the foliage as well.  I wished that I could have spent more time to document how the  differently colored flowers were pollinated.  I would guess that most were pollinated by small bees or flies, but  have no idea how many different species of pollinators would be involved.

Drosera glanduligera forms colonies of golden yellow rosettes with orange flowers.
I have done my best to identify all the species in my photographs, but some eluded me, and some are no doubt wrong.  As Lowrie himself stated, sundews are very difficult to identify.  So, I welcome corrections from anyone who is knowledgeable of this fascinating group of plants.  Enjoy!
Drosera erythrorhiza has flat, roundish leaves.
Drosera erythrocalyx has bright red leaves.

I have yet to identify this striking sundew, which forms a tangled mesh of red shoots
and an occasional bluish flower. It grows on granite seeps in D'Entrecasteaux National
Park at the southwestern corner of Australia.

Water seeping along this granite slope in D'Entrecasteaux National Park supports
species of  Drosera and Utricularia, along with other specialized shrubs and herbs.

Drosera binata (bottom of picture) grows along a stream in the Snowy Mountains of
New South Wales.

The leaves of Drosera binata split several times.  The ends of
the leaf segments unroll like fern fiddleheads as they grow.
Drosera adelae occurs along Australia's
east coast. The conspicuous sticky drops
at the tips of specialized hairs both
capture and digest insect prey.

References cited:

Lowrie, Allen. 1987, 1989, 1998,  Carnivorous Plants of Australia. Volume 1-3. University of Western Australia Press. Nedlands, Western Australia.