Monday, May 11, 2015

Acanthus for all of us

Guest blogger Fred Heath presents the plants of the Acanthus Family. 

The word that comes to mind for the flowers in the Acanthus Family (Acanthaceae) found in Sabino Canyon is "elegant." Of the four species found in Sabino, three are relatively small and without looking closely their beauty is easily missed.

Photo by Ned Harris 4/25/2012

Photo by Fred Heath 4/4/2015

The most common species is the Twin Seed (Dicliptera resupinata) which is found throughout the area. People generally notice the purple flowers, but a closer look reveals its graceful form. Note in the side view the green bract with encloses the base of the flower. These dry to a papery white and protect the seeds. This plant is used as host plant (what the caterpillars eat) by the Texan Crescent (no wonder there are so many in Sabino) and the Tiny Checkerspot.

Photo by Matt Ball

Photo by Fred Heath 4/4/2015

The largest flower and plant in the family in Sabino is the scrub-like Desert Honeysuckle (Anisacanthus thurberi), a favorite of our local hummingbirds. Although it is called a honeysuckle, it not a true honeysuckle (Caprifoliiaceae family). (A number of species in the Honeysuckle family are found higher in our local mountains.) Desert Honeysuckle is a host plant for the Elada Checkerspot, which can easily be confused with the similar Tiny Checkerspot.

Photo by Ned Harris 3/29/2015

The last two Acanthus have small white flowers and are easily overlooked. The Carlowrightia (Carlowrightia arizonica) doesn’t have a common name probably in part because it is not generally noticed by the average person. The genus name comes from a 19th century botanist, Charles (Carlos) Wright. When I see them they remind me of tiny angels.

Photo by Matt Ball

Photo by Fred Heath 4/4/2015

The final Acanthus is White Needle-Flower (Justicia longii). I really don't like the common name for this plant and use the genus name because it sounds as elegant as the flower looks. The genus name is for a botanist, this time from the 18th century named James Justice (OK, but not so elegant). Looking at the flower straight on is neat, but the side view with its long tube gives a good idea where the "needle-flower" in the common name comes from and probably also the species name "longii" in the scientific name (although there is an early 20th century botanist named Bayard Long, so who knows)

Anne says: A few years ago, we saw all four Acanthus species on one of the spring plant walks. There was much rejoicing!
Thanks, Fred, for a wonderful post!

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