Category Archives: Botany

Friday Fellow: Tree Tumbo

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Today I’m introducing one of the most bizarre plant species in the world. Found in the Namib desert, in Namibia and Angola, the Welwitschia mirabilis, usually simply called welwitschia or tree tumbo in English, is the solely member of the order Welwitschiales, a group of gymnosperms in the division Gnetophyta.

welwitschia_mirabilis

A specimen of Welwitschia mirabilis in Naukluft, Namibia. Photo by Sara&Joachim*

The tree tumbo has a unique appearance. The seedlings have two cotyledons (the original leaves produced by the seed) and later develop two permanent leaves that grow opposite (at right angles) to the cotyledons. These permanent leaves grow continuosly, reaching up to 4 m in length. While growing, the leaves split and fray into several straps and occupy an area of about 8 m in circunference around the plant. The stem is woody and the flowers appear on a central part called crown. The species is dioecious, meaning that male and female flowers appear in different plants. Pollination is usually carried out by insects.

Living up to 2 thousand years, the tree tumbo is a very peculiar desert plant. Its leaves are broad and very large, different from what is the rule in the desert. Its root system is also very shallow, not penetrating deep in the ground. It seems that most of the water used by the plant is captured by the leaves from the morning fog.

Although having a very restrict range, the tree tumbo is not (yet) and endangered plant, as its population is considerably large. However, due to its popularity, some areas attract collectors, and since its growth is so slow, it may eventually become a vulnerable plant.

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References:

Bornmann, C. H. 1972. Welwitschia mirabilis: paradox of the Namib Desert. Edeavour, 31(113):95–99.

Wikipedia. Welwitschia mirabilis. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Welwitschia&gt;. Access on March 1, 2017.

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Friday Fellow: Paraná pine

by Piter Kehoma Boll

As the first conifer Friday Fellow, I decided to choose one of my beloved ones, the Paraná pine, Araucaria angustifolia, also known as Brazilian pine or candelabra tree.

The Paraná pine can reach up to 50 m in height, although most trees are smaller than that. They have a very particular shape and are easily distinguished from the surrounding forest where they occur, the so-called Mixed Ombrophilous Forest or Araucaria Moist Forest, in southern Brazil. The trees have a cylindrical trunk with a dark and thin bark that detaches in large and flexible pieces, being gray on the outer surface and reddish on the inner one. The crown changes its appearance during the development, being conical in young trees and with a candelabrum-like shape in mature specimens. Mature trees usually stand with their crowns above the forest canopy, which gives the Araucaria moist forest its particular look. The leaves grow in a spiral pattern around the stem and are very hard with a sharp point that can easily pierce through the human skin.

araucaria_angustifolia

A group of Paraná pines in Campos de Jordão, Brazil, close to the northernmost distribution of the species. Photo by Vinícius Ribeiro.*

The species current distribution is almost restricted to Brazil, from northern Rio Grande do Sul to southern São Paulo, with some small populations occurring in neighboring areas of Argentina and Paraguay. Once an abundant species, its population has been drastically reduced due to the heavy logging until the middle of the 20th century and the exploitation for the use of its seeds, called pinhão in Portuguese. As a result, it is currently considered as Critically Endangered by IUCN.

araucaria_angustifolia2

An adult tree in the municipality of Colombo, Paraná, Brazil. Photo by Mauro Guanandi.*

The paraná pine is a dioecious species, i.e., males and females are separate plants. As most conifers, it is pollinated by the wind. The large cones, which take two years to become ripe, contain a number of large and edible seeds used as food by many animals, as well as by humans. Pinhões cooked in salty water is a typical dish in southern Brazil during winter. One of the main seed dispersers of the Paraná pine is the azure jay, Cyanocorax caeruleus, which buries the seeds for future use.

araucaria_angustifolia3

A cone and lose seeds of Araucaria angustifolia in a market. Photo by Marcelo Träsel.**

As most (if not all) conifers, the Paraná pine forms mutualist associations with fungi, such as the glomeromycete Glomus clarum. Thus, in order to preserve this amazing tree, it is also necessary to guarantee the preservation of all its partner species, such as mycorrhizal fungi and seed dispersers.

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ResearchBlogging.orgReferences:

Angeli, A. (2003). Araucaria angustifolia (Araucaria). Departamento de Ciências Florestais – ESALQ/USP. Available at: <http://www.ipef.br/identificacao/araucaria.angustifolia.asp&gt;. Access on January 26, 2017.

IUCN (2016). Araucaria angustifolia The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species DOI: 10.2305/IUCN.UK.2013-1.RLTS.T32975A2829141.en

Soares, T. S. (2004). Araucária – o pinheiro brasileiro. Revista Científica Eletrônica de Engenharia Florestal, 2 (3).

SOUZA, A. (2007). Ecological interpretation of multiple population size structures in trees: The case of Araucaria angustifolia in South America Austral Ecology, 32 (5), 524-533 DOI: 10.1111/j.1442-9993.2007.01724.x

Zandavalli, R., Dillenburg, L., & de Souza, P. (2004). Growth responses of Araucaria angustifolia (Araucariaceae) to inoculation with the mycorrhizal fungus Glomus clarum. Applied Soil Ecology, 25 (3), 245-255 DOI: 10.1016/j.apsoil.2003.09.009

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Friday Fellow: Peacock Spikemoss

by Piter Kehoma Boll

This is the last Friday Fellow of the year and I decided to choose a beautiful and little known plant, the peacock spikemoss, more commonly known as Willdenow’s spikemoss or peacock fern, and scientifically known as Selaginella willdenowii.

The most impressive feature of this species is the blue iridescence of its leaves, which can be quite intense depending on the light reflecting on them. This blue color is caused by a very thin layer of cells in the upper cuticle of the leaves that produces a thin-film interference, a phenomemon such as the one that makes a soap bubble look colorful.

selaginella_willdenowii

Look how blue it can get! Amazing, huh? Photo by Bernard Dupont.*

The peacock spikemoss is native from Southeast Asia, more precisely from the region around Singapore, and is adapted to areas of extreme shade. The blue iridescence is therefore an adaptation to reflect the strong sunlight that may reach the plant through openings in the canopy.

Some Asian cultures use the peacock spikemoss in traditional medicine and studies have shown that the plant has important antioxidant properties. So why not to try an iridescent blue tea?

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References:

Chai, Tsun-Thai, & Wong, Fai-Chu (2012). Antioxidant properties of aqueous extracts of Selaginella willdenowii Journal of Medicinal Plants Research, 6 (7) DOI: 10.5897/JMPR11.1378

EOL – Encyclopedia of Life. Willdenow’s Spikemoss. Available at: <http://eol.org/pages/595324/overview&gt;. Access on December 28, 2016.

Wikipedia. Selaginella willdenowii. Available at: <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Selaginella_willdenowii&gt;. Access on December 28. 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Christmas Wreath Lichen

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Celebrating Christmas (or whatever you call this time of the year), today’s Friday Fellow is another lichen. And the reason I chose it is because it is known as Christmas wreath lichen due to its red and green color.

Cryptothecia rubrocinta growing on Patagonula americana in Argentina. Photo by Wikimedia user Millifolium.*

Cryptothecia rubrocicnta growing on Patagonula americana in Argentina. Photo by Wikimedia user Millifolium.*

Scientifically known as Cryptothecia rubrocincta, the Christmas wreath lichen is found throughout the Americas, from the United States to Argentina, and usually grows on shady tree trunks. In mature specimens, three different color zones can be seen, a central grayish-green zone, an intermediate white zone, and an external red rim. The central zone is usually covered by red nodules which in some cases may hinder the visibility of the grayish-green color.

The red color is caused by a combination of a quinone, called cheidectonic acid, and beta-carotene, which together protect the organism from radiation and provides DNA repair.

Apparently, this lichen only reproduces asexually, thus not forming any sexual structures. For that reason, it was thought for some time that it could be a basidiomycete fungus, although most lichens are formed by ascomycete fungi. Nowadays, however, we know that it is actually an ascomycete. DNA extraction is difficult, though, because several microscopic fungi live inside the lichen, thus somewhat making it a very complex organism formed by several interconnected species.

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References:

Elfie Stocker-Wörgötter (2010). Stress and Developmental Strategies in Lichens Symbioses and Stress, 525-546 DOI: 10.1007/978-90-481-9449-0_27

Wikipedia. Cryptothecia rubrocincta. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cryptothecia_rubrocincta&gt;. Access on December 16, 2016.

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Friday Fellow: Common Stonewort

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

It’s always hard to introduce a less charismatic species here. Not because they are less interesting to me, but because I cannot find good information available. But I try to do my best to show all aspects of our amazing biodiversity.

Today I’m introducing another alga, one of the most complex ones, the common stonewort, scientifically known as Chara vulgaris.

...armleuchteralgen

A “field” of common stoneworts in a pond. Photo by Markus Nolf.*

Found worldwide in freshwater environments, especially marshes and swamps, the common stonewort may actually be a complex of species. Its name “stonewort” comes from the fact that the plant may become encrusted in calcium carbonate, giving it a stony appearance. Growing up to 120 cm in length/height and having a central articulated stalk with several branches coming out from each node, it may look similar to a horsetail, but its structure is much simpler.

If you look closer, you’ll see that the stalk is formed by a simple mass of chained cells, but very big ones. Actually, the cells of species in the genus Chara are among the largest known plant cells. And having such large cells, stoneworts have become experts in cytoplasmic streaming, a phenomenon by which organelles and fluids flow throughout the cytoplasm guided by an interaction of myosin molecules that slide along actin molecules. And in case you didn’t know, myosin and actin are also the molecules responsible for muscular contractions in animals.

chara_vulgaris

A closer look at a stalk of the common stonewort. Photo by Kristian Peters.*

The common stonewort is very common in rice fields and serves as a substrate for nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Thus, although usually considered a weed in the fields, the presence of the common stonewort may actually help to increase the soil fertility in rice fields.

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References:

Ariosa, Y., Quesada, A., Aburto, J., Carrasco, D., Carreres, R., Leganes, F., & Fernandez Valiente, E. (2004). Epiphytic Cyanobacteria on Chara vulgaris Are the Main Contributors to N2 Fixation in Rice Fields Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 70 (9), 5391-5397 DOI: 10.1128/AEM.70.9.5391-5397.2004

Wikipedia. Charales. Available at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charales&gt;. Access on December 15, 2016.

Wikipedia. Cytoplasmic streaming. Available at < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cytoplasmic_streaming>. Access on December 15, 2016.

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The history of Systematics: Plants in Systema Naturae, 1758 (Part 5)

by Piter Kehoma Boll

After taking four posts (you can read them here: 1, 2, 3, 4) to present all regular hermaphroditic flowers in Linnaeus’ system, it’s time to move to irregular hermaphroditic flowers. Here I’ll present you two classes characterized by having stamens of two different sizes.

14. Didynamia (“two forces”)

“Four husbands, two of them longer and two of them shorter”, i.e., two longer stamens and two shorter stamens in a hermaphroditic flower.

14.1 Didynamia Gymnospermia (“two forces, naked seeds”), two longer stamens (and two shorter ones) and exposed seeds without a surrounding fruit: Ajuga (bugleweeds), Teucrium (germanders), Satureja (savories), Thymbra (Mediterranean thymes), Hyssopus (hyssops), Nepeta (catnips), Lavandula (lavenders), Betonica (betonies), Sideritis (ironworts), Mentha (mints), Glechoma (ground ivies), Lamium (dead nettles), Orvala (more dead nettles), Galeopsis (hempnettles), Stachys (woundworts), Ballota (horehounds), Marrubium (more horehounds), Leonurus (lion’s tails), Phlomis (Jerusalem sage), Moluccella (bells-of-Ireland), Clinopodium (wild basils), Thymus (thymes), Origanum (oreganos), Melissa (balms), Dracocephalum (dragonheads), Horminum (dragonmouth), Melittis (bastard balm), Ocimum (basils), Trichostema (bluecurls), Scutellaria (skullcaps), Prunella (self-heals), Prasium (white hedge-nettle), Phryma (lopseed).

1758linnaeus_didynamia_gymnospermia

These 32 species were classified by Linnaeus as Didynamia Gymnospermia (from left to right, top to bottom): common bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), wall germander (Teucrium chamaedrys), winter savory (Satureja montana), spicate Mediterranean thyme (Thymbra spicata), herb hyssop (Hyssopus officinalis), true catnip (Nepeta cataria), French lavender (Lavandula stoechas), common betony (Betonica officinalis, now Stachys officinalis), Syrian ironwort (Sideritis syriaca), spear mint (Mentha spicata), common ground-ivy (Glechoma hederacea), white dead-nettle (Lamium album), common hempnettle (Galeopsis tetrahit), hedge woundwort (Stachys sylvatica), black horehound (Ballota nigra), common horehound (Marrubium vulgare), motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca), common Jerusalem sage (Phlomis fruticosa), common-bells-of-Ireland (Moluccella laevis), common wild-basil (Clinopodium vulgare), common thyme (Thymus vulgaris), common oregano (Origanum vulgare), lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), Moldavian dragonhead (Dracocephalum moldavica), dragonmouth (Horminum pyrenaicum), bastard balm (Melittis melissophyllum), sweet basil (Ocimum basilicum), forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum), blue skullcap (Scutellaria lateriflora), common self-heal (Prunella vulgaris), white hedge-nettle (Prasium majus), lopseed (Phryma leptostachya). Credits to H. Zell (bugleweed, hyssop, betony, mint, dead nettle), Bernd Haynold (germander, dragonmouth), Agnieszka Kwiecień (savory), Gideon Pisanty (Mediterranean thyme, lemon balm), Hans Hillewaert (lavender), C T Johansson (ironwort), Kristian Peters (ground ivy), Ivar Leidus (woundwort, self-heal), Olivier Pichard (black horehound), Eugene Zelenko (common horehound), Karel Jakubec (motherwort), Peter A. Mansfeld (Jerusalem sage), Muriel Bendel (wild basil), Henry Brisse (thyme), Frank Vicentz (oregano), Karen Hine (dragonhead), Jacopo Werther (blue curls), Rolf Engstrand (skullcap), Zeynel Cebeci (white hedge-nettle), and Wikimedia users KENPEI (catnip), BerndH (hempnettle, bastard balm), HelloMojo (bells-of-Ireland), Wildfeuer (basil) and Dalgial (lopseed).

14.2 Didynamia Angiospermia (“two forces, enclosed seeds”), two longer stamens (and two shorter ones) and seeds enclosed in a fruit: Bartsia (velvetbells), Rhinanthus (rattles), Euphrasia (eyebrights), Melampyrum (cow wheats), Lathraea (toothworts), Schwalbea (chaffseed), Tozzia (tozzias), Pedicularis (louseworts), Gerardia (gerardias), Chelone (turtleheads), Gesneria (gesnerias), Antirrhinum (snapdragons), Cymbaria (cymbarias), Craniolaria (craniolarias), Martynia (cat’s claw), Torenia (wishbone flowers), Besleria (beslerias), Scrophularia (figworts), Celsia (celsia), Digitalis (foxgloves), Bignonia (crossvines), Citharexylum (fiddlewoods), Halleria (tree fuchsia), Crescentia (calabash tree), Gmelina (gmelinas), Petrea (sandpaper vines), Lantana (lantanas), Cornutia (cornutias), Loeselia (loeselias), Capraria (goatweeds), Selago (selages), Hebenstretia (hebenstretias), Erinus (fairy foxgloves), Buchnera (buchneras), Browallia (browallias), Linnaea (twinflower), Sibthorpia (sibthorpia), Limosella (mudworts), Stemodia (twintips), Aeginetia (forest ghost flower), Obolaria (obolarias), Orobanche (broomrapes), Dodartia (dodartias), Lippia (lippias), Sesamum (sesames), Mimulus (monkeyflowers), Ruellia (ruellias), Barleria (Philippine violets), Duranta (dewdrops), Ovieda (ovieda), Ellisia (ellisia), Volkameria (glory bowers), Clerodendrum (more glory bowers), Vitex (chastetree), Bontia (wild olive), Columnea (flying goldfish plants), Acanthus (bear’s breeches), Pedalium (pedalium), Melianthus (honeyflowers).

1758linnaeus_didynamia_angiospermia

The order Didynamia Angiospermia included these plants (from left to right, top to bottom): common velvetbells (Bartsia alpina), field cow-wheat (Melampyrum arvense), common toothwort (Lathraea squamaria), American chaffseed (Schwalbea americana), common lousewort (Pedicularis sylvatica), white turtlehead (Chelone glabra), garden snapdragon (Antirrhinum majus), cat’s claw (Martynia annua), common figwort (Scrophularia nodosa), common foxglove (Digitalis purpurea), common crossvine (Bignonia capreolata), tree fuchsia (Halleria lucida), Calabash tree (Crescentia cujete), West Indian lantana (Lantana camara), common goatweed (Capraria biflora), Alpine balsam (Erinus alpinus), twinflower (Linnaea borealis), water mudwort (Limosella aquática), seaside twintip (Stemodia marítima), forest ghost flower (Aeginetia indica), branched broomrape (Orobanche ramosa), common sesame (Sesamum indicum), square-stemmed monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens), minnieroot (Ruellia tuberosa), crested Philippine violet (Barleria cristata), golden dewdrop (Duranta erecta), common glory bower (Volkameria inermis), Hill glory bower (Clerodendrum infortunatum), common chastetree (Vitex agnus-castus), wild olive (Bontia daphnoides), common bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis), pedalium (Pedalium murex), giant honeyflower (Melianthus major). Credits to Jörg Hempel (velvetbells, toothwort), Hans Hillewaert (cow wheat), H. Zell (turtlehead, chastetree), Michael Apel (snapdragon), Jean François Gaffard (figwort), Melissa McMasters (crossvine), Stan Shebs (tree fuchsia, honeyflower), Franz Xaver (lantana, sesame, bear’s breeches), Scott Zona (goatweed), François Van Der Biest (Apline balsam), Paul Chapman (twinflower), Christian Fischer (mudwort), Alex Popovkin (twintip), C T Johansson (forest ghost flower), Javier Martin (broomrape), Jason Hollinger (monkeyflower), Varun Pabrai (minnieroot), Forest & Kim Starr (common glory bower), D. Eickhoff (wild olive), Marco Schmidt (pedalium), and Wikimedia users Orchi (lousewort), Vinayaraj (cat’s claw, hill glory bower), Yann (foxglove), Jamesbamba (calabash tree), Vengolis (Philippine violet) and Mokkie (dewdrop).

15. Tetradynamia (“four forces”)

“Six husbands, four of them longer in a hermaphrodite flower”, i.e., four longer stamens and two shorter stamens in a hermaphroditic flower.

15.1 Tetradynamia Siliculosae (“four forces, siliculose”), four longer stamens (and two shorter ones) and seeds in a short pod (silicle): Myagrum (myagers), Vella (vellas), Anastatica (rose of Jericho), Subularia (awlworts), Draba (whitlow grasses), Lepidium (peppercresses), Thlaspi (pennycresses), Cochlearia (spoonworts), Iberis (candytufts), Alyssum (alyssums), Clypeola (more alyssums), Biscutella (biscutellas), Lunaria (honesties).

1758linnaeus_tetradynamia_siliculosae

Linnaeus put in the order Tetradynamia Siliculosae, among others, the following plants (from left to right, top to bottom): rose of Jericho (Anastatica hierochuntica), early whitlow-grass (Draba verna), garden cress (Lepidium sativum), field pennycress (Thlaspi arvense), common spoonwort (Cochlearia officinalis), evergreen candytuft (Iberis sempervirens), spiny madwort (Alyssum spinosum), sweet alyssum (Clypeola maritima, now Lobularia maritima), common honesty (Lunaria annua). Credits to Michael H. Lemmer (whitlow grass), Krish Dulal (garden cress), Karel Jakubec (spoonwort), Kurt Stüber (madwort), André Karwath (honesty) and Wikimedia users Phil41 (rose of Jericho), Bff (pennycress), Bouba (candytuft) and Hectonichus (sweet alyssum).

 15.2 Tetradynamia Siliquosae (“four forces, siliquose”), four longer stamens (and two shorter ones) and seeds in a long pod (silique): Dentaria (bittercresses), Cardamine (more bittercresses), Sisymbrium (hedge mustards), Erysimum (wallflowers), Cheiranthus (more wallflowers), Hesperis (dame’s rockets), Arabis (rockcresses), Turritis (towercresses), Brassica (cabbages, mustards and allies), Sinapis (some mustards), Raphanus (radishes), Bunias (warty cabbages), Isatis (woads), Crambe (seakales), Cleome (spiderflowers).

1758linnaeus_tetradynamia_siliquosae

The order Tetradynamia Siliquosa included (from left to right, top to bottom): narrowleaf bittercress (Cardamine impatiens), common hedge-mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), common dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis), Alpine rockcress (Arabis alpina), common towercress (Turritis glabra), cabbage (Brassica oleracea), wild mustard (Sinapis arvensis), cultivated radish (Raphanus sativus), common woad (Isatis tinctoria), common seakale (Crambe maritima), African spiderflower (Cleome gynandra). Credits to Meneerke Bloem (bittercress), James K. Lindsey (hedge mustard), Jason Pratt (dame’s rocket), Jerzy Opiała (rockcress), Olivier Pichard (wild mustard), Curtis Clark (radish), Kurt Stüber (woad), Anne Burgess (seakale), Ton Rulkens (spiderflower) and Wikimedia users Rigel7 (towercress) and Griensteidl (cabbage).

As you can notice, these classes include many culinary plants. And finally we are getting close to the end of flowering plants, but there are still quite a lot to show.

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References:

Linnaeus, C. 1758. Systema Naturae per Regna Tria Naturae…

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Friday Fellow: Indian shot

ResearchBlogging.orgby Piter Kehoma Boll

Today’s Friday Fellow may not seem to be such an astonishing plant, but it has its peculiarities, some of them quite interesting.

Commonly known as Indian shot, African arrowroot, purple arrowroot, and many other names, it was called Canna indica by Linnaeus in his work Species Plantarum. In fact, Canna indica is the first plant named in the book, so it could be seen as the first life form to receive a valid binomial name.

canna_indica

A small-flowered, possibly wild variety of Indian shot. Photo by flickr user peganum.*

Despite being called Indian shot or African arrowroot, this species is actually native from the Americas, especially South America, although it may be found as far north as the southern United States. It is widely cultivated as an ornamental plant and several varieties exist. It is also naturalized in many parts of Europe, Africa, Southeast Asia, and many Pacific islands.

The subterranean rhizomes of the Indian shot are edible and were a food crop cultivated by the original inhabitants of the Americas, although is much less used nowadays. The rhizomes may be eaten raw or baked or cooked. The seeds, which are small, globular and black, are very hard and dense and can even be used as bullets, hence the name Indian shot.

canna_indica_2

Seeds and flowers of Canna indica. Photo by Wikimedia user B.navez.*

The Indian shot is sometimes used to remove nutrients from wastewaters, being cultivated in constructed wetlands where the wastewaters are kept for purification. There are also  some studies pointing to its use as an inhibitor of the activity of the protein reverse transcriptase of  HIV.

Isn’t it a nice fellow, after all?

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References:

Cui, L., Ouyang, Y., Lou, Q., Yang, F., Chen, Y., Zhu, W., & Luo, S. (2010). Removal of nutrients from wastewater with Canna indica L. under different vertical-flow constructed wetland conditions Ecological Engineering, 36 (8), 1083-1088 DOI: 10.1016/j.ecoleng.2010.04.026

Wikipedia. Canna indica. Availabe at <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canna_indica&gt;. Access on December 2, 2016.

Woradulayapinij, W., Soonthornchareonnon, N., & Wiwat, C. (2005). In vitro HIV type 1 reverse transcriptase inhibitory activities of Thai medicinal plants and Canna indica L. rhizomes Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 101 (1-3), 84-89 DOI: 10.1016/j.jep.2005.03.030

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