Tag Archives: weird plants

Friday Fellow: Hooker’s Lips

by Piter Kehoma Boll

We are always fascinated by plants that have some peculiar shape that resemble something else. And certainly one of them is the species I’m introducing today, Psychotria elata, also known as hooker’s lips or hot lips.

Found in the rainforests of Central America, in areas of middle to high elevation, the hooker’s lips is an understory shrub and produces an inflorescence that is surrounded by a pair of bracts that resemble bright red lips. Don’t look too much or you may be tempted to kiss them.


“Kiss me”, beg the hooker’s lips. Photo by Wikimedia user IROZ.*

Certainly some creatures do kiss it, especially hummingbirds, which are its pollinators, but also many species of butterflies and bees. However, when they come to kiss the red lips, they have already spread to much, in order to allow the flowers to be exposed, and do not resemble a mouth anymore.


Once the mouth is open, the magic of the kiss is gone. Photo by Dick Culbert.**

After pollination, the flowers develop into blue berries that are easily spotted by birds, which disperse the seeds. As the hooker’s lips produces fruits through the whole year, it is an important food source for fruit-eating birds.

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EOL –  Encyclopedia of Life. Psychotria elata. Available at <http://eol.org/pages/1106123/overview&gt;. Access on March 5, 2017.

Silva, C., & Segura, J. (2015). Reproductive Biology and Herkogamy of Psychotria elata (Rubiaceae), a Distylous Species of the Tropical Rain Forests of Costa Rica American Journal of Plant Sciences, 06 (03), 433-444 DOI: 10.4236/ajps.2015.63049

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*Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

**Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License.


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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.


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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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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*Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License.

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Friday Fellow: Sailor’s Eyeball

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Once more our Friday Fellow is hidden among the coral reefs. Its name: Valonia ventricosa, commonly known as sailor’s eyeball.

This green shiny alga is one of the largest single-celled organisms, reaching more than 5 cm in diameter. It is found in tropical seas all around the world, usually associated to coral reefs. It has a spheric to oval shape and a shiny dark to light green surface, making it look like a cut gemstone.

A living jewel of the sea,

A living jewel of the sea. Credits to Philippe Bourjon.

Due to its unusually large size for a unicellular organism, the sailor’s eyeball has been extensively studied regarding its cell wall structure, and it seems to be quite peculiar. The cellulose fibers in its cell wall, which is almost as thick as the cytoplasm, are arranged in a complex structure, including parallel and crossing fibers, as well as some strange fiber swirls with no known function. Its membranes do not seem to have any aquaporines, i.e., pores for letting water go through.

On your next visit to a coral reef, try to find some!

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Eslick, E. M.; Beilby, M.J.; Moon, A. R. 2014. A study of the native cell wall structures of the marine alga Ventricaria ventricosa (Siphonocladales, Chlorophyceae) using atomic force microscopy. Microscopy. DOI: 10.1093/jmicro/dft083

Preston, R. D.; Astbury, W. T. 1937. The structure of the wall of the green alga Valonia ventricosaProceedings of the Royal Society of London, Series B, Biological Sciences122(826): 76-97.

Wikipedia. Valonia ventricosa. Availabe at: < https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valonia_ventricosa >. Access on April 6, 2016.


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