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Botany Photo of the Day
In science, beauty. In beauty, science. Daily.

Decaisnea insignis

Decaisnea insignis

Another milestone today – this is entry number two hundred.

Decaisnea insignis is commonly known as “dead man's fingers”, a name inspired by its fleshy blue fruit, which ripen near Halloween and dangle menacingly from its branches. The follicles (pod-like fruit) contain black watermelon-like seeds surrounded by an edible, clear pulp. I would describe the taste as not unpleasant, but bland. The texture is more interesting – akin to jelly.

The akebia family, or Lardizabalaceae, contains eight genera. Decaisnea is an oddity as the only shrubby genus among a clan of woody climbers. Like most other members of the family, Decaisnea is native to southeast Asia, and in the case of Decaisnea insignis, western China. Two members of the family are an interesting botanical exception: Lardizabala and Boquila are native to Chile, forming what can only be called an odd biogeographical distribution for the family, as Chile and Asia were never in historic continental proximity.

The emerging foliage was previously featured on BPotD: Decaisnea insignis.

Botany resource link: UBC's Biology 321 – Bryophytes course site. Many images of mosses and liverworts, along with some introductory information about moss and liverwort morphology.

11 Comments

Decaisnea insignis Z8 - RHS Index of Garden Plants, Mark Griffiths

The pictures get lovlier and more interesting every day. The seeds, lady slippers, and now this! Thank you.

gauche - you're most welcome. Hope you won't be too disappointed when I inevitably post a photo that's not better than the day before!

This plant at the BRIDGE is one of the highlights of the KID'S ROUTE through the Botanical Garden on the way to fetch the PUMPKIN for the classroom. The pods also make an interesting mouthpiece...

The Botany Photo of the Day widget is one of my favorites. The daily taste of horticultural beauty and expertise when I log on is a delicious experience. Thank you.

Like most other members of the family, Decaisnea is native to southeast Asia, and in the case of Decaisnea insignis, western China. Two members of the family are an interesting botanical exception: Lardizabala and Boquila are native to Chile, forming what can only be called an odd biogeographical distribution for the family, as Chile and Asia were never in historic continental proximity.

I thought this was very interesting. Perhaps Polynesians took the fruit on a long voyage to Chile. After all, they made it to Easter Island, so why not South America? I don't think it is too far-fetched to believe that some of the peoples of South America got there some way other than the Bering Strait.

In view of continental drift, it seems possible that southeastern Asian terrane, complete with these plants were found on some islands that got on the eastward tending conveyor belt of seafloor spreading and ended up part of South America. Believe it or not, I read somewhere that a portion of British Columbia was once a piece of Japan.

Another possibility, of course, is that the genus was once much more common worldwide, as were Marsupials. Then they went extinct most places except in certain isolated places. This explains Australian and South American marsupials, opossums and Kangaroos being remnants of a once much more widespread type of mammal, now almost obliterated by the apparently fitter surviving placental mammals.

Michael, leaving the possibilities of Polynesians reaching South America aside, the theory of humans dispersing flora and fauna is generally only invoked when talking about odd distributions for a particular species. The timeframe for the evolution of new plant genera would be much longer than the relatively small thousands or tens of thousands of years of human exploration.

Yet another possibility is an ancient long-distance seed dispersal via ocean currents or birds.

Are you sure this is Decaisnea insignis? It looks like D. fargesii to me. To quote Bean, Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles:

"D. insignis ... resembles the preceeding [D. fargesii] but is quite distinct in its golden yellow fruits. Native of the Himalaya and Yunnan. Probably not hardy."

Michael F - apparently, Decaisnea fargesii is a synonym for Decaisnea insignis: Flora of China.

Interesting, thanks, I'd not come across this synonymisation before, it must presumably be new. Pity they don't explain it or even cite any references for it.

Discovered this site today thanks to the National Post article - finally a whole page of beauty in a NEWSPAPER. Unbelievable! I just noticed this plant recently (a tree actually) because a dedicated gardener at Van Dusen Gardens pointed it out to me and a friend of mine. We tasted the fruit and found that it tastes a bit like lychee or kiwi, very light scent. Lovely, actually. He only told us the common name after we had eaten it....ugh! This was only about two weeks ago, so there should still be fruits on the tree. Go down the footpath from the waterfall and look to your right, the sign says it all. I will check your site regularly. Great find! Thanks! Dorothea

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