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

Strobilanthes callosus

Strobilanthes callosus

Thank you to dinesh_valke@Flickr of Thane, India, for contributing today's photograph (original via the BPotD Flickr Pool). I've an ulterior motive for selecting one of Dinesh's photographs today -- I also wanted to thank him for figuring out an identification mystery over at the Human Flower Project weblog: Don't Forget to Check the Swamp.

Dinesh pointed out in the text accompanying his Flickr upload that Strobilanthes callosus "blooms only once in seven years", and that seemed worthy of some investigation. It turns out that some species of Strobilanthes are examples of a phenomenon termed masting. Masting can be defined as "synchronous production of seed at long intervals by a population of plants" (ref: Janzen (1976) in Annul. Rev. Ecol. Syst., 7, 347-391). I've commonly associated this with bamboo (see Bamboo, Rats and Famine) and did not know it also occurred in Strobilanthes. Being even more specific, both bamboo and Strobilanthes can be examples of strict masting, with "bimodal seed output with no overlap between the tails" and "masting species and mast years can be unambiguously identified" (from the Kelly reference below). This is opposed to other types of masting where the lines are blurry, for example, where every fifth year in a population is statistically more likely to be more productive than the other four, but there is still fruit production in all years or it may turn out not be more productive. It also needs to be noted that strict masting only occurs in species that are monocarpic (or semelparous) -- individuals of the species only reproduce once during a lifetime, then die.

Dave Kelly provides an overview of the phenomenon of masting in Kelly, D. 1994. The evolutionary ecology of mast seeding (PDF). Trends Ecol. Evol.. 9(12): 465-470. Kelly reviews the eight hypotheses that have been suggested to answer the question, "What factors most favour masting?": wind pollination, predator satiation, environmental prediction, resource matching, animal pollination, animal dispersal, accessory costs and large seed size. I wasn't able to determine the favourable factors for Strobilanthes callosus to exhibit this behaviour, but it can perhaps be inferred from a study on Strobilanthes kunthianus: Sharma, MV et al. 2008. Reproductive strategies of Strobilanthes kunthianus, an endemic, semelparous species in southern Western Ghats, India. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society. 157:155-163. DOI: 10.1111/j.1095-8339.2008.00786.x.

In the paper by Sharma et al., they suggest that animal pollination and the "evolution of the adaptive floral traits has facilitated mast seeding in the species", i.e., floral traits which result in 100% pollination efficiency. "As semelparous plants have only one chance to reproduce, they are expected to develop effective strategies to prevent reproductive failure".

Strobilanthes callosus is endemic to India, and its Hindi common name is karvy.

Photography resource link: I recall positively reviewing and linking to Radiant Vista some time ago (in part due its daily image critiques), but that site is now defunct and some of the people behind the site seem to be pursuing individual ventures. One to investigate, where the daily image critiques are still available (but now require free registration), is The Mindful Eye. One of the main people behind this new site is photographer Craig Tanner.

9 Comments

Thank you very much for posting the link to The Mindful Eye, a beautiful and extremely helpful site.

Strobilanthes, strob-il-an-thez; from Gr. strobilos, a pine cone, and anthos, a flower, the flower-head - especially in the bud stage - being cone-like. Plant Names Simplified, Johnson and Smith.
Strobilanthes stro-bi-lanth-eez. Grom Gk. strobilos [a cone] and anthos [a flower] referring to the dense inflorescence. Dictionary of Plant Names, Coombes

Wow. In all my botany classes in college (my major), I don't remember any mention of "masting". Maybe I slept through that lecture? Reading about it now is very fascinating! Plants are so COOL! Thanks for offering this service & thanks to everyone for their great comments, too. I now have many of my coworkers receiving the Botany Photo of the Day!

Thank you for everything, Daniel.

One good "ulterior motive" deserves another: Here's our post on karvy, complete with Mr. Spock,

http://humanflowerproject.com/index.php/weblog/comments/sexy_as_a_septennial/

Go forth and prosper!

Julie

2 years ago I was at the Denver Botanical Garden and caught the end of the blooming of their centenary plant. I didn't realize what it was and walked by after a look, until I heard a man who works there telling some people about it. blooming ever 50 years, then dieing. he showed us the new plant starting already at the base of the old plant. this is a very interesting topic.

thank you
wonderful writeing
this flower in bloom in india
is a grand sight no wonder all the
smiles on peoples faces
thank you julie love your project

its really a lot of fun on this page
we will be freezeing in florida
out picking the berries and watering
the plants and orchards

:) Thank you very much, Daniel.

For there to be monocot "masters" seem logical, with their growth cells at the bases and the common habit of making more plants by runners, and there are familiar monocot masters -- Agave Century plant, Bamboo, Banana, (Pineapple? Accounts I found aren't quite clear on this).

But when I looked it up, Strobilanthes is a moderately advanced Dicot -- in the Acanthus family where there are lots of familiar ornamentals. The subtending bracts/sepals (whatever) of the Shrimp Plant (Justicia) reminded me of the Strobilanthes picture.

Acanthaceae

What the Strobilanthes flower reminded me of was my Mexican Petunia (not among the pictures above) --a related brilliance of color, and luster-under-the-skin (albedo?), emphasized by the veining. More folding in the corolla so less of a saucer impression, but the more I look...

It just seems so strange to me that a plant that's going to really die, completely and altogether, would put all its eggs in one basket like this, leaving nothing of itself but seeds after its seven years.

Or does it? Does the vegetative part of the plant continue from underground buds?

I can't think of another dicot that does this -- though I confess I'm uncertain what would happen with an artichoke if I just let the blooms mature, and artichokes are traditionally propagated from the leaf clusters that begin growing from the base as the flowers develop, which is a bit banana or pineapplelike.

Artichokes, as Sunflower Family members, are vaguely related to Strobilanthes -- in the same subclass (Asteridae) as the families of snapdragons, olives, and potatoes. (And sunflowers and Asters, of course...)

So all this has me wondering -- is masting (a new verb to me too!)a rather advanced trait or a leftover primitive adaptation? The most advanced order of dicots, and last I heard monocots in general were considered more advanced than the poor old dicots.

I do notice that the Strobilanthes stem has pimples like those on a tomato stem, suggesting roots ready to happen, so perhaps it has something of a backup plan in case of seed failure.

Dear friends ... just got to know that the correct name is S. callosa and not callosus as found in most of the sites ... discussed at efloraofindia.

Regards.

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