You’re a botanist, what’s this then? (Or Tradescantia spathacea, this one’s for you mum!)

Tradescantia spathacea, from my parents garden. ©Phoebe Richardson-Moy

Tradescantia spathacea, from my parents garden.
©Phoebe Richardson-Moy

That sentence may sound familiar to many of you who frequent this blog (followed closely by “Botany, so you’re a gardener then?” but we won’t go in to that). Being asked about the identity of a random plant that mysteriously turned up in someone’s garden is something you get used to. This blog is what happens when the universe conspires and the planets align and a class project coincides with an innocent question from the mother of a botanist… Continue reading

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The Date Palm: A Special Plant from the Old World

Traditional date palm farm in  Oman (R Al-Yahyai)

Traditional date palm farm in Oman (R Al-Yahyai)

The Date palm (Phoenix dactylifera L.) is grown throughout the arid and semiarid regions of the world, particularly in West Asia and North Africa. It is well adapted to the desert environment, where a dry and warm climate is important for fruit maturity and ripening.

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Tacca chantrieri – Halloween in the plant world!

Tacca chantrieri has a purple-black, curious yet magnificent inflorescence with wide-spread wings and whisker-like bracts hanging from the side. The inflorescence of this tropical plant almost looks like a bat or jungle cat in the wild. Thus giving the plant a common name of the Black Bat Flower. 

Tacca chatrieri

Tacca chantrieri – Wikimedia Commons: photograph by Jef Poskanzer, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

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University librarians enjoy the Dew(e)y atmosphere

At 9am sharp today the tropical glasshouse was invaded by a hush of Librarians.  Led by the intrepid Helen Hathway (Head of Academic Liaison and Support) and guided by our biology subject specialist Tim Chapman more than 20 members of the library team explored the themed plant display.  Showing rather less enthusiasm to dip their arms shoulder deep in murky pond water than the children from our recent 71st Beavers troop visit there was still evident interest in the tiny balloon whisk hairs on the water ferns that keep them afloat and there were gasps of surprise when a straggling green vine was dug to show plump sweet potatoes underneath.

Hiding behind the papyrus, some of our visitors from the Library.

Hiding behind the papyrus, some of our visitors from the Library.

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A visit from 71st Beavers

One of 71st Reading Beavers looking at Water hyacinth.

Ben, one of 71st Reading Cubs looking at Water hyacinth.

Monday afternoon was grey, cold and wet but the Reading 71st Beavers and their helpers braved the weather to walk to our tropical glasshouse.  Thick coats were soon shed and the children had a chance to look around and interact with the tropical plants.  The group arrived just after 5pm to make use of the remaining daylight and luckily their walk across campus coincided with a break in the heavy rain.

The keen band of children were ready to explore the tropical ‘jungle’ and discover more about the fascinating world of plants.

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Dendrochilum filiforme Lindl.

The plant of Dendrochilum filiforme in the tropical glasshouse.

The plant of Dendrochilum filiforme in the tropical glasshouse.

This diminutive orchid is commonly known as the Golden Chain Orchid, a name it shares with a few close relatives.  The plant in our glasshouse was donated by a keen plantsman who grows a range of exotic species and is now flowering for the first time.

The small plant arrived  in late summer 2013 and was potted in a mix of equal parts Seramis: Orchid Bark: Sphagnum in a clay pot, and stood on capillary matting watered with rainwater.  Glasshouse temperatures range from as little as 8C on winter nights to highs of 30C on Summer days.  The plant is said to be an easy orchid species to grow and it has certainly survived well with us so far.

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More on bananas

We grow two types of banana in the tropical glasshouse, the pink, seed containing, Musa dasycarpa, and the much larger edible banana with small yellow seedless fruit for which we do not know the cultivar.

Our yellow fruited banana cultivar on show at MERL Villagae Fete

Our yellow fruited banana cultivar on show at MERL Village Fete

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