Aspidistra elatior (the cast iron plant) was a popular houseplant in Victorian England and was often considered a “symbol of middle-class respectability.” After gas lighting was introduced to illuminate homes in the late 19th century, Aspidistra was often the only plant that could be grown successfully indoors, leading to the descriptor, “cast-iron” plant, meaning that…

A major theme of modern biology is the interconnectivity of life; that is, that no organism functions on its own, isolated from other life. Rather, all organisms, to one degree or another, depend on interactions with other species. In the Garden we have many examples of this interconnectivity, with one of the most striking examples…

What are knots and knotholes and how do they form? Knots are visible imperfections in wood. They are typically circular and darker than the surrounding wood area and when the knot separates from the surrounding wood a knothole form. Let’s consider how knots and knotholes originate. The explanation begins by observing the trunks of trees,…

In the natural environment, it is not unusual to come upon a leaning tree or branch showing a surprising degree of bending. Such a situation frequently is the result of a landslide, which alters the normal vertical orientation of the tree, or could be a consequence of winds continually blowing from one direction (as along…

Epiphytes are plants that grow on other plants and thus their roots are not connected to the soil, but rather are often in direct contact with the atmosphere. Consequently, the only opportunity these roots (aerial roots) have to obtain most of their moisture is when it rains, which, in the tropics occurs as intense, short…

Luffa sponges come from plants, instead of our default notion that sponges are animals. Luffas represent the fibrous interiors of fruits of the gourd-producing plant, Luffa aegyptiaca, a tropical member of the Cucurbitaceae that grows as an annual vine, as pictured below. When harvested at a young stage Luffa fruits are edible and especially popular…

Next time you are in the Garden and walking past Southern African Area, stop for a moment and look for the Lampranthus, a genus of plants that have unusually large, bright flowers that appear in summer, and frequently cover the plants entirely. Lampranthus can be distinguished by the large seed capsules (= fruits) which enclose…

Undergraduate visitors to the Garden often ask me about “window” or “stone plants,” which belong to the taxonomic group known as Lithops. Students want to know, what part of the plant they are looking at, where do these plants grow and why are these plants called window or stone plant? Lithops are quite remarkable plants….

Have you ever wondered about the how and why of “holes” in leaves of plants, like Philodendron? Whereas we know quite a lot about the mechanism resulting in the holes, we are not sure of the purpose of these holes. Some workers have suggested that because Philodendron is a climbing plant, often found growing at…

As you walk through the UC Botanical Garden and observe the diversity in form, shape, and size of plants, it is easy to conclude that plants must be made up of many different types of parts (organs). But in fact, the construction of plants is amazingly simple, consisting of only a few visible parts: Stems,…

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