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Turquoise Puya

Amborella trichopoda

It's not the most flamboyant plant in my collection, but Amborella trichopoda holds the special distinction of being the oldest flowering plant species on Earth!  As the closest relative of the earth's first flower, scientists have had a keen interest in cracking its genetic code, to gain insight into how flowering plants - including our food crops - came to be.  It may help answer the riddle of why flowers suddenly proliferated 160 million years ago - which Charles Darwin called an "abominable mystery".  This intriguing plant comes from the remote island of New Caledonia, where it is rare.  It is extremely rare in cultivation and almost never seen for sale.

Amborella trichopoda

Amborella is an evergreen shrub or small tree that grows about 10 to 20 feet tall.  Its glossy, 4 inch leaves have wavy margins and grow in 2 rows along the branches.  The branches have a primitive type of wood that differs from other flowering plants.  Amborella plants are either male (shown above) or female.  Mine is male, but it occasionally makes a few female flowers.  The odd blooms are cream-colored, and are followed by attractive red fruits that contain 1 seed.

Amborella trichopoda

Amborella appeared about 130 million years ago, putting it at the base of the family tree of flowering plants.  In 2013, scientists concluded a 5 year, $7 million study of Amborella's genes, to try to answer some fundamental questions about how flowers evolved and how plant traits develop.  This knowledge may, among other things, help us improve our food crops.  An odd discovery is that Amborella contains the full DNA code from 6 other plant species - something no other living thing has.  Some updates on the recent research are here.

Amborella trichopoda

It is found in rainforests between 200 and 1000 meters, where the climate is mild all year, usually between 65 and 85 degrees F (19-29 C) during the day, and 50 to 70 degrees F (10 to 22 C) at night.  I have no knowledge of how much heat it can take.  It's possible that very high temperatures may stress it, especially if nights are warm.  It requires temperatures above freezing.  In the right conditions, it is an easy plant.  Since it comes from the forest understory, it appreciates bright, filtered light.  Protect it from strong afternoon sun.  It grows well in a pot in a well-draining soil mix that's kept evenly moist.  Above 40-50% humidity is best, with good air circulation.

 

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Photos courtesy of Scott Zona, except photo 2 by Stan Shebs

 

 

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