Sunday, March 31, 2013

Easter's other flowers

Species name: Pulsatilla patens

Common name: pasqueflower, prairie crocus

Location: photos from Wikipedia

Since I blogged about Easter lilies last year, I couldn't do that again this year! If you are disappointed and want to read about Easter lilies instead, you may do so HERE. Instead, I figured this year I would blog about Easter's other flower: the pasqueflower. If you speak a language other than English, this flower probably sounds familiar to you as reflecting the time of year; in French, the word for Easter is "paques," in Italian it's "pasqua," in Spanish it's "pascua;" even in Icelandic the word for Easter is "paskar." It's no surprise, then, that the name of these flowers should be reminiscent of Easter not just because of their name, but also because of their flowering time: they are often the first flowers to emerge in temperate prairies around the world. There are about 35 species in the genus, and each one of these species are early flowering right after the snow melts and the temperature of the soil starts to warm up.

The pasqueflower, sometimes called the Eastern pasqueflower, is native to a circumboreal area in North America, Europe and Asia; countries that claim this flower to be native there include Canada, the United States, Russia, much of Scandinavia and parts of more southern countries in Europe, Mongolia, and China. This flower is so popular it has even pushed its way into being the provincial flower of Manitoba and the state flower of South Dakota despite its drastically reduced population sizes in both locations. Because of the conversion of prairie habitat to agricultural fields around the world, all of the species of Pulsatilla are now threatened with declining populations (some more drastically and faster than others). There is the idea that prairies can rehabilitate themselves naturally if given enough time and given a jump-start through seed planting. Unfortunately, once the field has been plowed the pasqueflower never comes back; disturbing the rhizomes that the flowers grow from in the spring eliminates the population. They grow very slowly from seed and are very sensitive to disturbance (and are not good competitors with other fast-growing species like goldenrods), so have a very hard time re-establishing themselves after disturbance. If you come across a patch of pasqueflowers this spring, refrain from picking them and (most importantly) don't dig them out of the soil. They need as much help as they can get for the remaining areas where they are common.

All parts of the pasqueflower (in most, if not all, species) are highly toxic. Consumption of any part of the plant can lead to convulsions, heart attack, coma, and death. Native North Americans used to use this plant as a natural abortion-inducing medicine; this was likely incredibly effective (and is being looked at by the pharmaceutical industry as a "natural" method of inducing labor) due to its toxic properties. It is still a main ingredient in homeopathy, so pregnant women (and those that are lactating) should never take any kind of homeopathic remedy. The extracts of the plant are used in herbal medicine to treat cough, asthma, and as a sedative.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

The Magnificent Mango

Species name: Mangifera indica

Common name: mango, Indian mango, common mango

Location: Dominican Republic

The mango tree, the largest fruit tree in the world, is native to India and Pakistan, but was brought very early in the domestication process to the Philippines (the native mangoes to India and Pakistan were once thought to be a different species than those in the Philippines, but now we know they're the same species with different locally selected features through traditional breeding). I was under the impression that "mangoes" were a single species with some variation in fruit characteristics due to traditional breeding, but it turns out that there are over 70 species in the Mangifera genus, about 25 of which produce edible fruit that are "mangoes." The Indian mango is the most commonly grown in the world, and other species are grown on a much more localized basis. This genus is in the family Anacardiaceae, which is probably a very unfamiliar name. It will be very commonly known once you know the common name: the Cashew family. It also has some other, not so nice members: poison ivy and sumac (a very popular ornamental genus). Both of these species can produce intense skin irritation and rashes, and some people being so sensitive to poison ivy that sumac (sometimes called staghorn sumac) and mangos produce the same effect. The cashew is only the seed of the cashew apple (which does look remarkably like a mango!), so it is unlikely that someone with a hyper-sensitivity to poison ivy would have the same result with a cashew.

You'll have to excuse my poor photograph of a mango inflorescence; the wind was blowing quite hard and it was nearly impossible to get the flowers still (I was even pulling on the bottom of the branch in the photo to try to stabilize the flowers...). I hadn't had any rum that day (yet), I swear! :) The flowers are usually quite inconspicuous, but the sheer number of them make a mango tree in full flower a sight to behold. Almost the entire tree turns yellow, and the scent is also quite impressive. Each flower, if pollinated, could become a mango. Some trees produce 20 mangoes per "bunch" during their peak in productivity! With hundreds of bunches on a tree, that's a whole lot of mangoes.

Mangoes are incredibly important fruits around the world for a variety of reasons. In India and Pakistan, the fruits are not only eaten (and if you go to an Indian restaurant, count the number of dishes that contain mango in some form!) but the mango tree leaves, skin of the fruit, and fruit itself is used in their traditional herbal medicines (called ayurveda). It is believed that the mango can clear the digestive tract that is blocked due to vatta or heat. This might sound like a bunch of hogwash, but if you consider how spicy some Indian food is (in other words, contains "heat"), the addition of mangoes to that dish, or eating them on the side, has a real calming effect on the taste buds and the esophagus leading to the stomach. In North America we wouldn't give these digestive issues the same fancy terms, but if you want spicy food to taste less spicy, eat it with a mango! To Hindus, the perfectly ripe mango is regarded as a symbol of high attainment and perfection, and Lord Ganesha is often depicted holding a ripe mango in either his trunk or in one of his hands. The mango itself is the national fruit of India, Pakistan and the Philippines, while the tree is the national tree of Bangladesh.

Friday, March 29, 2013

This clock won't tell time

Species name: Thunbergia grandifolia

Common name: clockvine

Location: Dominican Republic

One day my mom and I went on an excursion that drove all around the countryside and visited a traditional house and farm in the middle of nowhere (and what a beautiful middle of nowhere it was!). We got to walk all around the house and look at the gardens, and they led us through their "agricultural plot" behind the house that had a lot of traditional Dominican food growing. This was one of the plants that was being used as an ornamental species in one of the gardens of the home, and I bet it won't be long before they regret planting it. The clockvine is native to China, India, Nepal and Burma where it grows like a weed. It is capable of living happily in any tropical habitat, loves both very soggy soils and dry, arid soils, can tolerate full sun as well as full shade, and other plants in the garden are the least of its troubles. In some tropical areas of the world, like tropical Australia, it has taken "invasive weed" to a whole new level. It is nearly impossible to eradicate because of its successful growth from either seeds or underground rhizomes, and so it will likely destroy all of the native habitat is has grown into before snuffing itself out.

Since this vine is such a beautiful flowering vine, it's no surprise that it's popular around the world for its ornamental value. In fact, almost every species of the genus is prized for their flowers and very fast growth (as well as the ability to tolerate almost every environmental condition that is thrown at it; including light snow for some species!). Unfortunately, this means that this vine has become invasive on all continents, everywhere it has successfully grown. Something needs to be done to ban the sale of these plants!

There are also studies that are currently looking at what to do with these vines, since they're already in numerous locations around the world in gardens (where they are relatively easy to control as long as you have garden shears and some time on your hands) and have since escaped cultivation. There was the suggestion that these plants would make excellent biofuels since they grow so quickly and are so tolerant of environmental fluctuations, but I'm not sure if anything has been done about this suggestion. They are most definitely "sustainable" in the traditional sense, but at what price? Once we harvested all of the plants that are growing in wild areas, then what? Do we plant more of them and risk them escaping again? Using highly invasive species for biofuels (either fermenting parts of the plant to produce bioethanol or just burning the plants directly to produce energy) is a very fine line to walk between rehabilitating an ecosystem and encouraging its complete destruction.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Shaving brushes on trees

Species name: Pseudobombax ellipticum

Common name: shaving brush tree

Location: Dominican Republic

The shaving brush tree, by far my favourite tropical tree that I saw in the Dominican, is native to southern Mexico and further south to the "left half" of Central America. It is still relatively common there in the wild, but will likely soon be threatened by habitat loss.

The tree has many traditional uses, from native medicines (the trunk of the tree is succulent-like and so stores water; it was believed that the water exuded from the stem when the tree was cut had healing properties) to construction materials (the wood is very soft and so easy to carve into shapes) to decorative material (the flowers are very popular church decorations in Central America). It is also sometimes used as firewood, but because the stems store so much water the wood must dry out first (and so other species are often favoured). The plant, for obvious reasons, is also a preferred ornamental species almost everywhere it grows, and has now been introduced to Florida, Hawaii and Arizona in the United States where it struggles along (never quite reaching its fullest potential as a tree, but certainly not dying, either). The flowers are, by far, the most spectacular flowers I have ever seen on a tree. Before the flowers are ready to open, they look like small acorns on the tips of all of the branches, sometimes in clusters of 2 or more "acorns". When my mom and I first saw the tree, we both wondered why the grounds staff were keeping a very dead-looking tree so prominently displayed outside the balcony of our hotel room since the tree didn't even have any leaves. The rounded parts of the acorns elongate and turn from a dark maroon-brown to a much lighter brown. Then a seam forms along the elongated acorn, where the flower can emerge through. The protective covering of the flower, that "acorn," then curls down around itself, contributing to those decorative curls at the bottom of the flower. Depending on the variety (some argue depending on the subspecies or even the species), the flowers that open will either be white or pink, as in the pictures above.

Me, being who I am, saw the flowers the first day and wondered what type of animal would be coerced into pollinating a flower like that. Since each individual flower in the inflorescence is so darn tiny, I figured the only possible animal that could pollinate it (or enjoy any of its nectar) would have to be either a moth or a butterfly, since they would be the only animals with styles (or "tongues") long enough to get down to the nectaries. Since the flowers seemed to open at night (only because I didn't get up at the crack of dawn to watch them be opened, as I discovered later), I figured it had to be moths. Not a bad guess, but an incredibly incorrect one.

One morning, my mom and I were awoken by a wonderful racket outside, with what sounded like a bunch of birds being mauled by a bunch of other birds. By the time I grabbed my camera (and put on clothing that wouldn't look like I was in my pyjamas) and ran downstairs the show was almost over, but this is what I saw:

Can you see what causes the flowers to open? No? Look a little closer...

See him yet? Still don't know what you're looking for?

Yes, that's right. Woodpeckers. Woodpeckers opening flowers! I though this was mind-boggling, and had never heard of woodpeckers doing anything other than pecking trees. Apparently they are multi-talented! They drill into the bottom of the flower through the protective covering (what used to be that "acorn") to drink all of the nectar at the bottom of the flower. By the time the flower splits open along the holes that the woodpecker made, its a moot point what else comes along since they would only be getting the woodpecker's leftovers. Every morning there were 5 or 6 of these birds that would congregate on this tree and fight each other for the optimal flowers. There were other birds, sparrows, that would wait around until the nasty woodpeckers were done before moving in on the flowers, and then once the flowers were fully open there were always a swarm of insects flying around the tops of the flowers, collecting pollen and any nectar that was left over. Interestingly enough, I didn't ever see a butterfly around the flowers. Hummingbirds did come visit the flowers during the day, but they didn't usually last long. They were probably disappointed with their nectar haul, and there seemed to be many, many other flowers that they could exploit for food elsewhere.

Our friend the woodpecker is right in the middle of this shot, drinking from the elongated 
"flower acorn". Click to enlarge...

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Do pineapples grow on trees?

Species name: Pandanus utilis

Common name: common screwpine

Location: Dominican Republic

Screwpines are a group of about 650 species of tropical trees native to different regions around the world, but mostly in Southeast Asia and tropical Africa. This particular species is native to Madagascar, Mauritius and Seychelles, and it is still incredibly common in those three locations because of its practicality. Many species in the genus are now endangered because of habitat loss. One big attractive feature about these plants are their aerial roots; they act almost like hands holding in soil and do a great job of preventing erosion. They, like mangroves, can also grow submerged in water so do well in areas that get a lot of rain and periodic flooding.

This genus of plants get their common name because of their arrangement of leaves around the stem; they are spirally arranged and this is so exaggerated in some species that they look as if they have been artificially made. The fruit, very reminiscent of pineapples, are edible once cooked (I haven't read anywhere that they're toxic, but they are incredibly starchy and cooking would break down some of that starch to make it palatable, like with potatoes).

The most important use of this plant is as an ornamental leaf species used in the construction of baskets and roofs. The leaves have a very thick coating of wax, making them almost completely waterproof. The wax can also be scraped off of the leaves and used as moulding wax, or the leaves could be heated to start to melt the wax. This is exploited during the basket making process to fuse the weaved strands together, making the joints completely waterproof. Also useful in thatching on roofs because of their waterproof nature.

Friday, March 22, 2013

The spider cycad

Species name: Cycas maconochiei

Common name: none; sometimes confused with Cycas revoluta

Location: Dominican Republic

This species of cycad, often confused with the sago cycad/sago palm (which you can read all about HERE), is native to the northernmost peninsulas in Australia but are now commonly planted in tropical areas as an ornamental species. It is slightly more hardy and tolerant of storms than the sago cycad, and grows significantly faster. It is also easier to propagate from seed, which means there is less of a stress on the population due to poaching this plant from the wild. Until a few decades ago, this plant was rarely seen outside of Australia.

One of the distinguishing characteristics of this cycad is the "growth rings" it produces on the outside of the trunk. The white cone-like fleshy structure on the inside of the fronds is not actually a cone (as I originally thought) but a layer of fronds that are maturing and will eventually unfurl like fern fronds. This is different than many other species of cycads which only develop one frond at a time. The layer of growth in one year appears like a smooth band around the trunk of the cycad, with the leftover protective sheathes for the developing fronds at the beginning of the growth layer. This layer has been reported up to eight inches thick if growth conditions are ideal! For a cycad, that's an enormous amount of growth (for an angiosperm tree like a maple, it would be no big deal), considering that some species only grow an inch or two a year...

Other than the ornamental value, this plant has very little alternate use to humans. Spiders, however, seem to love this plant. The third picture doesn't have the lens covered in sunscreen and hence the seemingly "fogginess" of the image (I can't say the same for a few other images...). What you can actually see on the inside of the fronds is a massive spider web (probably, actually, a whole community of spider webs). This was on the inside of almost every cycad of this species I looked at, so there might be something more to it than just chance. Someone needs to look at the diversity of spiders in these cycads and whether or not they're native to Australia (and hence were brought over somehow with the cycads themselves), or whether Dominican spiders have started adapting to use this species as an ideal habitat.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Sausages edible only to elephants

Species name: Kigelia africana

Common name: sausage tree

Location: Dominican Republic

This was by far one of my favourite trees (but not my absolute favourite; that one is coming soon) that I saw on my trip, possibly the coolest tree I've ever seen period. And that's saying a lot; I've seen a lot of cool trees! The sausage tree is native to Africa (and hence the Latin name), but grows commonly in desert and tropical regions around the world. It was introduced to South America as a potential medicinal and edible plant hundreds of years ago, only for South Americans to find that it's actually not edible at all. Now it's used purely as an ornamental plant, but some native tribes in Africa still use it for its medicinal potential. Oh, and elephants still use it as a prime food source whenever they come across the fruit growing from the tree.

One unique aspect of this tree is that it is either deciduous or evergreen, depending on environmental conditions. If the area its growing in has a prolonged dry season, the tree will lose its leaves to decrease the amount of water it needs to keep itself alive (leaves take a lot of resources to maintain!). When the monsoon or rainy season starts up again, the tree will regrow its leaves. In areas with no pronounced dry season, the tree will retain its leaves all year. The leaves on the tree aren't the only remarkable feature of the tree; the flowers are incredibly unique. When we first "moved in" to our hotel room, we walked right past this tree and I thought the hanging cords off it were strange, but just figured they were some sort of mangrove-like root emerging from the canopy and figured I would look more at them later. Imagine my surprise when I saw that some of these cords actually had flowers at the bottom! They aren't aerial roots at all, they're inflorescence stalks. The flowers form at the bottom of these cords, which can be up to six meters long depending on the height of the tree. I saw that some of the flowers has not yet opened, and I was determined to go back every day to catch one of the flowers in full bloom. Imagine my surprise when, the next day, all of the flowers that seemed like they were about to open were all over the ground. Seriously?! I missed it?! No big deal, I'll just come back tomorrow morning. And guess what? Same thing. Flowers on the ground, none open on the tree. Now, once I might believe I was just unobservant and there really were some. But twice? No way. I'm not that blind. And then it hit me--the flowers are maroon. Why does it matter if the flowers are maroon? Maroon flowers would absorb release heat at night, just like black pavement does. The petals are transparent enough that the light would pass from the back to the front and the heat would be absorbed, then released into the cooler air at night...

So what? Well, what animal might be looking for warm areas at night? Bats! I don't know why I didn't think of it before, but these flowers are bat-pollinated. The heat of the flowers acts like a beacon for the bats to approach, and the reportedly intoxicating scent that these flowers release as it starts to get dark would further entice them to drink the sweet nectar. The stamens would rub all over the bat's head and back while it is consuming the nectar, and the pollen on the bat would be deposited on the next flower it visits. Cross-pollination: successful! Since that's the only purpose of the flower, it falls off by morning like nothing ever happened, and if pollination was successful then the enormous fruit would start to develop. The "sausages" are up to four feet long (this one is about a foot to a foot and a half) and can weigh up to TEN KILOGRAMS. That's one flexible, strong cord it's growing off of! Each one of the flowers can make a sausage, so there could be up to fifteen sausages on a single cord (more often between three and six end up developing). The fruit are popular food sources for some large animals in the African Savannah (Elephants, Greater Kudu, Hippos and Giraffes, amongst others), and are used medicinally in Africa as a treatment for rheumatism, a cure for snake venom, a cure for syphilis, a way to purge evil spirits from a home, and to prevent tornadoes from occurring. Whether it has any actual medical value I don't know (I highly doubt it could prevent a tornado...), but sausage tree extract is popular as a face cream additive since it is believed to slow the aging process (another claim I find hard to believe). The fruit to humans is highly toxic and should not be consumed raw or cooked under any circumstances. In Botswana specifically, this tree is a very important lumber source as the wood is produced quickly but is very strong and can be carved into different shapes (it is used mostly to make oars for boats and yokes to transport buckets of water long distances).

Welcome to Spring!

Yesterday, at least in the Northern Hemisphere, was the Spring Equinox. It's supposed to mean that the worst of winter is over, but considering that today is -6 degrees Celsius and has been snowing all morning, I find that hard to believe. On the bright side, I watched the sun rise this morning and it was still light out until almost 8 pm last night! Means summer must be on its way.

To celebrate spring I changed the colours of my blog to reflect my favourite two colours in flowers: pink and yellow. I hope you enjoy it and it makes you think of the spring flowers that should be on their way any day now (hear that, Mother Nature?!).

Until then, let's enjoy some more blogs about the plants I saw in the Dominican Republic!

Sunday, March 17, 2013

The Royal Palm

If you were looking forward to a blog today about shamrocks, sorry to disappoint you! If I do plants associated with important dates all in the first year of my blog, I'll have nothing left to blog about in future years! So you'll have to be satisfied with a different green object for today :)

Species name: Roystonea sp.

Common name: Royal palm

Location: Dominican Republic

The royal palm is one of the most instantly recognizable, and arguably one of the most beautiful, palms around the world. It is native to Central and South America, as well has having a "hyper-diversity" of species in the Caribbean Islands. In countries where it is native, there is usually only one species native to each country with the exception of Jamaica which has two native species of Roystonea, and Cuba which has five native species. The tree is recognized by its green leaf sheathes which encircle the tree at the top and its concrete-like stem (much more pronounced as the tree matures and loses the leaf sheath scars). As the leaves mature, they are easily sheared off by the wind. They are also easily cut off from the tree and used as roofing material for thatched roof houses or huts. There are approximately 20 species in the genus, and other than extreme examples like R. violacea with its purple stem, they are almost impossible to distinguish unless you pay close attention to flower morphology.

The royal palm has many uses throughout the Caribbean and Central/South America, not the least of which is as a coffee substitute. The seeds to not contain the caffeine that is naturally present in coffee beans, but it does have a very similar flavour when roasted. It makes me wonder why it is not used more often as decaf coffee! The men that pick the ripened fruit of the royal palm have special training starting from when they are very young (and much more fearless than the average adult male) to teach them how to properly climb the trees. By the time they are in early adulthood, they are able to climb a 20 meter tall royal palm very quickly with bare feet and only a rope for assistance. A machete is used to cut the stalk that all of the fruit is attached to (very similar to a bunch of grapes), and the fruit bundle is carefully lowered to the ground with the assistance of a second rope. The wood-like material of the stem of the royal palm is used as a building material, and the "heart" of the palm (when the plant has only started producing its first few leaves, the plant is cut at the soil surface and carefully peeled apart to reveal the young, tender area responsible for the upward growth and the production of new leaves. This is called the palm "heart") is used as a source of food. The hearts of palm we buy in North America in cans in the grocery store is highly unlikely to be from the royal palm; it is more likely to be from the coconut palm or the jucara (also called the palmito, Euterpe edulis). The tree also serves a huge cultural significance in Cuba; it is their national tree. It is said that for every citizen of Cuba there are at least three royal palm trees!

The royal palm is also very important as an ornamental species in the Caribbean, and not just because of its beauty. The tree also has a hidden secret that you wouldn't know until it was pointed out to you: it is a natural lightning rod. The new leaves are produced from the middle of the bundle of leaves and sticks straight up towards the sky until it starts unfurling. This single palm frond can make the tree significantly taller than a lot of hotel buildings, and almost twice the height of the average beach hut. When you walk around hotel grounds in tropical countries, look for trees that are very tall but have no leaves on top. Those have almost certainly been struck by lightning and lost all of its leaves, but leaving the very tough stem still standing.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

If the spines don't get you, the latex will!

Species name: Euphorbia milii var. splendens

Common name: crown of thorns, Christ plant

Location: Dominican Republic

The crown of thorns is native to Madagascar, as are many species of Euphorbia. There are an estimated 100 species in the genus, but I have my doubts that they all belong. There seems to be a group of about 40 species that are native to Madagascar (some are critically endangered, some or more common but all are at risk due to habitat destruction), another group that are native to mainland Africa, and then yet another group that are native to Europe and South America (to see an example of the morphological variation in the family, read all about the chenille plant HERE). The plants native to Madagascar are very similar to the one pictured above; small-ish brightly-coloured flowers, very thick green leaves that are concentrated at the tips of the stems, long spines, and are relatively low to the ground. The ones native to Africa are trees; some can be up to 35 feet tall but otherwise similar to the Madagascar euphorbs. The plants native to Europe and South America are the weird ones; they're the round, "blobby" euphorbs that look absolutely nothing like their African "relatives". It wouldn't surprise me at all if there ended up being multiple genera within Euphorbia and a lot of renaming of species in the years to come. There are currently four sub-genera, but even those don't quite seem to be natural groups, at least to my untrained eye. I'm going to lay my bets on there actually being six genera within Euphorbia. We'll see if I'm right; I'll re-evaluate this blog if there's ever a genus-wide systematic DNA analysis that's performed.

The crown of thorns is a species that has a rather unique common name, due to its hypothesized role in Christian and Catholic beliefs. The story goes that when Christ was nailed to the cross, he was also forced to wear a crown made of a very thorny plant; whenever there's a painting depicting Christ's crucifixion, his head is always bleeding from the thorns digging into his forehead and scalp. It is believed based on geological evidence and stories passed down through generations (as well as artifacts discovered in Mosques and in underground burial tombs) that this plant was transported to the Middle East very early on; as many as 5,000 years ago. The story goes, then, that this plant is the source of the thorny branches that made up Christ's "thorn crown" during the crucifixion. The story of Br'er Rabbit, Br'er Fox and Br'er Bear courtesy of Disney also revolves around a dense thicket of thorns (I only know this because of the ride Splash Mountain at Walt Disney World in Florida...), and it's highly likely that these are some sort of euphorb (the story is based on folk tales told by African slaves after first being transported to the United States, so its doubtful the plants making up the Brier/Briar Patch would be American species) or other African spiny species.

All euphorbs are highly toxic. Some are more irritating only to the skin, while others produce noxious fumes from their latex (the white milky substance that is released when any part of the plant is damaged, as you can see in the third picture) and can cause severe respiratory problems. If ingested, this species won't kill you but will most definitely make you sick (vomiting, diarrhea and severe dehydration as a result of these two). African species can cause death just from contact with the latex, let alone ingestion. It's amazing the kinds of defence systems that some plants have evolved! Unsurprisingly, it is rare to find any kind of insect or other animal herbivore munching on these plants as a snack.

The flowers of this plant are quite neat, and you can actually gauge the age of the flower bracts by their colour. What we see as "flowers" aren't actually flowers at all. The two "petals" are modified leaves called bracts that contain chromoplasts instead of chloroplasts, which give the bracts their red to pinkish hue. These bracts change colour as they age, and the rate at which they change colour depends on the amount of sun they're exposed to and how long the bracts have been fully-developed. They usually start off a bright pink or red, then gradually fade to completely green before the fruit is mature, then the bracts fall off. Those small yellow patches on the very inside of the flowers are the true flowers; the fruit of these plants is rarely larger than a few millimetres across and is red when mature.