Aeschynomene americana and A. indica
Today John and George scoped out the Kiplinger Natural Area off of Kanner Highway in Stuart. Among the many attractions, the area is home to gorgeous Loblolly Bays (Gordonia lasianthus), but that’s for another day.
Enjoy this Gigapan of a pond in Kiplinger taken by John. You can zoom in and out and pan around. Click
Even more amazing than Loblolly Bay (yeah, right) are two skanky Legume weeds, species of Aeschynomene. The amazing thing is their togetherness. Although not rare, you don’t see Aeschonomene every day, yet in Kiplinger two species occur essentially mixed in the same clump. If you agree with our speculations, you obviously possess superior intellect, and feel that birds of a feather flock together. Here we have two different species of the same genus holding hands, even though one is native and one comes from afar.
Because both species are seeded deliberately around the warm world for livestock fodder, their precise nativities are obscure. But let’s pretend we know. Aeschynomene americana, Shyleaf, is native and widespread in Florida. Aeschynomene indica is likewise widespread here but not native, and probably originated in South America. Seeds are sold commercially, and species of Aeschynomene can be noxious weeds.
The two growing almost touching each other seems to be a reflection of shared genes and therefore shared ecological tolerances and preferences, which is something to ponder. Tendencies for different species of the same genus to reunite happens. A cherry-picker might pluck debatable examples from Echinochloa, Emilia, Richardia, Sesbania, and Sida.
Overall in Florida there are about six Aeschynomene species, some native, some not. A quick word on distinguishing the two species featured today and most likely to be encountered in the range of “Treasure Coast Natives.” Aeschynomene americana has leaflets with 2 or more longitudinal veins, flowers with a predominantly pinkish cast, and fruits with one edge deeply lobed into pretty curves. Aeschynomene indica, by contrast, has flowers with yellow and pink tones, a single vein in each leaflet, and fruit with almost straight (very slightly curvy) margins. Interesting agricultural fact: Aeschynomene americana adds 112 kg nitrogen per hectare in Florida.
Now here is the cool part. Pith from Aeschynomene species is the usual pith of pith helmets, long favored by British explorers, tropical troops, oppressors of indigenous peoples, and khaki-wearing headwear fashionistas. It took a lot of work to cut strips of pith and layer them onto a helmet mold, like paper mache. Pith is porous, and a real pith helmet provides air conditioning when you dunk it in water. The water evaporates cooling your malarial brain. Amazingly, they still manufacture the helmets (at least in Viet Nam) and you can still make yourself look like a 19th Century colonist if you wish.