Schoepfia chrysophylloides (S. schreberi)
Schopfiaceae (Traditionally placed in Olacaceae, a DNA-splintered family)
Today as temperature plummeted, John and George strolled the Rocky Point Hammock near Port Salerno, Florida. Rocky Point is a small remnant of scrubby Coastal Hammock, fun to visit due to the ancient oaks and the diverse vegetation, including species we do not often encounter, such as the big beautiful sedge Cyperus tetragonus. The alpha species today was Graytwig in full bloom with jillions of tiny fragrant maroon-red flowers along the stems like holiday twinkle lights.
Except when in flower, Graytwig is a shy small tree or shrub recognized most readily by its namesake kinky gray twigs peeking out from under alternate, often-folded leaves with wavy margins. The crushed leaves have a distinctive smell. The pea-sized drupes go through a red phase before blackening. Graytwig grows mostly along the southeast and central Florida coast, extending to the west side of the state to the south and into the West Indies and to South America. There are 23 species of Schoepfia altogether around the world.
The flowers are tiny (1/8″ tall), fragrant, reddish-maroon cups clustered irregularly along the stems. They are heterostylous. That is, one strain has short styles and slightly elevated anthers, and the other strain has long styles and anthers positioned lower in the floral tube. Readers interested in learning more about heterostyly as an adaptation to promote expanded genetic exchange are invited to an earlier Treasure Coast Natives article where we explored heterostyly in more detail in connection with Wild Coffee, another species abundant at Rocky Point. CLICK
So let’s jump ahead to another Graytwig oddity — it is a root parasite. The roots make cone-shaped “suckers” (haustoria) able to penetrate and rob the roots of surrounding hosts of diverse species. This is not rare in scrubby plants. Other scrubish parasites include Love Vine, Black-Senna (Seymeria), Hog Plum (Ximenia), and Indian Pipes (Monotropa). The parasitism in Monotropa is possibly significantly via mycorrhizal fungi, and would be fascinating to know which additional plants swipe nutrients from each other via mycorrhizal (fungal) root connections.
In South Florida we see two extreme means of acquiring plant-life’s needs on our challenging soils: parasitism and carnivory. Our parasitic plants tilt toward dry sandy habitats, and our parasites tilt toward wet marshy homes. I guess the main problem in anoxic wet marshy mud is nitrogen, acquired by green carnivores ingesting bug-type victims. The various gizmos and physiology flesh-eaters need to catch and digest wiggly prey may require ample water. With dry-habitat plants (just speculating here) the main challenges can reasonably be assumed to be obtaining water and the benefits dissolved in it. Wouldn’t it be interesting to know the details? In any case, in dry places look for root parasites, and some above-ground ones too CLICK
Now here is something even weirder and more puzzling. There seems to be a special relationship between stinkbugs and Schoepfia. The Asian stinkbug Parastrachia japonensis is tied to Schoepfia jasminodora. Amazingly, the adult bugs lug the Schoepfia fruits back to their stinky nests. CLICK
Our own Schoepfia chrysollphylloides (as S. schreberi) is reported to be the host for stinkbug Ramosiana insignis which consumes multiple organs, and for Vulsirea violacea, which specializes on the fruits. We caught the stinkbug below in the act of messing with the Schoepfia fruits. (Note: According to Bugguide.net, V. nigrorubra and V. violacea were interpreted as the same species until recently. Our photo matches the photos of V. nigrorubra on that site. It would be interesting for someone with time on their hands to explore fully the relationship between the bug and the bush.)
Graytwig can be cultivated, although the Institute for Regional Conservation website Natives for Your Neighborhood lists it as” extremely difficult to grow,” which might explain why this eye-pleaser is so infrequently encountered in native plant gardens.
Stinkbug on Schoepfia (by JB)