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Torchwood*

03 Jun

Ixora pavetta a rare introduced curiosity in Southeast Florida Scrub


Up and down the coast from around Hobe Sound to Miami an odd non-native small tree makes rare appearances.  Ixora pavetta is a member of the Coffee Family, not the sort of Ixora we think of as nutrient-deficient hedges all over S Florida.  Those are mostly hybrids of I. coccinea

Today’s Ixora has tiny fragrant white flowers in large clusters.  You might say it is an invasive exotic, but it is the best-behaved invasive exotic in town, and you don’t find this tropical oddity much in cultivation either, except maybe around Miami.  So far as is known, its wild Florida occurrences are at  Hobe Sound,  Jupiter (Jupiter Inlet Natural Area where I took the pictures), Boynton Beach,  Ft. Lauderdale,  and Miami.

The species is cultivated a little in Florida, and a lot in and near its native India.  Do the handful of local wild occurrences arise from each other, or from separate cultivated individuals?  What’s puzzling, at least north of Broward County you just don’t have much if it in cultivation.  The pea-sized fleshy fruit is naturally dispersed in India by sloth bears.   We don’t have abundant sloth bears locally, but is a raccoon all that different?   And of course birds probably lend a hand.

Hundreds of faded flowers, just a couple fruits

At the local wild sites there are a few scattered trees, but it obviously does not spread much or aggressively.  The proper pollinators may not be around.  In India fruit production reportedly varies with pollinator availability. In Florida, at least at Seacrest and Jupiter Inlet,  only a tiny minority of flowers make a fruit.   As an Ixora, Ixora pavetta has what’s known as an “ixoroid” pollination system. The pollen-making anthers deposit the pollen onto the immature non-receptive stigma, to be picked up there by a pollinator and transferred to the ripe stigma of a different flower.  

The pollen-producing anthers have placed their pollen on unripe stigmas (the columns at the flower centers), then bent down.

That may require particular pollinators, perhaps with the time of day mattering, not any ol’ bee that happens along.   Speculate as we will, something inhibits pollination and fruiting.   That may be a “lucky break” in a naturalized exotic species.

The flower clusters attract big red serious-looking ants.  They do not seem to be coming for floral nectar, but the leaf bases have flaps (stipules) covering little secretory glands called colleters, which I’ll bet are the ant bait.

Today’s plant is a member of the coffee family, which is always interesting medicinally, given that the coffee family has a way of producing bioactive compounds, such as, well, coffee.   In India Ixora pavetta has an ancient history of treating a whole bunch of troubles. Here are ten examples dug up fast on Google:  muscle aches, chest pains, dark urine, soft-tissue damage, eye troubles,  fatigue (I like coffee for that), constipation,  whooping cough, anemia, and good fortune from squares of its hard dense wood.  In India that wood is favored by wood-turners.

*Careful: the name “Torchwood” is applied to at least three different shrubs.  Another name for Ixora pavetta is misleadingly Jungleflame.  This may seem weird, given the white flowers encountered in Florida, but the species can make red flowers in certain times and places.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on June 3, 2022 in Uncategorized

 

3 responses to “Torchwood*

  1. Diane Goldberg

    June 4, 2022 at 10:14 am

    Hi George,

    I use https://florida.plantatlas.usf.edu/ a lot. It shows we have two native Torchwoods, Amyris balsamifera native to Miami-Dade and the Keys, and A. elemifera, which is native Florida’s east coast as far north as Flagler County. They are in the rutaceae family.

    They call Ixora pavetta as you said a non-native called smallflower jungleflame, which is not invasive, and I. coccinea they call scarlet jungleflame, also non-native.

    Stay safe,

    Diane

     
    • George Rogers

      June 4, 2022 at 11:35 am

      cool…thanks for the broadened context

       
  2. Jenifer Mina

    June 8, 2022 at 10:18 pm

    White Mangroves have nectaries at the base of each leaf. Ants stop there and don’t go up and eat the leaves. An evolutionary adaptation .
    Enjoy your writings.
    ELC has some native Torchwood, so called because of its high resin content, which burns nicely as a torch.

     

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