Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Cool Puerto Rican Plants - Jatropha gossypiifolia

One of my favorite plants from Puerto Rico was Jatropha gossypiifolia (also known as bellyache bush). I haven't done much research into it, but a quick search tells me this plant is in the Euphorbiaceae and is being investigated for use as a biofuel. Apparently the seeds are rich in oil. While native to Puerto Rico, J. gossypiifolia is invasive to Australia, and there are some studies done there looking at the effects of fire on this plant. I am not sure why it is called belly-ache bush, but there must be some nasty chemicals found in this plant.

What is so cool about J. gossypiifolia?
Look at the trichomes on the nodes of the stems. Craaaazy. Not sure what is in these glandular hairs, but they do make the plant sticky.

It also has these beautiful little red flowers.

And - the seeds are awesome, it appears that they have explosive seed dispersal (one of the fruits exploded while I was trying to ID other plants) and eliasomes for ant secondary dispersal. Eliasomes are fatty bodies produced by some seeds to encourage ants to carry them away.

I found this plant in the dry forest of Guanica, in the southern part of the island. Guanica was my favorite forest we visited.


Irene said...

Yay for weird and wonderful plants! Thanks for posting photos, Jennifer! It's great hearing about other knitters' adventures.

Erin said...

What a cool plant. I bet it would be invasive in Hawaii, too. Tell us more about your research in PR!

Tucson Trekker said...

I love your pix, Jennifer. When I was last in the tropics (a while ago now), I thought the smallest details of plants could be so exquisite but I could never capture the beauty in photos.

Jennifer said...

Erin - I do believe it is invasive in Hawaii. Right now I don't have a research project in Puerto Rico, but want to develop a research program down there that I can involve students in. I am not sure how feasible that is going to be. I refer to this past trip as a "fact-finding mission" to get my head around the flora down there, and to get the creative juices flowing.

Just checked the USDA PLANTS website, and indeed, bellyache bush is invasive in Hawaii: http://plants.usda.gov/java/county?state_name=Hawaii&statefips=15&symbol=JAGO

Most of the close-up photos were made possible because my colleague with whom I was traveling had an great camera set-up. He was interested in taking close-up pictures of spiders, and had a digital SLR, a macro lens, and a ring flash. We definitely put his camera through its paces, averaging 300 pictures a day.

Erin said...

I checked the info for Hawaii and it looks like it is only on Oahu right now, which is probably why I haven't encountered it in the dry forest here. We have a proposal in right now to do a research/teaching exchange with students in Hawaii and Puerto Rico (focused on grass/fire issues). Mostly it would bring students from PR to Hawaii for a summer program. Maybe you would like to do something similar with your students? One of my postdoc advisors now works in Puerto Rico, so let me know if you have unanswered questions and want his contact info. He is really good at thinking of ways to involve students in research.

Guanica Dry Forest said...

The wide range of flowers, bushes & trees create a life like never seen before in Guanica; Puerto Rico. From nature lovers to bird watchers, form adventure seekers of diving, biking, hiking & horse riding to tourists chilling on Copamarina beach, no one will escape the enchanting spell of Guanica.