When I spent a week at the Hog Island Audubon Camp in Maine last year to visit my friend Cleo, the experience made me realize how little I know about the natural world. The names of even basic north-eastern birds sounded like something out of a Lewis Carrol poem – grebes and eiders and auks and guillemots. It also became clear that I’m not a dab hand at naturalist descriptions. When asked to describe a bird I normally point to “that fat black one” or “that tiny one zipping around and being annoying.” Sadly, my ineptitude also extends to flora, as became evident when I first attempted to ask the internet about this peculiar plant I photographed in Bangkok:
“Yellow flower Thailand,” I googled fruitlessly. “Yellow flower triangular leaves,” “weird yellow flower Bangkok.” Fortunately, I remembered that Google has an image search function, rendering my ineffectual keywords moot.
It turns out that this is a flower called the Golden Torch (more formally named “Heliconia psittacorum x Heliconia spathocircinata cv. Golden Torch“). According to the all-knowing internet, the “x” in between the two species names indicates it’s a hybrid, while the “cv” means that it is a cultivar. Wikipedia describes 194 species in the Heliconia genus, most of which are tropical. Many are equal parts bizarre and beautiful, both in appearance and nomenclature. For example, we have Heliconia rostrata (also called “lobster claw”):
and Heliconia psittacorum (aka “parrot’s beak” or “parakeet flower”).
The collective Heliconia genus can also be referred to as “lobster claws,” “wild plantains,” or “false bird-of-paradise.”
While the diverse and descriptive names are certainly compelling, the reason I found these plants fascinating was because they reminded me forcibly of a horse mandible. To wit:
The seeds themselves look more like human premolars than horse teeth:
Either way, a bizarre and intriguing plant. Now to go find some osteology where it actually belongs – within in progress manuscripts!
Image Credits: Heliconia rostrata image from gardeningknowhow.com, here. Heliconia psittacorum photo from myjunglegarden.com, here. Final Heliconia image (species unknown for now) found here.
I am happy that I came across your blog after I was searching the “all-knowing” internet about how evolutionary anthropologits determine where to excavate only to find your post about the methods used by archeologists to find sites and this helped answer me a lot.
Your style is fun and easy to follow.
Thank you so much!
No problem Muhammad, glad you enjoyed it!
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