Where When How N/D 2017 - J/F 2018 : Page 144
S HARP T ONGUES ABOVE: Leaves overlap at their bases to form deep tubes where dead tree leaves can fall into rainwater collected by the gutter-shaped leaves; this mixture forms a rich tea the plant can drink. ABOVE: The purple-tinged white berries of the giant tongue bromeliad are a good source of food for fruit-eating birds. < < < < < Saw-toothed edges on tongue-shaped leaves make the plant a hazard to penetrate HIDDEn In THE BuSH In COMpLETELy unprEDICTABLE CLuMpS IS THE TurkS AnD CAICOS ISLAnDS’ (TCI) largest member of the pineapple family, the giant tongue bromeliad Aechmea lin-gulata . This species is widespread through the Caribbean region from The Bahamas to Trinidad and the Greater Antilles in between, but in the TCI it grows in only a few isolated clumps. Outgrowing its diminutive cousins by several feet, the giant tongue grows variously on boulders, tree trunks, and bedrock in some unex-pected places. It can be encountered in the deep shade of the high thicket forest around a blue hole, notched into rock pockets on the side of a cave-gored ridge, or on limestone sheets ready to cascade down the side of the TCI’s highest hill. Wherever it grows, the giant tongue is impressive. Each vase-like plant reaches over a metre high, and the clusters in which they grow can be several metres across. The leaves are surprisingly lush – broad, dusty blue-green, and scaled together at the base to form a water-collecting tube. The leaf edges are saw-toothed and complete-ly capable of tearing open skin, making for a colony to avoid trying to penetrate. These leaves protect the plant’s resources, which it gathers on its own. Most bromeliad giant tongues acquire little nutrients through the roots and instead make a pseudo “wastebasket soup” to drink from captured dead leaves steeped in leaf-channelled rainwater. Each vase can bud at the base to make new vases, and each vase will also bear a single ﬂower stalk, about as tall as the leaves, during its life. The ﬂowers are stiﬀ, compact, green-ish white teardrop shapes with red tips, and they probably attract nectar feeding birds and insects. They are followed by purple-tinged white berries, each bearing a sharp spine at the tip. Despite being related to pineapples, the fruit is insipidly-ﬂavoured, probably most attractive to fru-givorous birds. The 20-30 tan seeds inside each fruit will grow anywhere they are deposited that has enough moisture, and they grow quickly to a full size. However, because there are few places in TCI that oﬀer con-ditions lush and fertile enough to germi-nate the seeds, the clumps are rare and isolated. It is most likely that existing popula-tions have grown up from seeds fortunate enough to have been deposited by birds in exceptionally rainy years. Indisputably, the plant is beautiful and architecturally appealing. However, its habit of storing humus tea in its vases makes it a potential mosquito breeding habitat, and so gardeners growing it may want to use a Bt biological mosquito larvi-cide in their plants’ cisterns. Of course, with mosquitoes eliminated, the plant’s sharp tongues may bite even harder! I Native Flora and Fauna Species of the TCI ~ by B Naqqi Manco, TCI Naturalist 144 • • • • • NOV/DEC/JAN/FEB 2017/2018 “Where When How -Turks & Caicos Islands”
Native Flora Sharp Tongues
B Naqqi Manco
HIDDEN IN THE BUSH IN COMPLETELY UNPREDICTABLE CLUMPS IS THE TURKS AND CAICOS ISLANDS’ (TCI) largest member of the pineapple family, the giant tongue bromeliad Aechmea lingulata.
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