Freitag, 6. September 2013

Plant of the Day (September 7th, 2013) - Butomus umbellatus L.

Our actual “Plant of the Day” is Butomus umbellatus L. from the Genus Butomus, which is the only genus of the Butomaceae family (mono-generic. In German, common names are “Schwanenblume” or “Blumenliesch”. In English, B. umbellatus is known as “flowering rush” or simply “grass rush”.

1) Description

B. umbellatus is a larger, perennial plant, which reaches average heights between 50 and 150 centimeters. The stalk is round and completely leafless. All of the leaves are located at the base of the stalk. It's very bendable, what is also the reason for the German name “Schwanenblume” (literally translation: “cygne's flower”). The stalk also contains some clear, natural latex.

B. umbellatus - inflorescence

There is also a creeping rhizome, which is about 1 centimeter thick. Normally, offshoots are missing but sometimes, there are some buds along the whole rhizome.

 B. umbellatus - stalk & leaves

As a water plant, there are two kind of leaves: underwater and normal leaves. Normal leaves are very long and about 1 centimeters broad. With their slightly keeled habitus, they look a little bit like a grass leaf. As with all monocotyledons, the leaf-veins are parallel to each other. When growing in deeper water, the underwater leaves become much longer and ligament-like. 

B. umbellatus - water leaves
All in all, the species has a reed or rush like habitus. This is also the reason for its common names (“flowering rush” in English/ “Blumenliesch” in German), because the whole plant simply looks like a flowering rush or a flowering grass.

 B. umbellatus  - normal leaf en detail (with water leaves
in the background)

The inflorescence of B. umbellatus is (as the name suggests) a single, terminal umbel with an average of 30 flowers. As a monocotyledon, these flowers are ternate and have two circles of flowers: an inner circle and an outer circle. Each circle consists of three, egg-shaped petals, which have a light pink (or white) color and a deep-purple band of leaf-veins in the center. There are nine stamens in the center. Each has red filaments. Flowering time is between June and August. *)

B. umbellatus - flower (with pollinator)

The ripe fruits are follicles (“Balgfrüchte” in German) which opens in order to release the seed, which is widespread by the wind. Because the plant grows in the reed beds, the pedicel extended itself after pollination. So, the ripe fruit is lifted over the grasses and exposed to the wind.

B. umbellatus - inflorescence with some ripe fruits

*) This may vary within the flower. Sometimes, the petals of the outer circle are whiter than the flowers of the inner circle or the band isn't so distinctive.

2) Distribution & Habitat

B. umbellatus is native to Middle-Europe, Asia and North Africa. However, it was also introduced to North America as ornamental plant and is now a neophyte. The species is a typical plant of wetlands and grows in bogs, marshes, reed beds and floodplains. It prefers wet, muddy soils and has no problem with periodical floods. It's not protected but rare in Middle-Europe.

B. umbellatus - in its typical habitat

Some parts of the plants were used in past. For example, the highly bendable stalk was used to weave baskets. The rhizome contains a lot of starch. Therefore, it was baked and eaten like bread. In Asia, it's eaten today but more for medicinal reasons.

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