Arboretum Images 3

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Palomar College Arboretum Images 3: Agaves & Relatives
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Agave Family (Agavaceae)

Agave attenuata, a gray-green, spineless agave native to Mexico.

Chaparral yucca (Yucca whipplei), a native member of the agave family thast grows wild in the coastal sage scrub adjacent to the Palomar College Arboretum. Flower close-up shows two black yucca moths (Tegeticula maculata) which are the natural pollinator for this interesting yucca species in San Diego County.

Depending on the authority, yuccas are usually placed in the lily family (Liliaceae) or the agave family (Agavaceae). The name Yucca is derived from "yuca," a Carib Indian name for the cassava or tapioca plant (Manihot esculenta) of the euphorbia family (Euphorbiaceae). Yucca is also the creole word for cassava. "Yuca" is not to be confused with the lovely yellow-flowered morning glory (Merremia aurea) of the Cape Region of Baja California. Apparently the connection with starchy cassava roots is that yucca buds and young flower stalks of are also roasted for food. Yuccas are trunkless shrubs with rosettes of stiff, sword-shaped leaves arising at ground level, or tree-like with distinct trunks and limbs. Examples of the rosette forms include Spanish bayonet (Y. baccata) and chaparral yucca (Y. whipplei). Tree-like forms include the Joshua tree (Y. brevifolia) of the California and Arizona desert region, and tree yucca or "datillo" (Y. vallida) endemic to southern Baja California.

  The Yucca and The Yucca Moth  
Papago Baskets From Yucca Leaves
Textile Fibers From Monocot Leaves


Dracaena Family (Dracaenaceae)

Left: Dragon tree (Dracaena draco), a bizarre, thick-trunked tree native to the Canary Islands. Dragon's blood is a bright red dye obtained from the resinous fruit of the Asian palm Calamus draco (Daemonorops draco). Right: Powdered dragon's blood from Calamus draco. Dragon's blood also refers to the resinous sap from species of Dracaena, including D. draco of Canary Islands and D. cinnabari native to the Island of Socotra. Powdered dragon's blood was used in ancient times as a medicine, varnish and a bright red dye. It is still available from specialty pigment supply stores, such as Kremer Pigments.

  See Natural Dye Plants  
More Natural Dye Plants
Logwood & Brazilwood

Cordyline australis, a tall, woody agave relative native to Australia. It is often placed in the agave family (Agavaceae); however, in other references it is placed in the dracaena family (Dracaenaceae). It is probably more closely related to the genus Dracaena than the genus Agave.


The following southern California house plants are species of Cordyline & Dracaena.

Left: Ti plant (Cordyline fruticosa), a Polynesian member of the dracaena (agave) family. Also known in the Hawaiian Islands as "ki," this important plant with fibrous leaves was carried by early Polynesian sailers on their long voyages to distant islands. The smooth, waxy leaves repel water and were useful as a wrapper for storing and cooking food. In fact, they are still used for this purpose in the Hawaiian Islands today, especially in the famous Hawaiian luau and in buffets. In addition, the leaves were traditionally used for rain capes and sandals, and as thatch for the roofs of houses. Ki was considered sacred to early Hawaiians. The leaves were worn or carried as protection against evil spirits and were an important part of ancient ceremonial rituals.

Middle & Right: Lucky Bamboo (Draceana sanderana), a popular house plant originally from the Cameroon region of equatorial West Africa. Young, tender shoots sprouted from stems cuttings are grown in containers of water. Unlike the hollow internodes of true bamboos, the stems of this plant are composed of solid parenchyma tissue.


Lily Family (Liliaceae)

Aloe marlothii, a large South African succulent that superficially resembles an agave from a distance. Because of their floral characteristics, aloes are generally placed in the lily family (Liliaceae). Aloe leaves are typically more succulent (gelatinous) on the inside, and lack the strong fibers of agave leaves.


Nolina Family (Nolinaceae)

Elephant-foot tree (Beaucarnea recurvata), a pachycaul plant native to Mexico. Right. Beaucarnea stricta in the Palomar College Arboretum. Pachycaul plants typically have massive, non-photosynthetic, spineless trunks tapering upward into stout branches. This category is very evident in desert regions, especially the elephant tree (Bursera microphylla) and the remarkable Cyphostemma juttae, a poisonous member of the grape family (Vitaceae) native to Africa. The similar term caudiciform refers to plants that produce an enlarged basal caudex or stem axis from which the stems and roots arise. The caudex may extend below the ground, is typically non-photosynthetic and often gives rise to slender, twining stems. This ingenious adaptation to prolonged drought is well developed in the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae). In fact, the wild cucumber vine (Marah macrocarpus) that climbs over shrubs in the coastal sage scrub adjacent to the Arboretum develops from a tuberous, subterranean caudex that may weigh up to 100 pounds (see next image).

The massive caudex and spiny seed capsules of wild cucumber (Marah macrocarpus), a native caudiciform member of the gourd family (Cucurbitaceae) that climbs over shrubs of the coastal sage scrub adjacent to the Arboretum. The entire caudex was about 2 feet (0.6 m) long and weighed approximately 40 pounds (18 kg). I have seen other specimens in the wild that were three times this size. This is one of the first species to resprout after brush fires, particularly during the rainy season of early spring in southern California. Unlike edible fruits of the gourd family, called pepos, the wild cucumber is a capsule that splits open at one end.


Xanthorrhoea Family (Xanthorrhoeaceae)

Grass tree (Xanthorrhoea quadrangulata), an interesting agave relative native to Australia. Small, white flowers are produced on a tall, slender flower stalk that may reach 12 feet (4 m) or more.


Pandanus Family (Pandanaceae)

Pandanus is a genus of widespread, dioecious, palm-like trees. The commonly cultivated P. utilis is native to Madagascar. It is currently being grown in the greenhouse and will be planted in the Palomar Collerge Arboretum. Another species, P. tectorius is native throughout the rocky and sandy shores of Polynesian atolls and islands. This tree belongs to its own monocotyledonous family, the Pandanaceae. Although it is called "screw pine," it is not related to the pine family (Pinaceae). Note the conspicuous prop roots at the base of the trunk which support these plants in water-logged soils and strong winds. Pandanus is second only to the coconut palm (Cocos nucifera) in importance in Polynesia and Micronesia. The fibrous leaves are used for baskets, floor coverings, mats, and for thatching houses. Ancient Polynesian mariners used the leaves to make sails for their outrigger canoes. Native Hawaiians also used the leaves of pandanus or "hala" to weave their original baskets and mats. This species is sometimes listed as P. odoratissimus, a name derived from the fragrant pollen of male plants.

The Polynesian Pandanus tectorius showing conspicuous prop roots (left) and pineapple-sized fruit (right). The multiple fruit is composed of many individual one-seeded sections called "keys." In addition to the edible seeds (one inside each key), the keys are polished and used for necklaces and leis. The keys are very buoyant and water-resistant, and remain viable for months. They are dispersed by ocean currents to shores of distant atolls and islands throughout the tropical Pacific.

  Drift Seeds Of The Ocean   
Plants Used For Fibers
Botanical Jewelry