Botany Blueprint: The Lipstick Tree

Specimen #26: Lipstick Tree (Bixa orellana) The fruits from Bixa orellana, a small tree native to tropical America, are designed with exhortations. Two distinct messages are delivered in succession: first, a threat; then, an invitation. A heart-shaped capsule is the …

Botany Blueprint: New Zealand Flax

Specimen #25: New Zealand flax (Phormium tenax) New Zealand flax, a strappy foliage plant, is best known in—you guessed it—its native New Zealand, where the early Maori wove an 18th-century economy out of its long, leathery leaves. They used the …

Botany Blueprint: The Paperbag Bush

Specimen #24: Paperbag bush (Salazaria mexicana) Light as a ghost, a paperbag bush balloon is an easy desert traveler, drawing its weight from the wind and its coloring from the sunset. These tiny seed vessels roll through ghost towns in …

Botany Blueprint: Burdock

Specimen #23: Burdock (Arctum minus) What do NASA astronauts, new parents, and cardiac surgeons have in common? They all owe a debt of gratitude to the common weed burdock, whose hook-tipped burrs inspired the invention of Velcro. Hailed as the …

Botany Blueprint: The Lotus

Specimen #22: Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera) When I began collecting seed pods, the lotus was something of a holy grail. I knew it through photographs—exotic and beautiful, it’s fair to say I coveted it. I wasn’t going to find one floating …

Botany Blueprint: The Hawaiian Cotton Tree

Specimen #21: Hawaiian Cotton Tree (Kokia drynarioides) Although it is an ancestor of the well-traveled modern cotton, Kokia drynarioides, a Hawaiian endemic, has most likely not left the island on which it evolved. You might say there are worse places …

Botany Blueprint: Wood Rose

Specimen #20: Wood Rose (Merremia tuberosa) Elegant and aged, the wood rose capsule is the dowager of the garden. In her youth, she was pretty enough—a tubular yellow flower that was lovely, but hardly memorable—but now, in her senescence, she …

Botany Blueprint: Australian Blackwood

Specimen #19: Australian Blackwood (Acacia melanoxylon) The world is filled with wattles—1350 species, more or less. Of the Acacia genus, in the Mimosa family, wattle trees often have little puffy flowers and long seed pods. 600 are native to Australia, …

Botany Blueprint: Tara

Specimen #18: Tara (Caesalpinia spinosa) ith its flaming beans and razor-sharp noli me tangere spines, the tree we call, simply, “tara” (Caesalpinia spinosa), is a striking figure, in any landscape. My encounter with tara was by a Pacific tide pool, …

Botany Blueprint: California Sycamore

Specimen #17: California Sycamore (Platanus racemosa) e love the sycamore for its large leaves and cool canopy, and for a curious bark that peels to reveal a mottled pattern of greys and browns. However, we are not so sure about …