Daily Flower Candy: Balanophora harlandii

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My knowledge of parasitic plants is limited to say the least. It extends no further than dodder (Cuscuta epithymum) and toothwort (Lathraea clandestina). But now, following my walk around Hong Kong’s Peak, I can add a third, Balanophora harlandii

Parasitic plants seem to share little in common apart from having been knocked out in the qualifying rounds of the evolutionary beauty contest. They are at best curious, at worst ugly. To add insult to injury, Balanophora harlandii is, shall we say, a little suggestive in its appearance too. Those with cleaner minds might liken it to a toadstool, which is what I initially mistook it for (obviously).

Here in Asia, Balanophora species (there are about 100 in total, all parasitic) are used in folk medicine for the treatment of a number of ailments. As science catches up with folklore, it seems that ‘folk’ might have been right all along. However scientists need to work quickly. A new species named Balanophora coralliformis (looks like coral and also a little bit rude) is already endangered. Only 50 plants are known in the wild and they are all on a single mountain in the Philippines.

You will have deduced by now that I failed to take plant science very seriously at university, which is why I am now a buyer, not a botanist:-)

With special thanks to Chad for identifying the subject of today’s Daily Flower Candy.

Phallic toadstool?, Harlech Road, Hong Kong Island, October 2015

Categories: Beautiful Strangers, Daily Flower Candy, Plants, Travel, Uncategorized

Posted by The Frustrated Gardener

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7 comments On "Daily Flower Candy: Balanophora harlandii"

  1. I was interested in your recent post on the concreting of China. Could not post a comment, after all..it is about a terrible lack of plants and the destruction of habitat. I was hoping that you would post on the reality of what you might see while you were there. I would like to read more.

    1. Many apologies. I am having a few technical challenges whilst in China as blogs are banned here. I will finish this post as soon as I can. It’s an interesting picture. On one hand there are lots of positives when it comes to public landscaping, but as far as nature and the natural landscape is concerned there is not a lot left to see in this part of the world.

  2. I am amused at how coy modern botanists have become.

    Balanophora is given as ‘from the Greek for ‘acorn – bearing’’.

    While that is true it misses the point that Dan alluded too with suggestions of a more risqué appearance of the plant and origin of the name. ‘Ballan’ [acorn] is used medically as the root word to refer to the head of the penis as in ‘ballanitis’ for example. I think ‘J.R.Forst. & G.Forst’ the originators of the genus name probably meant it to mean ‘penis bearing’ [or ‘knob plant’] without being too explicit.

    Incidentally ‘J.R.Forst. & G.Forst’ are themselves almost legendary. Born in Poland of Scottish ancestor this father and son team were the naturalists on Cook’s second Pacific voyage and in many ways were the architypes of travelling scientist that Darwin would later follow.


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