Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tropical Cousins

A recent vacation brought a real surprise – I found myself in Jamaica staring at what appeared to be a Georgia native plant! It was butterfly pea, a small vine with purple flowers. It looked especially vigorous there in Jamaica. Once I got home, a little research revealed it was not the species we have in Georgia (Centrosema virginianum), but rather a tropical cousin (Centrosema molle). 

Centrosema molle
With that information discovered, I set about determining if any of the other flowers that I’d photographed were tropical cousins to our native plants. You can probably guess that I found a few more. 

One plant that I knew about already is the beautiful spider lily. Our species is Hymenocallis caroliniana. The one in Jamaica is Hymenocallis caribaea. Both species are incredibly beautiful and I am always amazed at how similar they are in appearance yet they are hundreds of miles apart and separated by an ocean.

Hymenocallis caribaea
Hibiscus is an obvious cousin if you realize that we truly have Hibiscus that are native to Georgia (and we do), including the very showy Hibiscus coccineus. There were several forms in Jamaica, mostly the ubiquitous Hibiscus rosa-sinensis but I was thrilled to find this fringed form, Hibiscus schizopetalus
Hibiscus schizopetalus
I also found a beautiful red-flowering tree and learned later that it is also a Hibiscus known as “mahoe” (Hibiscus elatus). This species is native to Jamaica, is prized for its wood and can grow up to 60 feet.

Hibiscus elatus
Of course palm trees were everywhere. Only a few of them are actually native to the island. We do have several palms that are native to Georgia so we can count those as cousins as well. If you’re in the coastal area of Georgia, be sure to check out some of our native palms like dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor), cabbage palmetto (Sabal palmetto), saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) and needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix).

A bright orange-flowering plant caught my attention because the leaves were so familiar. It turned out to be Cape honeysuckle (Tecoma capensis) which is related to our trumpet creeper (Campsis radicans), a plant which has the synonym Tecoma radicans. Good to see ya, cousin!

Tecoma capensis
And to close out this story, I will include some cousins of lesser appreciated natives. I spotted a white flowering perennial behind the fences (in the wild area) and recognized it as something similar to our beggartick known as Bidens alba. It is possible that what I saw was indeed B. alba but it could also have been the species B. pilosa. Both are good for pollinators but considered a weed by most people.

A very glamorous form of Acalypha was in heavy use as an ornamental. Known as the Chenille plant (Acalypha hispida), this species far outshines its weedy cousin known as Virginia copperleaf (Acalypha virginica). Once you consider them as relatives you can see the similarities.

Acalypha hispida


  1. I believe I have Centrosema virginianum, will have to look more closely now. Interesting post.

  2. I grow Acalypha pendula (native of Cuba), which isn't quite as pretty... but certainly showier than the Hophornbeam Copperleaf, or the 3 seeded mercury...
    Did you bring back any seeds? Let's see how cold tolerant c molle is... and while we're at it... how about Centrosema brasilianum?