This might be a controversial statement, but really, roses are out. I mean, they’re beautiful to the eye and smell lovely, but after decades, surely we can be a bit more creative when it comes to expressing our undying love to one another. Therefore, we asked the members of our botany team to each nominate a species to succeed the venerable Rosa sp. as the plant world’s ultimate emblem of romance.
Curator of the National Herbarium of Canada and lover of all things mossy, Jennifer Doubt thinks that the seductive entodon moss fit the bill perfectly:
Entodon seductrix could be nominated on the basis of its name alone, but with its shiny allure, no-one can argue that the name isn’t perfect for this living, botanical bling. Unlike the rose, it lives on when winter comes—what better way to express your undying love? ☺
Research scientist Jeff Saarela is as committed as anyone can get to studying grasses, so his nominee for most romantic plant does not surprise me at all:
There is much to love about grasses (wheat, corn and rice feed the world, for example), but they probably aren’t the first plant group most people think of around Valentine’s Day. But one group does conjure up those warm and fuzzy feelings every time you say its name. Eragrostis is a large genus of grasses—the lovegrasses–with some 350 species occurring in tropical, subtropical and warm temperate regions of the planet. The origin of the name Eragrostis, first described in 1776, is thought to be from the Greek eros (“love”) and agrostis (“a grass”), hence the common name lovegrass.
There are nine lovegrass species in Canada. Six of these are native in at least part of their Canadian ranges, and three are introduced. The most widespread species in Canada is the introduced Eragrostis cilianensis (stinkgrass or strong-scented lovegrass), often found along roadsides and in other disturbed habits. Eragrostis species are “warm-season grasses”—they have a photosynthetic pathway called C4 photosynthesis adapted to warm and dry environments. Consequently, C4 grasses in Canada, including Eragrostis, generally appear in mid- to late summer. This is a bit late for Valentine’s Day, but if you are a grass known as a lovegrass, how much more romantic can you get?”
Lynn Gillespie, Ph.D., one of our research scientists with a strong interest in tropical plants, nominated the hot lips bush (Psychotria poeppigiana) from South America. When I asked her why, she simply showed me a photo of the bush in response. I agree completely: the romantic appearance of the flowers is completely self-explanatory. On a side note, this plant is in the Rubiaceae—the coffee family. Since I hold coffee so dear to my heart, I’m happy to second Lynn’s nomination ☺.
Biologist Paul Hamilton studies freshwater diatoms, microbial photosynthetic plankton that can be found the world over. Unsurprisingly, his nomination is the smallest species on this list:
The desmids, like Micrasterias thomasiana, represent a group of single-cell algae that illustrate the perfection of symmetry and togetherness. Even researchers in the field of algae refer to these as the largest and most beautiful of the desmid algae. These spectacular life forms show the complete union of two parts (semicells) that together illustrate harmony and symmetry.
These highly unique cells have been recognized since the mid-1800s, and anyone with a microscope and a drop of pond water can find them. Note the union of the two semicells at the centre where the nucleus is located and the projecting “fingers” on either side that complete the symmetry.
Even the chloroplast shows the harmony between the two semicells. Only the pyrenoids (circular globules for food storage) show differences between the semicells. A complete reflection of shape and form from one half to the other is symbolic of the togetherness we show on Valentine’s Day. Just by looking at the incredible symmetry, we can feel the complexity and yet togetherness of life. Will you be my Valentine?
Me, I’m happy to nominate the common milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) as the most romantic plant. Why would anyone see love in this common roadside weed, you might ask? The answer isn’t so much how it looks, but what it represents to the insects that use it for food and shelter. Particularly, the red milkweed beetle (Tetraopes tetrophalmus), has co-evolved along with the milkweed genus, both plant and insect lineages evolving in parallel, with adaptations in one triggering changes in another.
They are so tightly knit by evolutionary forces that the red milkweed beetle is completely reliant on milkweed for food and predator defence (its red carapace is a warning signal to predators that it stores toxins from the milkweed itself in its body—”eat me at your own peril”). To me, the story of two organisms, chasing each other through deep evolutionary time, changing and adapting for their partner, and existing now as intertwined beings, is an epically romantic tale for the ages.
Many thanks to Jennifer Doubt, Jeff Saarela, Lynn Gillespie and Paul Hamilton for being good sports and co-authoring this blog post.