More plant families

After I posted on “Plant families” I realized I’d missed one gigantic, and enormously important, one: the grasses. Collecting material for that, I found one more big one.

Meanwhile, inspired by some late-season cleome flowers at the Gamble Garden yesterday, I began to assemble material on plants I had grown in my Columbus garden that self-seeded (as the cleomes did) or self-hybridized (like the columbines), and that took me mostly to smaller plant families, ones I hadn’t already posted about. In the end, 8 new families, plus a replay of two from an earliier posting.

The Poaceae (true grasses). From Wikipedia:

The Poaceae [with type genus Poa] … (also called Gramineae [an old-style family name, based on Latin gramen ‘grass’] or true grasses) are a large and nearly ubiquitous family of monocotyledonous flowering plants. With more than 10,000 domesticated and wild species, the Poaceae are the fifth-largest plant family, following the Asteraceae, Orchidaceae, Fabaceae, and Rubiaceae. [The first three already posted on here; Rubiaceae to come.] Though commonly called “grasses”, seagrasses, rushes, and sedges fall outside this family. The rushes and sedges are related to the Poaceae, being members of the order Poales, but the seagrasses are members of order Alismatales.

Grasslands are estimated to constitute 20% of the vegetation cover of the Earth. Poaceae live in many other habitats, including wetlands, forests, and tundra.

Domestication of poaceous cereal crops such as maize (corn), wheat, rice, barley, and millet lies at the foundation of sedentary living and civilization around the world, and the Poaceae still constitute the most economically important plant family in modern times, providing forage, building materials (bamboo, thatch) and fuel (ethanol), as well as food.

On the type genus:

Poa is a genus of about 500 species of grasses, native to the temperate regions of both hemispheres. Common names include meadow-grass (mainly Europe and Asia), bluegrass (mainly North America), tussock (some New Zealand species), and speargrass. “Poa” is Greek for fodder.

… Bluegrass, which has green leaves, derives its name from the seed heads, which are blue when the plant is allowed to grow to its natural height of two to three feet  (Wikipedia link)


(Sorry, but grass isn’t very interesting visually.)

The Rubiaceae. From Wikipedia:

Rubiaceae is a family of flowering plants, commonly known as the coffee, madder, or bedstraw family [with type genus Rubia, the madders]. It consists of terrestrial trees, shrubs, lianas, or herbs that are recognizable by simple, opposite leaves with interpetiolar stipules. The family contains about 13,000 species in 611 genera, which makes it the fourth-largest angiosperm family. Rubiaceae has a cosmopolitan distribution, however, the largest species diversity is concentrated in the (sub)tropics. Economic importance includes Coffea, the source of coffee, Cinchona, the source of quinine used to treat malaria, some dye plants (e.g. Rubia), and ornamental cultivars (e.g. Gardenia, Ixora, Pentas).


Coffee flowers

Cleomes (and the Cleomaceae). The impressive garden plant (it gets really tall), with its flowers shown here in close-up:


Cleome hassleriana, commonly known as spider flower, spider plant, or pink queen, is a species of flowering plant in the genus Cleome of the family Cleomaceae, native to southern South America in Argentina, Paraguay, Uruguay, and southeast Brazil.

It is an annual growing to a height of 150 cm (60 in), with spirally arranged leaves [and it self-seeds]. The leaves are palmately compound, with five or seven leaflets, the leaflets up to 12 cm (5 in) long and 4 cm (2 in) broad and the leaf petiole up to 15 cm (6 in) long. The flowers are purple, pink, or white, with four petals and six long stamens. The fruit is a capsule up to 15 cm long and 3 mm (0.1 in) broad, containing several seeds. Flowering lasts from late spring to early fall.

C. hassleriana is commonly cultivated in temperate regions as a half-hardy annual. (Wikipedia link)

Now we’re up to a genuinely small plant family:

The Cleomaceae [with type genus Cleome] are a small family of flowering plants in the order Brassicales, comprising about 300 species in 10 genera, or about 150 species in 17 genera [depending on how your taxonomist reckons things]. (Wikipedia link)

The Papaveraceae. More self-seeding (and also self-hybridizing) plants from Columbus: the California poppy (Eschscholzia californica) and the opium poppy (Papaver somniferum). Year by year, self-hybridizing yielded ever more varied flowers, in a wide range of colors (within the range of the species, but including bicolors) and petal shapes (fringed ones, crinkly ones, etc.). Enormously satisfying. (Illustrations of ordinary variants of these two poppies, plus photos of Meconopsis betonicifolia and Romneya coulteri, can be found in this posting.

On the family (middle-sized, but very important), from Wikipedia:

The Papaveraceae [with type genus Papaver], informally known as the poppy family, are an economically important family of about 44 genera and approximately 770 species of flowering plants in the order Ranunculales. The family is cosmopolitan, occurring in temperate and subtropical climates (mostly in the northern hemisphere), but almost unknown in the tropics. Most are herbaceous plants, but a few are shrubs and small trees.

Another that was once in the Scrophulariaceae, but is now in the Plantaginaceae. Like Penstemon (discussed here, along with both of the families involved): Digitalis purpurea, the common foxglove, which self-seeded in Columbus, but did not self-hybridize, as far as I can recall:


(with a bumblebee bonus).

The Boraginaceae. Represented in my Columbus garden by the annual Borago officinalis, which self-seeded freely but didn’t seem to vary from year to year. Some discussion on this blog (with a picture) here. On the (middle-sized) family, from Wikipedia:

The Boraginaceae, the borage or forget-me-not family [with type genus Borago], includes a variety of shrubs, trees, and herbs, totaling about 2,000 species in 146 genera found worldwide.

The Ranunculaceae. The columbine was a star of hybrid variability in my Columbus garden. There are a great many hybrid cultivars based on Aquilegia vulgaris (some illustrated below), and then they self-hybridized wonderfully, yielding a bed in the garden in which virtually no two flowers were the same:


The genus, from Wikipedia:

Aquilegia (common names: Granny’s Bonnet or Columbine) is a genus of about 60-70 species of perennial plants [in the family Ranunculaceae] that are found in meadows, woodlands, and at higher altitudes throughout the Northern Hemisphere, known for the spurred petals of their flowers.

The genus name Aquilegia is derived from the Latin word for eagle (aquila), because the shape of the flower petals, which are said to resemble an eagle’s claw. The common name “columbine” comes from the Latin for “dove”, due to the resemblance of the inverted flower to five doves clustered together.

Aquilegia species are very interfertile, and will self-sow.

Now up to the (sizable) family:

Ranunculaceae (buttercup or crowfoot family; Latin rānunculus “little frog”, from rāna “frog”) are a family of about 1700 species of flowering plants in about 60 genera, distributed worldwide.

The largest genera are Ranunculus [the type genus; buttercups] (600 species), Delphinium [delphiniums] (365), Thalictrum [meadow-rues] (330), Clematis [clematis] (325), and Aconitum [monkshoods] (300).

The Commelinaceae. Here it starts with Tradescantia virginiana, which self-hybridized modestly but prettily in my Columbus garden.


On the plant, from Wikipedia:

Tradescantia …, the Spiderworts, is a genus of 75 species of herbaceous perennial plants in the family Commelinaceae, native to the New World from southern Canada south to northern Argentina including the West Indies. They were introduced into Europe as ornamental plants in the seventeenth century and are now grown as such in many parts of the world. Subsequently some species have become naturalized in various regions of Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and assorted oceanic islands.

… A number of the species flower in the morning and when the sun shines on the flowers in the afternoon they close, but can remain open on cloudy days until evening. The three species of Wandering Jew, one native to eastern Mexico, also belong to the Tradescantia genus.

Tradescantia are herbaceous perennials and include both climbing and trailing species, reaching 30–60 cm in height. The leaves are long, thin and blade-like to lanceolate, from 3–45 cm long. The flowers can be white, pink, or purple, but are most commonly bright blue, with three petals and six yellow anthers. The sap is mucilaginous and clear.

… The name of the genus by Linnaeus honours the English naturalists and explorers John Tradescant the Elder (ca. 1570s – 1638) and John Tradescant the Younger (1608–1662). They introduced many new plants to English gardens. Tradescant the Younger mounted three expeditions to the New World colony of Virginia. From there Tradescantia virginiana, the type species, was brought to England in 1629.

There are cultivars of T. virginiana from blue through violet to magenta, from light to deep in color, with a white variant, and these yield a number of further hybrid variants, including bicolors.

The (medium-sized) family, from Wikipedia:

Commelinaceae is a family of flowering plants… It is one of five families in the order Commelinales and by far the largest of these with an estimated 650 species in 40 genera. Well known genera include Commelina (dayflowers) [the type genus] and Tradescantia (spiderworts).

The Tropaeolaceae. One final family, a very small one. Tropaeoleum (commonly called “nasturtium”) is the only genus in the family. Three annual species are cultivated, mostly in hybrid strains, and they easily hybridize further. For a discussion of the nomenclatural issue (nasturtium vs. tropaeolum), with striking photos of hybrid Tropaeolum, see my posting of 6/24/13.

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