Rainforest houseplants

A birthday present to me from Riitta Välimaa-Blum, this gorgeous display of plants:


Not just plants, but particularly luxuriant houseplants — mostly gorgeous enormous Dieffenbachia plants. Apparently in a rainforest setting, either in the wild or in a conservatory (or as Riitta would say, un jardin des plantes). Riitta tells me it’s in a real rainforest, on the island of Réunion, in the Indian Ocean. Remarkably, Réunion is a department (state in US terms) of France, which just happens to be about 5700 mi (9200 km) from the department of France where she lives (in Nice, in the department of Alpes Maritimes). (Compare the US state of Hawaii, about 2500 mi (4000 km) from California, where I live.)

On the plant. From Wikipedia:

(#2) A particularly handsome cultivar of Dieffenbachia seguine, ‘Tropic Snow’

Dieffenbachia is a genus of tropical flowering plants in the family Araceae. It is native to the New World Tropics from Mexico and the West Indies south to Argentina. Some species are widely cultivated as ornamental plants, especially as houseplants, and have become naturalized on a few tropical islands.

Dieffenbachia is a perennial herbaceous plant with straight stem, simple and alternate leaves containing white spots and flecks, making it attractive as indoor foliage. Species in this genus are popular as houseplants because of their tolerance of shade. Its English names, dumb cane and mother-in-law’s tongue (also used for Sansevieria species) refer to the poisoning effect of raphides, which can cause temporary inability to speak. Dieffenbachia was named by Heinrich Wilhelm Schott, director of the Botanical Gardens in Vienna, to honor his head gardener Joseph Dieffenbach (1796–1863).

… The cells of the Dieffenbachia plant contain needle-shaped calcium oxalate crystals called raphides. If a leaf is chewed, these crystals can cause a temporary burning sensation and erythema [reddening]. In rare cases, edema [swelling] of tissues exposed to the plant has been reported. Mastication and ingestion generally result in only mild symptoms. With both children and pets, contact with dieffenbachia (typically from chewing) can cause a host of unpleasant symptoms, including intense numbing, oral irritation, excessive drooling, and localized swelling. However, these effects are rarely life-threatening. In most cases, symptoms are mild, and can be successfully treated with analgesic agents, antihistamines, or medical charcoal. … Stories that Dieffenbachia is a deadly poison are urban legends.

(I admire dieffenbachias, but never grew one in Columbus, because we had a cat that was given to chewing on houseplants. Here in California I have no cat, but I’m also short on appropriate spaces for houseplants. Especially those that are inclined to expand to fill whatever space is available to them, as my spathiphyllum — also in the Araceae — is currently doing.)

Note that dieffenbachias are New World tropical plants, but growing (along with some other New World tropical plants, like philodendron) in #1 in a decidedly Old World setting. People are forever introducing plants from one part of the world to another. (I live in California, where a huge number of invasive shrubs and trees  in the wild aren’t New World plants; they come from the Mediterranean region, Africa, India, China, Australia, whatever.)

A note on Riitta Välimaa-Blum. My 12/6/17 posting “100 years of independence” (of Finland from Russia) has a section on her, her life in three languages and cultures, and her work in linguistics.

Réunion. From Wikipedia:

(#3) The vast expanse of the Indian Ocean, showing Réunion (and Mayotte, also a department of France); the horn of Africa on the upper left, the west coast of India on the upper right

Réunion … is an island and region of France in the Indian Ocean, east of Madagascar and 175 km (109 mi) southwest of Mauritius. As of January 2018, it had a population of 865,826 [about 50% greater than Wyoming, a bit greater than Alaska] …

The island has been inhabited since the 17th century, when people from France and Madagascar settled there. Slavery was abolished on 20 December 1848 (a date celebrated yearly on the island), after which indentured workers were brought from South India, among other places. The island became an overseas department of France in 1946.

As in France [continental France; technically, Réunion is just a department of France], the official language is French. In addition, the majority of the region’s population speaks Réunion Creole.

More generally, on the overseas departments of France, from Wikipedia:

France currently has five overseas departments (French: département d’outre-mer), which are departments (territorial divisions) that are outside the European part of the country. All are officially part of France, with the same political status as the departments in Europe; and are therefore different to overseas territories. They are also part of the European Union and use the Euro as currency. They are: [French Guiana (South America), Guadeloupe (Caribbean), Martinique (Caribbean), Mayotte (northwest of Madagascar), Réunion (east of Madagascar)]

I am strangely tickled by the fact that there are two territories off the east coast of Africa that use the Euro as their official currency.

Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this: