Tuesday, 21 September 2010

From the Archive: Golden Surprise*


This species has been flowering for the last few weeks in my neighbourhood. In 2006 it flowered later, after the Wisteria. This is how I described it then.

There’s this wonderful wisteria wrapped around a now dead eucalypt near my home. A couple of weeks ago, the wisteria’s purple haze was interrupted by a succession of massive golden coloured flowers.

‘Cup of Gold’ had joined the wisteria. It doesn’t take long for this rampant climber to take over a fence, or unsuspecting tree. The leaves are thick and shiny, soaking up the Sydney sun.

The flowers are spectacular. They are great big trumpets, about 15 cm across the mouth, with dark purple stripes along each of the yellow segments. They look very exotic, and indeed they are.

The Cup of Gold is one of eight species of Chalice Vine native to the tropical forests of central America. Chalice Vine, or Solandra, belongs to the notorious plant family Solanaceae, along with Deadly Nightshade, Mandrake and Datura (called Angel’s or Devil’s Trumpet, depending on your perspective).

It’s probably no surprise that its flowers and leaves contain some nasty toxins, a fact not lost to the Aztecs who used them as an hallucinogen. But edible plants, such as tomatoes and potatoes, are also members of this unsettling plant family.

Like many plants around Sydney, Cups of Gold are flowering their heads off this year. In a wet year, or if well watered, this plant will divert its energies into leaves rather than blooms. Drought often brings out the best floral displays – just look out for this year’s Jacarandas in a few weeks.

Plants tend to respond to tough conditions by producing more flowers, and potentially more fruits and seeds, and therefore more chance of surviving. Quite sensible really. The only problem with Cup of Gold, or Solandra maxima, might be that it can sometimes survive too well and it could smother native vegetation at the edge of bushland reserves.

Image: Cup of Gold in bloom, October 2006

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