This week I was called over to the offices of the finance team to take a look at their dwarf umbrella plant (Schefflera arboricola). It’s clearly received plenty of TLC and is thriving. However, in striving to reach the light it became too tall and very top-heavy. A bit worrying if you’re the one sitting below it! So it was time for some pruning and I’ll be taking the bits home to see if I can get some cuttings growing.
The finance team aren’t the only fans of this plant in the Manchester Museum. This beautiful little frog is a Lemur Leaf Frog; a critically endangered species which is part of the breeding programme in the newly refurbished vivarium.
The dwarf umbrella plant (S. arboricola) is a member of the Araliaceae (ivy) family and is a popular houseplant (especially in variagated forms). This specimen from our cultivated plant collection was collected in China by the plant hunter Augustine Henry (1857–1930). It is undated and was originally identified as a related plant, Heptapleurum octophyllum, but the identification has since been re-determined, as shown by the extra labels. The herbarium sheet is in our cultivated plant collection as the dwarf umbrella plant is native to Taiwan and Hainan, not the mainland Chinese province of Yunnan where this was collected.
Andrew Gray, the Curator of Herpetology, is currently in Costa Rica looking for suitable places for University of Manchester Life Sciences students to visit on a field course. He’s posted a photo of a beautiful Cattleya orchid flower on his FrogBlog. Check it out: Treats of Turrialba.
These orchids are epiphytes (plants which grow on other plants) and there are lots of epiphytic plants in the tropics growing on the large trees. Xaali O’Reilly, a Zoology student fron the University of Manchester, is doing research on wildlife in the Ecuadorean rainforest and has some great posts about epiphytes on her blog. There are also some lovely epiphytes growing in the Manchester Museum vivarium, such as these bromeliads which collect water in the centre of the rosette and provide places for the frogs to breed.
However, you don’t have to travel far to find yourself an epiphytic plant growing in a tree; there are plenty to be found in Manchester’s concrete jungle. Look out for mosses growing on tree bark and for ferns and small plants growing in places where leaf litter can collect and develop into soil (such as at the junction of the branches and the trunk). Dave Bishop from the Friends of Chorlton Meadows has spotted a species of Polypodium fern which seems to like to grow on the London plane trees planted along Manchester’s roads and park paths.
Epiphytes are easy to spot on deciduous trees at this time of year while they have no leaves. If you see someting interesting, why not let us know?