Botany Photo of the Day
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Bolax gummifera

Bolax gummifera
Bolax gummifera

Just like yesterday's plant, I can't help myself when I see this plant. I have to touch it. The sensation, though, is quite different – imagine (but I don't suggest you try it) pushing down with your hand on a swath of keys on your keyboard. That would be very similar to the feeling of pushing down on the foliage of the plastic-like Bolax gummifera. The common name for this cushion-forming oddity is “balsam bog”, but I know a few members of staff simply call it the plastic plant.

Bolax gummifera is a member of the carrot family, but similar to yesterday's Erinacea anthyllis, a casual glance at the plant would not make it readily identifiable to its family. Within the broadly distributed Apiaceae (though typically north temperate), this plant belongs to a subfamily found only in the Southern Hemisphere, the Azorelloideae. Accordingly, Bolax gummifera is native to southern South America, including the Falkland Islands.

From an ecological standpoint, a recent study by L. Cavieres et. al. (2002) found evidence that cushion plants such as Bolax gummifera provide a “nurse plant effect” in arctic and alpine plant environments. The morphological structure of the cushions create a favourable microtopographic and microclimatic environment for the seed establishment of other plant species (see: Cavieres, al. 2002. Nurse effect of Bolax gummifera cushion plants in the alpine vegetation of the Chilean Patagonian Andes. Journal of Vegetation Science. 13(4):547-554.).

Botany / agriculture resource link: Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages – top-notch information on 117 spice plants.


I love these macro images of alpine/montane plants, they suit it so well.
This accession has been problematic for us at the garden for a long time. The plant called Bolax gummifera (Lam.) Spreng.and another known as Azorella trifurcata (Gaertner) Hook. f. are very similar in many respects. Both are cushion plants belonging to Apiaceae, and both display rosetted growth forms.
One of the key macro differences is in the flower colour. Whereas Azorella displays a yellowish coloured umbel, the umbels of Bolax are greenish-white. (see Encyclopedia of Alpines, Vol. 1 (A-K), pp. 158 and 178, respectively). The plant shown has bright yellow flowers in early summer. Other than this reference, definitive information about these remote plants is not anywhere near complete - I refer also to Flora of Tierra del Fuego, by David L. Moore. On a floral basis, it seems certain that this plant is actually Azorella trifurcata, or 3-lobed (leaf) Azorella. Botanical trip to patagonian South America, Daniel?

I too can not resist this plant. I always tell people that it feels like plastic. Both adults and children like to give it a gentle push with their hands. I also grow it in a container.

Bolax gummifera - Z7, RHS Index of Garden Plants, Griffiths

cushion plants, I would like to see a word search of explainations of plants I am unfamilar.
I like certain plants but my understanding is lower than a Botinist.

I agree, a glossary would be quite handy, but it'd have to be something I could integrate so it works automagically. I'll look into it.

As for cushion plants, here's a description with photographs. It's a term describing the general growing habit of the plant, and not specific to any one particular group.

A cushion plant is an informal term, not at all strictly botanical. Most familiar to alpine and rock gardeners, it describes a growth form which is classically alpine; that is, shaped by elemental forces into a (small) cushion, or bun shape. "Buns" is also quite informal - it too is used in alpine gardening circles to describe a small, dense, usually herbaceous alpine plant. A pat on the top of the plant is often followed by the exclamation "nice buns"..

he he !

Great pic! Eye candy!


Where can I find seeds for this plant?

Published zone ratings should be viewed with skepticism. This plant (Azorella trifurcata re. B. Hine's comments, above) has been hardy here in zone 3, Calgary, Alberta, over many years.

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