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 Azorella trifurcata. There is no particular common name in use for this cushion-forming oddity, but I know a few members of staff simply call it the plastic plant.
Azorella trifurcata 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, Azorella trifurcata is native to southern South America.
From an ecological standpoint, a recent study by L. Cavieres et. al. (2002) found evidence that cushion plants such as Azorella trifurcata 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, L. et. 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.). Today’s featured plant was mistakenly identified as Bolax gummifera in UBC Botanical Garden for many years due to a striking similarity in appearance; accordingly, it should have a similar ecological impact on the establishment of seedlings.
Botany / agriculture resource link: Gernot Katzer’s Spice Pages–top-notch information on 117 spice plants.