A little bit of housekeeping before today’s entry. I had the spam-filtering on comments set too high last week for a brief time, so a few of you used to having your comments appear immediately were sent in to the moderation queue. With a bit of tweaking, I’ve resolved that issue (and published your comments).
Today’s photographs and write-up are courtesy once again of Jackie Chambers, UBC Botanical Garden horticulturist. Thanks, Jackie.
Androcymbium palaestinum is a cormous perennial found in the deserts and semi-arid areas of Egypt, Israel and Jordan. A rosette of grey-green leaves emerges before the flowers; these leaves are wider at base and narrow towards the tip. They generally range in length from 5-10cm and can reach 3cm at the widest point. These rosettes are very low-growing, typically found tucked into rocky outcrops or hugging the dry ground (additional photographs via Flora of Israel).
Flowers emerge in December-February and sit in the middle of the leafy rosette. The white flowers often have reddish-purple stripes and can reach 2-5 cm in diameter. However, flower size and shape can vary depending on location. For example, compare these flowers growing out in the open with these flowers squeezing out of a rocky outcrop.
A closer inspection of the flower structure reveals that that the stamen is attached to the petal, and that at the base of each stamen is a pool of nectar. The nectar is most likely a reward for pollinators. For more on the intricate flower structure of Androcymbium see these illustrations. While this site deals with another species, Androcymbium rechingeri, the detailed botanical drawings give a good idea of general floral structure.
Research suggests that Androcymbium palaestinum contains the alkaloid colchicine. This substance was originally found in Colchicum, and has medicinal properties. It has also been used in plant breeding for inducing polyploidy. Colchicine inhibits the separation of chromosome pairs during meiosis, resulting in gametes that contain double the amount of chromosomes (diploid rather than haploid). For many living things this condition would be fatal, but in plants polyploidy often results in larger, more robust individuals (the subject of colchicine is also mentioned in this previous Botany Photo of the Day).