Word of the Day: Dioecious
Yesterday when I wrote about Planting Alocasia Berries, I mentioned their flowers (aka inflorescences), have boy parts and girl parts, so they can fertilize themselves. Plants that have both are hermaphrodites, as you might expect. But you might not know the word for plants that don’t: dioecious.
The word “Dioecious” (pronounced die-EESH-us) comes from the Greek for “two households.” Plants that have blooms that only contain boy parts or girl parts, but not both, are dioecious. Humans are dioecious (well, most of the time – I do live in San Francisco, remember), but plants are usually hermaphroditic. So dioecious plants are a minority.
Most conifers (aka pine trees) are dioecious, however. (Update: Pines are monoecious. We’ll have to cover that next time.)
I was reminded of this when a friend* sent me this recent NPR story: The Loneliest Plant In The World, which is about a cycad in at Kew Gardens in London. Cycads are ancient palm-like trees. How ancient? Dinosaurs ate them.
The cycad in the story is Encephalartos woodii, and it may just be the last one in the world. And, sadly, it’s dioecious. So when it flowered in 2004, it made a pretty orange cone-shaped flower, but produced no seeds. Unless a female specimen of the species is found, he will be the last of his kind. (Yes, he can be cloned from cuttings, but some things are just better with a partner.)
So the next time you’re feeling lonely, you can count yourself lucky that at least you’re not Encephalartos woodii.
* Thanks, Lia!