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Warhol's Flowers Open Up a New Botanical Realm to Explore.

The art of Andy Warhol displayed in the Museum of Botany & the Arts during the ongoing exhibition Warhol: Flowers in the Factory (open through June 30) features poinsettias and hibiscus, whose showy flowers provided the bright pops of colors suited to his artistic style.

Hibiscus comes from the Malvaceae or mallow family, and poinsettias belong to the Euphorbiaceae family. To acquaint visitors with the varied species that belong to those plant families, the horticulture team installed special signage throughout the garden calling attention to the plants described below.



Within the Malvaceae family there are nearly 300 species of the hibiscus genus alone. The most commonly grown is 7. Hibiscus rosa-sinensis, variously known as the China rose, Chinese hibiscus, Hawaiian hibiscus and shoeblack plant. It originated in East Asia and is the national flower of Malaysia. The ephemeral flowers are edible and used fresh in salads in the Pacific Islands and dried in teas in several countries. Oil from the flowers can be used as shoe polish.

2. Gossypium hirsutum, commonly known as Upland cotton or Mexican cotton, is the unlikely cousin of the hibiscus. Archeological evidence from the Tehuacan Valley in Mexico shows the cultivation of this species dating to 3,500 BC, the earliest known evidence of cotton cultivation in the Americas. It is now the most widely planted species of cotton in the United States, constituting some 95 percent of all US cotton production. To prevent the spread of the boll weevil, Florida and other states prohibit the noncommercial growing of any species of Gossypium except under a special permit, which Selby Gardens has obtained. In addition to providing a fiber for clothing, bed linens and even paper currency (U.S. currency bills are 75 percent cotton), the plant's seeds can be used to make cottonseed oil and animal feed.

When the huge 3. Bombax ceiba trees bloom at the Gardens, they always catch the attention of visitors with seven inch by seven inch, bright red flowers that grace the branches and, in a week or so, cover nearby pathways. Commonly known as the red silk cotton tree (its genus name Bombax derives from the Greek word meaning silk), it is native to India and Southeast Asia, providing an ingredient in medicines used for diarrhea, inflammation, skin ailments and wounds. It has also been tested for its antibacterial and aphrodisiac properties.

Another showy tree from the Malvaceae family is 4. Ceiba speciosa, the floss silk tree. In Autumn, funnel-shaped pink flowers completely cover the canopy, followed by pear-shaped seed pods containing silken "floss" and pea sized seeds. At one time, this floss was used to pad life jackets and pillows, while thin strips of floss silk's bark were used to make rope.

5. Theobroma cacao, or cacao tree, is the source of one of the world's most delicious and familiar products ... chocolate. The edible properties of Theobroma cacao were discovered more than 2,000 years ago by the local people of Central America living deep in the tropical rainforests. This spindly evergreen grows in the shade of giant trees occupying the top layer of the rain forest. When its seeds are dried and fermented in the sun, they are brownish red, and known as cocoa beans. The ingredients for chocolate--cocoa powder and cocoa butter--are prepared from fermented and roasted cocoa beans.


Examples from the Euphorbiaceae family found on site include several with poisonous characteristics. While the poinsettia (scientific name 6. Euphorbia puicherrima) is not poisonous to humans, pets who eat the leaves often experience vomiting and diarrhea.

The most infamous member of the Euphorbiaceae family is 7. Ricinus communis, commonly known as castor bean. Castor oil extracted from the plant's seeds was popularized as a medication during the 1950s and its corresponding toxic byproduct, ricin, became well known as poison in 1978 when the dissident Bulgarian journalist Georgi Markov died after being attacked and injected with a ricin pellet in London. In 2003, letters containing ricin were intercepted in the offices of President Barack Obama and a U.S. Senator. Castor oil does not contain ricin, and is used to remedy ailments including constipation, heartburn and dry skin.

8. Euphorbia miiii is commonly known as crown of thorns, alluding to the legend that the crown of thorns that Jesus wore at his crucifixion was made from the stem of this thorny plant. In Thailand, it is said that the number of flowers on a crown of thorns plant predicts the luck of the plant owner. It's not lucky for the owner who handles the plant without gloves, however. The sap is moderately poisonous and causes irritation on contact with skin or eyes. If ingested, it causes severe stomach pain, irritation of the throat and mouth and vomiting.

9. Manihot escuienta, commonly known as cassava or yucca, is a food staple for millions worldwide. It is extensively cultivated as an annual crop in tropical and subtropical regions for its edible starchy tuberous root. It must be properly prepared, however, as improper preparation can leave enough residual cyanide to cause ataxia, partial paralysis or death.

10. Jatropha integerrima, commonly known as peregrina or spicy jatropha, is a flowering plant native to Cuba and Hispaniola. This beautiful plant is popular with gardeners because of its nearly constant display of beautiful starshaped red flowers, which attract butterflies and hummingbirds. However, all parts of the plant are poisonous when ingested, and the milky sap can irritate the skin.

Less threatening is 11. Acaiypha hispida, also called the chenille plant. It gets its common name from the French chenille, meaning hairy caterpillar, while also referring to the velvety strands of chenille yarn. This soft, tufted yarn has a texture and appearance similar to the plant's flowering tassels.
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Publication:Sarasota Magazine
Date:May 1, 2018
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