The Strangest Spiderworts

What if I told you that what you are looking at right now is a member of the spiderwort family (Commelinaceae)? At first, I didn't believe it either. Even after seeing those magnificent blooms, it took a bit of convincing. Regardless, the genus Cochliostema represents some of the strangest members of the family.

Cochliostema can be found growing in Central and South America. There are only two species in the genus, C. odoratissimum and C. jacobianum. My introduction to this group was Cochliostema odoratissimum. It is one of those plants that you smell before you see. The fragrance of the flowers is something worth experiencing. Because I lack the descriptive vocabulary needed to convey the proper respect, I'm going to ask you to trust me when I say that its lovely. The fragrance emanates from some seriously awesome flowers. It has been suggested that they are quite possibly the most complex flowers in the entire family. They are born on a type of spike called a "thyrse." Each flower consists of 3 sepals, 3 fringed petals, 3 stamens, which are fused in the upper half of the flower, and 3 carpels fused into a single pistil. The end result, as you can clearly see, is stunning.

The plants themselves are epiphytes, though they will grow terrestrially if they happen to fall from their host tree. As evidenced by their radial growth habit, they are akin to bromeliads in their ecology with at least one species considered a tank epiphyte. As such, they provide ample habitat in the canopy for a variety of flora and fauna.

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