Campbell professor goes on quest for plants

January 7, 2009 | Leave a Comment


Buies Creek, N.C.-When Campbell University botany professor, Dr. Christopher Havran, wanted to increase the diversity of greenhouse plant materials for teaching purposes, he was overwhelmed by the response. Not only did several major universities answer his request for donations, the Botany Department acquired some very rare and exotic species.

The Aristolochia arborea (A. arborea) for example, given by Duke University, is native to Central America and produces flowers that resemble mushrooms.

"Which is weird," said Havran, "because plants produce flowers that are designed to attract insects for pollination, but this plant is mimicking an organism, a fungus, that does not typically attract insects for reproduction."

Scientists believe that in this part of Central America where A. arborea grows there are some insects that do eat fungus, fungiferous insects. The species has simply evolved to take advantage of the pollination opportunities peculiar to this habitat.

Other plant donations are both economically and culturally important, said Havran. The Kola tree, a donation from Duke, is used to flavor Coca Cola and other carbonated drinks, while Diviner's Sage, a hallucinogenic plant, is used in religious ceremonies by people indigenous to Central America.

In addition to these rare plants, the Botany Department has received a number of carnivorous plants such as the Venus Fly Trap, Sundew and the giant Pitcher plant from Southeast Asia. This unusual plant's prey-trapping mechanism is a deep cavity filled with liquid known as a pitfall trap. The small bodies of liquid contained within the Pitcher trap, called phytotelmata, drown the insect and gradually dissolve the body. It has been widely assumed that various sorts of pitfall traps evolved over time, from rolled leaves to a more deeply cupped leaf favored by natural selection.

The Titan Arum is a gift from Ohio University and is probably the most exotic plant in the collection, said Havran. The plant, which produces only one leaf at a time, will also produce a very large inflorescence, or giant flower stalk, in about five or six years after storing up energy. The largest inflorescence in the world, the Arum's flower stalk is beautiful but odifiorous, giving off the smell of rotting meat when it blooms. This odor is designed to attract flies which may be the plant's best pollinators.

"It's a great benefit to students to have these rare examples of plants that are important to unique cultures and fun to study," Havran said. "In addition, cultivating these plants allows us to contribute to Campbell University's Statement of Purpose, which is to maintain stewardship over the diversity of life on Earth.

Havran added that the university is continuing to accept donations of plant materials and also plans to become a source of unusual and exotic plant materials for other institutions.

The following is a list of the plants, their donors and their scientific names:Common NameScientific NameDonated by:Water FernAzolla sp.Duke UniversityPillwortPilularia globuliferaOhio UniversityWisk FernPsilotum nudumOhio UniversityGnetumGnetum gnemonOhio UniversityTitan ArumAmorphophallus titanumOhio UniversityBat OrchidCymbidium hawtescensOhio UniversityVanilla OrchidVanilla planifoliaDuke UniversitySweet BroomRuscus aculeatusDuke UniversityAnt PlantDischidia platyphyllaDuke UniversityMillion HeartsDischidia ruscifoliaDuke UniversityVenus fly trapDionaea muscipulaDuke UniversitySundewDrosera sp.Duke UniversityDiviners SageSalvia divinorumDuke UniversityAyahuascaBanisteriopsis caapiDuke UniversityKola TreeCola acuminataDuke UniversityHawaiian HibiscusTalipariti tiliaceumOhio UniversityCoffeeCoffea arabicaOhio UniversityRed Pitcher PlantSarracenia sp.Duke University

Photo Copy: Dr. Christopher Havran inventories plant materials in the Campbell University greenhouse.