Kew today - Jade vine
The cascading translucent sea-green flowers of the jade vine are in full bloom in the Palm House this week, a glorious sight beneath the canopy of green foliage
30 Mar 2010
The beautiful hanging flowers of the jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys)
The jade vine (Strongylodon macrobotrys) is one of the most spectacular of all tropical climbers, hailing from the rainforests of the Philippines, a scattered group of 7,100 islands in tropical Asia.
A member of the same family as peas and beans (Leguminosae), the jade vine is a rare sight in the wild; luckily, however, British botanic gardens have had great success in growing it. It flowers happily here at Kew, at Cambridge and also at the Eden Project in Cornwall.
Flowers of the jade vine (Image: Brian Schrire)
However it is one thing to get the plant to flower, and quite another to get it pollinated so that the huge bean-like pods will develop to contain fertile seeds. The plant has been grown at Kew for many years but for a long time had never produced seed. In the wild the jade vine is pollinated by bats that hang upside down to drink the jade vine’s nectar, and the plant gently brushes pollen onto the bat’s head while it drinks. The next plant the bat visits collects the pollen from the first before brushing its own pollen to be transported elsewhere. It is a great example of co-evolution in action; the plant and the bat have evolved to work perfectly in cooperation with each other. After careful studies of the flower structure, scientists from the Jodrell Laboratory managed to pollinate the flowers successfully so that seeds developed. In 1994, the jade vine in the Palm House produced fruits for the first time in 32 years.
The jade vine is a liana (woody climber) and as such relies on the huge trees of the forest to climb up towards the light. However, the rainforests of the Philippines are disappearing at an alarming rate – originally the islands were almost completely forested, but a 1988 survey estimated that only 20 per cent of the forest remained. The speed at which the rainforest is vanishing adds a sense of urgency to Kew's research into the jade vine’s floral biology.
This extraordinary vine can be found near the spiral staircase in the central part of the Palm House, above the benches.
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