Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Featured Plant: Pandanus amaryllifolius

Life Sciences Horticulturist Jenn Purnell and her volunteers have been busy transforming our Tropical Butterfly House into a beautiful educational oasis. This month we are featuring the Pandan plant (Pandanus amarylliflous).


Species Name: Pandanus amaryllifolius

Common Names: pandan (Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Java, Philippines), pondak (Moluccas), rampe (India), plus many other common names in different languages throughout Southeast Asia

Family Name: Pandanaceae, Scewpine Family

Ecology / Ethno / Natural History Notes: Pandan has been cultivated throughout Southeast Asia and the Pacific for a long time - possibly thousands of years. Its leaves produce the same aroma compound found in basmati rice, jasmine rice, and white bread (2-Acetyl-1-pyrroline). The leaves are added to rice dishes, made into drinks, used to flavor desserts, and made into fragrant food wrappers. (Check out this pandan & coconut rice recipe - http://www.hungryhuy.com/pandan-sticky-rice-recipe/ ). Pandan is also used medicinally, in ceremonies, and as a cockroach deterrent! Though pandan can sometimes be found growing wild in tropical places, not much is written in English about its natural origins. There are no known observations of female pandan flowers or fruits; male pandan flowers have only been observed in the Moluccas archipelago in Indonesia. Because of this, it is propagated through suckers or cuttings. As you might imagine, studies indicate that this species has very low genetic diversity. Though the pandan isn't a known host plant for any of our Lepidoptera, it is reported to be host plant for a Malaysian butterfly, the hoary palmer (Unkana ambasa batara).

How to Identify it: We recently added a pandan plant to our Tropical Butterfly House, in the center bed across from the Emerging Window. Usually the best way to identify a plant is by its reproductive structures, but pandan (almost) never flowers. The easiest way to find it in the Butterfly House is to look for a 1-2 foot tall plant that looks like a nondescript, tropical monocot (sort of like a wide-leafed grass). Then lean in and take a big whiff - does it smell like basmati rice? Or bread? Or possibly caramel corn? If so, you've found the pandan! Some other standard Pandanaceae traits to look for - it has aeriel prop roots, and the leaves look like they are arranged spirally because the stem is twisted (thus the family name "Screwpine"). More mature plants may have prickles on the edges of the leaves - we haven't noticed any yet.

How to Care For it: Full sun to part shade, high humidity, moist soil high in organic material, slightly acidic soil. I'm sure we'll learn more the longer we have it in the house!

Sources & Further Reading:

https://blogs.reading.ac.uk/tropical-biodiversity/2013/01/pandanus-amaryllifolius/
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pandanus_amaryllifolius
http://gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com/engl/Pand_ama.html
http://butterflycircle.blogspot.com/2012/02/life-history-of-hoary-palmer.html


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