Rattlebox

Every spring a couple of South American plants with bright orange blossoms show off on the banks of Bayou Liberty next to Camp Salmen’s amphitheater. One is a Cockspur Coral Tree (Erythrina crista-galli). Ours is a small representative of a popular Latin American ornamental that reaches out over the bayou and gets its name from the shape and color of its pretty flowers. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other plant is the Rattlebox (Sesbania punicea). It’s more like a tall weed with bunches of small, delicate orange/red flowers and tropical-looking fronds that look vaguely like a mimosa. There are a bunch of them right across the bayou and they make a striking sight across the water.

 

 

It so happens both Rattlebox and Coral Trees are from Argentina on the South Atlantic coast of South America. Of course, it could be that the folks on Bayou Liberty planted them on purpose because they were thought to be pretty. People have been landscaping their property here with exotic plants for at least a couple of centuries. However, the Rattlebox has an interesting back-story that explains how it likely came to Camp Salmen naturally.

 

The seeds of the Rattlebox are toxic, so much so that no bird in his right mind would consider eating them. This means wide seed dispersal by bird-poop is unlikely. However, the plant is extraordinarily thirsty for water and grows almost exclusively on the banks of rivers and coastal marshes, meaning its seed dispersal is almost exclusively by water. These seeds are remarkably durable and have a protective coating that lets them float great distances, like from South America to other parts of the Atlantic Basin. It so happens there is a big, fat, circular, counter-clockwise current around the South Atlantic Ocean and even has a special branch that goes into the Gulf of Mexico. This might explain how the plant came from Argentina and became established on the coasts of West Africa as well as the northern Gulf of Mexico.

 

The plant gets the name Rattlebox from its seed-pods. Late in the season it sprouts a multi-chambered bean that browns and withers so the seeds rattle around inside before they escape. One can imagine the sound of thousands of these rattling in the cooling winds of fall on the banks of coastal streams on three continents including right here on Bayou Liberty.

Last modified on Saturday, 17 October 2015 20:21

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