Monday, January 11, 2016

Flora et Fauna: Deadman's Tails

The plant Deadman's Tails grows in rich loam soil where there a great deal of nitrogen. It has long, sword like leaves that grow up in spikes in early spring. Young leaves are a bright green which darken as they age over the season and grow to full length. The full length of the leaves of Deadman's Tails are approximately a meter in length.

The central stalk of the plant puts up a spike of flowers around midsummer. The spike is of the same length as the leaves on the plant. If the plant is growing in optimal conditions, that spike will be a meter long. In less prime growing conditions it will be shorter. Deadman's Tails are a plant that requires a great deal of light, thus it will be found at the edges of bogs and swamp land. It can grow in watery conditions but it will not put up the spike of flowers.

The flowers of Deadman's Tails are peach colored with crimson stripes towards a central stamen that is crimson. The shape of the flowers is vaguely reminiscent of that of the hibiscus but they are less than an inch in diameter. They open during the day and close at night. The scent of Deadman's Tails is akin to that of a rotting corpse. It is pollinated by flies.

After the flowering cycle of the plant is finished (late summer), it develops a catkin of seeds. The seeds have thin filament tufts on them which allows them to be carried on the breeze to where they will grow next. When the plant reaches the end of its above ground  growing cycle, the leaves of Deadman's Tails yellow and then dry out before falling off. The reedy central stalk dries out and eventually falls over.

Underground, Deadman's Tails has rhizomes that form a ball beneath the plant. These rhizomes are edible but tasteless. It can be propagated from rhizomes, but the plant will be of lesser quality than one that is started from seed. Deadman's Tails take three years until the the rhizomes are over an inch in length. The rhizomes will grow up to four inches in diameter. These mature rhizomes have a woody layer beneath the skins which must be scraped or cut away before preparing as food stuffs for humans.

Deadman's Tails are more common in low land environments. When grown as higher elevations, the flowering cycle is much shorter and the over all lifespan of the plant is decreased from twelve years to something closer to eight, at most, with the final rhizome being approximately two and a half inches in diameter, at most.

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