Plants tell stories. A simple flower can unearth a whole series of story threads. You can travel the world, discover fascinating facts, find unexpected connections, retrace history, describe epic adventures and commemorate a famous person.
The Glory Bush has spectacular, bright purple flowers. The flower has the most extraordinary stamens and appendages when you look closely.
Glory Bush is a member of the Melastomataceae or Senduduk family. Melastomataceae come from tropical and subtropical regions in the world. The family means ‘black mouth’ in Greek. Its fruits stain the mouth black when you eat them. Malaysians prize Senduduk for traditional medicines.
Glory Bush is prized by gardeners for its 5-petalled, bright purple flowers and is a native plant of Southern Brazil. It flowers from July until October. This shrub has a host of other common names including Princess Flower, Lasiandra, Pleroma and Purple Glory Tree.
The RHS has awarded the plant an Award of Garden Merit (AGM). It is often grown in a conservatory or brought indoors for winter protection in the UK. It does not like temperatures under 3ºC. Reports suggest that it can survive outside in Cornwall. It will grow on in a sunny, sheltered spot in acidic, well-drained soil. Climate change may, therefore, see this Brazilian shrub emerging in more British gardens. In the meantime, either grow it against a warm, sunny wall or put it in a pot and bring it indoors for winter.
The RHS describe Glory Bush as a lax, evergreen shrub that can grow to 4 metres or more in height. Be warned. It can get leggy and take on considerable growth in a single year. Hard, annual pruning will help prevent this.
The evergreen, soft hairy leaves are entire with prominent veins. There is also a variegated leaf version.
So far, the family name and common names have taken us to Malaysia, Brazil, Kew Gardens and Cornwall. The real adventures begin with the Latin name or binomial. There are around 350 species in the Tibouchina genus, although some revisions are anticipated in future. The Glory Bush, Tibouchina urvilleana, is associated with an illustrious French naval officer, explorer, cartographer, botanist, entomologist and linguist. The second part of the binomial urvilleana refers to Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville, or more simply, Jules Dumont d’Urville.
Naval Officer to Admiral
Jules Dumont d’Urville was born in 1790 and was, by all accounts, a weak and sickly child. He was studious and read passionately about the travels of some of the world’s great explorers. He joined the French navy at 17, at a time when French army had higher prestige and Britain ruled the waves. He sailed to Brazil, the Falkland Islands and Chile. He went on to explore the South and Western Pacific, Australia, New Zealand and Antartica. His ship, the Coquille, was later renamed the Astrolabe. He wrote up his voyages in several volumes, many of which were completed after his death.
Continuing our series of flower story threads, Dumont d’Urville now connects us to the Mediterranean and the Goddess of Love. A bizarre fact is that he was instrumental in the Venus de Milo statue finding its way to the Louvre in Paris. His own love life resulted in his wife’s name Adèle being given to Adélie Land and the Adélie penguin (Pygoscelis adeliae) – but that’s getting ahead of our story.
Linguist and Botanist
It seems that combining linguistic and botanical skills is nothing new. Dumont d’Urville spoke 8 languages: Latin, Greek, English, German, Italian, Russian, Chinese and Hebrew. His voyages overseas later added a number of Polynesian and Melanesian dialects to that list. He learnt about botany, entomology, physics and astronomy while based at the port of Toulon in Provence.
Jules Dumont d’Urville didn’t just give his name to our Tibouchina urvilleana. His name was given to d’Urville Island, off the northern coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Its Maori name is Rangitoto ki te Tonga. The Maori legend for the French Pass or Te Aumiti reflects the treacherous nature of the whirlpools and currents there. D’Urville was lucky to escape with a damaged ship.
Dumont d’Urville is also a place in Antarctica on the Adélie coast. His name was given to a French polar station, at the foot of the Astrolabe Glacier. The intrepid French explorer’s ship even gave its name to a French icebreaker used on scientific missions in Antarctica. Today, a French cruise ship bears his name.
The botanical legacy of Dumont d’Urville’s explorations is no less impressive. His ship brought back many thousands of plants to the Jardin des Plantes in Paris. Many hundreds were previously unknown species. Various species have been named after him and his friends.
It seems appropriate that Durvillea, a genus of robust seaweeds, should have been named after this great French seaman. Maybe the English Glory Bush is just as fitting? The common French name is simply tibouchine d’Urville based on the Latin name.
Ultimately, the cartographer who created navigable maps for others to sail safely, died in a train crash in 1842. He was on his way to open a museum at the Palace of Versailles. He died alongside his wife and young son in a fire that killed 160 and resulted in a major change in French rail safety.
Our Brazilian Glory Bush is just one of the means by which the French explorer is commemorated. France continues to honour Dumont d’Urville’s legacy. The French Geography Society used his own words in commemoration:
“Everything that I could do, I did for my country.
France will not forget me”.Jules Sébastien César Dumont d’Urville (1790-1842)
Thus, a flower can take us on a journey around the world and reveal the life of the famous person it commemorates.
© Karen Netto (Andrews)
These pages illustrate my love of plants, botany, biodiversity, gardens and creative expression. There is always so much to learn about plant diversity. I love sharing. This blog is a showcase for my own photography, commentary on plants and wildlife, gardens and other places visited, horticulture and related topics.
© Karen Netto (Andrews) 2018-19. All rights reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Karen Netto (Andrews) and botanykaren.net with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.