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Featured plant: Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca

Fenestraria rhopalophylla

Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca flower (Shujie Li)

From Shujie Li ’17 (aka browneyedsilvia on Instagram):

Once in a while, the unambitious baby’s toes plant (Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca, Aizoaceae Family) prepares one to a few gorgeous flowers raised high above the ground.

In its native range, the Namibian desert, where water condition is extreme, this plant buries itself in sand and gravel to minimize water loss and hide from animal herbivory. While the plant is underground, it leaves just the clear “windows” on the leaf tips exposed to allow sunlight into the leaves where photosynthesis happens.

In fact, the plant produces optical fibers of crystalline oxalic acid which can transmit light to the photosynthetic sites. The genus name Fenestraria is derived from fenestra, the Latin word for “window”, and the specific epithet rhopalophylla means “club-leaved” (“rhopalon” means “club” in Greek).

Fenestraria rhopalophylla subsp. aurantiaca ‘windows’ (Craig Cramer)

Look for this plant on the succulent bench on the west side of the student house.

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