Adapted from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter of December 18, 2006
issued from Sierra Gorda Biosphere Reserve,
QUERÉTARO, MÉXICO

THE PREGNANT PLANT

The first time I ever entered a university greenhouse -- at the University of Kentucky in Lexington -- the plant that most got my attention was one known in Latin as BRYOPHYLLUM DELAGOENSIS. It's one of those weird, succulent Malagasy plants from which you can expect almost anything. That day in the UK greenhouse the otherworldly thing I saw Bryophyllum delagoensis doing was producing large numbers of baby plants all along the margins of its matchstick leaves -- it was viviparous. That's why one of its many names is Pregnant Plant.

I pilfered a couple of plantlets from a scraggly specimen, took them home to the farm in Western Kentucky, and was very gratified when the plantlets grew into big plants whose own leaves soon became pregnant. Later I learned that the species grows almost anyplace you put it if you keep the cold from it.

In fact, this plant that once I thought was so unique and rare has become a weed in much of the world's tropics and subtropics. In Hawaii and Australia it's especially troublesome. It's also a weed, as well as a handsome garden flower, at San Juan de los Durán.

That day on our way up from Jalpan, peering Buddha-like over the truck's cab from atop my upside-down bucket seat in the airy back of the pickup truck I didn't see any Pregnant Plants until we had a bit of elevation. Then they became conspicuous along roadsides flowering very prettily. The plants grew three to four feet tall and their blossoms were crimson red, glowing almost psychedelically in the sharp mountain air. Another pickup truck up ahead of us pulled to the side of the road, a woman jumped out and began picking a bouquet of the red inflorescences and, as we passed, the man at the wheel had on his face that you-know-how-women-are look. Well, if I hadn't felt it was slighting the pollinators, I'd have picked a bouquet, too.

At the bungalow compound they've planted Pregnant Plants to good effect. You can see my picture making them look much taller than they really are because I was lying on the ground taking the picture below:

Bryophyllum delagoensis

In that picture the large, pointed blades from which the stalks arise belong to agaves who will flower later. The Pregnant Plant's leaves, as I said, are like matchsticks.

A number of Bryophyllum species are known and several produce plantlets along their leaf margins. You can see how that phenomenon looks on the leaves of several species, including on our own Bryophyllum delagoensis, at http://www.bryophyllum.com/b/articles/id/.