Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

from the October 10, 2017 Newsletter issued from Rancho Regensis north of Valladolid, Yucatán, MÉXICO

Every season has its special flowering plants and every flowering plant has a special season when it's prettiest. Nowadays, alongside roads and trails through the woods, you often see the very handsome, head-high bush shown below:

Aphelandra scabra, leaves and flowers

A close-up of an open corolla's "mouth" is seen below:

Aphelandra scabra, corolla mouth

Notice that the corolla's top lip juts straight out, that the pollen-receiving stigma extends just a tiny bit beyond that lip, and that four stamens with red anthers are held close against the lip. Such a strongly 2-lipped, or bilaterally symmetrical, corolla narrows down quite a bit the number of plant families we might have here. The possibilities are narrowed even more by what's shown below:

Aphelandra scabra, inflorescence bracts and styles

In the bottom half of that picture you see where pollinated flowers have dropped their corollas, leaving curling styles, and below where the corollas were are honey-colored, hairy, sharp-pointed bracts, or modified leaves. A conspicuous bract subtends every flower. When you see such bracts, especially in conjunction with such persistent styles, you need to think Acanthus Family, the Acanthaceae.

This pretty plant is APHELANDRA SCABRA, found from southern Mexico through Central America to northern South America. In Spanish it's often called Cola de Gallo, or Rooster Tail.

One interesting feature of the flowers is that they bear nectar-producing lands. The glands are a little hard to make out in a picture, but most flowering heads bear ants supping nectar from the glands, which you can see below:

Aphelandra scabra, ants at nectaries