The vendor at Chiang Mai’s Khamtieng flower
market could not give any information about the plant other than it was from
Hawaii. Being grafted it is likely to be a garden cultivar. The fused
stamens and spatula-like petals would indicate C. speciosa or a ‘hybrid’,
but since I believe they are all conspecific the scientific name should be
Chorisia crispifolia. In the Rio de Janeiro State, Brazil, it grows in the
wild in a climate similar to ours, i.e. seasonally wet and dry. Like with
our native Bombax ceiba, it will first shed its leaves as a response to
drought and then flower.
The plant genus Chorisia (Malvaceae)
was created in honour of the German-Russian artist Ludwig Louis Choris who
was tragically murdered by robbers in Mexico in 1828, only 33 years old.
Luckily, the plant name was coined by the German botanist Carl Sigismund
Kunth (1788-1850) while Louis Choris was still alive (in 1821 or 1822). The
reason this young man was awarded such an honour, was his phenomenal ability
to ‘paint nature as he found it’. Young Louis Choris had joined the
Romanzoff (Rumyantsev, Romanzov) expedition in 1816, which aimed at finding
the northeast passage and exploring the Pacific (Alaska was a Russian
territory at the time).
What about the plant bearing his name? Kunth worked on describing species
from South America collected by the French botanist Aimé Bonpland and the
German explorer Alexander von Humboldt. In the collection was a large
splendid flower in the mallow family, with peculiar 2-lobed staminodes
surrounding the base of the fused stamens. He thought this characteristic
was so different from other mallows he erected a new genus: Chorisia, and
the species was Chorisia crispifolia.
In 1828 two other similar species were distinguished by the French botanist
Auguste Francois César Prouvencale de Saint-Hilaire (1779-1853); Chorisia
pubiflorum (with free stamens) and Chorisia speciosa (broader petals). As it
turns out, all three species can hybridize and today’s American garden
market is full of ‘hybrids’. Kirsten Llamas wrote that a species
identification is highly subjective, and I think these three species and all
hybrids could be considered one species (C. crispifolia). For further
discussions on the species concept see my blog on calamondin.
At present, Kew Garden considers all Chorisia to be part of Ceiba (the kapok
genus), and so Chorisia would be an obsolete genus name. However, like with
Michelia (Magnoliaceae), Chorisia would give instant information about how
the flowers look like, so the genus name is useful and I like to keep the
memory of the talented Ludwig Louis Choris alive. www.dokmaigarden.co.th.