Thursday, September 18, 2014
Family friends used to have the coral plant in their gardens in pots in the city of Aydın in western Turkey. One beloved neighbor had moved to her new home when I was eleven, twelve years old. She had placed a big coral plant in a pot in the garden, on her front steps. Red was my favorite color and I was just as attracted to the tubular flowers as the hummingbirds. I remember picking them and making chains by placing one into another.
The name Russelia was given to the genus by the Dutch scientist Baron Nikolaus von Jacquin (1727-1817) to honor the Scottish naturalist Alexander Russell (1715–1768). The descriptive second name "like Equisetum" refers to this plant’s resemblance to the horse tail rush (grass like plants). Equisetum derives from the Latin equus-"horse" + seta-"bristle". The plant is a multi-branched subshrub with slender, rush like stems that are angled with ridges and leaves that are reduced to little more than small scales. The wiry branches start out erect then fall over to cascade down in lengths as long as a meter.
I am learning that numerous hummingbird species winter in Southern Mexico, specifically on the Yucatán Peninsula. They migrate north from the Yucatán starting as early as February. Some of them fly across the Gulf. Some are believed to island hop until they reach Florida. Most of them fly along the coast of Texas and further up once they are in the United States. On their way back at the end of the summer they mostly fly along the coast of Texas. This, it is said, may be due to wanting to avoid hurricanes of the season.
Over the winter the hummingbirds spend most of their time gaining weight for their journey. They need the energy, for when they are over water they can travel very long distances. When they reach North America, migration proceeds at an average rate of about 30 kilometers per day. During the winter months when they are getting ready for their long flight the bright red flowers of the coral plant attract hummingbirds to feed on their nectar. The plant produces hanging clusters of scarlet tubular flowers about 2.5 cm long almost continuously throughout the year. Through hybridization there may be pale yellow and white versions also.
This plant can be very lush. The ones I came across and photographed were waiting to be taken to caring homes.