Finding the Anchor

For at least the last four years, whenever I have visited a nearby village, I have knocked on the door of a house. I don’t know the people, and they have never been at home. But in the front garden is the most extraordinary shrub. Five feet tall, stiff and scaly with propeller-like spine-tipped ‘leaves’, it has a look of aviation engineering about it.

Yesterday I knocked on the door again, feeling that no one would be at home, as usual. I was right about that. But there were two differences this time. One was the For Sale sign in the front garden. Oh no! What if? What if I would never discover the identity of this plant? What if the next people, horror of horrors, dug it up?!?

The second difference was the older couple who also stopped by the plant. I asked them if they knew what it was? “No, but you can take a few sprigs home with you and get it identified,” said the man. “It’s terribly spiky,” said the woman and I at the same time. The next thing I knew the man was holding two sprigs out to me (with no damage to himself). “It’s quite easy to break a bit off,” he said gently.

Image5619 Colletia

So early this morning I started searching on the web, typing in endless combinations of: spine-tipped leaves, shrub, stiff, reptilian, glabrous, spiky, pointed, thorn, exotic, unusual, strange, Africa, America, Australia, Madagascar, false leaves, pseudo-leaves, no leaves, leafless, short, lanceolate, highly unusual plant (name of village) garden, propeller-like, rudder-like, monocot, desert, definitely NOT Butcher’s Broom… and so on, with no luck whatsoever. I began to think this plant only existed in that garden, that it wasn’t a real plant.

Bloody hell, what if the house didn’t even really exist?

So I got on with some proofing of the latest Sustainable Bungay newletter, and tried to forget about it. But when Josiah phoned to talk about the last minute edits, did I stick to the subject? No. “I’ve been visiting this place and knocking on this door for years Josiah,” I said. “What does it look like? Well, the plant is stiff, the leaves might not actually be leaves, quite ancient looking. Spikes. Points. Thorns. Hairless. Stiff!!!”

Then I sat down to attend to some more last-minute proofing and instead typed “Spine-tipped shrubs” into the search engine. And I found it. A little way down the image page.

It  is a plant from South America in the Buckthorn family, called Anchor Plant, Espina de la Cruz* and sometimes even Jetplane Plant (I was quite near with those propellers). It is apparently quite rare and maybe even endangered. Its Latin name is Colletia cruciata. The leaves are not leaves at all but flattened stems, and its small flowers are reputed to be fragrant. And I’m sure they are, it’s just that I haven’t seen the plant in flower before.

So will I still go knocking at the door and ringing the bell when I visit the village? Probably. It’s hard to break a habit. I don’t expect an answer though.

Image of Anchor Plant and text by Mark Watson, September 2013. All posts, text and pics here on Mark in Flowers are subject to Creative Commons with Attribution Non Commercial No Derivatives license.

*From website: Uruguay’s wildlife & Natural sanctuaries/Santuarios de Flora y Fauna de Uruguay


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