Karo - crass?

Botanical names convey a lot of information to those in the know - but even if we aren't taxonomists we can still get an idea of what they are referring to.  Karo, one of our tough native coastal plants pictured on the edge of Houghton Bay (see previous post) has the name Pittosporum crassifolium.  Pittosporum (the genus name) is the group it belongs to of plants with similar characteristics, and refers to their sticky seeds.  These shrubs and trees are thought to have originated from the ancient continent of Gondwana.  Wow.  I enjoy these reminders of connections, life's patterns and changes. 

And down by the coast at Island Bay there are some karo braving the conditions, and sure enough, the seeds from last year's flowering are pretty sticky:

A tangle of old seed pods of Pittosporum crassifolium, or karo.  To me they have a certain beauty - the leathery texture of the rusty coloured pods contrasts with the sticky shiny black seeds.  The tangle of twisted stems reflects the way the flowers grow in dangling umbels.  

This close-up of the end of a branch shows the new year's growth developing alongside the seedpods from last year - the new buds are tomentose (hairy) as are the stems and the undersides of the leaves.  These buds will develop and flower in spring.

The leaves are tough and weather resistant - thick and leathery with a dense coat of pale hairs protecting the undersides - altogether making them weather resistant, able to withstand wind damage and drying.  But they don't always look that pretty - the yellowing and dimpling of some of the leaves is damage caused by a wee pest, the Pittosporum psyllid. 

So back to the naming - Pittosporum covers the sticky seeds, but what about crassifolium?

Folium is the Latin for leaf - no surprise that leaves are featured in naming a plant that can hold on to them despite all kinds of weather - but crass??

Definitions of crass include insensitive, dull, boring, ill-mannered...but this time it means thick or tough.  And the leaves really are.  Some people might think this plant is also ill-mannered - the sticky seeds stick to the feathers and feet of birds and spread the plant around - it can be a weed in some places, and as a survivor it can displace other plants in an insensitive manner.  It might be seen as dull, because from a distance it can seem a dull green and you don't see the seeds, flowers or new growth very clearly...but look close, and there is much to admire. 

The three stages:   in bud, flower, and fruit.   

And a close-up of those pretty flowers and baby leaves:                  

While the close-ups are of dense-growing relatively sheltered plants in low light, karo plants can also look quite sparse and delicate - here's one right by the water's edge on Island Bay beach: