What is a succulent - was Schizobasis intricata

Jim McKenney jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com
Wed, 20 Aug 2008 09:02:04 PDT
Thanks to Jim Waddick for bringing up the name Schizobasis; until that post
prompted me to do a Google images search, I knew next to nothing about it.


But I have known the name for a long time, at least in the sense that I knew
that such a name must exist. How? Because Bowiea volubilis was sometimes
called Schizobasopsis volubilis in the past. I encountered that name
somewhere decades ago and have never forgotten it. 


Note the spelling of Bowiea. 


Now I’ll take up Jim Waddick’s invitation to add my two cents worth on some
aspects of the succulent/bulb discussion. I would assert that leeks are both
succulent (certainly in the culinary sense if not in the gardener’s sense)
and bulbous. Remember, the leeks we buy in the grocery store are immature
plants, often plants only some months old. After leeks bloom, the big,
succulent annual stem dies down to a small bulb, a real bulb. I’ve never
heard of anyone growing leeks for culinary purposes from these bulbs – my
guess is that the resulting plants would be too small. 


Tim asked the question “Aren't most bulbs/corms/tubers water (as well a
other things) 

storage organs, and so technically succulent?”


True bulbs do have a succulent quality: if you cut into them, you’ll
encounter damp tissue. 


Corms such as crocus corms on the other hand seem dry as a bone, although
the bulk of the storage tissue will sometimes seem vaguely moist – just this
side of dead moist – if examined closely. They are more like acorns and
chestnuts in this respect. 


I think the term succulent (in its broadest senses, not confining ourselves
to the narrower gardener’s sense) implies readily apparent moisture. For
instance, good steaks and oysters can properly be described as succulent, as
can most fruit. Surely the use of the term in a horticultural sense began as
a natural extension of these culinary meanings, and in plain English simply
means juicy (although not necessarily sapid in the gardener’s sense).


Now on to this business about bulbs and corms. It seems to me that a lot of
gardeners give up on really understanding these terms and instead decide to
tolerate a messy level of imprecision in their application. I was a long
time in making my peace with these terms, but now I’m happy with them and
they make sense to me. The epiphany came when I finally understood the most
basic difference between bulbs and corms: to tie it into this discussion,
let’s say that bulbs are succulent and corms by and large are not succulent
to the same degree. The reason bulbs are succulent is that the major
moisture storage organs in true bulbs are modified leaves. 


In corms, on the other hand, the major moisture storage organs are stem


Once I understood this, I realized that the gardener’s preoccupation with
the distinction between bulbs and corms missed the really important part:
instead of thinking of these structures as different, it makes much better
sense if you try to identify the ways in which they are similar. And the
most important way (for purposes of this discussion) in which they are
similar is that both bulbs and corms have a stem tissue component. 


In corms the stem tissue component is the major part of the corm. 


But where is the stem tissue component in bulbs? The stem tissue component
in bulbs is the so-called basal plate. This basal plate is the true
perennial stem of the bulb. Along this true perennial stem occur the buds
surrounded by succulent modified leaves which we call bulbs. 


In other words, the question which most of us ask, “what’s the difference
between a bulb and a corm”, is the wrong question. All bulbs contain a corm;
all bulbs are built around a corm, using corm in the broad sense of stem


Try understanding things from that point of view, and a lot of seemingly
disparate things will start to make sense.  


And if you really want to see what succulent means, take a look as this:




The succulence begins after the first picture. 



Jim McKenney


Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, 39.03871º North, 77.09829º West, USDA zone

My Virtual Maryland Garden http://www.jimmckenney.com/

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