SCV Outdoor Report: Stipules
By Wendy Langhans
Suppose you lived in ancient Rome and wanted the “Char-io-let” dealer to build you a chariot. You and the dealer would enter into an oral agreement by asking and answering each other’s questions in a public ceremony. Then you would be given a straw - a stipula in Latin - as a pledge of future delivery.
In the 18th century, the Swedish botanist Carl Linneaus adapted this Latin word to invent the botanical term, stipule. He used this word to describe the “outgrowths borne on either side of the base of a leafstalk” (technically known as the petiole). In other words, the stuff you find at the bottom of the leaf stem. Stipules can appear as glands, scales, hairs, spines or leaf-like structures. Here are a few examples.
From a rose bush:
and from a California Sycamore tree (Platanus racemosa):
Stipules may have originally evolved to protect emerging leaves, but now they are found in less than 1/4 of all flowering plants. Depending on their type, they can serve several functions. Spikey stipules may protect the plant against large herbivoires, or provide a home for the ants who protect the plant from other, smaller herbivoires. And the leaf-like stipules may provide additional food for the plant through photosynthesis.
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So why did Linneaus choose this particular word to describe these botanical outgrowths? Well, Latin was the international language of that time and place, especially among the educated class. And it’s true that a stalk of straw often has a leaf wrapped around it, like a stipule surronds the petiole. But, I think Linneaus was also making a pun. The stipula comes before the real leaf, just as in ancient Rome, the stipula came before the “real deal”.
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Saturday, May 14, 1 - 3 PM, Water-Loving Wildflowers at Elsmere Canyon. The small steam in Elsmere Canyon has its own special set of wildflowers. Savor the cool shade and its floral inhabitants on this easy hike. Meet at the Whitney Canyon parking lot. For directions and trail maps, click here.
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