The Carnivorous Plant FAQ v. 12

Q: About Triphyophyllum

A: Triphyophyllum peltatum (Hutch. & Dalz.) Airy Shaw is a plant from tropical west Africa. It is in the plant family called Dioncophyllaceae, which translates to the "family with double-hooked leaves." Why that is relevent to Triphyophyllum will become apparent. The only other plants in this family are Habropetalum dawei and Dioncophyllum thollonii. The genus name Triphyophyllum notes that the plant produces three types of leaves. I believe the specific epithet "peltatum" refers to the peltate way that seeds are held as they mature. For a common name for this plant, we must go to Africa. The Mende people of Sierra Leone call it the "tome", while in Liberia the Bassa people call it "goe-doo" and the Sanokwelle call it "ma bele."

As noted by the genus name, this plant makes three types of leaves. The first type of leaf is long, lance-shaped, and unremarkable. The plant stays as a rosette of these leaves until it reaches a certain stage of maturity.

When the plant is mature enough, it will flower. Often, but apparently not always, flowering is preceded by the production of a second type of leaf---the carnivorous leaf. This leaf is little more than a long, vertical tendril. Structurally, this tendril consists of a leaf midrib without a leaf-blade. This carnivorous leaf bears glands that produce digestive glands that can absorb nutrients from captured, digested prey.

After flowering, the plant begins life as a climbing vine. The leaves become short and terminate with a pair of recurved hooks (remember the family name?). These hooks help the plant hang onto branches in the jungle. Eventually, it can grow to be a long vine 70 m long! That makes it the largest of all carnivorous plants, even though its carnivorous leaves are very rarely produced.

The small white to pale pink flowers are produced in a panicle. Truly amazing is that the fruit open while the seeds are still forming, exposing the developing seeds to air long before maturity. Why they do this, why the seeds are held in the air on long peltate stalks while still immature, is inexplicable. Perhaps it is an adaptation to allow the seeds to form the large papery disks (fully 5-12 cm across) that lets them disperse on the lightest of winds.

Page citations: Bringmann, G. et al. 1999, 2001, 2002; McPherson, S. 2008; Schlauer, J. 2002.

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Revised: 2021
©Barry Rice, 2021