Dutchman’s Laudanum

(Passiflora rubra)

What is it?

This is an Herbaceous vine that climbs by means of axillary tendrils and attains 2-5 m in length. The stems are angular, almost triangular, attaining 5 mm wide, with many lateral branches. Leaves alternate: simple, bilobate or less frequently with a third lobe in a central position. Fruit is a fleshy capsule, up to 2 cm in diameter, ellipsoid or ovoid, red or red-pink.

Where does it live?

In disturbed areas, at lower to middle elevations. Also on Vieques, St. Croix, St. John, St. Thomas, Tortola, and throughout tropical America. It is native throughout the West Indies, and to Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, Bolivia and eastern Brazil.

Why is it here?

As with many of the plants in these boxes, Dutchman’s Laudanum is a woody vine native to the island of Puerto Rico. According to a 2014 study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture such vines are thriving in the era of climate change, also known as the Anthropocene. As conditions have changed (drier summer months, warming trends that affect the timing of flowering and fruiting plants, etc…), these vines have begun to supplant larger native trees. The resulting loss of overall biomass has meant less Carbon Dioxide (CO2) captured by the fauna of the island, and thus more CO2 in the atmosphere, and thus faster climate change. Think of these plants as yet another “canary in the coal mine” of global warming, symbolic of changes taking place all over the globe. We have turned our thoughts toward Puerto Rico specifically in response to the Ghost Fishing anthology and its call for “eco-justice.” Hurricane intensity and frequency is on the rise as the planet warms. The same social, political and economic systems that have energized those storms has already ensured- through a long legacy of colonialism and racism-  that they will land hardest on those least responsible for climate change. Hurricanes Sandy and Maria are exhibits A and B in the case for fighting for eco-justice. We hope you will not forget this, and that you will join in that fight.

Of Note:

In 1753 this plant was named by one of the most famous botanists of all time. Carl Linnaeus was a Swedish botanist, physician, and zoologist. He laid out the system that defines our modern biological naming scheme. Many people today refer to him as the father of modern taxonomy, and he is also thought of as one of the fathers of modern ecology.