Plant of the Day: Spectacle Pod

Hi, blog! I’ve neglected you, I know. I always have the most noble intentions of posting complex and beautiful things every week… but then I realize that I could spend that time luxuriously stretched out in the sun reading a book, or obsessively watching over-dramatic television shows on Netflix. ‘Tis life.

My usual blogging strategy is to pick a topic that delights and intrigues me, and which bores the pants off almost everyone else in the world, and by Jove, I intend to stick to that strategy. So, today, I’m going to tell you all about one of my (many) favorite plants. (If I get inspired, I may continue to monologue about other fascinating botanical specimens in future… or not.)

Spectacle Pod is pretty much the coolest type of mustard ever—and considering how generally awesome the Brassicaceae family is, that’s saying something (as I’m sure you’d agree). Here’s what it looks like:

Stan Shebs [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons
“Don’t mind me, I’m just fabulous beyond all possible words.” (Image by Stan Shebs [GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons)
 Who: Spectacle Pod / Dithyrea californica
(Family: Mustard Family / Brassicaceae)

What: The spectacle pod is a shortish, herbaceous plant (herbaceous indicating that it doesn’t have woody bits). It smells amazing, so you should go find one right now and sniff it. It likes alt-rock music and long walks in the sand. It has:

  • handsome white-to-lavender flowers, in the cross shape that’s typical of mustards
  • stems and leaves covered in dense fine hair
  • lobed leaves growing around the base of its stems (basal), like a bum-scarf made out of foliage
  • less-lobed leaves growing along its stem (cauline)
  • often: several stems growing out from its base
  • the best seedpods ever (see below)

To double up on the geeking, let’s discuss the etymology of its genus Dithyrea. It’s derived from the Greek di- (“two”) + thyreos (“shield”), rather a fearsomely warrior-sounding name for such a small plant. Why all the focus on spectacles and two-shields? Only because it has the best seedpods ever:

It's a plant. With spectacles. Spectacles. What could possibly compare? (Image by Stan Shebs [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons)
It’s a plant. With spectacles. Spectacles. What could possibly compare? (Image by Stan Shebs [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons)
 Although you might never have guessed this from its common name, the spectacle pod’s pods are… yes… shaped like spectacles (albeit fuzzy, green, opaque spectacles). When the plant is at seed, numerous pairs of spectacles jut off its stem at all angles.

Sidenote: one of the most entertaining things about botany is that it abounds with very weird and beautiful jargon. For instance, there’s a term for the type of seedpod that’s characteristic of the mustard family: a silique (or silicle, if it’s a shorter one). You cannot possibly imagine how much joy the existence of a spectacle-shaped silicle brings me.

Where: Spectacle pods are native to California. They predominantly grow in Southern California’s low deserts, scrublands, washes, and other sandy areas, although they also occasionally venture out of state. (I know them specifically from Anza Borrego Desert State Park.)

Why: They’re covered in spectacles! Spectacles, I say! Secondarily, they smell like magic. Sixth and lastly, their flowers are subtle but lovely—I love the way they furl ever so slightly. Thirdly, they are creatures of my most beloved desert biome, and to conclude, did I mention the spectacle silicles?*

* If you get this syntactical reference, you win a literature cookie.

(Image by Stan Shebs [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons)
(Image by Stan Shebs [GFDL, CC-BY-SA-3.0 or CC-BY-SA-2.5], via Wikimedia Commons)

Sources:
* JSTOR: Entry for Dithyrea Harvey
* Jepson eFlora: Dithyrea californica
* Calflora: Dithyrea californica

One thought on “Plant of the Day: Spectacle Pod

  1. > It likes alt-rock music and long walks in the sand.
    My favorite line.

    I want to know: do spectacle plants have bad vision and do the glasses help or hinder?

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