Photos  |  Judy Stout
From left: Obedient plant, mother of thousands and lamb’s ear.

By Judy Stout, Mobile County Master Gardener |

We appreciate plants for many reasons — beauty, landscape, fragrance, food, environmental health, general aesthetics and others. Readers and callers to our Helpline frequently inquire about a “weird” or unusual flower or plant and are amazed at the often-surprising answers. Understanding the wide range of plant adaptations may expand our appreciation. Let’s explore some fascinating facts about a few you may encounter. BTW: You can certainly impress your friends and entertain your children with these!

“OMG! There are baby plants coming out of the leaves of one of my plants!” Some plants, typical of harsh environments that limit flowering, may still flower occasionally but have nonviable seeds. To reproduce, they have adapted to produce “pups” along the stems or margins of leaves. Often these small plantlets already have roots formed before they drop off the mother plant to begin growth as a new individual. Some common examples grown as houseplants are found in the genus Kalanchoe. These include mother of thousands and donkey’s ears. Be forewarned! Some may be so successful that their babies take over your flowerpots and neighboring plants, too!

How about a more cooperative plant? The obedient plant is popular as a bedding plant for its stalked clusters of attractive flowers. It gets its name from the unique feature of the flowers. Although they grow up the flower stalk on all sides, you can gently rearrange them in any pattern you want, on one side only or maybe opposite each other on the stalk, and they will “obey” and remain in that arrangement! A great demonstration for children (and your friends and neighbors).

“Pet me!” seems to be the message from lamb’s ear. Leaves densely covered with soft white to silver hairs have made this a favorite in sensory and children’s gardens. The hairs may aid the plant in reduction of moisture evaporation from the leaves and prevent attacks from insects such as aphids. Additionally, the hairs serve to repel water from the leaf surface, reducing the possibility of the succulent leaves rotting. Other “hairy” plants include dusty miller and Artemisia. Water repellency can also result from waxy leaf surfaces such as on water lotus and cabbage. As water rolls off leaves it may carry away harmful materials including dust, pollutants and fungal spores. Scientists seek to understand the plant properties of leaf hairs and natural waterproof surfaces in the development of artificial surfaces and coatings for useful manmade materials.

You may notice trees that seem to be either sunburned or dying because the bark is really peeling off. Often observed on crape myrtles and river birch in the winter, this is a natural phenomenon called “exfoliating bark.” Scientists are uncertain about the function of this adaptation, but it may allow the trunk to expand as new tissue layers are added beneath the old, dead bark. Other trees, like oaks and hickories, exhibit cracked and furrowed old bark, serving the same function.

Another explanation may be that insect pests living beneath the bark may be removed. This feature results in very attractive textures and colors on the trunks. The new bark left behind may be multicolored, colored in mosaic patterns or slick to the touch. You may also have sycamores or some maples and elms that exhibit this characteristic. Enjoy them in your landscape planning along with other remarkably adaptive plants.

There are so many fascinating flora, we are going to explore this topic further in the Nov. 7 edition of Lagniappe.


What: Market on the Square (look for the Master Gardener tent for gardening info)
Find: Local produce, homemade bread, jams, preserved, honey, crafts, music
When: Saturdays through Nov 17, 7:30 a.m. to noon
Where: Cathedral Square, 300 Conti St., Mobile

What: Mobile Master Gardeners Lunch & Learn
When: Nov. 19, noon to 1 p.m.
Where: Jon Archer Ag Center, 1070 Schillinger Road, N., Mobile
Topic: Native American and Midwife Gardens at the Mobile Medical Museu
Speakers: Daryn Glassbrook, Ph.D., and Carol Dorsey

What: Mobile Master Gardener Greenery Sale and MBG Holiday Market
When: Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 (Friday 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.)
Where: Mobile Botanical Gardens, 5151 Museum Drive, Mobile

Deadline for pre-order: Nov. 15. For order form, email or go to

Master Gardener Helpline: 1-877-252-4769 or send gardening questions to