Phyllanthus fluitans

Red root floater

Nonnative to Florida

Species Overview

 Herein, we present the first report of Phyllanthus fluitans growing wild in North America north of Mexico (Kartesz, in press; USDA, 2010). This fresh-water species native to South America is the sole free-floating aquatic of the large genus Phyllanthus. (Phyllanthus leonardianus, from Zaire, is also aquatic, but plants are rooted to the bottom; Cook, 1996). Common names of P. fluitans include red root floater and floating spurge (“Schwimmende Wolfsmilch”).1 Here we consider the record of its discovery in our region, how the plant may have been introduced here, and control measures undertaken so far. We also describe the morphology and color of P. fluitans, because this species is not represented in floristic manuals for our region. We base our morphological description on personal field observations and on living specimens collected from nature on Oct. 1, 2010.

Species Characteristics

Shoots of P. fluitans either float on the water surface or, where plants bunch together, they may also extend a short distance into the air. The stems are brittle, are approximately 1 to 1.5 mm in diameter, and range up to 130 mm long. All stems bear foliage leaves, contrary to the habit of most Phyllanthus species in Florida in which foliage leaves are confined to lateral branches (Wunderlin and Hansen, 2003). A vegetative bud and a cymule (small cyme) of imperfect flowers develop axillary to a foliage leaf. Some vegetative buds expand into branches, thus manifesting vegetative reproduction.

Clusters of adventitious roots arise from older stem portions and extend into the water. The roots of a cluster emerge primarily from a node and from the distal portion of the immediately subjacent internode.

The foliage leaves are distichously arranged, range from 9 to 17 mm long and are separated by internodes 5 to 20 mm long. Each leaf exhibits a lamina, a petiole less than 1 mm long, and two brown transparent stipules. The lamina (the distal expanded portion of the leaf) is more-or-less orbicular, entire and unlobed marginally, cordate basally, and with a shallow notch distally. It exhibits two deep pockets – one on each side of the midrib. Lamina tissue that demarcates a pocket is concave on the bottom and protuberant on the top. Each pocket appears elliptical in top view, has a long axis parallel to the long axis of the lamina, and extends laterally from the lamina midrib nearly to the associated leaf margin. Superimposed upon individual pockets are obliquely oriented folds of the lamina. Whereas pockets and folds are protuberant, the lamina tissue defining them is neither thickened nor spongy. The lamina is water-repellant and both lamina surfaces are densely papillate.

We observed light blue-green foliage leaves and brown and pink roots. Cook (1996) described leaf color as green when young, becoming red at maturity. Wallach (2010) reported plants from the Bolivian Pantanal having glorious red color (“herrlich rote Farbe”). He also determined that cultivated plants vary in color, according to the intensity and duration of ambient light.

Cymules and flowers — Most cymules are three-flowered, but two or four flowers may occur. Each cymule exhibits at least one staminate flower and one pistillate flower.

We examined ten staminate flowers and ten pistillate flowers. All were short-pedicellate, radially symmetrical, and normally exhibited three sepals and three petals (however, one staminate flower bore three sepals and four petals). Because sepals and petals are comparable in color, size, and shape they are called tepals. The tepals are white or greenish-white and are not fused together.

The staminate flowers vary from 2.5 to 3.5 mm in diameter. Centripetal to the tepals, each staminate flower typically exhibits a ring of six discrete sessile glands (however, one flower had seven glands). Generally, each gland lies along a separate radius defined by the facing margins of two adjacent tepals. The glands vary from green to red. Centrally, the flower exhibits three stamens, each composed of an anther and short filament. The stamens are mostly distinct, but in one flower two filaments were connate. Filaments are green and the anthers vary from yellow to red. The pistillate flowers range from 2 to 2.7 mm in diameter. Centripetal to the tepals, each pistillate flower manifests one low, circular, continuous or slightly interrupted disc. Discs vary from green to red. Centrally within the flower and subtended by the disc is a green-to-pink superior ovary culminating in six short styles with terminal stigmas. The styles vary from green to reddish and the stigmas are red.

The fruit, a capsule, is subtended by persistent tepals. It is depressed-globose and 3 mm wide. The capsule is trilocular and six-seeded, with two seeds filling each locule. The seeds, which outwardly resemble orange segments, exhibit numerous minute, dark-brown, superficial processes over a light brown background.