Cushion Plants

   

The Cushion Plant is a small plant that generally grows intermingled with other species of its kind. Despite the seemingly cushiony texture (for which it was named) it has actually a very hard and spiky plant that would not be too comfortable to sit on. This unpleasant quality protects it from primary consumers who might try to eat it. After eating it once, any animal would know better the next time.

The cushion surface is formed by a method of growth whereby every stem elongates and produces new leaves at the same rate and it is impossible to tell which leaves belong to which branch. Indeed, the stems are hidden beneath the densely packed foliage of tiny (~5 mm long) leaves.Because the leaves are so densely packed the branches inside are protected from wind, snow and ice, and the core of the plant retains a fairly constant temperature. This form of growth is so useful in coping with the harsh and unpredictable weather experienced at higher altitudes that four species from four different plant families have converged in their evolution to such an extent that it is very difficult to tell them apart when they are not flowering.

During the summer when the cushion plant does flower, it produces thousands and thousands of very small flowers. This entices insects to come feed on the plants during which time the pollen gets caught on the insects' legs and allows for cross-pollination.

(Information from www.apstas.com)

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