Word of the Week: Cauliflory

cauliflory [ kaw-li-flawr-ee, kaw-li-flur-ee  ] noun: flowers and fruit produced directly on trunks and branches of woody plants rather than on new growth or the ends of twigs/shoots

Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud) fruit growing directly on a mature branch.
Photo © Mary Free

While all flowers and fruit are produced on some sort of stem, most emerge at or near the ends of young growing stems. Cauliflory is a rare occurrence in which flowers grow along the sides of mature trunks and branches. Even though the words cauliflory and cauliflower share the same Latin origins – “caulis” or stem plus “florem” or flower – “caulis” in Vulgar Latin also translated to “cabbage” replacing the word “brassica,” the family to which the vegetable belongs. Cauliflower is the compact head of undeveloped white flower buds produced at the end of the plant’s flowering stalk and is not an example of cauliflory. Most cauliflory examples–breadfruit, cacao, some figs, and papaya–occur in the tropics. In the United States, though, one of the most beautiful spring-flowering trees, the redbud (Cercis spp.), exhibits this characteristic. In the east, this species is Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud).

The young branches of Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud) showing distichous flower clusters.
Photo © Christa Watters

On a young branch of a Cercis tree, the flower clusters are distichous–that is they are arranged alternately on opposite sides of the branch in two vertical rows.  This pattern continues as the tree’s trunk and branches mature. Research has shown that the primary lateral buds formed initially on a young stem can multiply over the years into second order buds as the stem thickens, which can continue the cauliflory indefinitely. (Hayden 2013).

The distichous arrangement of flower clusters along the mature branches of Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud) in the MGNV demonstration Shade Garden in Bon Air Park, Arlington, Virginia. Photo © Leslie Fillmore


Online Etymology Dictionary. Etymonline.com. © 2001-2021 Douglas Harper.

Hayden WJ. Winter 2013. Redbud Cauliflory: The Inside Story. Bulletin of the Virginia Native Plant Society 32(1):1, 3, 8. ISSN 1085-9632.

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