The curcuma experiment is going very well. Those strange little rhizomes are now in full bloom. Each one has produced one flower and more flowers are forming.
But let me stop right there. What I just wrote isn’t technically true. To be botanically correct, I should have written that each curcuma rhizome has produced one inflorescence and that one inflorescence is producing dozens of flowers. What I refered to earlier as a “flower” isn’t a flower at all. It’s an inflorescence. An inflorescence is a group of flowers arranged on a stem. An example of a basic inflorescence is a hyacinth. Each of the star-shaped blooms is a flower but the entire stem of flowers is called an inflorescence.
It wasn’t until the curcuma started to bloom and I looked more closely at it that I realized that I was seeing an inflorescence. The green and pink parts of the inflorescence aren’t petals of a flower but bracts – modified leaves. The true flowers of the curcuma grow out of the area where the bracts and the stems meet and they’re small white and purple blooms. The inflorescence of the curcuma lasts for at least a month; the flowers only last for one day. In this plant, the flowers are insignificant but the inflorescence with its bright-colored bracts is what make it a showstopper.
The most well-known plant with showy bracts and small flowers is the poinsettia. What is usually called a “flower” in the poinsettia is once again an inflorescence. The showy red, pink or white “petals” are really modified leaves. The flowers are the small green and yellow clusters at the center of the bracts. The flowers themselves only last for a few weeks while the bracts can remain in good condition for months.
Right now the curcuma is flowering but not in the way I originally thought. I had assumed that the large, pink structures were flowers. They’re not. I have to look closely to see the true flowers of the curcuma. But let’s be honest here – while I know the structure growing above the curcuma leaves is an inflorescence and the pink “petals” are really bracts, on most days I’m just going to call it a flower!