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Flower of the Month

Hot Lips


Dr Chris Thorogood, Deputy Director and Head of Science at the Oxford Botanic Garden and Arboretum, each month, shares with us a carefully selected plant, usually from the Botanic Garden’s extensive range. Not only do we have his engaging descriptions, but also examples of his work in the form of exquisite paintings and illustrations.

Meet Palicourea elata…

This extraordinary plant is native to the forests of Central and South America is sometimes called ‘hooker’s lips’, ‘hot lips’ as well as a few less flattering things. Believe it or not, it is a distant relative of coffee. It is one of the most astonishing plants I know – and when it features in my lectures, it’s sure to receive a raised eyebrow or two. I think people suspect that I invented it.

The crimson, lip-like structures are in fact a pair of bract-like structures (the calyx) from which the true flowers later emerge, which are followed by berry-like fruits. Their peculiarly accurate resemblance to a pair of luscious human lips does not serve a particular purpose. Just like people’s lips, they are variable in their shape, size and fullness, but in nature, the flowers actually serve to attract pollinating hummingbirds.

Oxford Botanic Garden doesn’t possess this plant just yet. But we have exciting plans to develop our tropical collection plants grown under glass. Maybe one for the future.

Oxford Botanic Garden & Arboretum are currently running a series of Winter Lectures online with speakers including Richard Deverell, Rosie Atkins, Andy Sturgeon and Joan Morgan. Each costs £7 to join and further details can be found in the What’s On link at


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