World of Wonder: Wolffia -The Toast

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Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s previous World of Wonder columns can be found here.

Thanks everyone for your patience while I hit pause on the column for a bit. Me and my trusty intern, Haiku the Wonder Chihuahua, are back to our regularly scheduled wonders after a bit of a mid-semester and AWP conference hiatus.

This week, I give you the world’s tiniest flower: Wolffia, otherwise known as watermeal.


Each plant is almost spherical—more football-ish actually— with a single minute flower inside a small hollow in the center of the lime-green “football.” After it gets pollinated, it grows a tiny fruit with a tiny single seed inside, which of course holds the record for the world’s smallest fruit.

Just how tiny is this itty-bitty flower? A single plant is about the size of half a sesame seed, with the flower tucked inside the green. And about four of those flowers are about the size of a single grain of table salt. I like to imagine beetles collecting a whole bouquet of wolffia flowers for a wee insect wedding in June. Besides being pretty darn cute, wolffia are chock-full of protein—I mean like 40% protein, so don’t knock it till you try it in a sandwich or side-dish.

Wolffia flowers reproduce quickly, so if my imaginary beetle wedding were, say, a three-day affair, the flowers would double in number with no leaf or stem to get in their way. At this rate, in theory, a single wolffia plant could produce almost one nonillion plants just during the summer months. And when is the last time you saw a nonillion of anything alive?

And now it’s your turn, Wonder-ful peoples! I have a wider question for you all just on the heels of Earth Day: What was the last animal or plant that truly made you feel WONDER when you cast your bright and brave eye upon it?

Aimee Nezhukumatathil is the author of three books of poetry, most recently Lucky Fish. She is a professor of English and teaches poetry and environmental lit at a small college in Western New York. She is obsessed with peacocks, jellyfish, and school supplies. Follow her on Twitter: @aimeenez.

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