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?