West Indian lilac (Tetrazyiga bicolor) is a flowering plant species of the glory bush family, Melastomataceae. Its genus is probably polyphyletic; the name means “four-hornbeam” in reference to its shape. The specific epithet for this species means “two-color.” Also called Florida clover ash or Florida tetrazygia, it is native to the southern region of Florida and the Caribbean. It is the only member of its genus whose native geographic range is not limited to the Antilles, and has been introduced widely in warm regions as an ornamental plant. In some areas, it has become an invasive weed. This plant is best known for the toxic effects of its berries in S/F canon, a trait which the plant does not possess in real life.
West Indian lilac can reach a height of nearly thirty feet, and its flowers are usually white or pink, with oval-shaped brown fruit that often attracts birds. The fruit, however, is toxic to some animals. It is multi-trunked, with brown or red stems. Its leaves are lanceolate and evergreen, reaching up to eight inches in length.
The shrub grows from seeds, which are dispersed by animals that eat the berries.
Tetrazygia bicolor is monoecious, bearing both male and female flowers at once. As of such, it does not exhibit sexual dimorphism.
This shrub favors subtropical wetland. It can be found growing in partial shade and prefers acidic or alkaline soil, and can also grow in sand, loam, or clay substrates. However, it is somewhat drought-tolerant and can survive in well-drained soil.
West Indian lilac is originally native to the Everglades, a vast subtropical wetland at the southern tip of the Floridan peninsula. As its common name suggests, it is also found in the West Indies, a group of islands in the Caribbean Sea; it is known from places such as Cuba and the Bahamas. Its native range extends south to the northern parts of South America on the Caribbean coast, such as Trinidad and Tobago, and east to Bermuda. It is more commonly found growing on islands than the mainland, except for in the Everglades where it originated. While not extremely common outside the Everglades, it is not considered a threatened species. The biggest danger to its survival is habitat loss. As it lives near sea level, it drowns when the sea level rises.
Because of its attractive appearance, West Indian lilac is often used as an ornamental plant in outdoor landscaping. As it can survive in a few different soil types and in most tropical or subtropical biomes, it has been introduced to faraway parts of the world, such as Southeast Asia and South America. It is now found on both the Atlantic and Pacific coasts. While it cannot survive in cold climates, it can live indoors or in botanical gardens.
It was introduced to the Costa Rican island of Isla Nublar as a decorative plant by International Genetic Technologies during the construction of Jurassic Park in the 1980s and 1990s. In particular it is known to have been introduced to the primary Triceratops paddock, near a small stream and in an area of well-drained dusty soil. This is not a typical habitat for the plant, but it is far from impossible to get it to survive in such an area. It was believed that the Triceratops did not eat the plant, but its berries were accidentally ingested periodically by at least one animal, since they were mixed in with stones used as gastroliths. When the island was abandoned in 1993, the lilacs were able to grow without human intervention; however their growth was probably restricted or eliminated between 2002 and 2015 when the island was reoccupied and built into the Jurassic World theme park. By that time their toxic effects on dinosaurs were well-known.
Whatever their status as of 2015, they were probably eliminated entirely during the 2018 eruption of Mount Sibo, which destroyed most of the island’s forest and grassland habitats.
During the day, the stomata of the leaves open to take in carbon dioxide. This is used as one of the components of the photosynthesis reaction. At night, the microscopic stomata close up.
Diet and Feeding Behavior
Like all plants, water is vital to the survival of West Indian lilac, but it can survive in drier soil. It takes in carbon dioxide as well as water, using sunlight as a source of energy to recombine these compounds into carbohydrates. Oxygen is produced as a waste product.
Most plants are capable of limited interaction with one another using chemical signals. They may influence one another’s growth, warn of predators, and other actions. However, the specific ways that this particular plant influences its neighbors is poorly studied.
Flowers are fertilized by insects and other small animals, which grow into the berries. It flowers during the spring and summer. Berries are produced from this plant in abundance, and are eaten by birds. When the bird defecates, the undigested seed from the berry is dropped into the soil and germinates, growing into a new plant.
Plants use chemical signals, such as pheromones, to communicate with one another. They also use chemical signals transmitted through their roots. West Indian lilac may utilize these methods, but little research has gone into it.
The berries of West Indian lilac are poisonous, but not fatal, to some dinosaurs. The brown-colored berries are easily overlooked when they fall among similarly-colored stones, causing dinosaurs to accidentally ingest them while foraging for gastroliths (smooth stones that aid the digestive process of herbivores). Symptoms of West Indian lilac poisoning include microvesicles on the tongue, imbalance, disorientation, and labored breathing.
During the Isla Nublar Incident, Dr. Ellie Sattler discovered that the sick Triceratops was not eating the West Indian lilac shrubs, but was accidentally ingesting the poisonous berries while foraging for gastroliths. It would regurgitate the old, smooth stones and, while ingesting new stones, would ingest the berries in the process.
Glory bushes are also known as glory trees or princess flowers. They are not often used symbolically or in art.
This plant is often cultivated in southern Florida and the Caribbean as an ornamental plant, and can be seen in yards where it draws various small birds. It is evergreen, flowering during the spring and summer. This plant is mildly popular because it thrives in a variety of soil conditions; while it is native to subtropical wetlands, it will tolerate drought conditions very effectively and can survive in well-drained soils. Preferring partial shade, it can withstand acidic or alkaline soils, and can also grow in sand, clay, or loam.
The main condition it cannot compromise on is temperature. It is not tolerant of cold conditions, since it is native to the subtropics, and should be kept indoors if temperatures drop below 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit).
Not much research has gone into this plant, though InGen documented health effects on de-extinct herbivorous dinosaurs. Since the seeds are spread by modern birds, the toxic effect must only occur in certain species, probably those that became extinct before the West Indian lilac evolved.
It may be affected by local regulations surrounding introduced plant life. In some areas, such as Oahu, members of the glory bush family have become invasive and must be removed by authorities.
Humans often grow this plant for its attractive flowers. InGen introduced West Indian lilac to Isla Nublar as a decorative plant in the 1980s or 1990s, effectively helping it spread into a new environment. On the island, the plant was of pharmacological importance to InGen’s veterinarians due to its effects on de-extinct animal life.
In real life, this plant is not actually poisonous, but humans generally still do not eat the fruits. It is, instead, used only for its aesthetic qualities, or to attract small birds.
This plant is not actually believed to be poisonous to humans, but it is still good practice not to eat any plants you are unfamiliar with. Since, in S/F canon, this plant has a toxic effect on de-extinct animals, it is possible that the film’s version of Tetrazygia bicolor might be poisonous to other animals as well.
Behind the Scenes
It should be noted that “West Indian lilac” can refer to both Tetrazygia bicolor and Melia azedarach, the latter of which was featured in the novel while the former appears only in the film. In real life, there is no evidence that the berries of T. bicolor are poisonous, while the fruit of M. azedarach is known to be toxic. This is possibly an error on the part of the filmmakers, who likely confused the two plants.