THE Smallest Flowering Plants
The Genus Wolffia

By Kit Knotts - Click images to enlarge

Though in dramatic contrast to Victoria, the plant with the largest leaves, the smallest flowering plant in the Plant Kingdom is also aquatic. It is Wolffia, commonly known as Watermeal, one of the Duckweeds, in the family Lemnaceae. It generally floats on the surface of the water and the image above illustrates its size in relation to several plants of Lemna minor and the image at the left includes a pin.

Each tiny Wolffia plant is a rootless oval body, producing a pistil (stigma) and a single stamen from a floral cavity in the side of the body. It doesn't flower often as it reproduces primarily vegetatively. This is accomplished as the main plant or "mother frond" produces a "daughter frond" from one end.

Because the examples in these images were found in Florida, we presume them to be W. columbiana, native here. They also match the description and other images of W. columbiana. We are not certain as several references note that direct comparison with other Wolffia species is necessary to be sure of correct identification.

Under the microscope at 40X
but lit from the top, Wolffia
looks like little jewels.

Under the microscope at 40X
and lit from the bottom

In the center, the floral cavity

Another floral cavity, the flower
capable of producing a single seed

In vegetative reproduction, a mother frond such as the one lower right generates a daughter frond such as can be seen in the upper left plant.

The two upper mothers' daughter fronds near separation, the lower recently separated.

The left mother/daughter frond near separation, the right just separated.
Wolffia seems not to be considered invasive and might actually have economic value. It has approximately the same percentage of protein as soy beans. Taking the suggestion of one of the web sites below and exploring the gourmet potential of Wolffia, we made this muffin using it. It was good!

More about Wolffia:

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