The sea anemones we most often encounter on local shores, from Chek Jawa off the eastern tip of Pulau Ubin to Cyrene Reef and the southern end of Pulau Semakau's seagrass meadow, are sprawls the size of plates, swirling masses of tentacles that threaten to swamp their neighbours and rugs with enough folds and creases to hide entire families of clownfish and caridean shrimp. These massive actiniarians, which include the genera Stichodactyla, Heteractis and Entacmea, are members of a tropical guild that has profited from amphiprionine tenants, who defend their castle and cradle from raids by butterflyfish with a taste for exposed polyps.
Carpets, pizzas and bubble-tips bear little resemblance to their botanical namesakes, however, having developed oral discs that resemble inflated landscapes, more solar panel than soft petal, or mops of sticky, stinging yarn. For the natives of Indo-Pacific coasts, these zoophytes offer an double hurdle, being a world apart, in distance and imagination, from woodland blooms known as windflowers or thimbleweeds. The genus Anemone are relatives of buttercups that the ancients of Middle Earth associated with spring or the gods of favoured crops. It is said that the god Venus, fancying a boy toy, took in an infant named Adonis, who became her (non-exclusive) consort. The youth was mortal, so his divine lover discouraged him from messing with wild beasts such as bears, wolves, lions and boar. Believing in the tradition of narrative tropes, Adonis stuck to his (non-existent) guns and led his hounds on a hunt, during which he was careless enough to let a hog of hieronymus proportions stick its bits into him. Venus then probably thought it better to have a copse than a carcass, so she sprinkled nectar on the body, which underwent post-mortal genotypic reconfigurations that caused fragile blossoms to sprout from his blood. Taking their cue from their progenitor, these anemones are short-lived things that wither by summer and whose opening and obliteration are governed by the winds.
Early observers of temperate polyps compared the creatures with plants, calling them anthozoa or flower-animals. To European tidepoolers, rocky basins filled with swaying crowns may have recalled the sight of bare woods carpeted by early bloomers; hence, the name of Adonis' wreath was bestowed to these uninnocuous organisms. On local shores, dominated in part by shagrugs, shiny beads and translucent sand-dwellers, the actiniarians that best fit the original bill are Phymanthus and Bunodosoma goanensis, which inhabit coarse portions of what natural zones that remain. The latter, which has been found off Punggol and the western tip of Pulau Ubin, is a beast first described from intertidal Goa in India, with a warty column and shortish tentacles, numbering "exactly 192", which in life range in colour from "brownish crimson to brick red". Lacking zooxanthellae, this sea anemone survive by catching prey such as small snails, which are certainly abundant on the boulders that line parts of Punggol Beach.
Phymanthus enjoy a wider distribution, occurring on islands and beaches with sufficient coral rubble to provide shady overhangs and anchorage for their pedal discs. Given suitable habitat, they are not at all uncommon; high densities were seen at Pulau Tekukor during the Mega Marine Survey of Singapore, which sought to gather enough specimens to erect a baseline for indigenous marine biodiversity and resolve questions of taxonomic intrique. Singapore is the type locality for at least one species, Phymanthus pinnulatum, but the genus is riddled with inconsistent descriptions and likely synonyms, being highly variable in colour. Many specimens bear "dendritic appendages", which may serve to increase their surface area and maximise access to light and vital gases for symbionts within their tissues.
The most commonly seen morphotype is a greyish green polyp with finely branched tentacles surrounding an inner ring of 'petals'. Another form has arms of alternating light and dark shades around a disc with radiating dots, which are likely to be minuscule, wart-like tentacles. There are also individuals, bushy as well as smooth, with six contrasting 'spokes'. The columns of the family are said to be verrucous towards the crown but bare below, but this characteristic is hard to discern in the field, as the animals often lie on the substrate with just their tentacles exposed and a layer of silt cloaking their discs. It doesn't help that collecting these cnidarians is a task of herculean proportions, of arms socket-deep in silt and frantic shovelling after fleeing mesenteries, which end in symptoms of withdrawal and a flat with one less wildflower, a sacrifice to the altar of lesser gods who like nothing more than a generous measure of all things.