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Baldcypress—A Peek Under the Mud


Taxodium distichum (including  T. ascendens and T. mucronatum)

(Taxodium means, roughly, resembling Yew.  Distichum means “two rows.” That is how the leaves are, usually.)

Cupressaceae


You may now think we’re going to skip down Bald-Cypress Knee Lane, but no, been there done that.   Today it is about Bald-Cypress underground.   Not that it is easy to know much about its hidden subterranean (or submarine) life, given  the pesky overlying water and mud pudding guarded by cottonmouths.  Yes, I met one recently researching Bald-Cypress (I was researching the tree too).  

You ever wonder why Bald-Cypress trees almost never topple, despite living with shallow roots in jello?   They form a huge woven mat under the mud.   This explains two things: 1. Even hurricanes don’t push them over.   2. It is hard or sometimes impossible to match roots to individual trees.  The way the roots work, how they transport  air at least 25 feet horizontally under mud and water, is to this day still mysterious.    Arguably the best case for air exchange is through dead but still-intact water-conducting cells repurposed and re-filled with air. UF former doctoral student Helen Fisher several years ago conducted experiments on this ventilation system for Slash Pine roots, and suggested the same for Bald-Cypress. So far nobody has taken the bait and conducted a modern study on this suggestion.  Why?  Repeat: those roots are IMPOSSIBLE to access.

Speaking of swamps, let’s start with Washington DC.   The heart of the nation’s capital floats atop  a former Bald-Cypress swamp discovered during building projects  in the 1920s,  and dating back perhaps 100,000 years, with stumps still persisting 20 feet beneath the lobbyists and legislators.   Some of those stumps are 8 feet in diameter and 1700 years old when they were buried.

Maybe those old DC Bald-Cypresses were Mastodon food.    In Florida Mastodon Dung is preserved to this day in deep cold water in the Aucilla River.  Guess what the main ingredient in the Mastodon droppings is:   masticated Bald-Cypress. 

Actually 1500 years old is a baby.  There are Bald-Cypresses alive today in the Carolinas up to 2600 years old.   That boggles the mind….the trees came into existence about the same times as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.   Their annual rings are useful for comparing ancient growth patterns over time, for example to check on climate changes from ancient times through the Industrial Revolution to present times.   Twenty-six hundred years is old, but younger than a famous Bald-Cypress no longer standing due to a fire in 2012: The late “Senator,”  right here in Florida, was a BC around  3500 years old. Now that’s BC!

Some Bald-Cypress is put underground on purpose.  Ft. Jackson guarding the Mississippi near New Orleans is a prominent example. How in a swamp in the 1820s did  you build a stout brick fort able  to withstand Civil War bombardment and  two centuries of hurricanes?    On a solid foundation available on site.   The fort rests on, you guessed it, the indestructible wood of Bald-Cypress.   All still there, the fort and its underpinnings, although not in great shape.

Let’s wind up with linked stories of survival and utility.  As Kansas biologists Benjamin Tremmel and Craig Martin described,  a Bald-Cypress was planted in the 1870s in a ravine on the campus of Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas.  Around 1900 the ravine was filled in. The tree had half its trunk interred abruptly under the dirt fill.  It rose anew.   In 2000, a century later,  new construction forced destruction of the still-living tree which had sprouted roots on the buried trunk like a gigantic “cutting” rooting over a century in plant propagation. This swamp dweller has no issue with sediments accumulating up its trunk!  Aztecs in Mexico applied the same ability near present-day Mexico City.   To expand flooded land in Lake Texcoco would normally have required building enclosures of  vertical logs in the water, then filling in dirt.  But the Aztecs found a better way…plant taxodiums crowded in a line like a picket fence, and they soon become indestructible rot-proof living seawalls oblivious to the fill dirt applied over their roots. There are still ancient taxodiums in the Lake Texcoco site dating back to Aztec horticulture.   You can see some, and one of the largest trees in the world,  a Mexican Bald-Cypress photographed  and discussed  by David Creech in his blog “Life on the Green Side”

As deplorable a loss to the natural world draining a Bald-Cypress swamp may be,  and I’d never advocate it for research,  when one is sacrificed  for “The March of Progress,”  wow, would I love to be first on the scene to see what goes on with those roots!

Photo by Dave Creech – see blog link

 
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Posted by on November 27, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Missiongrass


Cenchrus polystachios (Pennisetum polystachion)

Poaceae, Grass Family


There’s a tropical invasive grass oddly not comfortable it seems in southernmost Florida, and not in northern Florida either, but in a belt a little south of the middle, including Palm Beach County.   

The species is introduced and pesky all over the tropical world from Australia to the Loxahatchee Slough.  It owes its spread to introductions as a pasture fodder, as well as to accidental introductions, such as hitchhiking in hay.   The species came to Florida no doubt among many brought as cow chow, although the place and moment are murky, before 1950. 

Missiongrass is eye-catching, being almost as tall as you are, or taller, with big feathery golden amber seedheads looking  like an image from a beer ad.   Kinda pretty.

The species is an example of the “Africanization of American grasses.”  Long story short, African grasses compete well in the warmer parts of the New World, probably tough and resilient because they are adapted to grazing by huge hungry herbivores.   About 12 important Florida grasses are African natives, including most of the large invasive bullies.

One way for a species to compete well is diversity, but who ever heard of a single species where the chromosome numbers are 18, 36, 45, 48, 52, 53, 54, 56, and 78.  That diversity reflects some form of crazy history. be interesting to know if the Florida population all has the same number of chromosomes, and if those are the same as those in Texas.  Finding out would hint at how many times the grass may have been introduced, and would take a ton of effort.   

What is interesting about all those wacky chromosome numbers is that, without delving  into a lesson on the birds and bees, for  making sperms and eggs, chromosomes generally have to match up in pairs.  That’s screwed up in Missiongrass and for it,  making seeds is not reliable.    The species has at least two workarounds….the grass can grow from fragmented stem pieces which is boring, and more interestingly, its flowers can clone directly into baby plants without that pesky sperm, egg, and embryo sex business, although that sort of trickery is it not (yet) documented in Florida. Keep your eyes open because sometimes the clonal babies start growing conspicuously while still on the parent seed head. 

It would fun to know where the name “mission” came from.   Maybe it was introduced as cattlefeed at a remote mission. Or perhaps the name refers to the grass’s “mission” to spread all over the world.

 
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Posted by on November 20, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Marlberry is a Sooner


Ardisia escallonioides

(Ardisia means “pointy,” probably referring to pointy anthers. Escallonioides means “resembles Escallonia,” a genus popular with gardeners.)

Myrsinaceae


Marlberry is beloved by native plant gardeners for many reasons, too well documented on the Internet already to re-re-re-hash.   You can Google it plenty.   Still, being in flower today after the deluges,  and smelling so nice, let’s see if we can delve into something “different” about it.

By John Bradford

First of all, why flower in the autumn?    Whether or not there is any advantage to it, the answer might be as simple as the big flower clusters form on the current year’s growth, and all that growth depends on the summery rainy season.  

By JB

Something more  interesting is the pattern of flowers in a single flower cluster.   They do not all open at once.  Instead there is a mix of stages from still-unopened to early fruit development. 

Today

The mixed stages matter because some of the flowers require contact by bees before they open, and depend on neighboring open flowers to draw the bees.  The reason flowers require pre-opening bee visits is that the pollen-receiving (female) style sticks out of the bud in a bid to get pre-pollinated sooner than a flower should.   Why?    The plants are and capable of self-pollination which defeats the benefits of the sexual pollination cycle.  A style receiving pollen before the flower becomes otherwise functional has an  enhanced chance, if no guarantee, of being pollinated by bee-borne pollen brought from a different plant.  

Stigma and style trying to get pollinated before the flower opens.

And remember…John and I offer the revised PBSC horticulture program weedbook for the low low (below our cost) of $10. If you email George at rogersg515@gmail.com with your address you can have one too!

 
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Posted by on November 10, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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Golden Polypody is a Twofer on a Tree

Phlebodium aureum

(Phlebodium refers to veins, as does the medical condition Phlebitis. Aureum means golden. Polypody means “many feet,” referring to the fuzzy stems.)

Polypodiaceae


Take a look at a Cabbage Palm in the woods or in a yard.  Chances are it hosts a Golden Polypody fern hanging out of the old dead leaf bases, or even among green ones up top. 

All photos today are Golden Polypody by John Bradford.

As plant perched up on another plant, Golden Polypody pushes the envelope on the term “epiphyte.”  Its massive snakelike stem burrows intimately among the leaf bases.   It does not pull free easily, and then there are mycorrhizae.  Mycorrhizae are fungi embedded in plant roots, one end in the root, the other engaged in decaying organic matter, sending a share to the fern root.  Where are those Golden Polypody mycorrhizae going?   There’s no evidence the fern and its fungal friends penetrate into the living tissue of the palm, or cause it any harm.   Still, if you used radioactive fertilizer on the palm, would radioactivity turn up in the fern?    Funny—come to think of it—-some fertilizer can be a teensie tiny bit radioactive.

What’s known slightly better is the ability of Phlebodium ferns to suppress competitors.  There you are, a fern growing on a palm trunk.  Wouldn‘t it be convenient to poison other ferns, mosses, vines, and competitors who would like to share the palm trunk?   If you look at a lot of palms with Golden Polypodys you might conclude that they do seem surprisingly free of competing trunk-dwellers.   Hard to certain about that, but the ability has been lab-tested.   Interestingly, the fern suppresses other plants only when the fern leaves are present.   Other ferns can stifle Golden Polypody too, it is warfare! Much more study needed.  Speaking of chemo-warfare, the fern also produces a false insect hormone, polypodoaurein, no doubt to confuddle buggies who cause the fern distress.

The truly odd thing about Golden Polypody  is that it is really two species for the price of one.  This fern is a perfect example of something that is not rare in the plant world:   it has not the normal two sets of chromosomes,  but rather four sets, two from a species called Phlebodium pseudoaureum and two from Phlebodium decumanum, both of these native to Tropical America, not Florida.    (It may be a useful reminder that you and I have two sets of chromosomes, one set from your mother and one from your father. Whem mommies and daddies make a baby the baby does NOT have four sets of chromosomes.) ((Unless it is Phlebodium aureum.))

The brown dots are clusters of spore cases.

Now then, isn’t that something—-neither of the parental fern species live in the U.S. but when the two are combined into Phlebodium aureum,  it can live all the way to Georgia.    Although not studied adequately to be sure of the full situation, and for reasons I don’t want to attempt to explain in a short blog,  the two-species-in-one Phlebodium aureum is self-fertile, giving it the ability to colonize new places, such as Florida.   Come to think of it, on a much smaller scale, self-fertility is handy for a fern living isolated on a tree trunk.

Does Phlebodium aureum live together with its two “parent” species?   Yes, in Puerto Rico Phlebodium aureum (with its four sets of chromosomes) crosses with its “parent” species, each with two sets of chromosomes, the offspring having, you guessed it, three sets of chromosomes.

 
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Posted by on October 26, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Chaffheads are Quirky

Carphephorus species

(Carphephorus means “has chaff”)

Asteraceae, the Daisy Family


Autumn in Florida!   Well, ok, most of our fall color comes from poison ivy, but still there’s a subtle botanical transition.   The red maples are red, the bald cypress is yellow, and the fall wildflowers are feeling their oats, especially the Aster Family:  golden goldenrods, blue mistflowers, and purple chaffheads,  aka Carphephorus, the last-mentioned being the featured players today.   Every member of the genus Carphephorus has a curious feature.

Let’s start with Carphephorus pseudoliatris, a species from more-northern counties.   Its name means fake Liatris, but guess what, DNA evidence from botanist Gregory Schmidt and collaborators shows it to belong in Liatris. Why was it banished as a phony to begin with? It has chaff.  Chaffheads get their name from little scaly scales around the bases of the flowers within the flowerhead.  Seems that chaff alone is not a true ticket to Carphephorus membership.

Vanillaleaf, Carphephorus odoratissimus, makes our world smell nice, and its name is a hint to what it smells like:  a delicious essence of vanilla (which normally comes from an orchid), or more accurately, coumarin.  Coumarin is found in many plants, including freshly mown hay, tonka bean, and cinnamon, and is controversial in the kitchen because, as it adds fragrance and flavor, it is also adds liver damage.  in addition to coumarin, vanillaleaf has about 90 volatile ingredients.  In any case, the main commercial service from C. odoratissimus is to enhance cosmetics and to flavor tobacco.  OK in wacky  tabacky but a no-no in foods.

Vanillaleaf by John Bradford

Pineland chaffheads, Carphephorus carnosus, has two probably linked claims to fame: first, that its total natural distribution is in  central Florida, reaching its southern limit in Palm Beach County, and second, that it is the only species with a sunken rosette.  Its whorl of basal leaves is dented down into the ground subtly reminiscent of the tanks on some bromeliads. We must then ask, what is it about Central Florida that causes a plant to evolve rosettes that hunker down a little below ground level?    My guess:  fires that sweep quickly through pine woods.  Keep your head down, and the cavity would  hold some water, adding protection from fire and drought. 

Carphephorus carnosus by JB
The sunken rosette yesterday. Look how the middle sinks into a dark hole of mystery.

Our final species has an unusual basal feature too.  As its growing season begins it launches up to about 5 new shoots to its perennial root, which is no big “oh my,” but the odd feature is that only one survives.   In short, the plant conducts an experiment launching five potential new candidates  and yet chooses only one, much like the U.S. political primary system.  

Carphephorus corymbosus parachutes, by JB
C. corymbosus mongram by Linda Cooper

So how does the root system decide which of its candidates to put forward?   And how does it then suppress the others?   Go figure!   Possibly that the biggest new shoot hormones that somehow abort the smaller shoots.  

But our weed book! It’s a classic! Sold totally non-profit!! Impress your friends!!! Know your weeds!!!!

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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Field Copperleaf and Its Top Flowers


Acalypha arvensis

(Acalypha means “not good to touch,” because it resembles a nettle. Arvensis means “of the field”)

Euphorbiaceae


Many gardeners know Copperleaf (Acalypha wilkesiana) and Chenille Plant as showy fast-growing idiot-proof landscape shrubs.   They are just the horticultural tip of the iceberg among wild-growing less ostentatious Florida acalyphas, of which there are about nine species, most native.  Today’s species is a originally South American, reportedly dating back in Florida to the 80s, cropping up sporadically around the state.  

Acalypha arvensis. In the flower spike the bushy bottom portion is where the normal female flowers hide. The thin reddish region is where the male flowers are. The odd extra female flowers are green, at the top of the flag pole.

It has a  puzzling and curious unexplained feature shared with some other Acalypha species:  two different types of functional female flowers on separate parts of the flower stalk.  Not counting some plants that make tiny hidden self-pollinated flowers,  I can’t think of any other plants with two types of female flowers.  For vocabulary buffs we’re talking about “allomorphic pistillate flowers.”

Let’s get the lay of the land on the flower spike. From bottom up:  that leafy region is where most of the female flowers lie hidden among the little leaves (bracts).   The skinny bumpy region above the leafy female zone is the male (pollen-producing) zone. The bumps are the male flowers.  Now look at the tippy top.   The weird green “thing” up there is a (or two) female flower(s) utterly different from those below.

Bottom left, leafy female zone. Middle, reddish area male flowers with anthers visible. Upper right, the mystery female flowers. Do I spy buggy wings?

But why?  Searching the internet, I found an article or two describing the existence of the wacky top flowers, but crickets on what they are all about.   They do make seeds.  

You might ask, “why don’t more plants make two types of female flowers?”  That way, if one type doesn’t get pollinated, maybe the other type will.   You could go to an extreme…one type pollinated say by insect A in the morning and the other by insect B after lunch (or by the wind).   I’m a little surprised, come to think of it, that that is not widespread.  But not how Mother Nature usually rolls.

Why yes…insect!…and this is a second one. Wazzup with that?

The bottom (among the leaves) female flowers are generally believed to be wind-pollinated.  They look like it.   So then do the nonconformist top-of-the-flagpole flowers somehow get pollinated differently, or at a different time, or under different circumstances?  Nobody knows. Nobody cares except us chickens. 

Although the top flowers are not showy or fragrant,  something I noticed at home in a couple of my photos, hey, there’s an insect up there.  Then a second one. Incidental? Or players?  You decide.  Here is some food for that thought:  All that red in the flower stalk could have to do with insect attraction.  To add to that utterly speculative notion, the decorative portion of the garden Chenille Plant (Acalypha hispida) is covered with nothing but reddish female flowers that have reverted from wind pollination to attracting insects.   Is A. arvensis taking a baby step in that direction? I dunno.

Chenille Plant is Acalypha hispida. It switched back to insect pollination.
 
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Posted by on October 2, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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The Strange Practices of Our State Caterpillar

Zebra Longwing

Heliconius charithonia


What’s going on back there under the passionvine foliage?  Look closely…there are two Zebra Longwing Butterflies all a flutter, and a chrysalis.  We’ll come back to that after some fun context.

Florida may claim it as our state butterfly, but so could Caribbean Islands and nations all the way into South America. The Zebras need passionvines for their hungry caterpillars, so I’ll guess without data that the butterfly’s range is related to that of the genus Passiflora.   My wife Donna and I have several species of passionvines in our butterfly garden where experience shows the Longwings have their preferred species, such as Corkystem.   When the caterpillars get on a bender along with Gulf Fritillaries, they can make short work of passion-foliage.   I’ve never seen this written anywhere, but to my eye, these colorful butterflies darken into shadows in the shade, which they like to haunt.    Butterflies come to flowers for nectar, right?  Yes, but how many eat pollen?  Today’s friend does.

Now for the main points.

1. The chrysalis is camouflaged like a dead leaf. Cool.

Boo!

2. For the most part, an inverted male fertilizes the female while she is still inside the chrysalis,  as in the photo below.

photo by Donna Rogers

3. Sometimes two males hop on the same female  chrysalis.  A female can be inseminated by more than one male, yet the two males jostle and flutter for “dibs.”

photo by Donna Rogers

 
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Posted by on September 25, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Mexican Primrosewillow and the Banded Sphinx Caterpillar Rainbow


Ludwigia octovalvis (and Eumorpha fasciata)

(Ludwigia commemorates 18th Century German botanist Christian Ludwig.  Octovalvis indicates the fruit opens along 8 lines.)

Onagraceae (and Sphingidae) 



The approximately 30 species of primrosewillows (Ludwigia) in Florida could keep you busy awhile.   Most but not all have bright yellow flowers, but some have no petals at all.  They range from the large invasive exotic Peruvian primrosewillow rising way taller than a human from roadside ditches  to itsy bitsy mud creepers. 

Ludwigia octovalvis by John Bradford.

Today’s species is large and showy, sunny yellow and often in large “decorative” stands in wet habitats.  Bees love it.

Bees love it.

Mexican primrosewillow differs most conspicuously from the Peruvian PRW by having a long  narrow nearly round fruit as opposed to a stubby four-sided fruit.  Mexican PRW is hardly “Mexican,” as it ranges seemingly natively across most of the Southeastern United States, and has become one of the tropical world’s most widespread weeds, most odiously in rice fields.

The fruit.

It and other ludwigias have traditional uses in medicine, not worth listing here.  The interesting thing is that this species and its kin produce linoleic acid, a fatty acid essential in human nutrition and the subject of a considerable literature in that connection.    Who knows what potential lies there.

Ludwigias are preferred, if not exclusive, host plants for the caterpillars of the banded sphinx (hawk) moth, a pollinator of the crinum lilies (and probably also similar Hymenocallis spider lilies) with which the primrosewillow shares marshy habitats.    The caterpillars are astounding in at least two ways, their enormous size (about like your index finger) and their mixed coloration scheme.    Even nibbling together on a single plant there can be camouflage green ones, showy yellow ones, and eye-catching psychedelic siblings. Wow! How? and Why? This is a situation where research and speculation swirl into one. 

Banded sphinx camouflage caterpillar. Birds won’t eat me because I hide so well.
Yelow variant on the same plant at the same time as the one above. Birds don’t dare eat me because I advertise my poison.
Psychedelic variant. Same plant. Same time. Birds won’t eat me because I’m so fancy.

Just this summer biologists CL Francois and G Davidowitz studied a related sphinx caterpillar color mix and found the differences to be controlled by a very simple genetic system, perhaps (mainly) just one gene.   This sort of suggests that the colors of the caterpillars more or less to depend on a genetic roll of the dice…sort of like, “will my next grandchild be a boy or a girl?”  (It is a girl.)   Just like a family can have boys and girls in one house, a caterpillar family can have all those different color types on one plant (as well as boys and girls). The researchers suspect that the built-in automatic color mixes give the diverse caterpillars an advantage in a diverse world. Don’t put all your eggs in one color basket.  In any place and time some may become bird food but others may be better hidden, or more conspicuously toxic.   Interesting in this connection that some are showy and others are camouflaged.  

That all is no doubt true, but it gets more complicated.  Ecologist Linda Fink, formerly of UF, has looked into the banded sphinx moth in addition to related species and found that all the color variants appear mixed on any given host plant species, and (here is the surprise), the ratios of the different colors in the mix depend on the plant species.    

 
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Posted by on September 18, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

Paper Wasps are Potent Pollinators…It Seems

Paper Wasps are Potent Pollinators…It Seems

Polistes species

Vespidae


Paper wasps (Polistes) are beautiful pieces of creation:  intelligent, complex, good-looking, and docile if you don’t ask for it.    I’ve spent hours around them in two contexts botanizing and engaged in home maintenance, including on a ladder painting and repairing under the eaves and stuff like that.  Ever stung?   About once a decade or less, from the same cause:  grabbing a branch to show flowers to students on a fieldtrip, only to find the branch pre-occupied. With a whole class watching, no profanity!   If somebody grabs me I’ll sting too, and the sting isn’t ferocious, unless maybe the recipient has an allergy. 

Polistes on Polygonella by John Bradford

Some folks may dislike paper wasps as predators.  As the sweating co-digger in a home butterfly garden, I do wish paper wasps did not consume nice caterpillars, but then again, wolves consume nice deer, and we consume nice cows.  By the way, the green lynx spider turns the tables, lurking on flowers and catching pollinators, having a special fondness for a tasty Polistes treat.

You’d be surprised how poorly studied paper wasps are, due largely no doubt to the inconvenience of their lifestyles, nesting naturally in hard-to-visit habitats, roaming long distances, and not universally regarded as charismatic.   Most research centers on their nesting on residential structures…they need wood to chew and form into the papery umbrella-shaped nest.

Digger wasp. Irrelevant to today’s topic but cool to see. By JB.

The nutritional habits of paper wasps are complex and odd.   They haul caterpillars and other victims back to the nest to feed larvae.   The foraging wasp to some extent consumes, softens, and partially pre-digests the prey, regurgitating the glop as baby formula.   Roaming wasps additionally visit flowers to collect nectar for their personal energy needs, and sometimes to contribute honey to the nest.

On Stillingia

The birds, bees, and butterflies think they own pollination, but respect also the paper wasps. They too pollinate.  Some orchids and all figs have wasps as pollinators, but those are different sorts of wasps.   Paper wasps visit a lot of flowers, although they have an exclusive relationship with few.  The only local totally waspy case I can bring to mind is the shrub Corkwood, Stillingia aquatica, where pollination in the wet season is soley by wasps, or essentially so.   Bees and wasps visit in the dry season, but when the marsh is under 2 feet of summer rain the bees bug out and the wasps have a monopoly.   Big marshy habitats can be miles across, requiring athletic pollinators.

Polistes with facial pollen. On Stillingia.

Stillingia inflorescences and the surrounding leaves are yellowish.   Wasps love yellowish, although they visit flowers of other hues too.   Some Polistes favorites are Goldenrods, additional members of the Aster Family having yellow centers, members of the Carrot Family,  Milkweeds, and Sweetscents (Pluchea).

Polistes wasps are super-powered.  One big brazen Brazilian species, Polistes lanio, has returned to its nest like a homing pigeon after being released 2 km away, flying at 8.7 meters/second, potentially covering those 2 km in under 4 minutes, almost 20 miles per hour. How does it finds its way?  Quite a feat for a microscopic brain, and I can’t find my glasses.

Those out foraging and pollinating are mostly females, as the males—which grow from unfertilized eggs—live comparatively briefly, although there is variation, and in some species males participate in feeding larvae.

What we need around here is a study on the relationships between paper wasps and plants in South Florida:  where they nest, their daily habits and home ranges, flower preferences, interactions with other flower-visiting insects and spiders, and contributions to pollination.  Wow that would be great if you think about it, so easy to say, but if you think about it more, you’d have to have the power of Polistes to take it on. No wonder we’re still in the dark.

 
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Posted by on September 11, 2020 in Uncategorized

 

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False-Foxgloves and the Angle of the Dangle (revisited)

Agalinis linifolia and close kin

(Agalinis translates roughly as “much flax” because the foliage resembles flax, having linear (linifolia) leaves.)

Orobanchaceae, a family of parasitic plants


In the places where the mud is ankle deep lives a pretty wildflower, or should I say a few, as there are about 17 lookalike Agalinis species in Florida, perhaps three in our immediate area.  They are tall, thin, delicate and attractive, not to mention partly parasitic, swiping nutrients from neighbor’s roots.

Agalinis by John Bradford

The flowers have a weird life history, possibly not 100% true, yet documented for Agalanis species in other regions and seemingly applicable locally.  Each flower lasts only a day or less,  so hurry…get pollinated!  

  

by JB

The blossoms open early in the morning, releasing pollen before the pollen-receiving stigma is ready to go.  Any bee who happens along picks up that fresh pollen and takes it to a different flower ready to receive.  This delay holds the door open to cross-pollination as opposed to self-pollination, the ultimate form of inbreeding. Spoiler:  Selfing may follow.

The long light violet dohicky is the style, the stigma at its tip. The pollen-filled anthers are horizontal at the top of the entrance.

As the day progresses the originally short style grows and grows while its stigma tip becomes pollen-receptive.  The style attains a ridiculous length, bending down across the entrance to the flower so that an incoming bee must push under its stigma-tip and dust it with pollen to access the interior.

No bees today?  No problem…then comes backup:  The style ultimately grows into the shape of a J curling up under the pollen-releasing anther.  With luck gravity may drop pollen from the anther onto stigma tip curled under it.

Corolla dragging pollination.

Last chance to pollinate.

But a pollen sprinkle is iffy, and the flower has an even better finale.  Late in the day the petal tube and attached pollen-shedding anthers begin to drop free.    The hooked style is attached to the plant, not to the tube.    As the funnel-shaped tubes begins to  fall, its inner anthers slide past the hook, maybe even snag on it.  The passing stigma scrapes pollen from the anthers and/or mops pollen out of the narrow end of the funnel.   Wind motion may help the scouring process. Another name for the petal tube is the corolla, and this type of last-ditch self-pollination is called “corolla dragging.”    On other species of Agalinis dangling in the wind can last an hour.

It worked. Fruits.

 
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Posted by on September 5, 2020 in Agalinis, Uncategorized

 

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