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Japanese Millet and Barnyard Grass, Reunited and It Feels So Good

Echinochloa esculenta

Poaceae

This week I’ve been roaming Ohio, Michigan, and Virginia tending my northern family roots and to botanical roots of higher latitudes.   Up north botany is a joy, but unfit in Treasure Coast Natives, so instead here’s something local.  No fieldtrip required.

Echinochloa exculenta far - Copy

Japanese Millet in Jupiter, a golden carpet seeded to fight erosion.

On the west side of the Florida Turnpike just north of Indiantown Road rises a vast new subdivision.   The blossoming mini-mansions echo the pre-2008 gilded era.

As fondly as housing starts signify economic vitality, what a pity to convert greenspace to subdivisions named for the birds they displace..  Still, look beyond the promotional signs and construction dumpsters…there is always something of botanical interest. even in suburbia on steroids.  On the gigantic berms there’s a cultivated grass seeded to hold the bare soil.    That useful species is Japanese Millet, sold in the U.S. for binding soil and feeding fowl.

Echinochloa esculenta middle

Short stature, thick dark heads.  Look at that—on sand.

Japanese Millet once fed people.   Its ancestors count among the oldest plants associated with humans.   Paleontological remains of in China link Echinochloa to people back some 23, 000 years.

Shut Up!   Did you say 23 thousand years?   That is older than clay pottery (about 18,000 years), and there were no wheels back then for wheelbarrows.  Stonhenge was just yesterday by Echinochloa standards.  Cultivated Echinochloa is about twice as ancient as wheat.   An ancient grain in a 2016 residential development is food for thought, as well as food for pretty birds but hopefully not for nasty ol’ rats, because rats are inconsistent with the Bed, Bath and Beyond gated golf active adult package lifestyle.

If Asian Echinochloas are so old in general, what about Japanese Millet itself?   The name Echinochloa esculenta implies a crop species, origins at the hand of humanity.  Another ancient Asian crop is rice, a comparative Johnny-Come-Lately in human affairs.    Somewhere along the line rice and Echinochloas hooked up, perhaps the latter becoming a weed in rice paddies, and/or as a “plan B” when rice crops failed.

A pesky pest might see Echinochloa esculenta and say, “you sure that’s not Barnyard Grass?”    Barnyard Grass (Echinochloa crus-galli) is a common introduced weed round here.  Answer to the pest:  yes you are correct,   just as a dog is a domesticated wolf.

Echinochloa crus-galli inflore New Dev

Wild-growing Barnyard Grass

DNA shows Japanese Millet to be essentially a cultivar (human-derived horticultural variant) of wild Barnyard Grass.  As might be expected in a strain selected for grain, it has small stature, and large thick grainy tops dark in color.   At least one researcher has pegged the pair as synonyms, that is, two names for one species.   Archaeological specimens of Barnyard Grass with oversized (domesticated) grains,  apparently the missing link between the wild species and Japanese Millet, date back to about the era of King Tut.

Echinochloa esculenta closeup black background

Japanese Millet, the seed head is thicker, fuller, more compact, darker, and with no or few awns (stiff threads)

So in a single Jupiter, Florida, development project you can stroll and see within a stone’s throw of each other wild Barnyard Grass, spontaneous in a drainage ditch, reunited with its long lost farm cousin right here and now, 7000 miles and 4000 years from their point of separation.

(Some may ask—“can they still interbreed”?)

 

 
5 Comments

Posted by on July 24, 2016 in Japanese Millet, Uncategorized

 

A Dip in the St. Lucie River, “We’re Not Afraid of Lead in the Water”

Microcystis aeruginosa

Anabaena circinalis

Cyanobacteria

Recently John and George have favored the Kiplinger Natural Area in Stuart, Florida, a mixed habitat with botanical goodies ranging from Gordonia trees now bearing huge white “camellia” blossoms to a Royal Palm towering above the steaming jungle.   A deep dark mangrove swamp there flanks the St. Lucie River.  The same St. Lucie River as toxic algae  fame, so we must take a look.    In fact, John brought a rope ladder, and are we too old to monkey down a rescue device from the boardwalk to the riverbank?  (Yes, but we did it anyhow.) The somber goal was a look at the green menace, peeking a little deeper than all those green canals on Facebook and quickie shots on the news.

microcystis jb

Microcystis, by John Bradford, taken today 7/15/2016, St. Lucie River

First of all, thank you TV news for muddling an important issue.   The trouble is not toxic algae, but rather cyanobacteria.  Repeat, bacteria.    Yes, cyanobacteria are often called “bluegreen algae,”  a misnomer, and yes algae are heterogeneous and poorly defined,   still, cyanobacteria are not algae.  Or to put it differently, I’m more closely related to an alga than a cyanobacterium is.    Cyanobacteria and some true algae just happen to look alike if you don’t look closely.  So let’s look closely now.

Microcystis

Microcystis as seen microscopically.   It drifts in masses of microscopic cells.  To the naked eye, the variably shaped green specks (or bigger) in the water are these colonies.    Under high magnification each colony resolves into tiny individual cells, all glued together.  The colonies vary in shape and size.

The newscasters have one thing right, the cyanobacteria are toxic with a capital T.    Now, some folks may think of toxic as making your skin itch or causing a cough or diarrhea.     Passing acute discomfort is never as scary as chronic effects, and the potential long-term dangers of certain cyanobacteria are seriously frightening.  The complex world of cyanobacterial poisons is a long list.   Here are some prime examples to curl your hair.  There are plenty more:

Microcystis causes or is strongly implicated in:   gastroenteritis, colo-rectal cancer,  liver damage, and liver cancer.  The most studied toxins from Microcystis are called microcystins; they inhibit fundamental life-critical enzymes, and they promote tumors.   That’s not nice, and that’s not all…

microcystis funnel cake

This Microcystis mass look like a funnel cake at the State Fair.  Microscope view.   Note the tiny individual cells.

Anabaena causes fever, rash, and gastroenteritis.  And worse:  Its toxins are related chemically to insecticides.    The old insecticide SEVIN is a carbamate; so are Anabaena’s saxitoxins which interfere like SEVIN with nerve impulses.   They are similar to pufferfish poisons, and to paralytic shellfish poisoning.

The insecticides Malathion and Orthene are organophosphates; so is Anabaena anatoxin which interferes with the same neurotransmitter system the insecticides damage.  Cyanobacteria invented these killers long before the WII death industry caught on to the same for killing people and bugs.  Just think, we worry (rightfully) about polluting the river with artificial insecticides.   Interesting how “natural” is not all sunbeams and granola, but then again, the massive cyanobacterial blooms are not natural to begin with.

Anabaena circinalis 3

Anabaena circinalis, very high magnification. From same site and water as the Microcystis.  The big oddball cell is a heterocyst, giving these cyanobacteria the ability to capture atmospheric nitrogen.

Lipopolysaccharide toxins are in the cell walls,  external to and oozing from certain bacteria, including cyanobacteria, and come free amply in the water to make us sick.

But what’s a fever compared with tumors, liver destruction—and even worse: cyanobacteria are linked to ALS.    The poison connected to ALS is a rogue amino acid.  Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.   Oh my,  what if rogue amino acids get built into or childrens’ proteins?

Have there been human poisonings?  Absolutely.  Sixty dead in Brazil where cyano-tainted water was used for dialysis!    Short-term effects are easy to document.   Long-term effects are tougher to track.   An unlucky region in China has high liver cancer rates correlated with cyanobacterial contamination.   I’m going to a suburb of Toledo next week.  Come to think of it, Toledo had microcystins in its tapwater.   Name a livestock species…somewhere it has died from drinking cyanobacterial-infested ponds.

The consequences on a natural aquatic food chain must just be dreadful…a witch’s brew working on the plankton, plants, arthropods, fish, and birds.  Flamingoes have taken a cyanobacterial beating.

Watch the little movie John and I made today.    Let’s entitle it, “How’d You like to Be a Manatee in This Soup”? CLICK to view the brew.

—————————————————————–

Related links:

http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2984099/

http://www.lucasbrouwers.nl/blog/2010/11/cyanobacterial-neurotoxin-evolved-billions-of-years-ago/

 

 
1 Comment

Posted by on July 15, 2016 in Cyanobacteria, Uncategorized

 

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Nettles Counteract Love Medicine

Laportea aestuans

Urticaceae

John and I had to postpone bot-projects until tomorrow, but no problem, I visited the Jupiter, Florida, Solid Waste Authority Transfer Station to drop off unused paint.  A trip to the dump reinforces a truth:   everywhere you go there’s botanical adventure to discover.   The interesting Solid Waste Authority weed is nettles, or to be exact West Indian wood nettles, as I just read, a weed of “Waste places.”  Sure enough.

Laportea leaves

West Indian Wood Nettle

The plant manual at my elbow sez the species is not native, but with weeds, well, often you don’t really know, and the Flora of North America, one of my favorite go-to authorities,  leaves the question open.   The species is in Florida, Tropical America, Africa, and into Asia.

That this locally unusual nettle was at the Solid Waste Authority was not coincidental.  Nettles reputedly like nitrogen and phosphorus in high doses,  including places where livestock or human manure have enriched moist, semi-shaded disturbed soils.    The colony at the waste transfer station spreads across a  moist slope just downhill from where garbage trucks tip their soggy loads for transfer to larger trucks…with a lot of stinky organic juice escaping.  You can smell it while photographing nettles.    The only other spot nearby where I’ve seen the same species was at the margin of a plant nursery where similarly N- and P- enriched water drains away.

Around here, this is our only species of stinging nettle in the true Nettle Family, although several non-stinging relatives are abundant.  But today’s feature attraction is the stinger, whose identity is confirmed by my right ankle and right forearm  smarting as I type.   How the sting happens is old hat for this blog.  CLICK

For simplicity I’m going to now speak of “nettles” lumping the related genera Laportea (alternate leaves) and Urtica (opposite leaves).  A local poser, false nettle Boehmeria cylindrica, is no threat to ankle safety.

Boehmeria cylindrica 2

False nettle by John Bradford

You could scarcely find plants with more historical uses in human medicine.  Nettles have a hundred attributed benefits, some of my favorites being abating hair loss,   boosting memory, stopping nosebleeds when inhaled as snuff, and, as noted by former local botanist Dan Austin,  to “counteract love medicine.” (Should that need arise, run to the Solid Waste Authority, stand in the nettle patch, and breath deeply…love medicine will wear off abruptly.)      Not my cup of tea, nettles, especially young ones, have long uses as potherbs, as tonics, and in beverages, probably not a great idea given the calcium oxalate and other toxins they bring to the table.

In a comment below Pat Bowman added an important old use for nettles:  as a source of vegetable rennt for cheese making.

Laportea hairs

The big hairs contain the ouch.

Related closely to the commercial fiber species ramie, which has escaped cultivation here in Florida, nettles are ancient sources of textile fibers, intertwined historically with flax and hemp.   Tibetan giant nettle (Giardinia diversifolia) is a cultivated nettle fiber in Nepal and beyond.

himalayan nettle shimmer green

Himalayan Yarn, from Tibetan Giant Nettle, by Shimmer Green, permitted use via Creative Commons

Now for the best part.   The flowers are separately male and female, in today’s species on the same plant.    Pollination is by wind, and the blossoms don’t merely drop their precious pollen passively onto the breeze.  Instead, they pop it out like little firecrackers.

Laportea female

Female flowers

Laportea male

Male flowers

You better enjoy this little video now, because I had to get down on my belly in the sting zone, in the garbage leachate,  with a Roseate Spoonbill and a Wood Stork as quiet witnesses to make this all possible.  So VIEW THIS…CLICK

And to wrap it up, nettles from a different angle, added in a comment by Leonore Alalniz:

Dense greenery
claims again that earthen-rich plot
and asks that I focus on re-emerging,
ever-present energy.

Aware of the initial sting
I settle
my mind and harvest bare-handed
first chlorophyll of Spring.

Into tissue beyond my skin
the Nettle
brings on summer’s heat ‘n pleasure
I longed for all Winter.

 

 

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Cooties on the Carapace and Suctoria’s Secret

Starring Pseudemys species

Emyidae

With co-star  Basicladia chelonum (Arnoldiella chelonum)

Holidays make for idle hands—a an extra opportunity for swampy play.   Thus the off-schedule post.  Happy 4th!turtle with algae better - Copy - Copy

Ever notice how cooters on logs have a shag carpet on their backs?    Today I snitched a pinch of turtle turf and enjoyed it microscopically.    The turtle was not even inconvenienced.

Teachers like to cite the turtle toupee as an example of the ecological relationship called commensalism where one party gains while it’s all the same to the other: a “win—I don’t care” relationship.     In such Kindergarden accounts the algae gains a happy home with no consequence to Yertle.

But it is richer than that.     First of all, although multiple algae and some cyanobacteria ride turtles, the alga Basicladia chelonum rules—it lives exclusively on turtles, and is abundant on them.   The alga has evolved  100 percent dependence.

Basicladia branched

Off the turtle.  I believe this is Basicladia chelonum.  Trust my ID if you dare. Microscope view.

The piggyback alga is unknown to harm its host.   And perhaps it’s a friend with benefits.   Biologists in the 1950s kicked the question around inconclusively, speculating that the algae perhaps give camouflage.    But what  hungry beast worries an armored  turtle?    If the alga is camo, it hypothetically helps the lurking turtle hide from its prey, until snap!   Personally strikes me as far-fetched, but then again so do helicopters.

Another old hypothesis is that the algae are turtle food.    Can you imagine one trying to reach around and grab salad from its back?      Nobody thinks that, of course, but do turtles eat algae off of each other?  (Hours sitting in canoe with binoculars and note pad.)   Also possible,  maybe the algae are a big green evaporative cooler.   Like any of these ideas?    Nobody has done enough research to know.

There is another possibility.  In 2005 engineering student Colleen Bennett studied the antibiotic effects of Basicladia algae.  A sanitary turtle is a happy turtle.

Basicladia suctorian

Hey—what’s that on the alga?

The algal fuzz is creeping with life, an inhabited little planet.  The creatures on the shell wonder if they are alone in the turtleverse, or if there are other turtles out there with alien life.    What can you find in the wet green carpet?  Answer…more than I can list.   More than I know.  Probably some “new species.”   Let’s see:  tiny tagalong algae of many sorts,  microcrustaceans,  and my personal favorites, a  menagerie of weird  Protists resembling creatures from another galaxy.

Today I found Rotifers, peppy little “wheel animals” spinnin’ and popping.  Here is one fresh from the turtle.

CLICK TO SEE FOR YOURSELF.

They were loitering with Suctorians.    Now, Suctorians are about as odd as critters can be, and yes they suck.  Suctorians have tentacles,  usually in paired tufts  and with swollen tips.   When a small creature touches,  the tentacles stick, sting, and suck.    I mean it…they suck the vital juices right out of the prey.  Suctorians are not nice, and they have poor table manners.  CLICK HERE to see a Suctorian from the catch of the day brandishing its right to bear arms.    Spoiler alert:  its movements are subtle.

The takehome lesson is the topside of a turtle is a squarefoot ecosystem.   It’s hopping and happening.   And severely under-studied so far as I know.   What else is lurking in that little green jungle?  and is the turtle really so oblivious?

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 5, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Sunny Bells, Heads Down, Seeds Up (Sometimes)

Schoenolirion albiflorum

Agavaceae

Today John and I explored Riverbend Park at the western edge of Jupiter, Florida, one of the most biodiverse natural areas hereabouts.    You always encounter something cool, from liverworts to turkeys.  This morning the pileated woodpeckers were knocking on wood.  Our primary objectives were water horn ferns, Ceratopteris pteridoides, but John has not processed the images yet.  No problem, Riverbend has plenty to ponder.   In bloom today was a pretty little curiosity some call Sunny Bells.   Its branched wands of white bells rise from a rosette of knitting needle leaves down in the wet marsh soil.

Schoenolirion far

The habitat. How it looked today.

Normally I don’t chat up boring taxonomic relationships.    But maybe you will find Schoenolirion a tolerable exception.   Won’t take long, the entire genus is just three species.  Like many genera around the fringe of the massive Lily Family,  Schoenolirion  has a checkered past of inconsistent assignment to different families.    Lily-relatives have been a taxonomic bugaboo for a long time.    DNA places Sunny Bells in the Agave Family, anchored in Mexico and the western U.S.

A lot of Florida plants have Tex-Mex ancestry.    Although we can’t know about extinct species, the three living Schoenolirions seem to reflect two separate lineages branching separately out of the Southwest, one  offshoot headed north and east (Georgia, NC), the other to the south and east (Florida), and the third species left behind out west.   Schoenolirion wrightii is the westernmost species, extending from Texas into Alabama.   It seems to show its Agave Family xeric origins in its habitat preference, out-west dry after a wet spring.    The chromosome number is 24.  Hang on to that number. It matters. Two dozen.

Schoenolirion albiflorum 1

Does it look like an Agave?  (Yes, a little) By John Bradford

The species that split off to the north and east is Schoenolirion croceum, sort of “centered” in Georgia to North Carolina (and in Texas).  This species is so similar to S. wrightii that its status as “separate” is dubious, although it has two idiosyncrasies.  1.  Its chromosomes numbers are mixed as 24 (rarely), 30, and 32.    That’s just weird, and there is another difference,  2. yellow (vs. white) flowers.  So if Texas is the original home Pardner, this species headed northeast altering its flower color and “experimenting” chromosomally.

Schoenolirion albiflorum 2

By JB

That brings us to our own S. albiflorum.   It too could be seen as having its origins in Texas or Mexico,  resembling its western cousin S. wrightii by retaining white flower coloration, by doubling wrightii’s chromosome number to 48 or 49, developing a branched inflorescence (vs. unbranched in the other two species), and switching from seasonally dry to almost always wet.     Interestingly, the other two species have bulbs at their bases, but not S. albiflorum.  Maybe a bulb is no asset in 24/7 wet habitats.

Schoenolirion albiflorum 3

By JB

What S. albiflorum sports in place of a bulb is unusual.   It has a short vertical rhizome which dies at the base and regrows at the tip.   From the rhizome radiate contractile roots.    Contractile roots work like rubber bands by shortening and pulling the rhizome continually downward safely into the soil, like a turtle’s head contracted into its shell.  Sunny Bells keeps its head down!

Turn back a moment to S. croceum, the yellow-flowered species centered in Georgia.  The seeds have an unusual two-fisted adaptation.    Many species have seeds unable to germinate until they experience a cold period followed by warming in the spring.  Others require a warm spell, thus sprouting during or at the end of summer.  Neither is remarkable.   And now for the good stuff:

Schoenolirion  seeds work both ways.  A warm treatment kicks them to sprout, but with a proviso, only in the dark.   Thus they begin growth in the autumn strctly underground out of harm’s way until spring,  when they can surface into the light of day already growing with a head-start.   Alternatively, a cold treatment can do the trick, but, unlike the warm-treated seeds, the cold-treated seedlings rise readily  in daylight.   Thus in the spring the species has a first team and a second-string.  A  batch of the older fall-sprouted seeds are ahead of the curve, but only if they survive winter.   If the frosty months kill the sooners, no problem, Sunny Bells has a fresh spring cohort eager to rise and shine with no further delay.

If you are now grousing, well, yea, classification boring, you still have a shot at amusement.    Here’s a useful little snippet from an old ethnobotanical report:

schoenolirion snip

Large leaf?

Sandhill

Sandhill Cranes bound for Riverbend!

 
4 Comments

Posted by on July 1, 2016 in Sunny Bells, Uncategorized

 

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White Indigo Berry, bob bob bobbin’ along

Randia aculeata

Rubiaceae

John and I today botanized Maggy’s Hammock near Pt. Salerno, Fl, one of the nicer and botanically rich hammock remnants we know in Martin County, complete with massive oaks,  handsome hickories,  lancewoods,  and graytwig bearing fancy stinkbugs.   In flower was one of my all-time favorite plants, White Indigo Berry, Randia aculeata. (Aculeata means thorny.)    This gnarly, spiny slowpoke ranges from Florida through the Caribbean to South America.  It is poorly studied, which is a pity, because this idiosyncratic shrub clearly harbors secrets.  We’ll guess at some.

Randia aculeata 1 - Copy

W.I.B.  Photos today by John Bradford.

A member of the Coffee Family, it is related to Gardenia, and thus has fragrant flowers looking like those on coffee itself.  Even smellier, the related Randia ruizana a perfume plant, called Angel of the Night.   Bees, butterflies, and who knows what else visit our species, perhaps moths?

As a good member of the Coffee Family, Randias are little green Big Pharmas.    Every plant you encounter has some history in medicine somewhere, or some positive medically compelling screening result,  but species of Randia  have more historical and present-day points of medicinal interest than you can shake a stick at,  serving for everything from parasitic worms to easing pain,  an attribute well known in other members of the family.   In Mexico White Indigo Berry is traditionally the Rx for venomous serpents.  Just what the doctor ordered when the doctor is a snakebite specialist known as a culebrero.   (Culebra = snake.)  Silly legend?   Now hold on, before that derisive snort  consider a study by the National Polytechnic Institute in Mexico City illuminating multifaceted ways  Randia aculeata extract protects mouse tissue from toxic venom.

The fruit has a specialized structure.   When ripe it is about the size of a marble and white or creamy on the outside.   Inside, though, the seeds are plastered in a dark blue pulp.    The blue goo gives blue dyes for skin and fabric, including calico.

Randia aculeata 2 - Copy

How it looked today

I guess the pulp might be more or less edible (?) although not attractive, although the many bioactive contents worry me.  Randia eaters might prefer Randia formosa (Rosenbergiodendron formosum)  known as Blackberry Jam Fruit, which offers more-luciousness.

Randia aculeata 4 - Copy

The goo shrinks and coats the seeds.

General experience around White Indigo Berry shows a lot of the fruits not to wind up as bird food, although many perhaps do too.    I think we have a case of an originally fleshy birdfood fruit evolving into a bobber riding the ocean waves.  Did I mention that Randia aculeata favors maritime habitats?    The dark inner pulp shrinks,  coating the seeds and creating air space.

That flesh is called “pulpa.”   It is not ordinary fruit flesh, but instead comes from the innermost fruit layer in intimate contact with the seeds.   I bet this material contains germination inhibitors to keep the seeds safely asleep while afloat, like Astronauts in suspended animation for 1000 years en route to a distant galaxy.

To descend deeper into shameless speculation,   species of Randia, like many plants, make mannitol.   In the plant world as well as in the hospital, mannitol can help restore or alter electrolyte balance,  which is why it works as a laxative, drawing water osmotically into the intestine.    A fruit floating in the salty sea may need to draw in water osmotically too, given its bath in the water-sucking salty sea.   Mannitol in the pulp might help, and/or it may retain precious water elsewhere in the plant coping with a dry sandy salty habitat.    Mannitol or not, that tar covering the seeds obviously protects them physically, and the toxic ingredients probably suppress stowaway bacteria and fungi during the voyage.

 
6 Comments

Posted by on June 25, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Match Weed

(with many silly English names having to do with fogs, and frogs, turkeys, and tangled feet you see in books but never hear any real person use)

Phyla nodiflora (Lippia nodiflora)

Verbenaceae

Too hot and stormy for fieldtrips today, so John and I worked inside, where I learned a photo thing or two from the Master.

If you live in a warm region anywhere from West Palm Beach to India, chances are you can go outside and within a few minutes find Match Weed. There’s one near you.   This pantropical weed grows anywhere it is warmish and not too dry, including sun, shade, lousy turf, canal banks, mud flats, and on and on.   Some see it as a lawn replacement. Many see Phyla as a medicinal plant.   It is related to the natural sweetener Lippia dulcis. To others it is an invasive exotic menace.  Some sell it.  Some sell herbicides to destroy it.    And speaking of toxic herbicides, this plant makes its own to suppress the competition.  Is the species native to Florida?  Well, “native” is tough to pin down with worldwide weeds.

phyla jb

Photos, except microscope view, by John Bradford

This pretty plant is a mighty weed.   A horizontal running stem scoots across the ground like a road seen from a helicopter, every few inches producing nodes (nodiflora)  bearing a tuft of leaves, a cluster of roots, and a stalk a few inches tall with a compact flowering spike.   Each node can “stand alone” if the sprawling plant fragments, or the interlaced runners can carpet the ground as a single genetic individual.   Immortal.

If the weed decides to reproduce in a fashion besides fragmenting its stems, there is a plan B, plus a plan C to make baby Phylas.  Fog Fruits. Frog Fruits. Turkey Tanglefoots.

phyla nodiflora jb far

Plan B is good old-fashioned pollination.   This is a “textbook” butterfly-pollination species, supplemented by reported suspected pollination by bees and even by ants.  The anthers at the entrances to the teensie flowers near the ground are ant-accessible.   The spikes mature slowly from base to top, having old spent flowers below and unopened young buds above.    The flowers change color, as many blossoms do, first sporting a yellow eye, later transitioning to a purplish eye indicating altered nectar-availability status.

Plan C covers the contingency of no pollinators.  A handy skill for a mobile weed, the flowers can pollinate themselves without help, thank you very much, and make seeds independently.

Phyla nodiflora 3

Matchweed has matchless eco-superpowers.  It inhabits a sandy meadow behind my house,  and yet you could find some far away in a seasonal lake bottom,  or on nasty gypsum,  or most remarkably in salty  wetlands subject to occasional maritime flooding.  A study from California found Phyla exuberance enhanced by increasing salinity to a point.   The leaves have tiny salt-secretion glands.  Pass the salt!  No worries.

phyla hair

All aligned the same way, these bumpy anklebiters cover the underside of the leaf.   I am not sure, but the scattered small dots might (might) be the salt secretion glands.   Highly magnified microscope view.

Match Weed is not just a butterfly nectar plant, but also larval nursery for multiple species of lepidopterans, including the Common Buckeye Butterfly.   Maybe all those caterpillars help solve a mini-mystery.  On the undersides of the leaves are of specialized “hairs” all lined up in the same direction.  The hairs are roughly T-shaped, broad at the center, and tapering to a sharp point at each end.   Attached at the center they look much like the cleats used to secure a rope to the deck of a boat, if nautical cleats had wicked sharp ends.    Or maybe that twirly spinning sprayer thing on the floor of a dish washer. Weird, and scary looking.    Similar deterrents occur in other plant families, and are called “malpighiaceous hairs.”   In any case, a caterpillar cruising the leaf and munchin’ the free salad might get the point.

 
15 Comments

Posted by on June 17, 2016 in Phyla, Uncategorized

 

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