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Rattleboxes and Rabbit Bells

Crotalaria species

Fabaceae

 

This morning was a time to help John photodocument the aftereffects of fires in Jonathan Dickinson State Park,   although charred boonies aren’t all that aesthetic.  Scattered around the park are yellow flowery Rattleboxes.   Rattleboxes are species of Crotalaria;  Rattlesnakes  are  in part species of Crotalus.   What do rattleboxes and rattlesnakes have in common?  Beyond the rattle…poison.   Showy Rattlebox, C. spectabilis, has killed horses, sometimes after a prolonged delay.     Researchers apply the toxin deliberately to suppress an animal’s blood pressure.

Crotalaria spectabilis Jan1

Showy Rattlebox (by John Bradford)

But don’t they eat Rattlebox seeds around the world?   Yes, but…There are hundreds of species of Crotalaria of unequal nastiness.    Being on the menu is no guarantee of complete safety, as not every culture has a long life expectancy,  and diet-related illnesses may be cryptic.     (Rattleboxed horses sometimes die in the possession of their next owner.) Here’s the obvious thing:  do not eat wild plants.    Read about them in Treasure Coast Natives,   take beautiful photos, and then buy veggies properly.

CrotalariaSpectabilis

Showy Rattlebox by Wendys

Showy Rattlebox is abundant locally, with pizzazz yellow blossoms an inch across.  It differs from most local relatives by having simple (vs. compound) leaves.  Such a showboat might be assumed to have come from its native tropical Asia as a garden flower, but no.   The Florida arrival is more interesting, so read on:

The superstar plant introducer in  earlier Florida—and there were many—was David Fairchild, immortalized at Fairchild Gardens in Coral Gables.  Fairchild was not a mere plant introducer on steroids but equally a  champion “social networker.”   His friends,  associates, and patrons included the rich, influential,  and famous of that era, including notables in science and industry:  Henry Flagler,  Charles Deering of International Harvester (his brother built Vizcaya),   Glenn Curtiss of the Curtiss Aeroplane and Motor Company,  Orville Wright,  Thomas Edison,  and you get the idea.    Fairchild’s father-in-law was Alexander Graham Bell.    Accounts vary, but Fairchild was directly or indirectly responsible for the introduction of a couple hundred thousand exotic species, crops, varieties, and cultivars of plants.

A tree Fairchild brung from China and distributed in the U.S. 1905-1907 was Tung Oil (Aleurites fordii),  then valuable in products from printing ink to ammunition.  In the early 20th Century Tung  supported 400 growers in and near Alachua County,  but then it fell into disgrace as a  Category II invasive exotic.   Times change.

This all leads back to Crotalaria spectabilis.   Tung farms grew predominantly on poor sandy soils left denuded from pine deforestation.   The system needed enrichment, and Fairchild introduced  Showy Rattlebox in the U.S. around 1914 as a sand-loving, heat-tolerant, nitrogen-fixing legume to goose up the Tung.  And as an added benefit, Fairchild suggested Showy Rattlebox to deter nematodes, especially among papayas.   He apparently was not fully aware of the dangerous livestock toxicity.    As with Tung, Showy Rattlebox slipped from celebrity to invasive weed and veterinary menace.

Farmers could not afford commercial fertilizer during The Great Depression.   Growing Crotalaria for nitrogen fixation and as green manure was a comparatively cheap alternative.   One agricultural agent reported purchase of over 20,000 pounds of Crotalaria seed (C. spectabilis and C. pallida) in and near Orange County during 1931.   (Crotalaria pallida is another showy introduced Crotalaria, called Smooth Rattlebox, easily distinguished from C. spectabilis by having three-parted leaves.)

Crotalaria rotundifolia 5

Rabbit Bells (JB)

The native Ornate Bella Moth is a Crotalaria specialist feeding naturally on indigenous Crotalaria species.  Due to dietary and ecological expansion, the moth may be a natural biocontrol for the invasive exotic crotalarias, damaging them with gusto while hopefully remaining in better ecological balance with the native species.    There are four native Crotalaria species in Florida, and about 10 invasives.  The moth will be busy for some time, as the seeds can survive 60 years in the soil.

Let’s close with one of the native species, common in JD Park, Crotalaria rotundifolia, better known as Rabbit Bells.  It is just a lil’ rattler, with simple leaves, on sunny sandy soils.    This variable and vaguely defined species makes big poofy inflated pods.    Why should this or any plant make fruits resembling dirigibles?    Simplistic speculations are possible and not mutually exclusive:  for flotation, for temperature insulation, for padding, for isolating seeds from pests and parasites (with perhaps the gas within inhospitable to tiny varmints), or for containing vaporized hormones.   Botanists have discerned another more subtle explanation for inflated pods in other plants.     Seeds respire and give off carbon dioxide.   Carbon dioxide is the main input into photosynthesis.  So why waste it?  In poofy pods the internal air space seems to be a carbon dioxide tank, capturing the “waste” carbon dioxide coming out of maturing seeds and feeding it to the inner pod wall to photosynthesize.    Perhaps out in the bright sun those translucent pods can use light on their otherwise passive inner surfaces, and make the seeds pay their own way with a CO2 toll for the zeppelin ride.

Crotalaria spectabilis pods

Showy RB inflated pods

 
5 Comments

Posted by on May 20, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Boston Fern…A Tale of Three Cities

Nephrolepis exaltata

Nephrolepidaceae

The weekly Friday field trip got swatted down by waiting for the nice repair man in my kitchen as I write. So I’ll back the camera up to a fun green Wednesday meeting with the Broward Co. Native Plant Society at the Secret Woods Nature Center in Ft. Lauderdale.

A great part of “botanizing farther south” is more ferns.   A dominant species at Secret Woods is Boston Fern, not that it is rare up here in Palm Beach County.    But why is it called Boston Fern?  (Be patient, we are getting to that.)  Boston Fern was once a huge single-species industry, interestingly dating back to the turn of the 20th Century orgy of unfettered exotic plant introductions.     Sort of ironic that a pillar of the early Florida nursery industry was a native.    I grew up with a big one hanging from the fireplace mantle.

Nephrolepis exaltata 1

Today’s pictures by John Bradford

In 1897 the proactive Soar Brothers, John and Francis, started a plant nursery in Miami following the arrival of the Flagler RR in 1896.  Population of Miami:  50.

Six years later, naturalist Charles Torrey Simpson moved there from Washington DC, having lived in Bradenton previously.   Simpson had about as wild and diversified life as humanly possible:  marching to the sea with Sherman, sailing the seven seas in the Navy, mining coal, as “Charley Carpenter,” befriending horticultural icon Pliny Reasoner (whose mother disapproved of the friendship), conducting an extra-marital affair that bit him deservedly in the butt, serving on a sheriff’s posse catching bad guys, farming in Nebraska, working at the Smithsonian as a malacologist, and THEN becoming a founding father of Miami horticulture and Everglades conservation.   (A retirement hobby.)   Before enduring the 1926 Miami hurricane, and being robbed.

Nephrolepis exaltata 3

The leaf dots are the “sori” where spores form.

In 1903 the Soar Brothers, Simpson, and friends took a grueling multiday field trip to what was then called Paradise Key (now Royal Palm State Park).    They brought back three items of note:  royal palms, Boston ferns, and a stinking deceased rattlesnake.    The plants made it into cultivation.  Lugging the awful toxic snake on his sweaty back took the blame for making John Soar dangerously ill.    He survived, and the Soars may have been the first growers to popularize Boston Fern.

Nephrolepis exaltata 2

Now a brief space and time warp…to 1912.    Frank Ustler worked for a greenhouse in Massachusetts growing Boston Ferns (originally from the Soars?).   Ustler figured tropical ferns to grow more cheaply in Florida than in Massachusetts, and came to Orlando for a try.  It worked.  After hassles raising venture capital,   Ustler took over an abandoned pineapple shed and launched a Boston Fern industry as well as a family dynasty, Ustler Brothers Nursery.  Of courses, as the years went by,  Apopka branched into additional ferns, and then all manner of foliage as well as vegetables.  With his brothers, the nursery moved in 1917 to Apopka, which became dubbed “Fern City.”    Joining the menu later was the non-native Leatherleaf Fern, according to contradictory legends discovered by local growers as either packing material in orchids, or as a houseplant at a florist’s.    In any case, dominated by these two ferns, one native and one not, “Fern City” was shipping a million ferns a year in 1927, including probably the one on my mother’s fireplace mantle.

Note.  Several similar Nephrolepis  ferns cultivated and wild in Florida are related to Boston Fern.    Boston Fern is easy to distinguish.  Look at the bases of the leaf stalks.   BF is having a “bad hair day” with light tan monotone scales (hairs) sticking out at rakish angles.   The similar invasive exotic Asian Sword Fern has its scales with a dark center, and pressed flat up against the leaf stalk.    Also common and an invasive exotic, the Tuberous Sword Fern is the only one with rounded leaflet tips (not pointed) and underground tubers.  Giant Sword Fern, generally regarded as native, has its leaflets on distinctive little stalks.  An unusual garden escape around Miami, Scaly Swordfern, has coarsely  irregular leaf margins (in all the others the margins are nearly smooth, or have tiny serrations).

Nephrolepis exaltata 4

Bad hair day in Boston

Nephrolepis multiflora scales

Scales on invasive exotic Asian Sword Fern – dark centers, mostly pressed to the stalk

NephBiserrClose

The leaflet bases on Giant Sword Fern, probably native, have little stalks.   The cultivated Macho Fern is derived from this species.

 
11 Comments

Posted by on May 13, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Virginia Chain Fern

Woodwardia virginica

Blechnaceae

Today John and George, peparing a presentation at the Palm City Public Library (probably July 29 2016) explored a pretty St. Johnswort marsh adjacent to the library,  with flowering St. Johnsworts,  Tall Pinebarren Milkworts,  Eupatoriums,  and  Rosegentians.   We marveled at something we deemed marvelous long ago:  that the leaves of Virginia Chain Fern line up along the snakey rhizomes often all facing the same direction like solar panels.   Sometimes an entire meadow can have the VA Chain Ferns all in conformity.  How much of this alignment is a slow growth response, and how much is a short-term adjustment will be interesting to measure.

woodwardia lined up

Ten-Hut!

However, back in 1899 a remarkable individual beat us to it fittingly, in Virginia…at the Great Dismal Swamp.    I don’t normally provide a bio for every biiologist with a discovery before 2016, but William Palmer (1856-1921) was so exceptional, a few words might be interesting.    Recording that Virginia Chain Fern orients to the sun was not his oddest feat.    Contenders for that included stuffing the last passenger pigeon on earth (he did not kill it),    making models of fish and squid still displayed at the Smithsonian Institution (where he worked),   discovering an extinct seaturtle, casting  a mold of a Mexican meteorite, preserving a whale skeleton,  researching the Florida Burrowing Owl,  and boiling eggs in a volcano.     Palmer specialized in birds and ferns, which brings us back to Virginia.

Woodwardia virginica 7

This and all photos below by John Bradford

Virginia Chain Fern has a huge north-south range, from here to northern Canada,  mostly in the Atlantic Coastal Plain and into the Midwest.    And that footprint a mere remnant.  In 2001 botanists K. Pigg and G. Rothwell found  our fern fossilized about 14 million years ago in Washington State,  showing how the modern distribution of a plant may be misleading about its history.  Who knows, it may have extended even into Asia.

You’ll never have trouble recognizing Virginia Chain Fern.  Hold it up to the light, look at the bottom of the leaf, and see looping chains made by the veins.

Woodwardia virginica 3

Chain chain chain

The spore-making regions, called sori, develop bounded by the loops of the chain.   According to some reports, the plants tend to enter their spore-making phase in response to disturbance.

woodwardia mature sori

The spore-making sori are inside the links.

Two reported spore-inducing stimuli are fire (no surprise) passing over the rhizome safe in the mud, and well, you guessed it of course, beavers.  (What!?)  That needs a little more research.  But then again,  the ferns do inhabit wet mud, and beavers  make mud wet.

 

 

 

 
6 Comments

Posted by on May 6, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Yellow Stargrass Fired Up to Flower

Hypoxis juncea (and similar species)

Hypoxidaceae (not a true grass)

John and I wandered all over Jonathan Dickinson State Park on this hot sunny day working on photography…and on the railroad.

hypoxis john

John risks his life for that perfect shot!

The itinerary took us through an area burned nine days ago.   CLICK TO SEE THE BURN   Mostly charred remains and blackened earth.  Amid the ashes is Yellow Stargrass in full defiant bloom.   Didn’t it burn up?  Yes,  yet up and abloom after a week.    Many species, mostly monocots,  blossom after fires.

Observers may attribute enhanced flowering after flames to the blaze removing competition or recycling nutrients.  Probably so, but there has to be something more subtle, physiological, and immediate.       Improved soil conditions don’t likely bring forth blossoms in 9 days or less.   Some burned-over species are up and flowering the next day, Bulbostylis, also found in the Park.     Fire-stimulated blooming occurs sporadically in diverse fire-habitat species.   Combustion somehow causes a flower-inducing signal, probably a hormonal reaction.  An exact mechanism is not known, but the gas ethylene is the prime suspect.

Hypoxis juncea 1

All flower pictures today by John Bradford

Ethylene is a component of smoke, and the gas is also a plant hormone with several known physiological functions, one of them being to switch on flowering in many species. It serves that way commercially in  pineapples.  Could fire-adapted plants have “learned” to harness the ethylene release from a passing fire to get ahead of the curve in recovery?

That Hypoxis juncea gets a kick from fire was known to iconic Florida botanist John Kunkel Small.   Far more recently, biologist Alan Herndon, studying two Hypoxis species in South Florida, found not only that fire brings forth flowers fast, but also more flowers per stalk.  Moreover, curiously, that flowers post-fire tend to be sexual, whereas  fire-free flowers tend to shift to be asexual (cleistogamous) cloning the parent plant rather than the birds and bees.   Fire time is gene mixing time.

hypoxis juncea 3

Hypoxis juncea and other Hypoxis species have a secret underground tuber.    I’ve read of a correlation between tubers and fire-stimulated blooming.  The tuber is a chemical factory, resulting in fame, glory, hype, and hope for species of Hypoxis as medicinal plants, a little in North America and a whole lot in Africa, where much Hypoxis grows.

hypoxis tuber

These plants have major history in traditional remedies for to many ailments to list.    Their role in modern over the counter remedies comforts many afflictions.   And they’ve crossed the threshold into modern medical research where they may save the world, or flop.

Hypoxis___Inkomf_4c10bb0530ea3-500x500

The star of the brew is a sterol called hypoxoside, which releases a component called rooperol into the human digestive system upon ingestion.  Rooperol seems to bolster the human immune system.   This and similar observations led to a wave of marketing Hypoxis in South Africa as a super duper tuber,  often called “African Potato,”  with packaged medicines derived from it.   Rooperol became a wonder drug, especially for prostate trouble, cancers, and HIV.

hypoxis add

Although there may be promise, the hype and hope bypassed research to the point of political trouble.   The South African government advocated taking Hypoxis-based drugs for HIV,  you might say in place of established effective antiretrovirals.  Ineffective medication placed HIV patients at increased risk, and set off heated political disagreement in South Africa.

hypoxis cartoon from singh

Hypoxis tuber.   “Fire her” refers to the South African Minister of Health who angered critics by advocating Hypoxis, African Potato (Montato) for HIV. (Cartoon by John Curtis, from Y. Singh, Univ. of Pretoria, Ethnobotany of Hypoxis)

 
2 Comments

Posted by on April 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Yellow Hatpins

Syngonanthus flavidulus

Eriocaulaceae

An appealing aspectsof the southern edge of Jonathan Dickinson State Park along County Line Road at Tequesta, FL,  in addition to the secret James Bond Rocket Tracking Spy Station, is the whitest, sugary-ist, hottest, driest scrub sand, complete with dunes, and with wet spots ranging from moist depressions to a mighty fine lake complete with otter doing what he otter.   All so splendid!   Thus hard to pick one plant to feature.

Syngonanthus flavidulus 1 - Copy

Syngonanthus flavidulus.  All local photos today by John Bradford.

Well, ok, pretty among the beauties is a curious species straight from Mars…Yellow Hatpins.   White shoebutton flower heads glossy yellow beneath on needle-thin straight stalks rising from basal rosettes.    The white flower heads have golden yellow scales coating their undersides.  The ecology of this and related species relative to light, heat, air, and water would fill a book, I’ll bet, if anyone wrote or read it…strange life-form in an extreme habitat.

Syngonanthus flavidulus 1 (1) clump.jpg

Yellow Hatpins favorsthose low damp depressions scattered in the scrub desert.   Syngonanthus is a big group in Africa and South America, dwindling northward to our lone species in Florida and nearby states. (There are additional similar species here in other genera.)

That distinctive golden glow (flavidulus) under the flower heads is the stuff of an industry in Brazil where modern Rumpelstiltskins weave Syngonanthus nitens, Golden-Grass, into gold.

CLICK for gold

Those white heads  resemble those in the Aster Family, but Syngonanthus is about as unrelated to Asters as botanically possible.  The similarity is convergent evolution.  Each head holds hundreds of separate male (pollen) and female (seed) flowers.

Syngonanthus flavidulus closed

The heads closed.   Humid?

Our species has perhaps never been studied in-depth, but similar ones have in Brazil.  Contrary to some earlier assertions, pollination  is mostly by a broad array of tiny insects, including flies, beetles,  and bees.  Doesn’t the fly shown below seem perfectly designed for the job?!  (photo from Carlianne Ramos and collaborators, Annals of Botany 96: 391. 2005.)

syngonanthus fly

A nose for the job

Biologists Aline  Oriani and Vera Scatena studied Syngonanthus elegans.  They found one of those little secrets of nature so easy to overlook.  The flower heads open by day and close at night following the humidity levels.    Those golden scales encupping the head have thick-walled absorbent cells on the undersides.   When it is humid (night) the expandable walls soak in moisture, swell, push the scales inward, and close the head.  When the same cells dry (day) they shrink, pull back, and let the sunshine in.  And now the mystery of nature:  when the head closes it lodges by night little beetles who reportedly pollinate the flowers by day.  Do the beetles get a motel room in exchange for pollination services?   What do they do in that dark room?    Anything like that going on in Jonathan Dickinson Park?

 
11 Comments

Posted by on April 22, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Frostweeds  & the Mother Site Advantage

Crocanthemum nashii  (Helianthemum nashii)

Cistaceae

[Useful note:  Helianthemum (Old World) and Crocanthemum (New World) are closely related, traditionally interpreted as a single genus. There are over 100 species.]

Today John (photomaster) and George (umbrella holder) continued a photographic project in Jonathan Dickinson State Park.    John is developing  panoramic images showing highlights of tour beautiful  park.   CLICK   Zoom in, pan around.

helianthemum nashii far

Frosty on the burnin’ sands, as they looked today.  (All photos this week by John Bradford)

On those fire-scorched sun-baked dunes grows a natural garden of wildflowers, most of them yellow.   Delicate yet bright and vibrant today was Frostweed, Crocanthemum nashii, better known as Helianthemum nashii.   The floral beauty of the “rock-roses, showy species of Helianthemum,  have made them commercial horticultural delights.   Most of the Helianthemums grow in hot, sunny, arid nutrient-poor habitats, making their curious subterranean relationships research-worthy.  Some hook up, for instance, with desert-truffle fungi.   Some  share a fungal internet with oaks, which demonstrably benefit from the linkage.

That’s interesting, given that today’s pretty little flower grows on the world’s most sterile soil, often among oaks.   Some species, perhaps all,  CrocanthemumHelianthemum species have a gelatinous covering on their seed coats. The gel houses fungi, which biologists in the 1950s and 60s interpreted as gifted to the seed from the mother plant to help nourish the youngster, especially with Vitamin B1, thiamin.  Botanists in the 1970s brought that intergenerational fungus-among-us into doubt, although the tagalong fungi could perhaps establish relationships with the roots.    Alternatively the fungi could merely be opportunists digesting the jello; then the main function of the goo could be in seed dispersal, or more likely to help with establishment in the arid habitats.    Perhaps the best interpretation, not original with me, is the Mother Site Advantage, which is:  the safest approach is to “stick around” Mom’s proven safety zone if suitable habitat elsewhere is spotty and widely separated.

Helianthemum nashii close

Now move aboveground.  First of all, the name Frostweed.  Well, with their white hairs the plants look like a frosty mug.   But don’t jump to conclusions!  They also reputedly make “frost flowers,”  i.e.,  pretty ribbons of ice at the stem base on freezing mornings.  So you decide why to call them Frostweeds.  Personally, I suspect the name originated with the hoary-looking foliage, and then the icy handle led writers into over-attributing our plants with frost-flower proclivities?    Many plants do this,   most notably, Verbesina virginica, sometimes dubbed Frostweed itself.  That could engender confusion.

The hairs on the leaves and fruits presumably reflect that killer sand dune sun, although thwarting leaf eaters and maybe even catching/retaining water are possible as well.   (The related and likewise locally native Crocanthemum corymbosum has the leaves notably darker green on top, and the fruit capsules is hairless.)

Crocanthemum nashii is almost restricted to Florida.  Yet those who like to wonder,” how did that happen” might ponder a small geographically isolated population yonder in southern coastal North Carolina, separated from the general population by Georgia and South Carolina.

Helianthemum nashii close 2

One final oddity.  The showy yellow flowers attract diverse pollinators, but that’s not enough.    The plants have a second way to make seeds.   Later in the season (C. nashii) or at the same time (C. corymbosa), in addition to those regular open flowers, come small, closed non-showy (cleistogamous) blossoms that quietly self-pollinate out of sight and out of mind.   Differences, if any,  in the gel-covers and germination characteristics of seeds derived from the two flower types might make an interesting study.

—————–

Note:  To dig in on the oak relationship, start here

 

 
6 Comments

Posted by on April 15, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

Cheating for a Place in the Sun

Epiphytes and Vines Have No Scruples

[Vocabulary help: An epiphyte (EPP-ah-fight) is a plant that grows sitting on another plant.  A so-called “airplant.”  Many aroids, bromeliads, ferns, lichens, liverworts, mosses, orchids, and others can be epiphytes.]

 

This morning John and George toiled way up high in the sun, on the Hobe Mountain (sand dune) tower in Jonathan Dickinson State Park working on a photo project.   While aloft it was impossible to ignore our similarity to plants perched likewise with a view:  epiphytes and vines.    We were human epiphytes.

tower view giraffe

Epiphyte-eye view, as seen from the JD Hobe Mountain Tower today

On the dune in the early morning there was perfume in the air.    Fragrance on a burned  sand dune with dead charred trees?   Yes, coming from flowering Cat Briar (Smilax) vines taking advantage of the bare tree skeletons to cover the limbs with replacement foliage, absorbing the orb using someone else’s  woody infrastructure.  That’s how vines roll.

IMG_1942

Smilax repurposing dead tree.

In the event of fire, our Smilax auriculata dies back to a hunky rhizome to rise again…free of competition.   I like the fragrance of our Smilax, although the genus more broadly strikes some sniffers adversely.  Many Smilax species belong to “Section Coprosmanthus,” Latin for outhouse-flower.     Funny thing about Smilax, the individual vines are separately male (pollen producing) or female (fruit-making).    Weird, isn’t it, to “waste” individuals as making pollen but no fruits?    (But come to think of it I’m a wasted human making no babies.)  Perhaps in a massive vine making thousands of crowded flowers the sexual separation is necessary to force crossing where otherwise self-pollination would prevail.

Smilax auriculata 13

Smilax flowers

If you’re going to sprawl all over somebody else, too lazy to build a trunk, why not be even more lazy and quit photosynthesis?   That’s true of several vines, most notably our “Love Vine.”    It is the orange spaghetti all over other plants.   Love Vine sends little suckers into the flesh of its host to help itself to the host’s hard-earned sugary sap.

Some species start out as epiphytes (or as vines) but as their size and needs grow,  send roots to the ground.   Best of both worlds, start out unrooted (or a little rooted) to get going in the sun, and then plant roots with maturity.    This is like getting a car loan…secure the car first (treetop sunshine), then use the car to go to a job and settle down to pay it off (plant roots).  Around here, Strangler Fig is the famous case.  Also guilty can be Rose-Apple and Muscadine Grape.

A more felonious approach is for an otherwise epiphytic species to sink its “roots” right into the host.  Approaching this, a lot of plants grow in the natural flower pots formed by moist debris-filled cabbage palm leaf bases.    Little or no known penetration of the Cabbage Palm’s living flesh.   But  Mistletoe (introduced a little) burrows right on into its host Oak tree.    There’s evidence that it is not totally a taker though.    Instead, it seems to “give back” sugar from its own photosynthesis, although this needs more research.

Cecropia in palm

Golden Polypody Fern (top to the right), Cecropia (left with four big fingery leaves), Strangler Fig (far right), and Virginia Creeper (bottom) on Cabbage Palm

Most epiphytes develop their own special tricks for sitting up high and soil-less.    Their main problem is securing water and dissolved nutrients.  Many sidestep dry times by going into suspended animation when thirsty examples including mosses, lichens, liverworts, and resurrection fern.   These conduct business when wet.

Others capture and store rain water, stem wash, and mist.    Orchids have a covering, the velamen, on the roots.   Some have built-in rain barrels, most famously the “tank plant” bromeliads making a vase of their leaf bases.  A couple of these supplement their diet by adding carnivory to the tank, including one Florida native.

Most of our local Bromeliads, however, are tankless:  species of Tillandsia, including Spanish-Moss, Ball-Moss,” and many more, have a vesture of beautiful umbrella-shaped scales.  Water droplets catch under the scales, and suck into the plant through the central “trunk” of the scale.  Some Tillandsia Bromeliads and additional epiphytes offer living quarters for symbiotic ants in swollen puffy plant bases, or various hollow chambers.  The ants bring and create soil and manure, and certainly also provide guard duties.

Tillandsia recurvata CROPPED

Bromeliad scale under microscope

Who wants to see the pepper dance?  Non sequitor by PBSC student Ben Battat.

 
9 Comments

Posted by on April 8, 2016 in Uncategorized

 
 
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