Today John and George became so perplexed identifying sedges time flew in sunny Jonathan Dickinson State Park (CLICK), where we encountered Mudfish alive and in person, familiar to some readers from blog commentary and fishing fame.
White Prairie Clover (Summer Farewell, Dalea pinnata) filled a distant meadow with a white we did not recognize from afar. Below the snowy heads on the stem are glistening blister glands reminiscent of poison ivy on your ankle. After scratching and sniffing the glands, the odor perfumed my hand for an hour. Not nose- nasty really, sort of like the essential oils of mints, pines, or eucalypts.
Then came the part I regret to confess. The dumb move went down thusly: “Those glands must be loaded with a feeding deterrent; might be interesting to see how it tastes.” Nibble nibble. Okay, this was on a maturity level with a four-year-old poking a coathanger in a wall socket. You can’t describe the blister gland taste, because taste is not the primary sensation. Rather, the entire lining of my mouth experienced oral shock and awe in one nanosecond. The oral mucosa turned to superglue. It wasn’t merely unpleasant—panic is a better word. John asked demurely if I was experience poisoning. (And please, it might be best not to mention this incident to my mother.)
Liatris sports jaunty upright magic wands of (usually) purple flower heads sufficiently spectacular and durable to sell as cut flowers and garden plants. Blazing Stars! Gayfeathers! We don’t need to buy any around here though, because we are naturally endowed. About five species beautify our usual flower-peeping radius. Florida claims about 14 species, three limited to our state, most in dry habitats including scrub. Altogether there exist almost 40 species.
The Liatris adaptations to harsh above-ground hazards are noteworthy. They are Armageddon-proof with safe underground structures called corms. Corms are short, broad, vertical subterranean stems (not roots) shaped like a child’s top or a beet. Not that many everyday garden plants have corms: think gladiolus, cyclamen, crocus, and edible Aroids.
Another adaptation is more subtle. As background, Florida Rosemary (Ceratiola ericoides) is allelopathic, that is, it spews natural herbicides to suppress vegetative competition or neighbors that might invite fire. Guess what’s resistant to that allelopathic attack? Among others, a species of Liatris in Florida scrub has rosemary-proof seeds according to ecologists Molly Hunter and Eric Menges.
Conspicuous in the Park was a dichotomy in the dominant flower displays. One party had broad flat-topped horizontal clusters in white, yellow, or purple. The other party, by contrast, elevated their white, yellow, or purple flowers on narrow vertical spikes. Liatris is in the latter staunch spike group.
Granting flat-topped clusters their own virtues, today it is all about Liatris, so what are the pros to posies on a pole? And now we speculate. Disclaimer: The following may be BS, but big boo hoo. First of all, I haven’t done the engineering math, but a tall wand seems to allow for extra-many flowers in a growing season, and some spikes have leaves among the flowers and thus flower and photosynthesize at the same time. A broad flat inflorescence offers a “big bang” of flower power, a show with a big peak moment. But a vertical spike can “burn like a 4th of July sparkler,” spacing out flowers over time, catering to “trap-lining” (repeat-visitor) pollinators. Ditto for “seed” dispersal, parsing the seeds (achenes) out, not just in space but also in time.
And, to end on silly notions run wild, if there’s physical damage to a spike, such as being eaten by a deer, the lower levels may live on in. And as one final plus of the skyscraper approach, enjoy this YouTube (CLICK) showing how a high-rise condo accommodates a lot of residents at once.