Visited Grassy Waters Preserve off of Northlake Blvd. this week, and the Spatterdock water lilies made the trip as pretty as a picture. So did seeing ripening persimmons on the trees. There are plenty of persimmon trees around, but it has not been my common experience to see the almost-mature fruits.
Everyone has seen these lovely “lilies.” The leaves float, or may rise from the water surface, and the flowers are yolk-golden and cup-shaped. These and Pickerelweeds take me back to childhood fishing trips and boat trip picnics.
Scattered in the plant world are flowers known to imprison their pollinators temporarily, then parole the buggy inmates to continue their symbiotic services. Such flowers include some Orchids, Aristolochias, Aroids, and today’s Spatterdocks. When the Spatterdock flower is young, the stigma is pollen-receptive and the pollen-making stamens are inactive. The young flower is closed except for a triangular opening between the petals; insect visitors can enter the triangular portal and dust any pollen they carry off onto the stigma, which they touch upon entry. The triangular opening closes at night, trapping the pollinators until the hole reopens the next day. By then the stamens have released pollen, re-dusting the visitor. This repeats over a series of days until the flower becomes fully open. Pollination is by beetles, bees, flies, and (if you can believe it) reportedly aphids. Aphids? Maybe they are drawn to easily available sap in the nectar-producing petals.
Nuphar (Click for more photos)
As an odd tidbit, the fruits float and disperse the sinking seeds, like zeppelins dropping bombs. The sunken seeds have a problem—mature plants have floating or emergent leaves at the water surface. This is similar to a problem of the young stages of a tree-top vine’s seedling on the ground. In Nuphar, the first leaf is strap-shaped, the second leaf is expanded, and it is not until the 4th or 5th leaf that the foliage looks proper.
The plants make big starchy rhizomes. These along with fruits and seeds were food to Native Americans. But not so fast! The plants also make alkaloid drugs, so the rhizome-eaters must have known what to do about that, just as ancient peoples in the Old World knew how to brew an intoxicating beverage from the flowers. The alkaloids are of modern interest to destroy various cancer cells and an ability to cause apoptosis (programmed cell death relevant to cancer treatments). More curiously, a reported use for Nuphar root tea to treat “sexual irritability.” Not exactly sure what that is, but I have a lively imagination, so let’s cure S.I. in our lifetime!
Note: Some of the info here comes from a 2007 Monograph of Nuphar by botanist Donald Padgett.