Yesterday John and George visited a classic wildflower site, the Kitching Creek Trail through wet pinewoods and meadows in Jonathan Dickinson State Park to enjoy the late-summer wildflower display, with three species of purple Carphephorus decorating the trails.
All the flowers in their purples, whites, and yellows were garden-pretty, and top billing goes to the Catesby’s Lilies, with their enormous orange flowers on 2-foot stalks teetering in the wind. In this blog a year ago we talked about Mark Catesby, the Lily’s habitats, and pollination: CLICK
But they are pretty enough to revisit, so here is more on some of the biggest, showiest wildflowers in our area. Everybody loves lilies. There are lilies in the Bible (consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these), lilies for Easter, lilies for funerals, Lily Tomlin, lily-livered cowards, and lilies in gardens across the Northern Hemisphere. There exist about a hundred species altogether. Such simple flowers, yet so successful and diversified. Lilies have six “petals” (tepals), six stamens, and a central ovary with 3 chambers. The plant base is usually a bulb similar to an onion which is related. Most Lily flowers begin activity as predominantly male (pollen-releasing) and then shift to a predominantly female (pollen-receptive) phase.
Something we skipped last time are the distributions of Catesby’s Lily and relatives. First thing to know, there is a well known pattern across the botanical (and zoological) spectrum of a close relationship between the flora and fauna of the Eastern U.S. and of eastern Asia. The alligator is a prime example. So are lilies. A DNA study just came out on Lily evolution showing ground zero to be in China, with major diversification some 7-8 million years ago.
These distribution maps come from the Flora of North America:
Botanists who study lilies think they came to North America at least least twice. You can divide the North American lilies (about 21 species) into two groups: 1) a big species cluster with nodding flowers, and 2) a species pair with upright flowers. Botanist Mark Skinner, consistent with DNA studies, feels that the upright flower species pair represents a separate single introduction from the rest of the North American lilies. The upright flower pair consists of our Catesby’s Lily and the similar Wood Lily (L. philadelphicum). Wood Lily inhabits much of North America but stops at the Southeastern Coastal Plain, and Catesby’s Lily picks up where the Wood Lily leaves off, covering the Coastal Plain from Louisiana to Virginia, more or less. Their distributions look like two complementary pieces in a jigsaw puzzle of North America. A DNA study in 2000 shows the Wood Lily to be related to a cluster of species ranging form Japan westward into Asia. It looks much like Catesby’s Lily.
Thus it looks in my speculating imagination like the Wood Lily or closely related ancestor came to North America from China, and that Catesby’s Lily is historically a splinter group from the Wood Lily (or similar ancestor) specially adapted to the hot, sandy, often-acid, often-wet, fire-adapted conditions of the coastal Southeastern U.S. And splintering continues to this day, as Catesby’s Lily is sufficiently varied for its own splinter groups to have caught the eyes of gardeners: CLICK and find Lilium catesbaei to see splinter groups.
It is easy to be Florida-o-centric in our native species wildflowering, but the broader context so often adds insight and interest. A lily in a Florida state park appears to be the tail end of a traceable evolutionary trail leading all the way to a mountain range near Tibet.
(I wonder if there is a university in China that refers to itself as the Chinese equivalent of “The Gators.”)