Yesterday John and George experienced Savannas Preserve State Park near Port St. Lucie and featuring marshes, wet prairies, scrub, low pinewoods, and all the associated biodiversity. CLICK to visit. The area is rich in members of the Azalea Family, the Ericacaceae, including today’s little oddity, Dwarf Huckleberry. The Dwarf Huckleberry was the show-plant of the day, in full bloom on high dry sandy spots hanging out with its relatives tarflowers and blueberries.
Two things about Dwarf Huckleberry deserve attention in Treasure Coast Natives. Each has an historical component.
Historical Thing 1. Odd distribution. If you’d like an example of a case proving species are tough to define, here it is. Harvard Professor Merritt Lyndon Fernald who reigned as King of northeastern U.S. botany for the first half of the 20th Century, studied our huckleberry and perceived one species with two varieties distributed eye-poppingly from Newfoundland to very nearly where John and I saw it yesterday. Fernald dubbed the northern populations Gaylusaccia dumas variety bigeloviana, noting only minor differences between these and the southern variety (var. dumosa). The truly interesting part was an ecological component, with the populations at the northern end of the distribution mostly in bogs, and those to the south more prone to dry sandy habitats. (It might be worth mentioning that bogs, with extreme acidity, can be “physiologically dry.” There are other cases of split bog-upland distributions.)
This single-species view prevailed for almost 100 years until a new interpretation popped up in 2007, granting the northern end of the bipolar complex to secede as Gaylusaccia bigeloviana. The fuzzy geographic border between G. bigeloviana and the remaining G. dumosa runs across the Carolinas. So in short, a classic botanical situation: a plant group stretched out over a long distribution, with some differences pole-to-pole. One widespread species with two varieties? Two species? Something else? You decide. Want to argue? No thanks—pretty much a fool’s argument really. No matter how you slice and dice it, dwarf huckleberries from bogs in Newfoundland look like plants John and I saw in Savannas Preserve State Park. (For northward peek, see p. 5 CLICK)
Historical Thing 2. Crimes against nature. Back in 1888 botanist L.H. Pammel—noteworthy as an advising professor to George Washington Carver—published a long treatise on the “perforation of flowers,” that is, on holes drilled into blossoms by insects to rob nectar, as opposed to entering properly. Nectar thieves! One of his examples was, yep, Gaylusaccia dumosa burgled by five species of wasps, as
observed at Orlando, Florida, nipping holes in the side of the bell-shaped petal tube. The circumstances of that observation in Orlando ca. 1888 must have been interesting! Do wasps consume nectar? Yes, some do, including sting-less males of certain species.
1. What does Gaylussacia mean? Joseph Gay-Lussac (1778-1850) was a prominent French chemist. Dumosa is a specific epithet applied to plant in thickets.
2. How do Huckleberries differ from their cousins, the Blueberries? Blueberries have a variable number of seeds loose in the berry. Huckleberries have 10 seeds in the fruit, each seed in a little hard case.
3. Where can I see a modern classification of huckleberries? http://www.efloras.org/florataxon.aspx?flora_id=1&taxon_id=113345