Hydroballochory Happens!

29 Mar

Helmet Skullcap

Scutellaria integrifolia


Skullcap 3/28. Today's photos by John Bradford.

Skullcap 3/28. Today’s photos by John Bradford.

In Halpatioke Park in Stuart today (CLICK) John and George encountered a mighty fine mint, Helmet Skullcap, Scutellaria integrifolia.  The species ranges from New England through Florida as one of 350 Skullcap species  all over the world.

Try to find a genus more steeped in medicinal history, homeopathy, alternative remedies, herbal products,  and expensive little bottles, right up to modern scientific medical research.  Skullcaps have served against so many ailments in so many cultures for so many centuries to make a list is as pointless as listing awards won by Elizabeth Taylor.   Just name your favorite malady.   But maybe to curb the fervor for “ingest every wild plant,” Scutellaria extracts cause liver damage, impair membrane functions, and suppress enzymes.

Why name a pretty little wildflower Skullcap?  That stems from the same source as the botanical name Scutellaria.  Let me explain:  The sepals in this and other mints are fused edge-to-edge to make a cup at the flower base.  The proper name for the little cup is the calyx tube.  In this useful link, the tube is labeled, “sepals fused.” CLICK

The defining feature of Scutellaria is that on the outer upper surface of those fused sepals (calyx tube) rises a bowl-shaped shield, or scute (plate).   The scute often looks like a beanie, hence the plant name.

The scutes at the flower bases.  Little green "beanies" jutting up from the green cup formed by the fused sepals, the calyx tube.

The scutes at the flower bases. Little green “beanies” jutting up from the green cup formed by the fused sepals, the calyx tube.

But why should that wacky scute exist?  To answer that we need a little general background on the Mint Family flower and fruit structure.  We’ve already met the fused sepals, the calyx tube.  As the flower transitions from the flowering phase to the fruiting phase, the petals fall away, the calyx tube remains in place, its scute enlarges, and the fruits remain as four tiny dry “seeds” inside the calyx tube, which is usually more or less horizontal on the old flower spike.   The sepal cup is spring-loaded at the base, so picture a nearly horizontal cup with four ping pong balls inside, attached to a vertical pole by a spring.   When raindrops strike the scute on the top side of the tipped cup, let’s call it now a splash-cup,  the falling drops bounce the cup. The bounce pops the “seeds” out for dispersal.   That’s  hydroballochory, dude.  This link shows four seeds  ready to bounce. CLICK

skull cap






Posted by on March 29, 2014 in Helmet Skullcap


Tags: , ,

15 responses to “Hydroballochory Happens!

  1. Uncle Tree

    March 29, 2014 at 4:32 pm

    The purple fuzzies are clear and sweet. 🙂 Too funny – they don’t look like helmets.

    • George Rogers

      March 29, 2014 at 6:18 pm

      Yea, I don’t see helmets there, but the English names for plants are terrible. You might imagine the calyx tube as a helmet?

  2. K Smelt

    March 30, 2014 at 1:21 am

    Look out below!!!

    • George Rogers

      March 30, 2014 at 8:05 am

      Hi Kim! When you log on, the music should play “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.”

      • K Smelt

        March 30, 2014 at 11:44 pm

        Lol, thanks. I always learn something new from you professor. 🙂

  3. Laure Hristov

    March 30, 2014 at 9:00 am

    Always something new and interesting. Enjoy your Blog and awesome pictures!

  4. George Rogers

    March 30, 2014 at 9:49 am

    Hi Laure, If anyone appreciates the unusual plants, it is you! My Chinese Perfume Tree is in its perfume mode, and ‘Burle Marx’ is spreading across my mulch.

  5. Steve

    March 31, 2014 at 8:58 am

    Hey George and John,
    That is a really good find. This species hasn’t been definitively recorded for Martin County since 1976. It is quite rare for South Florida!

  6. George Rogers

    March 31, 2014 at 9:20 am

    Although not here naturally, I was a little surprised yesterday to find Dodonaea elaeagnoides in the woods last night in an uncultivated context in one of those postage natural areas left in the middle of a subdivision, in Jupiter, the plant probably left over from a now-obscure restoration project, or blown there from such work nearby, but still an unprecedented surprise.

  7. prautenkranz

    April 3, 2014 at 8:35 am

    Except for the color, the seeds look like little raspberries.What an interesting way to disperse seeds!

  8. George Rogers

    April 3, 2014 at 11:52 am

    Yes, I agree. The odd thing here is, a lot of plants with small seeds from dry fruits, or with small dry fruits resembling seeds have sculptured surfaces. The party line is that the patterns help the seeds/fruitlets cling to birds and other critters, but that is an area in need of more study and thought. A great opportunity for somebody with access to a scanning electron microscope and lots and lots of time.

  9. keith Rossin

    April 3, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    The lower leaves are toothed and the upper leaves are smooth. This plant is very interesting to me since I enjoy almost anything coming from the mint family for its great smell, but to learn it has helped with many ailments it’s just fascinating.

  10. George Rogers

    April 3, 2014 at 12:40 pm

    Weird isn’t it to have leaves serrate below and entire up high. Google “Scutellaria” for a whole lot of medicinal uses. but don’t use it—some dangers have surfaced.

  11. Suellen Granberry-Hager

    April 4, 2014 at 3:03 pm

    Are the petals also fused at their base? And is that a characteristic of the Lamiaceae family along with fused sepals? In the link showing the four seeds ready to bounce, I don’t see the little scute sticking up. And who is the guy in the picture at the bottom of the post? Just wondering.

  12. George Rogers

    April 4, 2014 at 4:34 pm

    Well, let’s see. connate petals as well as sepals are characteristic of Lamiaceae. The missing scute I believe is merely a matter of the camera angle. The guy is unknown to me, but he has a nice skullcap.


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