The birds and the bees pollinate the trees, and now a sneaky peek at secrets in the creek.

25 Oct

Eelgrass (not a true grass)

Vallisneria americana


Today’s blog represents a typographical techno-experiment. For the semi-blind like me, typing, proofreading, and correcting are always challenges. This week I’m trying voice recognition software and dictating into the computer. Let’s see how it goes.  Bear with me!

Vallisneria in the creek.  By John Bradford.

Vallisneria in the creek. See the cylindric female flowers on their curly stalks.  By John Bradford.

This afternoon John and George visited a sparkling stream gurgling through the dry sandy pine woods at Seabranch State Park.  The contrast between the clear brook and the desertlike scrubland is striking, an oasis in the Sahara.  But of course, in place of date palms we saw sweetbay magnolias, pond apples, and red maples.  The muddy shores are as lush as the Amazon itself, housing oversized arrow arums, spadderdocs, arrowhead plants 7 or 8 feet tall, and even-taller grasses.

Today’s special botanical treat was hiding below the ripples wafting gently to its own music.  CLICK  Not wishing to sink up to our armpits in creeky goo, we fashioned caveman plant retrieval hooks from dead palm petioles and snagged a couple of the submerged plants.  We hauled ashore Eelgrass, also known as Vallisneria americana, a relative of the more familiar sea grasses of coastal pollution fame.

Vallisneria has its own pollution creds in a surprising way.  Research in the Detroit Area shows some strains of Vallisneria to be highly resistant to water pollution.  You might expect water plants generally to be diminished or extirpated by pollution, end of story.  But, surprise, it seems that decades or centuries of exposure to water-borne toxins have caused evolved tolerance.  Evolution in a historical timeframe is always interesting.   And here is a thought: if pollution kills the competition and Eelgrass has “learned” to cope with it, you might say pollution is good for Eelgrass…or just call it another human-induced tilt in the balance of nature.  And I was thinking today’s creek looks so pristine, well maybe not, eh?

Female flowers by John Bradford

Female flowers by John Bradford

Eelgrass lives beneath the surface of the water, yet still it requires pollination.  How?  Many aquatic plants raise their flowers above the surface like a periscope on a submarine.  But Eelgrass doesn’t; it uses the water itself.

A male plant.  This is the structure that releases the male flowers to float to the surface.   Photo by David Cameron (permitted noncommercial use).

A male plant. This is the structure that releases the male flowers to float to the surface. Photo by David Cameron (permitted noncommercial use).

Rooted in the submerged mud, the plant produces floating female flowers on a twisty thread resembling a coiled spring.  The tops of the female flowers and their pollen- receptive stigmas sit at the water surface in a tiny dimple.  Produced on separate plants, male flowers are the size of a pinhead and float unattached from the base of the plant to rise to the water surface like tiny lifeboats.  These little bobber boys have no physical connection to their mother plant.  CLICK HERE to see floating male flower highly magnified.  They’re top-heavy carrying the pollen on stubby elevated stamens.  You might say they resemble minuscule sailboats with top-heavy masts.  And like sailboats, they drift in the breeze and currents. When they come upon the dimple with the female stigma waiting wihtin, the male flowers slide into the slippery slope and tip to dab their pollen load onto the receptive surface of the female flower.  Then its curly stalk pulls the now-expectant female flower protectively into the briny deep for the fruits to mature unmolested.


We can’t end without a quick quack to the ducks.  Some dine on today’s species. In fact, the scientific name of the redhead duck is Aythya valisneria.  The Vallisneria plants form at their bases hardened buds to help the Eelgrass spread and as a retreat for tough times.  Botanists call these little tubers turions, but duckies just call them lunch.


Here’s a link to illustrate the pollination event:  CLICK HERE


Posted by on October 25, 2014 in Eelgrass, Vallisneria


Tags: ,

4 responses to “The birds and the bees pollinate the trees, and now a sneaky peek at secrets in the creek.

  1. SmallHouseBigGarden

    October 25, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    Completely fascinating! Although I’ve seen eelgrass before, i never considered how it waa pollinated. Really educational post!!

    • George Rogers

      October 26, 2014 at 10:01 am

      Thank you, then the effort was worthwhile. Sometimes the mechanisms nature invents are nothing we’d guess. I mean, come on now, little tippy-canoe male flower boats spilling pollen from the poopdeck…puh-leeze!?

  2. Uncle Tree

    October 26, 2014 at 7:46 am

    Another magnificent tale well-told, with all the ingredients necessary,
    and carefully selected by The Great Mother, who bestowed upon George
    the ancient gift of story-telling in a manner befit for we commoners.

    Nice pics, John! Nature’s sensitive sensuality is hereby exposed.
    Have a great Sunday, gentlemen! UT

  3. George Rogers

    October 26, 2014 at 9:51 am

    Hi UT, Interesting comment from a story teller like you…read a remark last night by Edward Hirsch to, paraphrase, that all good poets descend in their DNA from the ancient human story-tellers…which brought you mind you.


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