Dayflower and Camp Murphy—Flowering on the Scrub Sand Today…Gone Tomorrow

26 Mar

Commelina erecta, C. diffusa


Today’s trip to Jonathon Dickinson State Park by John and George was to hear Ranger Barry Richardson recount the first life of the park  as U.S. Army Camp Murphy around 1942-43.  CLICK  The camp is lost and almost gone,  with some leavings left to encounter. CLICK CAREFULLY

While Ranger Richardson described personnel assigned here from the north, I wondered if any military nature-buffs noticed the unique flora.  The answer came forth when we heard about recruits on their tender bellies under machine gun bullets discovering sand spurs in their navels.  Maybe some also enjoyed little blue wildflowers with the scent of gunsmoke…dayflowers to brighten the outing.

Commelina erecta 3

Observed while dodging hot lead.   All photos today by John Bradford.

We have two locally, the non-native Commelina diffusa (all three petals blue), and the native Commelina erecta (one petal white).  (Also lurking about, C. gambiae from Africa has all petals white.)  Additional native and non-native species live elsewhere in Florida.

Commelina diffusa 3

C. diffusa

Dayflowers are known for many wonderful things.  Such as:

  1. How Commelina got its name. Linnaeus named the genus for the prominent Dutch botanists Jan and Kaspar Commelijn represented as the two prominent petals, the abbreviated third petal representing a third Commelijn who died young.
  2. Skyblue petals give blue dyes, once useful for paper and printing.
  3. False advertising. There are two types of anthers, bright yellow ones to attract pollinating bees despite having no real pollen, and smaller less conspicuous anthers to dust pollen onto the bees preoccupied with the exciting yellow anthers.
  4. Big easily observed stomates. Wig wup…right? Well if any reader teaches biology and needs to demonstrate stomates, this plant probably grows near the back door.
  5. Day-flowers. The flowers open and self-destruct, all in a day, to be replaced tomorrow by another blue blossom.
Commelina erecta 8

Big yellow come-on anthers, above small purple business anthers.

They don’t call it dayflower for nothing!. CLICK

That brings us back to Linnaeus in a different connection:  He created a floral clock.  Few species flower like “clockwork.  Let’s say you take a 4-pm bloomer from Linnaeus’s clock to Boston, what time does it flower there?   I don’t know—not  4 pm Sweden time. Flowering time is context-specific, responding to different combinations of internal rhythm,  light and dark, night length,  temperature,  water relations, relative humidity (rare),  hormonal status, and more.

When a flower opens at 11 AM, can we say “this flower is wired to open 5 hours after dawn” or is it merely responding to a set of conditions happening around 11 am, say a threshold light intensity or temperature?    Most research seems to show light and temperature as the main factors beyond built-in rhythms.

All that said, dandelions on our campus seem simple: open when warm and bright, otherwise closed.   The Portulaca pilosa in a pot on my patio opens briefly when the sun shines and closes upon shading (or in response to heat?), its fleeting flirtation behind the name Kiss-Me-Quick.   Also on the  porch is the Yellow-Alder (Turnera ulmifolia).   It opens some days with a known contingency:   daytime flowering depends on the length of the prior night.

Certain species open some flowers while others await their moment in reserve.  A local example is Sacramento Burrbark, Triumfetta semitriloba.  It can have some flowers open freshly all day long.

It is useful to recognize flowers that open/close just once with overnight replacement, as opposed to those with same-flower encores.   Species where the same blossoms open and close repeatedly include Bluets (Houstonia, Hedyotis),  Cacti,  Mentzelia, Oxalis, Poppy-Mallows (Callirhoe),  some Portulacas, some Water-Lilies, and diverse Asteraceae.

Watch closely this Oxalis time-lapsed over three nights.  The same flowers open and close, out of sync with the leaves.    CLICK

Many ephemeral flowers, by contrast, are replaced the next morning by identical blossoms.  Here is Puncture-Vine caught in the overnight flower replacement act. CLICK

As many (most?) flowers fade, the plant takes back nutrients.    That is why cut flowers can last longer in a vase freed of the parent-plant’s back-pumping nutrients from aging blossoms.

Perhaps a little different in behavior is Mexican-Clover carpeting the ground in pink blooms by day with each blossom dropping to earth by night.  Ashes to ashes dust to dust.   Not lost altogether though, upon decay they must recycle their nutrients back into their mother plant?    Not studied. Maybe all those falling flowers are allelopathic, suppressing competition, or maybe they somehow improve the soil for Mexican-Clover seedlings.    Just idle speculation.

The main reasons for intricately controlled openings and closings are easy to fathom, presumably to be open for business when conditions are healthy and the correct pollinators are active (or were active in the place and time the species evolved).     A flower when not in service these need protection.     Wet flowers have trouble from rain and dew.  Many stay are clenched during the early morning dew hours, and night flowers may close before dawn for the same reason.  Once a flower is pollinated, it no longer needs to stay open, giving cases of pollination prompting closure.

Flipping that statement around, flower closure can cause pollination.    A lot of flowers have a self-pollination “Plan-B” in case the birds and the bees fail.    Their closure forces pollen-making anthers, or petals with pollen on them, against the pollen-receiving stigma.

Commelina erecta 2

What does Dayflower have in common with Camp Murphy?


Posted by on March 26, 2016 in Dayflower, Uncategorized



11 responses to “Dayflower and Camp Murphy—Flowering on the Scrub Sand Today…Gone Tomorrow

  1. Gregory Overcashier

    March 26, 2016 at 8:33 am

    It is such a pleasure to read your writing George. Thank you

    • George Rogers

      March 26, 2016 at 10:22 am

      Thanks so much Greg…you’d be surprised how much feedback helps!

  2. theshrubqueen

    March 26, 2016 at 9:26 am

    The back pumping you mentioned, is this a common knowledge thing I have missed and the reason for deadheading for more flowers and leaving the fronds on palms til they look like !@#$?

    • George Rogers

      March 26, 2016 at 10:17 am

      You are a person where that matters. I think folks concerned with plant physiology would be familiar, but probably not well known at large…counterintuitive. Would be fun (and might in class) to try some experiments…so easy to do.

      • theshrubqueen

        March 26, 2016 at 10:38 am

        I would love to read about the experiments, especially the palm fronds – that seems a bit like a myth.

  3. Suellen Granberry-Hager

    March 26, 2016 at 2:45 pm

    It makes sense that palms would move as much of the mobile nutrients out of dying and dead leaves as possible to invest in new ones. When flowers die, do plants pull nutrients out of the petals to use in making the seeds and fruits? I have always understood deadheading to be a way of interrupting the plant’s lifecycle, of fooling the plant into continuing to produce flowers because there are no developing seeds for the next generation. Anyway, that’s what I tell myself when I am getting stabbed by thorns while deadheading roses at Mounts.

  4. George Rogers

    March 26, 2016 at 5:32 pm

    Hi Suellen, On the palms etc., the take-home lesson in a lot of plant physiology is that plants are more dynamic than we tend to think. I do not know to what extent deadheading causes a plant to reallocate photosynthate to up and coming blossoms. Probably depends a lot on the species, and perhaps on various variables. Certainly the kind of thing people might argue without data, so having no data, I dunno. Being the sort of thing that would be easy to test, somebody’s probably studied it. Would make a nice class-level data-gathering qunatifiable project. But at the garden you have to get those ugly old heads off anyhow.

  5. Chris Lockhart

    March 27, 2016 at 3:32 pm

    Hi George. Love the time lapse pics. Day flowers are some of my favorites, especially since they seem to melt rather than wilt. Many times, their water soluble dye has ended up on my leg or pants, but easily wash off. I recall being told they have an enzyme that digests the petals. I wonder if it’s related to pollination, though it seems time and temp related, but generally midday.

    • George Rogers

      March 27, 2016 at 4:49 pm

      Hi Chris, Perhaps the liquidification of the petals allows thorough recovery of the good enclosed in that spathe as opposed to the possible Richardia drop and pick it back up system, if that exists outside of my imagination. I’ve been thinking about trying to extract the dye, but then again, that takes effort. I have Commelina diffusa in a pot on my porch. The timing varies, although unpredictably to my eye. Some days it does not open at all, and I have a hunch from close coexistence that cloudy skies and moisture matter, although I’ve never kept a record. Very interesting that, despite naming Commelina, Linnaeus did not use it in his floral clock…probably not reliable relative to time of day. As you noted, open only a few hours. Seems like C. diffusa, wherever it evolved, opened briefly under good conditions for business, got the job done, and retired early to get ready for tomorrow. Maybe its natural pollinators were plentiful and expedient.

      • Chris Lockhart

        March 27, 2016 at 8:35 pm

        Try growing a few Tradescantia ohiensis. Same principal, larger flowers, perhaps easier to harvest the dye. It’s a pretty prolific bloomer. Interesting question about the timing of anthesis and the trigger -whether pollinators, sunlight or temps. I’ve often considered the daylight, but it melts earlier on hot days, or so it seems. Good luck!

  6. George Rogers

    March 27, 2016 at 9:59 pm

    okay will keep an eye on it – thanks


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