An appealing aspectsof the southern edge of Jonathan Dickinson State Park along County Line Road at Tequesta, FL, in addition to the secret James Bond Rocket Tracking Spy Station, is the whitest, sugary-ist, hottest, driest scrub sand, complete with dunes, and with wet spots ranging from moist depressions to a mighty fine lake complete with otter doing what he otter. All so splendid! Thus hard to pick one plant to feature.
Well, ok, pretty among the beauties is a curious species straight from Mars…Yellow Hatpins. White shoebutton flower heads glossy yellow beneath on needle-thin straight stalks rising from basal rosettes. The white flower heads have golden yellow scales coating their undersides. The ecology of this and related species relative to light, heat, air, and water would fill a book, I’ll bet, if anyone wrote or read it…strange life-form in an extreme habitat.
Yellow Hatpins favorsthose low damp depressions scattered in the scrub desert. Syngonanthus is a big group in Africa and South America, dwindling northward to our lone species in Florida and nearby states. (There are additional similar species here in other genera.)
That distinctive golden glow (flavidulus) under the flower heads is the stuff of an industry in Brazil where modern Rumpelstiltskins weave Syngonanthus nitens, Golden-Grass, into gold.
CLICK for gold
Those white heads resemble those in the Aster Family, but Syngonanthus is about as unrelated to Asters as botanically possible. The similarity is convergent evolution. Each head holds hundreds of separate male (pollen) and female (seed) flowers.
Our species has perhaps never been studied in-depth, but similar ones have in Brazil. Contrary to some earlier assertions, pollination is mostly by a broad array of tiny insects, including flies, beetles, and bees. Doesn’t the fly shown below seem perfectly designed for the job?! (photo from Carlianne Ramos and collaborators, Annals of Botany 96: 391. 2005.)
Biologists Aline Oriani and Vera Scatena studied Syngonanthus elegans. They found one of those little secrets of nature so easy to overlook. The flower heads open by day and close at night following the humidity levels. Those golden scales encupping the head have thick-walled absorbent cells on the undersides. When it is humid (night) the expandable walls soak in moisture, swell, push the scales inward, and close the head. When the same cells dry (day) they shrink, pull back, and let the sunshine in. And now the mystery of nature: when the head closes it lodges by night little beetles who reportedly pollinate the flowers by day. Do the beetles get a motel room in exchange for pollination services? What do they do in that dark room? Anything like that going on in Jonathan Dickinson Park?