Yellow Hatpins

22 Apr

Syngonanthus flavidulus


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.

Syngonanthus flavidulus 1 - Copy

Syngonanthus flavidulus.  All local photos today by John Bradford.

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.

Syngonanthus flavidulus 1 (1) clump.jpg

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.

Syngonanthus flavidulus closed

The heads closed.   Humid?

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.)

syngonanthus fly

A nose for the job

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?


Posted by on April 22, 2016 in Uncategorized


11 responses to “Yellow Hatpins

  1. theshrubqueen

    April 22, 2016 at 10:37 pm

    Sordid beetle doings at JD, no doubt.

  2. George Rogers

    April 22, 2016 at 10:48 pm

    Maybe they just take a nap

  3. Pat Bowman

    April 23, 2016 at 5:39 am

    Lovely little pins! I can just imagine them in my grandma’s (or the Queen’s) hat holding it in place. Got a quick question…. Does this plant, or a similar one, end up in suburban gardens? I had a plant that seemed to do as you described in a past garden that had full hot sun and minimal soil. It was a legacy plant from the previous owner, so I never knew its history…

    • George Rogers

      April 23, 2016 at 10:17 am

      That’s the very question that’s been nagging me. The answer is absolutely, they are actually sold in garden stores…in South America! And used as cut flowers a good bit. But (and this may merely be my narrow experience) I’ve never been aware of them in the U.S. horticultural trade.

    • George Rogers

      April 23, 2016 at 10:20 am

      Well, what do you know! It was mere ignorance, and Google can turn ignorant into expert in a jiff. As it should be, the garden world is plenty aware of hatpin lovliness

      (Think I’ll try some, maybe in a pot.)

  4. Biotech's African

    April 24, 2016 at 2:46 am

    Very interesting page this week, partially due to the lovely puns. I could see the beetles using the inside the inflorescence as a haven away from predators or possibly has grown a likening to the concentrated humidity of the the inflorescence head. Possibly just the source of nectar the inflorescence has to offer it’s pollinators. I speculated how active the beetle is through the duration of it’s stay; including the condition of the inflorescence former to the beetle’s stay. Lastly it could be the bedding that the numerous stamen provide. That will be all for tonight I otter sojourn to my personal inflorescence (only for the essential slumber).

    • George Rogers

      April 24, 2016 at 10:53 am

      Right! Somebody better get busy and study the beetle ecology of our local Syngonanthus. Those little soft white flowers look like a comfy bed. Because it takes no effort, I’m going to put some in a plastic container with a humidity indicator, vary the humidity, and see if it’s an open and shut case.

  5. FeyGirl

    April 24, 2016 at 10:30 am

    Hahahah! I always LOVED stumbling across those James Bond secret stations… especially the long now-covered underground…whatever they are! Bunkers? I have no idea, and I’m a military brat. 🙂

  6. George Rogers

    April 24, 2016 at 10:49 am

    Mysteries of JD! Hand grenades in the sand. Spooky ruins in the woods. Scary pits to fall into and be eaten by tarantulas. . John and I recently attended a presentation by one of the rangers on the history of Camp Murphy. 18 years exploring JD, and I never knew they have park offices, and small Camp Murphy museum, in an underground shelter (former water cistern, then fallout shelter) by the campground.

  7. Martin

    April 27, 2016 at 12:21 pm

    George, this is a real gem! I just love it when you get your muse on like that – that’s one helluva opening sentence!

    Twas always my favorite area, and that of several others. There used to be a cabin on the east shore of Machine Gun Lake, you can see the remains of the dock. Long before the tracking station was built, I found a huge colony of the scrub-orchid-which-shall-not-be-named; some were rescued, hundreds were lost to the construction. SO many stories!

    • George Rogers

      April 27, 2016 at 12:37 pm

      Martin, I did not know any of that. Gotta keep my “radar” on for the dock. I’d live I a cabin there any day. What a beautiful spot….and loved the otter! The sort of place where construction is not needed. Hope you are getting out on the water and having fun.


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