(Lygodesmia is Greek for “bundle of sticks.” Aphylla means leafless)
Earlier this week Hungryland Slough west of Palm Beach Gardens, FL, I hear was aglow in balmy sunshine, and the birds were so pretty. My son Evan went there and snapped this gorgeous hawk.
Then today John and I were aglow with our ongoing nature quest into unvisited parts of the Kiplinger Nature Preserve. We each fell splat into the sulfurous ooze and went home mud-caked and undignified.
Rose-Rush, usually a citizen of dryish open sandy habitat, was along the way. Lygodesmias in general are primarily grassland species in western North America. Our Florida rep is an eastern outlier. All bones and no meat, they are sometimes dubbed skeleton-plants.
Today’s species seems at a glance to amount to nothing more than a flower on a flexible wand. The name aphylla means leafless, and it nearly is, although basal foliage is evident part of the year.
Florida and Georgia are the entire homeland, except that in some classification interpretations Lygodesmia “texana” joins L. aphylla a single widespread species. Florida-Texas species pairs happen.
We may need to dig down deep to find out what’s going on underground. Western cousin Lygodesmia juncea has roots plunging 20 feet or deeper, quite a feat for a little skeleton plant. (Really now, how did anybody see those roots?) Lygodesmia juncea dribbles a white goo that when sun-dried served cowboys and cowgirls as chewing gum. I’m not aware of that gross abuse of the Florida species, although it bleeds white as a skeleton should.
Being in the Aster Family, each flower head is a cluster of numerous small separate flowers aggregated into one big false flower. In the photo below behold approximately 10 flowers clustered into a head. Now it gets more complex, so first a mini-botany-lesson. Pay attention. Stamens are the male pollen-producing organs. In the Aster Family the stamens cling in a ring edge-to-edge to form a long narrow tube. Pollen forms to the inside of the tube like cream in a cannoli. In the photo below the cannolis rise vertically from the base of each flower.
The stigma is the female pollen-receiving organ. They are 2-branched bunny ears rising through the anther-tubes, plunging pollen out as they grow. Being the first component of the sexual cycle to come forth, that pushed-out pollen renders the flower male for the moment. In the photo below you can see the stigmas curving out of the tubes like snakes (even if you cannot tell they are branched).
Look closer now: In the close-up below the pollen-filled tubes are on the right, and the stigmas, obviously forked, have poked through the tubes and emerged toward the left. As the stigmas come forth and their forked lobes separate to snag pollen, the flower enters a female phase. And now the interesting part. The stigmas below the fork have a brush resembling a bottlebrush. You can see how the bristles have scoured the residual pollen out of the tubes. The loaded brushes keep pollen available to any visiting insect after the stigmas have done thier job.
Ya see, the flower transforms from male to female, and then back to male.
Confusing? Let’s review that.
- As the stigma roter-rooters through the anther tube it pushes sperm-making pollen out of the end of the tube, rendering the flower male, for starters.
- Then the forked stigma rises from the anther tube, the bunny ears spread into the female phase and receive insect-borne pollen.
- After that (or overlapping in time), the forked stigma keeps elongating, exposing its pollen brush to re-establish male pollen-giving capability.