Small Scrub Hickory. All photos today by John Bradford.
Today John and I botanized a local coastal hammock remnant, Maggy’s Hammock (aka Rocky Point Hammock) near Stuart, Florida, species galore in a square mile. As tempting as it is to start listing, we better pick one species and stick to it. The alpha trees are Florida hickories, some with trunks, oh say, a yard in diameter. Florida hickory is well named, being restricted to Florida, living in high dry habitats.
They are in full bloom today, although their wind-pollinated flowers are not showy. The males dangle clustered in spikes called catkins. The females stand solo.
Hidden within, the trees have a secret, phylloxeran galls*.
To explain the galls it is necessary to refer to another wonder of Florida nature: Koreshans. Phylloxerans have much in common with Koreshsnas, just on a smaller scale: they both lived on the inside of their globes.
The Koreshans were a utopian community a couple generations ago at Estero, Florida, near Ft. Myers. Their village persists as a state park. There’s a ton to tell about them, but to stay on-topic, the important thing is that they lived inside the globe. Koreshans knew the rest of humanity had the world-wrongside-out.
:This button may help you see where they lived:
Koreshan Unity button. 19–. Color photoprint. State Archives of Florida, Florida Memory. Accessed 3 Mar. 2017.
Today’s phylloxerans are the micro-Koreshans of Maggy’s Hammock. They live on the inside of their little globose gall the diameter of a grape. Slice it open…there’s a utopian world within. Hundreds of tiny Koreshan phylloxerans.
OK, cut the crazy crap, what’s a phylloxeran? They’re kin to aphids, with many species infesting many plants. They get along famously with grapes and hickories, entailing economic consequences for both. The most important cultivated hickories are pecans, bothered by phylloxerans. The pests are more infamous in vineyards, where root-infesting phylloxerans from North America brought the European wine industry into peril, forcing grafting vines onto imported pest-resistant rootstocks.
See the little rascals inside thei hickory hostel today on our microscopic phylloxeran-cam:
They wiggle within a 100% enclosed chamber. How bizarre. How did they get in? A pregnant female founded the gall. It formed around her. She probably died full of viable eggs, populating the gall with siblings. What’s so great about living in a bubble? Protection, no doubt. What is their exit strategy? Somehow the bugs induce the gall to rupture. Hold on there: They can tell the gall to open sesame and make a portal to the infinite universe? Apparently so. And it gets weirder:
Phylloxerans can throttle down the plant’s protective chemicals just as the HIV Virus hobbles our human immune system. Way back the 1890s biologists found phylloxerans to force the host (grapes) to develop extra stomates. Stomates are little gas exchange valves essential for photosynthesis. More stomates = more photosynthesis = more sugar for the tiny lodgers. We all know it is silly for a parasite to kill its host. These wise little parasites understand and go a step beyond, helping the host to help themselves.
*Galls are growths on plants caused by insects, mites, or fungi. They are usually larval homes for the arthropod that induced them.