(Hibiscus is an ancient name. Furcellatus means forked, as we shall discuss)
Monsoon deluges and fascinating meetings combined to complicate botany fieldtrips this week, although today’s sunny skies lured me to the Delaware Scrub in Jupiter, Florida, into the midst of an old friend in full bloom, full fruit, full bud, and full cooties. Today’s blog is a bug-centric revisit to Linden-Leaf Hibiscus.
First and foremost, this is an ant plant. The buds, flowers, and pods have big showy nectar glands on the outside. These draw ants by the gazillions, who jostle rudely for a moment at the trough. Presumably the ants protect the hibiscus from pests out to steal nectar, seeds, or other precious floral commodities.
It wasn’t just ants hanging around. There came flies, ladybugs, camouflaged spider, and the orange creeps featured below.
The weird thing about this Hibiscus species is a ring of stiff forks curving up around the flower and fruit base. Technically the forks are bractlets, that is, drastically modified leaves at the floral base. Other Hibiscus have bractlets too, but in H. furcellatus they are oversized, stiff, and forked like a snake’s tongue. They look like they could dispense nectar, but the visiting insects reject that notion.
Perhaps they are protective. When the blossom is open the forks don’t seem to block anything, but earlier, they form a tight cage around the precious expanding bud. The two tines on the fork spread across the top of the bud to thwart attack from above. No beast can feast on that big tasty encaged bud. Closed until we say so!
The cage goes through a yellow or yellow-orange phase. I don’t know if that is significant, although maybe the colorful “false fruit” draws a bird’s eye long enough for the birds gobble suspicious burglars loitering on the bud. Just a guess.
The insect posse today included Cotton Stainer Insects boosting seeds from the ripe seedpods. Cotton Stainers owe their name to their damage to cotton flower heads, and cotton is a close relative of Hibiscus. All in the family, although the little orange pirates abuse non-Hibiscus relatives too. The bugs poke their proboscis into seeds almost as big as they are.
Watch the Cotton Stainers conduct a raid CLICK
Likewise orange but not vegetarians, assassin bugs too were there to lunch upon some of the Hibiscus visitors.