Redroot Roulette

05 Sep

Carolina Redroot, Lachnanthes caroliniana

(Lachnanthes means woolly flower.)


Carolina Redroot is famous for its namesake red roots.   Been there, done that:  CLICK

This wetland bleeder hangs around where feral hogs snuffle the earth.   Correlation does not show cause, however.   Do the hogs seek out the redroot?  Do they spread it?   Or does the plant happen to grow in mudholes hogs fancy for other reasons? I don’t know. And for this moment, I don’t care, because what I wish to discuss are the unusual flowers, visited at least by bees, wasps, and butterflies.

The butterflies come for nectar, and perhaps the bees come mainly for pollen.  Somebody is going to have to sit a long time in a marsh with camera, binoculars, and bug net to tell the full story of Lachnanthes pollination.

What’s  weird about the flowers is that seen from the side the style with its pollen-receiving stigma is bent outside of the floral center, at about the same height as the pollen-releasing anthers.

Lachnanthes stigma to side marked

Side view of woolly flowers. Anthers are dusty yellow. Stigma marked with blue line.

Lachnanthes top down good use

Flower from above. Three anthers yellow. Style green angled up and left.

Seen from above, the stigma juts out to the side about as far as the likewise bent anthers do.  Picture the flower as a clock face.  In the photo above the anthers are at 12, 5, and 7 o’clock releasing dusty yellow pollen.  The green style with pollen-catcher stigma at its tip is at 10 o’clock.      The stigma is in a spot where you’d reasonably expect an anther. Within an inflorescence, the bent stigmas point in every direction.

What’s up with that?  One answer, not original with me, is that the stigma is out of the way of all the sundry pollinators, but it seems there is more to it.  Given that the stigma occupies an “anther position,” an insect visitor is as likely to contact the stigma as any single anther.   Visitors approach the flowers oriented variably.   Spot on the insect pollen-dusted on a different flower will occasionally hit the stigma spot.  Twenty-five percent of the flower touches will be pollen drop-off, the other 75 percent will be pollen pick-up from the insect’s standpoint. This presumably accomplishes two things:

Accomplished thing 1. Accommodation of the diverse floral visitors.   All manner of bees, wasps, butterflies, and who knows what can play redroot-roulette, even perched on one flower  sipping nectar from another, or while feeding vertically as well as horizontally.

Accomplished thing 2. The roulette system may help promote cross-pollination. The incoming pollen is scattered on various insect body points from past visits to other flowers.  The different pollen-pickup points on the insect may carry pollen from multiple flowers.   The pollen deposited on a stigma is equally likely to have come from any of many flowers, all depending on where the roulette wheel stops.   A great system for mixing genes.

Lachnanthes disgram 2

Redroot roulette.   The insect in the diagram picked up pollen on its right side and deposited that pollen on the next flower it visited.  Perhaps on its next stop it will drop off pollen from its left side, or from its chin.

Partial to redroot is the gray hairstreak butterfly. Today one was alternating between two plants, ignoring all others.  Most of its flower action is head down, for a reason.   The head is inconspicuous, while the fanny looks like a showy head, complete with orange coloration, false eyes, and best of all, fake antennae.

butterfly both ends S GOOD USE

Head down on redroot. Fake antennae “up.”

An attacker is likely to go for the wrong end of the butterfly.  You might think a bird would gobble it up altogether, so what good is that fake head?  Entomologist Andrei Sourakov from the University of Florida found out.   The predators fooled are not big birds, but rather spiders.  They inject their venom into the wrong end of the butterfly.  Score one for the graystreak.

butterfly feeding front end g

Sipping nectar

butterfly rump end 1

The rear end with false eyelashes.

BRIEF VIDEO  Watch the fake antennae wiggle: CLICK




Posted by on September 5, 2019 in Uncategorized


2 responses to “Redroot Roulette

  1. Flower Roberts

    September 6, 2019 at 9:03 am

    I never thought of the fake antennae. I should have. Caterpillars have “eyes” on their backsides. Thanks for this enlightening post.

    • George Rogers

      September 6, 2019 at 9:39 pm

      Well, my mother had eyes on the back of her head.


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