Leafless Beaked Ladiestresses, Dressed Up But No Visitors

Sacoila lanceolata

(Translates roughly as sac-lip, referring to the chinlike sac near the flower base.  Lanceolate leaves resemble a spear tip.)

Orchidaceae, the Orchid Family

Florida is an isolated long thingamabob jutting rudely into the almost-tropics off of the mainland U.S.    Except for raised sand ridges, scrub, South Florida was underwater until not many thousand years ago, a wink in evolution time.  Where did Florida acquire its hot-climate species? From the American Tropics in large part.  Many Florida species extend southward to South America.

Given the need to cross water to get here, you might then expect many of our species to be dispersed easily…by sea currents, by storms, by birds, by pre-European ancient seafarers.    Fern spores and orchid seeds are dust in the wind, no doubt arriving by airmail daily.

Sacoila lanceolata 6

Sacoila.    All photos today by John Bradford.

Showing up precedes the greater challenge of taking hold and spreading, which brings us to today’s orchid.    Sacoila lanceolata ranges from its origins probably in South America to a marginal outpost in Florida.  It likely had no problem arriving in the sunshine state, but multiplying and spreading presented a special hurdle.  Let me explain.

Over the last couple weeks Sacoila has flaunted its red flowers on a near-leafless stalk  in a soggy shaded swamp.  It displays those big blossoms proudly, but to whom?  Any textbook will tell you red tubular flowers that size with no fragrance are all about hummingbird pollination.  And that is a problem, because hummingbirds are  too scanty for reliable floral sex services in South Florida.  Why then is this little showoff  putting on the ritz for nobody?

The first part of a reasonable answer is easy:   it evolved elsewhere with plenty of hummingbirds, and then seeds blew to Florida and grew where it does not know its display is useless.   A little depressing, and then we wonder how without being able to complete its sexual cycle the forlorn orchid managed to spread across much of Florida.

Botanist Paul Catling looked into this question back in the 80s.    The answer split surprisingly into two answers.    First answer:  in South Florida these orchids, instead of pollination, form clonal seeds where the embryos are tiny bits of the mother plant.  No hummer help required.

Sacoila lanceolata 2

The second answer is that one population of today’s species, called variety paludicola, has a different skill, pollinating itself.

How bout that!  A species stranded in Florida without its natural pollination agents “invents”  not one but two birdless ways to make seeds.   Evolution is inventive.

Which came first, the orchid coming to Florida and then evolving pollinator-free seeds?    Or, alternatively,  did members of the species somewhere else develop one or both of the sexless seed-making mechanisms, empowering them then to invade beyond the range of their original pollinators?  I vote for the second scenario.   In fact, the self-pollinating  variety is reported from the Caribbean.

Sacoila lanceolata 5

If Florida is home to far-ranging species  colonizing apart from their usual pollination agents,  there must be additional species here with tricks similar to those of our red-flowered friend.  Plenty  Examples of local plants able to sidestep normal pollination include other orchids, pitch apple (one big female clone in FL),  daisy fleabanes,  dandelions,  Fakahatchee grass,   and agaves probably brought to FL by ancient humans.

Don’t get hung up on the word “leafless” in the name.    Leaves form, sometimes coincident with the flowers and sometimes at a separate time, and their photosynthesis feeds a hunky root system.   By the time the fancy flowers brighten the world, there’s been a lot of  root-building off-stage.     The plants probably go years without flowering at all.



Posted by on March 31, 2017 in Sacoila, Uncategorized


Why John buys duck stamps and why you should too

You may hope that the Florida legislature provides the funds to buy land for water storage but I know that when I buy a duck stamp the 98 cents of every dollar is mandated to buy wetlands.

Duck stamps are the greatest federal program in existence. 98 cents out of every dollar goes to buy wetlands. That is a Federal mandate. Since 1934, when the program began, it has purchased or leased over 6 million acres of wetland – an area nearly the size of Maryland. Much of this area is now part of the National Wildlife Refuge system. It’s the envy of the world.

Stamps have enabled the purchase of over 2500 acres at the Arthur Marshall refuge and almost 86,000 acres in 6 other refuges in Florida.

And here is the backstory:

In 1934, our country suffered in severe economic depression. Real needs were many; financial resources were slim to non-existent.  At the same time, our abundant natural resources were rapidly disappearing. In an era when hunting still provided the meat on many tables, it seemed there were more hunters than ducks.

As chief of the U.S. Biological Survey, forerunner of today’s U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, J. N. “Ding” Darling devised a program wherein hunters became stewards of the wildlife they hunted.

“Ding” Darling was most widely known for his editorial cartoons, which appeared in nearly 150 newspapers nationwide and earned him two Pulitzer Prizes.

Although “Ding” earned his living as an editorial cartoonist, his passion was teaching the wise use of the world’s natural resources. Skilled in public speaking, articulate in writing, Darling devoted his special talents to conservation education and to developing programs and institutions which would benefit wildlife.


One of “Ding’s” cartoons

Darling’s Design for the First Federal Duck Stamp~1934 is especially significant to conservation. After he had guided the funding for the Migratory Bird Hunting Stamp Act through Congress, Darling sketched his concept of a suitable image for the First Federal Duck Stamp. With its enthusiastic adoption, a remarkable program of stewardship was born that endures today, more than a half-century later. Here is an image of “Ding” Darlings original stamp:



Not only does the stamp provide the funds to buy and maintain the wetlands it provides a beautiful piece of artwork. Every fall hundreds of painters across the country compete in the Federal Duck Stamp contest, which gives participants a chance to have their paintings featured on the duck stamp of the year. So when you buy the stamp not only are you saving wetlands but you are buying a wonderful piece of art. Here is an image of the current stamp depicting Trumpeter Swans

2016-2017 Federal Duck Stamp

If you want a great read about the peculiar world of competitive duck painting then pick up a copy of The Wild Chase by Martin J. Smith. This book follows the Federal Duck stamp contest of 2010. If you saw and liked the movie “Best In Show” you will really enjoy this book. Some of the descriptions of the ducks and geese in the 2010 duck stamp contest were hilarious. The Brant, a smallish goose is like a feathered Martha Stuart – they put more down in their nests (for insulation) than any other waterfowl. The Northern Shoveler is Lady Gaga of the wetlands – iridescent green head and neck and really showy plumage. The Ruddy duck is an oddball – a skyblue bill that is just ridiculous. The Ruddy Duck appeared on the stamp in 2016

Ruddy Duck

Another interesting duck is the Red-breasted Merganser who looks like he had his hair styled by Woody Woodpecker.  The bird appeared on the 1994 stamp.



I hope you will consider the purchase of a stamp as part of your conservation effort. Here is a link to the Federal website that contains a lot of duck stamp information:


I buy my stamps from the US Post Office and here is that link:


Posted by on March 24, 2017 in Uncategorized


Persimmon’ll Tan Your Tonsils

Diospyros virginiana

(Dios, god,  pyros, grain = divine grain, an ancient name for a tasty treat.  Virginiana is self-explanatory, a great state for Persimmons and for lovers)

Ebenaceae, the Ebony Family

Fridays!  Deployed for non-teaching:  on a bad day meetings, on a good day botany.  Today, eye doctor, delaying the fieldtrip with John until late in the day, when we found stunning red-flowered Leafless Ladies Tresses, Sacoila lanceolata.   I was too doctor-blind to shoot a picture, and John needs time to process his.  Will sneak it into a future blog cuz it is so dang purty.  So then, in 20-20 hindsight, my Native Plants Class yesterday encountered more beautiful species at Grassy Waters Preserve near Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, than you can shake a Sacoila at.

Diospyros virginiana 1

Persimmon. All photos by John Bradford.

Blooming now in the wet mud there is Persimmon,  a tree I know best from rocky hilltops in The Ozarks, and more recently as a wet friend in the swamp.    The contradictory divided habitats seem odd?  Species represented in swamps and also high and dry are not that rare, but that’s for another day.  Persimmon tolerates diverse circumstances across much of eastern North America.

Persimmons have hundreds of species, a few to be seen or eaten in Florida, although D. virginiana is the only native. Diospyros kaki, an Asian species with many cultivated selections, is the big orange persimmon of grocery stores.   Florida fruit fanciers likewise savor “Chocolate Pudding Tree” (Diospyros digyna, aka D. nigra,  aka Black Sapote).   Escaped at the southern tip of the state is the Malay Persimmon, D. maritima.   True Ebony, Diospyros ebenum, is cultivated a teensie weensie here in Palm Beach County.

Multiple species of Diospyros are marketed as “Ebonies,” which raises the question, does our native species have dark “ebonyish” heartwood? Yes, and there’s more.   The chunky bark served historically as a source of inky dark dye, and “indelible ink” reportedly can be made from the fruit juice.

Diospyros virginiana 2

Peach colored petioles.

In the absence of bark, fruit, or flower, Persimmon can be challenging to recognize, but here is a handy hint…the twigs have no buds at their tips…they just fizzle out.   Good clue, and here’s more, the leaf stalk tends to be reddish or peach colored, at least when young.

Native Persimmon is one of the most delicious foods in the megaverse.   I’d trade a bushel of Chocolate Pudding fruits and Publix Persimmons for a half-dozen fresh ripe native Persimmons, but good luck finding any here.    Scarce they are, and the wildlife beats you out.   To be totally tasty, they need a frost, although there are frostless cultivated selections.  The trees are separately male or female, and they clone by root suckers, with the consequence that an entire “population” can be completely male, never making fruits.

Biting an unripe Persimmon fruit is memorable.  Pucker up Buttercup!    It is astringent on steroids, which explains the old-time use of the juice to relieve “piles.”    Astringents still help down south, and it all has to do with tannins.    Tannins are plant products with a super-power—to bind proteins.    That is how tannins tan hides…they tie the proteins to each other, helping to preserve the skin  presumably by rendering the proteins inaccessible to decomposers.  (This to be more my presumption than scientific fact.)   In your mouth, they “tan your hide” too, instantly interlinking the proteins there.   That is potent protection from unwelcome nibblers.    DO NOT even think about eating my fruit before it ripens! (The seeds are not yet good to go.)

Diospyros virginiana 3

The flower, magnified

But how then does the fruit go from dreadful to delightful upon ripening? Early in development the tannins collect in special cells called, yep, tannin cells.  Little bags of trouble.   The toxic tannins sequester safely until they cross your lips.   You might think chewing breaks the nasty little bags to unleash the torment, but wrong.  Back in 1906 botanists showed the tannin trigger to be saliva entering tannin cells by osmosis.   No need for a biology lesson on osmosis here; suffice it to say dissolved tannins draw spit into the tannin cells to build pressure and burst the little poison balloons.

That explains the punishing pucker.  But we ask again impatiently, how do the fruits become harmless abruptly when the time is right?   Does the tannin go away?  No.   The tannins condense into harmless crunchy grains no longer having the ability to draw in water nor to bind proteins.  Has Persimmon served to tan leather?  Yes, although commercially there are better sources.


Posted by on March 17, 2017 in Persimmon, Uncategorized



Thank you to everyone who registered, and apologies to anyone who tried to sign up but found the class filled.   Happened fast.    Given the volume of the response, we’ll probably offer it again after this.


Posted by on March 14, 2017 in Uncategorized


Native Plants of South Florida Free Online Course 2.0

Open to Anyone,  Starting 4/1,  Register now

By John Bradford and George Rogers (bios and creds on class web site)

16 Weekly Lessons April 1 – mid July 2017

Class web site      Read lesson 1 before you register.

Successful participants receive a certificate (not college credit) from the PBSC Horticulture Dept.

The facts:

Registration deadline:  March 26 midnight or whenever class fills at 12 registrants.

This ungraded class is for learning and fun.   Yet is serious adult education taught at the level of a college course.  Please do not waste a spot if you are not serious about compliance with instructions or completion.

All participants begin the same week in early April and end roughly 16 weeks later, working at essentially the same pace, allowing for reasonable contingencies.  We regard three missed weekly deadlines as the limit.

We reserve the right to discontinue anyone for any reason (not keeping up, offensive behavior, not owning the book, not following instructions).

Maximum enrollment = 12.  Minimum = 7.  A pair of persons working together can be a single registration.

First come first served.  Register by e-mailing with name, phone, and e-mail address.  You will receive a confirmation.    At that point order the book as noted below.   We may require proof of book ownership.

The class is centered in PB and Martin counties.

The class entails:

Reading lesson 1 BEFORE registering.

Studying 16 on-line lessons over 16 weeks.

Taking about 6 field trips (more if you wish) on your own with a companion of your choice to examples of habitat types (an extensive list is provided).

A weekly quiz and two computer-graded on-line exams.  The class is not graded, but the feedback is useful to you and to us.

A series of photo collections you submit for instructor feedback.

One guided field trip with John and George at the Kiplinger Natural Area in Stuart. (If unable to attend you may still take the class.)

Purchase our field guide at Use their search function to find Guide to the Native Plants of Florida’s Treasure Coast.   Buy any version of it, including the inexpensive e-book.    The revenue supports our native grasses web site


Posted by on March 12, 2017 in Uncategorized


What does the Leptospron flower have in common with 6 AM?

(It’s twirly) (too early)

Leptospron adenanthum

Fabaceae, pea family

Although John and I have an early field trip planned for tomorrow  (Friday), the rest of the day and evening will be unavailable for blog writing, so jumping the gun a day early..   A couple “new” non-native weeds, both  with a twist,  have popped up hereabouts in Jupiter, Florida.

Fourspike heliotrope (Euploca procumbens) invading from  the American Tropics is perhaps welcomed northward by Global Warming?   A  coiled inflorescence helps with recognition of this and other heliotropes.


Twisted weed Euploca procumbens.  Compare its snail shell flower cluster on the left with the keel tip below.

Possessing its own much smaller coil, literally growing alongside the Heliotrope, is Leptospron adenanthum, which is one of several snail-flowered legumes.

Leptospron with foliage

Leptospron flower and foliage,

We could call them “corkscrew vines” or “snail flower vines,” as we could some other legume species, because they have curling in the flower reminiscent of a snail shell.  Several not-closely-related members of the Pea and Bean Family  do  the twist,  three of them lookalike garden flowers distinguished in the notes below. Any of these “snail flower vines”  encountered in Florida are escapes from ornamental horticulture or conceivably from cultivation as fodder.   They are in different genera, which begs the question, “why do distantly related species all evolve independently the same weird contortions?”   There must be something useful to it, some common benefit.  Convergent evolution.

Dangling from tree branches in South Florida, including Cypress Creek Natural Area in Jupiter,  is Leptospron adenanthum, an example of how Mother Nature can take an old groundplan and give it a new twist.   We need to understand the straight basic structure of a pea-type flower as a staring point. Then we’ll put a new spin on it.

Legume Flower

Standard untwisted pea or bean flower.  Be sure to find he banner, wings, and keel.

In most pea-type flowers there are 5 petals:  a banner petal behind the rest of the flower like a photographer’s backdrop;  two wing petals reaching out on either side like stubby arms; and a central keel made of two petals pressed face-to-face to form a single envelope.  The keel resembles a very narrow boat sealed on three sides and open or partly so at the top.    The pollen-making anthers and pollen-receiving stigma lie hidden within the keel where visiting insects land.  The visitor’s weight pushes the keel down, allowing the anthers and stigma to pop up via the open top and touch the underside of the insect.


Leptospron adenanthemum close in 1

Leptospron.   The left (as we see it) wing is the landing platform with white lines pointing to the yellow  coiled keel tip.   Just to the right of the  coiled keel tip is additional yellow on the banner.   The large white arch is the lower region of the keel.   The righthand wing is out of the way.


Leptospron style

Keel isolated

Leptospron turns the beat around  You have all these petals, but in  novel and complex arrangements with altered functions.  The biggest alteration is to the keel.  It becomes long,  tubular, curled, and coiled.  The keel curls in its lower half to form an arched doorway covering the passageway into the flower.  Then it goes through multiple corkscrew twists toward the tip, there resembling a small snail shell.  The coiled shell is positioned near the central base of the entranceway,  has a yellow tip presumably attractive to a bee, and has emerging from the tip the stigma and anthers, the sexual business parts of the flower.

leptopron diagram dark background lt border

The banner  has a yellowish spot near its base along the same line of sight as the all-critical yellow keel tip.  The two yellowish spots team up to make an emphatic double bull’s eye—bee aim here!

One wing petal takes over as landing platform, leading compellingly to the dual yellowish spots.    This all guides the right bee into receiving and delivering pollen with precision.

To be annoyingly redundant, the  odd modifications include:

  1. Having a wing become the landing platform with nectar guides into the flower
  2. Having the keel arch up over the top of the entrance giving rigidity and definition to the approach. (And maybe the bee’s contact with the arch helps with pollen placement or release.)
  3. Having the distal keel portion coiled to place and pick up pollen surgically at its tip.
  4. Having the banner offer yellowish reinforcement to the small yellow zone on the keel tip.

Night is odd too.   The entrance closes.   The wing petal not serving as the main landing platform (on our right viewing the flower)  folds upward and blocks the arch entranceway. The wing petal (on our left) serving by day as the landing platform seems to rise and push itself against the flat face of the coiled keel tip, hiding its yellow marking, and blocking access.   The flower is closed for business!


Leptospron night

Night.  The righthand wing has folded up to block the flower entrance.  The lefthand wing rests against the flat face of the keel  coil, blocking access to it.  

Leptospron pods

Sickle-shaped flat pods.


The End


Notes for over-achievers.

A few  details beyond the main story.   Botanists have suggested the ultra-long keel may filter out “wrong” pollen.  To achieve sperm delivery a pollen grain on the stigma must produce a threadlike pollen tube that grows a microscopic thread, the pollen tube, down through the style to deliver sperm to the eggs in the immature seeds.  Pollen tube, style, and keel are all the same length. Only the correct pollen tubes can go the extra distance.  Those from other species come up short and thus fail to mis-fertilize the eggs..

Tthe anthers and stigma juxtaposed in that tight curling keel risk pollen transfer from anther to stigma within the keel.  But no worries.   Leptospron has a membrane protecting the stigma.    Probably an aggressive bee breaks the membrane.

*Three showy legumes with similar “snail” flowers.  These resemble each other and are mututally confused.  The guide below might help.   As far as I’m concerned, English names for any of them are almost worthless.

Cochlisanthus caracalla (Vigna caracalla, Phaseolus caracalla)

Whole flower twisted or wavy, and the buds twisted (vs. buds straight in the others)

Flowers numerous in dangling clusters (vs. flowers few or one)

Pod resembles green bean (vs. flat)

There is a detailed study of tis species in Ann Bot. 2008 102(3): 305–316.


Leptospron adenanthum (Vigna adenantha)

Buds not twisted (vs. twisted in Cochlisanthus)

Flowers few or just one per cluster (vs numerous in Cochlisanthus)

Keel with about 3 full twists (vs. merely looped into nearly a circle in Sigmoidotropis)

Fruit flat and uniquely C-shaped, much broader than that of Sigmoidotropis


Sigmoidotropis speciosa  (may be sold as Phaseolus giganteus)

(Often called “Giant Snail Bean)

Flowers few

Keel looped nearly into a circle (not with multiple corkscrew twists as in Leptospron and Cochlisanthus)

Fruit flat, long, narrow, straight, the halves twisting upon opening (much longer and narrower than in Leptospron)

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Posted by on March 9, 2017 in Leptospron, Uncategorized


Scrub Hickory and its Inner Phylloxerans

Carya floridana



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.


Flowering twig.  Male flowers in catkins.  One green female flower at the twig tip.

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.


We live inside

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.


Posted by on March 3, 2017 in Uncategorized

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