Thursday, April 27, 2017

John Bourroughs Named This One

How native plants are assigned names is frequently a mystery.  For this flower the naming process is well documented.  John Bourroughs wrote about this plant at great length.  In his day the name Dog Tooth Violet was the label frequently associated with this treasure.  Mr. Burroughs objected to that name on two points.  First, the flower has the structure of a lily not a violet.  Secondly, he could find nothing about the plant that suggested canine teeth.  The mottled leaf markings reminded him of the native fish trout and the timing of the plants appearance each spring coincided with his pursuit of that fish.  In his writings, he suggested that the plant be called Trout Lily and that became the plant's enduring popular name.

The single leaves pictured here portray one of the great mysteries about this plant.  These leaves are rather large suggesting a mature plant but single leaved plants never flower.  Only plants with two leaves produce flowers.  Burroughs spent not an inconsiderable amount of time trying to solve the puzzle.  He concluded that only older deeply rooted plants produced two leaves and flowers but he could find no plausible explanation for the method of a seed dropped on the forest floor's surface developing a corm that pulled itself ever deeper each year into the soil.  Here we have single leaved plants by the thousands but precious few that flower.  Our bedrock ridge is solidly stone.  Glacial action left what we call soil heavily littered with broken stone of all sizes.  We believe that the overwhelming presence of stone here prevents the Trout Lily from working its corm deeply into the ground.  New plants spring from the wandering roots but plants that flower are rare here.

In this spot the soil depth exceeds six inches.  The corm is deep sending up two leaves and a flower,  This early flower holds an enduring allure on us.  Our rare arbutus flowers earlier while the trout lily is common but mostly without flowers.  These yellow blossoms made their first appearance in our shade garden today.  We moved the plants from our woods into our garden several years ago.  They multiplied like weeds but no flowers were seen until today.  We also found several flowering plants in our woods.  That too is unusual.  We commonly find headless flower stems.  My guess is that the turkeys eat the flowers and the insects that alight there.  It is likely that we happened on these blossoms on the first day that they were open.

The view from the rear clearly shows the flowers structure and its insect companion.

The view from the front is heavily pollen laden.  I owe a huge debt of gratitude to John Bourroughs and his written words.  They awakened in me a desire and an interest to explore and enjoy the small parts of the natural world that surrounds us all.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Bee Gone

Today was another overcast with occasional light rain day.  Light conditions like these have produced some amazing arbutus photos.  These pictures were taken behind the arbutus wall.  All of these blossoms are pink but that color cannot be seen in this picture.

The camera chooses its point of focus and here the hairs that line the flower tube are clearly visible.  Scroll in on this photo and see more that the naked eye would ever see.

Last year I was horrified to find female flower tubes covering the ground in front of female plants.  Yesterday I watched a bumble bee working arbutus flowers.  Today I had the camera and caught one in the act.  Again I watched as the bee pushed its enormous head into the open flowers.  I did not see it pop blossoms free but am relatively certain of the cause of the flower caps that litter the ground.

The tan structures that resemble wheat seeds in the lower flower identify this plant as male,  The open flower above it has no visible sexual parts.  Some insect may have carried them off.

More tan organs are visible here and they are covered with mature pollen.  Foot traffic inside of the flower resulted in pollen stains on the petals.

 This was intended to be just a picture of flowers pulled free of the plant.  The leftmost cluster of flowers clearly shows two green five pointed stars that capture pollen for fertilization.  They are just above twin pine needles.  I did not see them until I was looking at the pictures.  This may be the best photo of the year.