Sunday, April 28, 2013
Arbutus Flower Gender Difference
Three years ago these arbutus plants were legally moved from the wild to a shaded spot near our garden. Any ethical gardener would leave wild plants where they grow but I was determined to have these. Accounts of failed attempts to move wild arbutus are common. Many told me directly that it could not be done. Since I was flying in the face of moral judgement and ignoring shared experience, I needed to keep the plants alive and learn more about them.
Last year I found what looked like it might have been a seed capsule. Its development passed unobserved but a daughter plant from seed appeared. Both genders of arbutus plants must be present among my four transplants. Today a hand lens provided a clear view of the difference between a male flower and a female flower. A single green rod that resembles a praying mantis head in shape is located in the center of the upper flower. Pollen will be deposited here.
These female flowers have been open days longer than the ones shown in the upper photo. Stigmas are visible here although their shape is different from the younger ones. Round tipped cylinders accurately describe their shape but this is beginning to sound like a voyeur in the men's locker room at the YMCA.
Hairy is a word frequently used to describe trailing arbutus. Both the leaves and the stems bristle. The throat of the flower is also filled with hair like projections of differing shape and color. Near the terminal end of each flower petal, small transparent structures resembling curled fishing line appear. Deeper in the flower thicker white projections abound. Moisture appears here despite our recent lack of rain.
This plant displays several light tan structures deep within the blossom. Each resembles a grain of wheat with a slit running from end to end the long way. An arbutus plant displays five features in several different ways. Five petals on each flower are easily seen while the five tan anthers require a close look.
This flower has been open longer that the upper one and its anthers are more clearly seen. Little imagination is necessary to see the mass of moist hair like projections that line the lower part of the blossom. A trip to a wild patch of arbutus now would be well worth the trip. A kneeling pad and a hand lens will reveal clearly the difference between the boys and the girls. The detail that could be seen by direct observation will amaze anyone that takes the time to look. Then there is the scent. Close examination places the viewer's head very near the plants. Lingering in their cloud of fragrance will create a memory of a wonderful experience. It feels like I can remember that smell but that may be wishful thinking.
By May 5th much had changed inside of the flowers. Both genders displayed golden brown stains on the hairs leading down to the base of the blossom. Apparently there has been a great deal of foot traffic in the area. The anthers now resemble soaked grains of wheat with a swollen slit across the long axis. Each male flower contained five of these structures. One of the styles was missing its tip. Pollen depositing must be a rough activity at times.