Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Partridge Vine

Partridge Vine is the name assigned to this native plant by Mrs. William Starr Dana in her 1897 edition of How To Know The Wild Flowers.  Partridge Berry is its more common name.  This is another somewhat insignificant evergreen ground cover that would be easy to overlook.  We stumble across small patches occasionally when we walk in the woods.  This marks the first time that we have seen it in perfect flower.

It is growing over a rather large area just uphill from our first transplanted arbutus plants.  This worn cone shaped hill was likely formed by glacial melt water pouring over the high edge of the receding ice sheet.  Gravel has been mined nearby and the newly exposed ground reveals different layers that are steeply sloped.  Broken stone of various sizes is commonly mixed with muddy clay. Thin layers of washed fine sand are found but nothing resembling soil exists within the deposits.  The surface ground is a dark thin layer of rotted fallen leaves or pine needles.  Trees do grow here but their thick canopy prevents most other plants from taking root.  Fern growth is sparse and an occasional blueberry bush skeleton are  the only other plants found here.  Surface stones are common.

Twin flowers joined at their base is an uncommon characteristic.  Even more unusual are the bright red berries that follow.  A single berry with two indentations marking the former locations of the two styles is somewhat visually unsettling.  Seeing both the flowers and the berries at the same time would be a treat but the ground birds have eaten the berries by now.

The lighter green leaves in the picture are from a maple seedling.  We tend not to pose our photos so the distraction remains.

Partridge berry flowers are dimorphous in form.  The term refers to the occurrence of stamens and pistils of different lengths on different plants.  This makes self pollination highly unlikely.  Flowers with tall pistils are best pollinated by flowers with tall stamens.  Another of our favorite plants, Bluets, also has this flower structure.

Partridge berry flowers are frequently described as being highly aromatic.  We cannot speak to that point.  Our patch covers a sizable area but there is more ground showing than plants.  Damp rotting leaves and needles are also a source of scent and theirs is the only aroma that we can detect.  A solution would involve snapping off a flower or two and carrying them to cleaner air.  So far we have been unwilling to do that.  We now know by experience that Partridge berry flowers form near the end of June.  This is a busy time in our gardens but we must remember to take the time to look for these special native wild flowers.

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