Monday, August 14, 2017

Sex Among Flowers

Most of our efforts focus on just keeping the wild flowers here alive.  We aim for their reproduction to follow its natural course with no help from us but to date the actual results have been disappointing.  For the past several years attempts have been made to see Trailing Arbutus plants with fresh pollen.  So far all that we have managed to see is old pollen tracked across the white surface of the flowers.  It seems that the fresh pollen exists for only a moment.  We know with absolute certainty that their pollination was successful since numerous  seed clusters formed each year.  Today for the first time we stumbled upon the fertilization moments of Cardinal Flower.

We brought a loupe into the garden this morning.  It revealed detail that we never knew existed despite the many hours over several years that we spent looking at these flowers.  We knew that the white speck existed but we did not know that it resembled a neatly trimmed beard.

Yellow pollen stains on red flower petals were easily seen with the naked eye.  Magnification clearly revealed that the white beard hairs were now covered with pollen grains.  We were seeing both the filament and the anther producing and holding pollen.

What came next took us completely by surprise.  The pollen gathering stigmas began to push their way past the pollen bearing male parts.

Here the male beard seems attached to several protruding stigmas.  Wasted pollen litters a red flower petal.

Several fully exposed stigmas can be seen pushed well past the former location of the anthers.

Another plant displays similarly exposed pollen gathers.

We checked back later in the day to see what if anything was going on with the Cardinal Flowers.  No trace of the fertilization process pictured here could be found.  Both the stigmas and their styles had been pulled back into the flower destined to send their pollen load to the ovaries located in the base of the bud wrappers.  Some dried anther hairs hung from the outside of the hollow tubes.

All of this drama will be repeated among younger flowers waiting to open on another day.  The process ends rather quickly and it is easy to miss completely.  It appears possible that the entire fertilization process is completed within each individual blossom.  Hummingbirds are widely credited as Cardinal Flower pollinators but what was captured here today did not need anything external to the flowers.  We will continue to watch and perhaps learn.  In our location the main problem remains.  What can be done to improve the germination rates of the thousands of seeds we saw created today?

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