Most flowers offer food to attract pollinators. Trumpet vine, for instance, provides nectar for hummingbirds who incidentally pick up pollen and transport it to the next flower.
But some orchids have no food to offer. Instead they look and smell like sexy female insects so the males will attempt to mate with them. In doing so the orchids’ pollen clumps (pollinia) become stuck to the male insects and are taken to the next flower.
Watch the video above from BBCWorldwide to see how it’s done.
Sporogenesis under the fern leaf (photo by Kate St. John)
Ferns look simple. They don’t have flowers so they must be boring, right? Not!
Look under the leaves(*) in June and you’ll see spots, called sporangia, that are creating spores for the next generation. Here’s another example.
Sporangia under the fern leaf (photo by Kate St. John)
The spores are single haploid cells with only one set of chromosomes, just like the sperm and eggs of mammals. But the spores don’t “mate” with anything. Instead the next generation grows directly from the spore. It’s a small heart-shaped green thing called a prothallus and it’s also haploid. The prothallus eventually produces sperm and eggs that unite in water to become the next generation, the leafy fronds.
The frond phase is diploid with two sets of chromosomes. In time, the plant produces sporangia and the process repeats.
Because of this fern “parents” and “kids” look nothing like each other: prothallia, leaves, prothallia, leaves … on and on and on.
Confused? Here’s a video that explains it better than I can.
(*) Some ferns, such as sensitive fern, produce spores on parts of the plant that have no leaves. Others, such as hay-scented fern, don’t display their sporangia as openly as those pictured above. Read more about ferns here.
Red poppies (photo from Lest We Forget via Wikimedia Commons)
It’s Poppy Day.
When I was a child, we wore a red paper flower on a wire stem on Memorial Day. They were offered by Veterans of Foreign Wars to passersby for a donation to help veterans. The paper flowers symbolize the Remembrance Poppy from World War I.
Poppies became a veterans’ symbol thanks to the tireless efforts of Moina Michael, “The Poppy Lady,” who was inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae. McCrae wrote the poem for a friend who died at the Second Battle of Ypres in Flanders (Belgium) in 1915. After the battles, poppies bloomed among the graves.
At first her idea did not catch on, but in 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) adopted the poppy as their official memorial flower. That year they distributed paper poppies made in France but in 1924 they brought the program stateside to the first Buddy Poppy factory, located in Pittsburgh and manned by disabled veterans.
Ninety years later the Buddy Poppies are still assembled by disabled and needy veterans at VA Hospitals across the country and Buddy Poppy fund drives focus on Memorial and Veterans Days. (Watch a video about the VFW Buddy Poppy program here.)
That’s why I think of poppies today.
(photo from Lest We Forget via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
Clusters of white flowers are blooming in fields and open forests in western Pennsylvania.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a perennial in the Aster family, native to the northern hemisphere. The genus name, Achillea, refers to the Greek hero who reportedly used yarrow to treat his soldiers’ wounds. The species name, millefolium, means “a thousand leaves.” Look closely at the tiny feather-like leaves and you’ll see they’re arranged in a spiral on the stem.
Yarrow’s flowers deserve a closer look, too. The central disk is a cluster of tiny flowers and the petals (rays) are individual flowers with nectar openings where the ray connects to the flower head.
In North America we have both native and introduced species and they hybridize so it’s hard to tell who’s who.
Watch for yarrow blooming this month and into June.
To find this 1.5-3-foot tall wildflower, walk the Jennings Trail between the two Beaver Trail intersections (along the cliff) or visit the spot where Jennings meets Meadow Trail and the creek. Click here for a map.
Read more about its confusing name in the Throw Back Thursday article below. Visit the Wildflower Reserve soon to see it.
Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) is a perennial, 4-31″ tall, with narrow small leaves and green-yellow flowers that bloom from March to September. It was introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental in the 1860s and often planted in cemeteries where it earned the nickname “graveyard weed.” Its introduction was a terrible idea for a number of reasons:
The entire plant contains a toxic latex that irritates skin and eyes and is poisonous to many animals. It can be fatal to cattle, though sheep can eat it.
It spreads via roots and explosive seed pods. If a farmer plows a field containing a bit of cypress spurge, his equipment will carry cut rootlets to other fields where it will take hold.
Cypress spurge thrives in sandy soil so it’s no surprise that it grows at Presque Isle State Park, crowding out native lupine and puccoon. During warbler migration its scent is on the wind. I don’t like the smell but I’ve had so many great birding experiences at Presque Isle in May that my brain automatically thinks of warblers when I smell it.
Fortunately the sick-sweet scent brings back happy memories for me. For those who mourn a loved one in the presence of graveyard weed, the smell probably makes them sad.
Is there a smell that reminds you of birding? Here’s an article that explains why smells trigger memories and emotions.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)