Sunday, February 8, 2015

An hour of sunlight

This week has been the wettest of this entire Winter, and a few nights ago was no doubt the wettest night in all of this Winter. Landslides, flooding on the roads, and falling branches and trees were all in result of the insane amount of rain we've received of late. The cloudy weather has made it a dreary grey week, though solace can be found in the colorful flower buds, only a few of which have been toppled by the heavy rain. The sun was out for an hour in the afternoon, and it allowed me and my daughter to go outside and play, and allowed me to take these pictures. Though I think that Crocus are beautiful in bud, it is a treat to see the inside of the flower and to appreciate the differences in the inner structures and colors.

Crocus flowers are resilient despite their fragile appearance. They are essentially stemless, or nearly so, but what you see above ground is actually the long floral tube, the short stem remaining underground until sometime in spring when the seedpod (the ovary) is pushed above the surface. The pistil (female part) and three stamens (male parts) extend through the length of the tube from the ovary. Though nectar is produced at the ovary, the constriction of the sexual parts in the tube allow the nectar to rise to a level accessible by bees.

Crocus chrysanthus "Romance"
 Though the female parts are only of a single pistil, Crocus flowers often have branched styles. This is an important feature to identifying the many species. Some, like the common C. vernus are not very complex, while those of many Autumn flowering species (C. caspius, C. banaticus, etc.) have much branched styles and are very complex.

Crocus chrysanthus hybrid
These, and a few others, are planted in a small space under a dwarf coniferous shrub. My theory is that it will make it harder for deer to eat them, which has in the past been false. This year, I have managed to keep the deer away (by chasing them), yet the slugs have taken their place, seeming to favor only the new buds of everything I've planted. A few flowers, however, were somehow missed, yet in these pictures you can see the leaf tips were nibbled early in growth.

Crocus flavus "Yellow Mammoth"
 Though during the hotter months, I have a preferance for cooler colors (blues, purples, etc.), yellow and orange are a fully welcome sight. This patch was featured in a previous post, was encouraged to open for a brief period while the sun was out.

Crocus flavus "Yellow Mammoth"
 This is planted in my tiny rock garden, more akin to a bathtub sized trough, yet I have managed to practically fill it with small "rock plants". It does receive a lot of hot sun in the summer, so I'm not sure any true alpines would like it. Also, a mole has managed to make its way in, and it is infested with slugs. Slugs are jerks!

Crocus chrysanthus 'Prins Claus'

I have been attempting to naturalize different types of Crocus around the yard to see which ones do best where. Many microniches are to be found around every house or yard. This one is characterized by poor rocky soil, moles do not venture here. It is near the beehive.

Crocus chrysanthus 'Prins Claus'

The color on this one is interesting, purplish feathering with a hint of yellow at the base. From what I could see, despite the flowers remaining closed, was a vibrantly bright orange style. I am sure the inside is going to be a treat, for me and the bees.

Erica carnea
Winter heath (not to be confused with heather, Calluna vulgaris), has a single style (the white strand sticking out) with the stigmas (The brown parts are the anthers) tightly packed around it. Being a winter flowering species, I'm sure it has mechanisms at work to prevent rain from inhibiting pollination. Though many plants pollen will wash away or lose viability when rained on, many early or late flowering plants have adaptations to ensure pollen viability by either concealing it or something else. For example, Crocus flowers close when it rains. Pendant flowers, such as those on Muscari, Galanthus, and some Scilla and Narcissus protect the reproductive parts from rain as well as protecting the nectar from becoming diluted. This is surely the case with Erica, yet I'm not entirely sure how the pollen is protected.

A fly investigates this Iris
Perhaps attracted by floral scents, or maybe the vibrant blue, I watched this fly poking around this Iris. Though it could hardly be called a "pollinator" in this case because there was no contact with the sexual organs. Iris flowers are extremely complex, possibly the most complex flower in the world, rivaling orchids. The styles branch and form "petal"-like structures, referred to as the style arms, which incorporate the receptive stigmatic lip, a manifestation of the female organ unlike that of almost any other flower. Only careful inspection and a well described diagram will show a beginner (like me) the true structure. I recommend you do a search for "Iris flower parts". Fascinating.

Colchicum cilicicum
The Colchicum leaves of the few types I have have all begun to emerge. So far, I have observed that they are apparently ignored by slugs, unlike the munched Scilla to the left. Perhaps they are actually that toxic, that not even a slug would eat them!

This bed, surrounding our pump house, has been difficult to plant. Tree roots have all but completely invaded every inch of the compost, which has been too much competition for many plants to endure. My experimental plantings have shown that Viola odorata, Lamium, Pulmonaria, and a range of others are apparently unfazed by the extreme competition. I will share over time what has succeeded here, as I'm sure the situation is not uncommon.

Taraxacum sp.
Like Crocus, dandelion flowers also close at night. However, they do not normally close for rain, suggesting another type of mechanism at work here. It is humbling to know so little except how unimaginably complex the plant world alone is, let alone the rest of life, or dare I say the Universe? These are the kinds of things I think about at work.

Seed grown Pulmonaria
 My seed grown Pulmonaria is still ahead of the cultivated forms, a single bud here showing color, and is actually technically open, as you are able to see inside (barely) in the expanded view. I am also pleased to see that they have offset already. Pulmonaria's are extremely easy to propagate by division. You can practically just reach down into the dirt, pull an offset out, then shove it in a new spot without any problems to the plant. I have had better success dividing these while they are coming into new growth than in the fall. Perhaps the presence of natural growth hormones offset any shock induced by transplanting.

Cultivated Pulmonaria
Last but not least, I leave you with a nice spotted form, fully in bud. Last year, the bumblebees liked these flowers. Hopefully the rain will let up and the sun will bless us with it's presence again to allow the bees to do their thing. More pictures to come!

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