Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Little Trout Lily's Big Connections

This trout lily's small, sunny flower has been a long time in the making...    
   ...many years, in fact.  Most trout lily plants manifest themselves as a single leaf.  The older plants eventually (seven years or so) grow two leaves and a brilliant yellow blossom.
On sunny days the flower petals open as in the picture above, but they close at night.
On rainy overcast days, the petals remain closed and look rather sad and bedraggled.
   You rarely see the trout lily growing by itself. Mostly they are found in patches.  This is because the trout lily clones itself by growing new plants from its spreading roots.
   Therefore, this grove of trout lilies could be a big clone patch. 
These groves can be composed of genetically identical plants of various ages that have been spreading for years, even decades.
That's a big family connection!
   Trout Lilies are also connected with ants by a symbiotic relationship. The trout lilies have ant bait attached to their seeds for the purpose of encouraging the ants to move the seeds to a new location and plant them. This seed dispersal system is called myrmecochory.  Another early spring flower that uses this seed dispersal system is hepatica.
   The trout lilies are an important supply of nectar and pollen for early pollinators. Since there are few other flowers blooming this time of year, the trout lilies enable the early pollinators like bumblebees to get an early start establishing their colonies.
  The trout lily has a genetic connection with its colony and a symbiotic relationship with the ants, but the biggest connection it has is the common mycorrhizal network that it is tapped into.
Trout Lily
  The lilies form a symbiotic relationship with certain fungi in the soil.  These fungi (the common micorrhizal network) help provide the lilies with nutrients and water and in return the lilies share food with the fungi.  Other plants can access this network of mycorrhizae as well, so it is entirely possible that the photosynthesizing lilies could be sharing resources with the budding maple trees. In other words, the trout lilies network with the maples
Just think! This trout lily is part of a clone patch that employs ant colonies and mingles with the maples..
The little trout lily has some really big connections.
More to explore:

1 comment:

  1. What a fascinating post.

    I always learn something new. We have trout lilies in our area. I am happy to learn about them. Clones -- who knew ?