Monday, May 30, 2011

Gaywings Part III

Gaywings have a hidden secret. 
I'm referring to hidden flowers they have besides their showy, pollinator punching ones.
 There, hidden below the leaf litter on underground stems, are little cleistogamous flowers.  These are flowers that never open, and so they self-fertilize to bear seed.

  I brought a pair of those heart-shaped pouches up to the light

Since these tiny flowers don't open, here is a cut-away view taken through my hand lens.
 Notice the slight lavender tinge around the edge of the pouch. 
 Fascinating, isn't it?
 John Borroughs wrote (way back in the 1800's) about the Gaywings (fringed polygala) in his book entitled, Riverby.
    "I must not forget to mention that delicate and lovely flower of May, the fringed polygala.  You gather it when you go for the fragrant showy orchis---that is, if you are lucky enough to find it.  It is rather a shy flower, and is not found in every wood.  One day we went up and down through the woods looking for it---woods of mingled oak, chestnut, pine, and hemlock---and were about giving it up when suddenly we came upon a gay company of them beside an old wood-road.  It was as if a flock of small rose-purple butterflies had alighted there on the ground before us.  The whole plant has a singularly fresh and tender aspect.  Its foliage is of a slightly purple tinge and of very delicate texture.  Not the least interesting feature about the plant is the concealed fertile flower which it bears on a subterranean stem, keeping, as it were, one flower for beauty and one for use."
My sentiments exactly.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Gaywings, Part II

Gaywing flowers may leave bees with a let-down feeling. 
 Although the gaywings may look like toy airplanes, they have an ingenious pollination system that toys with the bees.
Gaywings are also called fringed polygala.
That name partly comes from the frilly little fringes protruding from the front of the blossom.

A pollinator coming in for a landing would likely land just above those fringes right?

When it lands, the landing pad gives way and the pollinator get a poke in the belly.
That is because those fringes are attached to a hinged pouch that drops down from the weight of the pollinator.  Meanwhile, the stiff pollen bearing structure protrudes up through a slit in the pouch and delivers a poke of pollen to the belly of the pollinator.

Compare the before and after shots below.
Here is a photo of the gaywings' flower with some petals removed to show the pouch which conceals the pollinator poker.
Here is a photo of the pouch pivoted down and the pollen applicator protruding up through a slit in the pouch.

I must say that is quite a nifty way to apply pollen to a transportation device.
Gaywings pack a pollinator punch.
What else are they concealing?

To be continued...

Friday, May 27, 2011


  Gaywings (Polygala paucifolia) are flowers worth knowing about. Gaywings are also known as fringed polygala or flowering wintergreen.  Gaywings are small, purple spring flowers with evergreen leaves that look similar to the wintergreen plant.
Gaywings or Fringed polygala (Polygala paucifolia)
I took this shot to illustrate how the gaywings may have gotten their name.
   Many years ago, when I first encountered a patch of gaywings along a woods road, I remember thinking I had found some orchids.
   When I looked closer and saw that the flowers looked like toy airplanes, I figured the flowers were something else.  But, the flowers do have a similarity with orchids by having an unusual pollination system.  I'll post about the gaywings' ingenious pollination system in my next post.  Then I also plan to post about the gaywings' hidden secret; its cleistogamous flowers.
In the meantime, perhaps along a woods road near you...

To be continued...

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Vernal pool update

  Vernal pool has a quiet, peaceful, secluded kind of connotation doesn't it?  I used to think that. Anyway, what has been happening at the vernal pools lately? Well for one thing, the wood frog tadpoles are really growing.  I think I might have seen about twenty or more of them getting some schooling in a vernal pool I frequent.
This a picture of some wood frog tadpoles getting schooled in some facts of their life.
You see, their schoolmaster is a red-spotted newt and although they may not know it, what they are facing is a carnivorous salamander.
No wonder that wood frogs lay so many eggs.

I'll post some more updates on the vernal pools in the near future.  Here is a link to some of my other posts on vernal pools.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Blueberry Stem Hotel

The lowbush blueberry bushes in the forest undergrowth, can be a real pain on a woods tramp.
 Douglas Malloch expresses my sentiments well in the poem,

"It ain't the trees that block the trail,
    It ain't the ash or pine;
For if you fall or if you fail,
    It was some pesky vine..."

Despite my sentiments about pesky undergrowth, I find many wonders waiting there to be discovered.
 One example is the blueberry stem galls commonly found on the blueberry bushes.
By the way, you can see two pink lady's slippers there in the background.

The blueberry stem galls often cause the stem to bend at a ninety-degree angle.
At other times the stem can end in a gall.
This gall has tiny exit holes indicating the multi-celled gall has served its purpose.
I hatched out three stem galls this spring.
Here is what hatched.
There were at least three species of tiny gnat-sized wasps that hatched.  None of the gall's inhabitants were the gall-makers.  Instead, the galls were parasitized by several other members of the chalcidoid wasp family.

Pictured below are the three different species that came from my galls. 

The blueberry stem gall wasp (Hemadas nubilipennis) looks similar to this wasp that just hatched from a gall. Obviously, the galls I chose to watch had been hijacked.
The little blueberry stem hotel was overtaken.
Think of all those little wasps that hatched in the blueberry patches and
 are hunting for blueberry stems to make galls on, or for galls to invade.
Never underestimate the undergrowth.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Chickadee Gallows

Recently the boys raised a ruckus in the backyard. 
 The cause of the commotion was their discovery of an unfortunate chickadee that had hung itself on a tendril gallows.
 Actually, it was a fortunate chickadee because the hanging occurred in our backyard where we could free it.
We don't miss much on our half acre.
How many chickadees hang on tendril gallows out there, in the bush, far from helping hands?

Monday, May 23, 2011

Sowing Lady's Slippers

  Not only does the pink lady's slipper dupe bees into performing a cross-pollination service, but the orchid also takes advantage of fungus and the wind for reproductive purposes.
In these orchid pictures,
 the lady slipper's seed pod is still standing as a reminder of last years efforts at sowing seeds.

 In order to sow the seeds, the seed capsule splits open with four long slits
through which thousands of dust-sized seeds are released to be borne on the wind to many new locations. Keep in mind, however, that the orchids are picky about sunlight and the soil conditions. On top of that, the orchid's seed carries no endosperm (food stores), so it must land where it can form a connection with a mycorrhizal fungus.  This symbiotic relationship with fungus will nourish the young orchid plant.
   Sure, the lady slipper's seed dispersal system seems to leave a lot chance, but the DNA in those dust-sized seeds contain all the necessary instructions to grow these extraordinary flowers with their amazing capabilities.
Pink lady's slipper orchids after the rain

That genetic code, my friend, will soon be blowin' in the wind.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Pink Lady's Slipper Dupes Bees

Not only is this a good year for the dogwoods, but the pink lady's slippers are really blooming.
I found some hiding out under the bracken ferns.
The lady's slipper is an orchid that loves the patchy sun in a woods near me.
I love the orchids because of their beauty, and among other things, their bizarre pollination systems.

Pink Lady's Slipper

In this post I would like to examine the pollination system of the pink lady's slipper.
The lady's slipper attracts the bees and tricks them into entering a one-way trap door into its pouch (the pouches lips part inward).
   Once inside, and with no nectar reward, the bee must escape up through a tunnel at the upper end of the flower rather then exiting the way it came. As the bee passes through this constricted area, the stigma is positioned to scrape off any pollinia if the bee had previously visited another lady's slipper.  At the upper end of the tunnel there is an exit on either side where the anthers are positioned to give the bee a parting gift of a pollinium (a sticky mass of pollen).  The plan is that the deceived bee will try again on another lady's slipper, and with a pollinium adhered to its back, enter the trap and pass the stigma where the pollinium is removed, thus ensuring cross-pollination of the lady's slipper.
Here is a diagram

to illustrate the unique one-way deceptive pollination system that dupes bees
 into performing a free cross-pollination service for the lady's slipper.

In other words, "the bees have been set up"
The pink lady's slipper has an elaborate pollination device, but that's not all of the amazing things this plant is designed  to do.
 I'll post about those later.

I couldn't resist a "parting shot".

Friday, May 20, 2011

Flowering Dogwood

The dogwoods are absolutely stunning this year!
Especially where they slip out of the forest edge.

 Dogwood flowers aren't actually white. The small yellowish cluster of flowers is surrounded by four white bracts (leaves).
 I enjoy observing the insects associated with the dogwoods, like this metallic green-colored bee resting on the left bract.

 The clustered flowers keep the honeybees busy.

 I even captured some shots of a night flying moth visiting the flowers.

 Dogwoods go for the layered look.
Aren't they beautiful?