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The Art of flowering

The Art of flowering

By Ranger Steve Mueller

Ranger Steve

An abundance of flower beauty graces wild areas during April. By May many spring flowers reach peak blooming. Trout lily faces shine bright yellow. From the backside of the flower, there will be three yellow and three brown petal-like structures but from the front all are yellow. The flowers nod toward the ground on cane-like peduncles above their light and dark green mottled leaves that also have reddish brown patches. During the second week of April, the first had burst into bloom. By the last week of the month, they are in peak flower along with the spring beauties that started blooming just prior to the trout lilies. 

Bloodroot is an early spring bloomer. Photo credit: CC-BY-SA-3.0/Matt H. Wade at Wikipedia.

The same day trout lilies began sharing their beauty to attract insects, bloodroot white blooms began their show but they lose their petals almost immediately. It seems they would not attract insects quickly enough to reproduce but they continue to thrive. It is likely few seeds survive. Breaking ground in the same location annually indicates they sprout from underground over-wintering rhizomes. 

In wet lowland areas, spring cress flowers open with pink petals that rapidly whiten. Nearby marsh marigold leaves expand around a cluster of flower buds that will be among the showiest streamside blossoms. 

Flowers stand at the end of stem-like structures that expose them in proper manner for reproductive advantage. Depending on the specific supportive structure, it might be called a peduncle, rachis, scape, spike, umbel, or something else. Details interest ecologists because they distinguish methods for effective fertilization and seed production. No room here for term definitions but flower guide glossaries and pictures will clarify.

The supporting flower structures are not what captures our immediate attention nor do the essential parts. Inside the flower are found stamens, pistils, or perhaps both that are essential. They are essential parts required for successful reproduction. Often they are relatively inconspicuous but produce pollen and eggs. Even from a distance they can draw attention. The early flowering silver and red maples create glowing red treetop hues.

The pollen is produced by an anther at the top of a thread-like filament and together they are termed a stamen. The filament holds the male reproductive anther in a position for releasing pollen where and when needed. Plants like the marsh marigolds found in sunny wetlands, have a large number of stamens but not all release pollen at the same time. Those toward the outer flower reach maturity first and their pollen is less likely to land on the female part that is ready to receive pollen at the same time. This helps prevent self-fertilization. Insects arriving at the flowers bring pollen on their bodies that promote cross-fertilization and better genetic vigor. By the time inner anthers release pollen, the female portion has been fertilized and self-fertilization is prevented.

For many flowers self-fertilization is prevented by male and female parts maturing at different times. The stamens typically are arranged around the female part located at the center of the flower. Anthers are sometime bright yellow or red and add to floral beauty. On willow shrubs the gray fuzzy pussy willow buds of early spring have their own special beauty. Later they yellow when catkins release pollen. Notice female willows do not have yellow catkins. The plants have separate sexes and in that manner insure cross-fertilization. Plants with separate sexes are referred to as imperfect and flowers with both sexes are referred to as perfect. 

The female organ, called a pistil, is composed of three parts. At its base the ovary contains eggs and sits on the receptacle at the end of the stem-like structure supporting the flower. Reaching above the ovary is the style that lifts the stigma into position for receiving pollen. The stigma is the upper surface to which the pollen sticks. Pollen digest their way through the style to the ovules in the ovary where they fertilize them and become seeds. 

The essential stamen and pistil are aided by accessory parts that insects and we most appreciate. The accessory parts are sepals collectively called a calyx and petals are collectively known as a corolla that attract pollinators like bees, flies, beetles, and butterflies. Flowers have nectaries that produce sweet solutions attracting insects. Some produce attractive or foul fetid scents that draw specific pollinators with unique nature niche adaptations.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net – Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, 13010 Northland Dr. Cedar Springs, MI 49319 or call 616-696-1753.

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