Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Star flower

The shorter days of fall stimulate quite a number of our greenhouse plants to flower especially if combined with a fall heat wave, and here in the upper midwest the highs all week have been in the 80s. A couple of species of star flower (Stapelia) were in full bloom, and it was obvious even from 20-30 feet away. Lots of people, including my students, think these plants are cacti; they're not. They are a stem succulent, but that is in no way any indication of a taxonomic affinity. Star flowers are members of the milkweed family. The flowers do sort of look like a star (fish). This one has that nice dried blood reddish brown color accompanied by the lovely fragrance of carrion, rotting flesh. These flowers function by deceiving flies who are seeking a brood substrate for their little babies (maggots), and in the process of searching for carrion, pollen gets moved from flower to flower. This is a cruel deception because the flies sometimes oviposite on the flower, but no reward in the form of carrion is provided. This is a special scratch-your-computer-monitor and sniff image, the absolute latest imaging technology (accomplished by using the food mode setting on my new camera).

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