Field of Science

Friday Fabulous Flower - Desert Willow

It's usually hot and dry this time of year in Tulsa OK, but it's been relatively wet this year.  Yet here was a xeric adapted plant, nice for landscaping, and it seemed to be enjoying the lavish waterings nature was providing.  This was a plant TPP first saw growing outside a  Spanish style church in the SW USA, where it is a native.  The leaves are linear, and quite willow like but opposite on the stem as appropriate for the family, the Bignons.  This is Chilopsis linearis, the desert willow.  Basically a southwestern Catalpa but with a bit more colorful flowers.
This was a family TPP studied many decades ago, but back then this genus was elusive as were the many tropical vines growing way up there.  Don't know why as this species is widely planted as an ornamental.

What is pollen?

Dear Phytophactor, Apart from you blog the best description I can find is that pollen is essentially a "detachable plant penis".  But you refer to pollen as a "male organisms". So is "detachable plant penis a reasonable description, or is that lending itself to another misconception?  An interested reader.

Dear Reader, Trust your Phytophactor to get such things correct.  Pollen is a whole male organism, sex organ included (which it really doesn't have), although a pollen tube delivers the sperm.

Dear Phytophactor,  Thanks, but if I can ask another question.  My confusion stems from the my not understanding if pollen is a male organism, how does that work?  So does a male organism produce tons of tiny male organisms?  I'm guessing that the real problem is the desire to fully equate plant and animal reproduction, but I'm struggling to understand a male producing lots of males to reproduce.

Dear Reader, Bingo, you can't equate the plant sexual life cycle to that of animals.  The plant life cycle evolved to solve the problem of living on land.  Swimming sperm could no longer disperse to find an egg to fertilize, so plants make tiny disposable males (pollen, which is really a spore prior to development.)  So equating plants to animals is the real problem, but people did do that although it came our totally wrong, flowers don't have ovaries (the units thereof are modified leaves bearing sporangia, carpels), and those sporangia, while eggish looking, are not ovules but sporangia that produce one big spore that develops into a female who produces an egg.  The anthers are also modified leaves bearing sporangia that produce lots of small spores that become pollen.
Hope that helps; look up a fern life cycle and then imagine the haploid gametophyte (a sexual organism) as being either male or female (as in seed plants & there are a couple of other differences too).  You might want to get a copy of "How the Earth turned green" from Chicago University Press. This book spends a lot of time explaining this.  You might also check out my blog on seeds.

This is the kind of question TPP tends to get, plant misconception piled on top of plant misconception. But kindly TPP did not name the reader.

Millions of ferns

The Phactors are attending Botany2017 in Ft. Worth TX.  Among the many things learned already was Casa Flora (actually SE of Dallas) is one of the largest wholesale producers of ferns in the world.  They propagate around 150 different species of ferns using either tissue culture or spore culture.  Both are quite impressive operations resulting in vast numbers of ferns - acres of ferns.  If you buy a decent sized fern in the USA, chances are it started it's life here.  Here's a room (only partly shown) of trays, under artificial light where trays of spores are grown, in remarkable numbers, so the trays are filled with very young plants, and then they are transplanted into trays of 72 plants and further grown in a greenhouse area, one of many.  The images show the trays, the young ferns in the trays (photo taken through the saran wrap) and then the flats of small ferns filling a large greenhouse.  Even the catalog, available at the link above is impressive.

Friday Fabulous Flower - Gooseneck loosestrife

The Phactors are on their way to the Botany 2017 annual meetings in Ft. Worth TX. This means crossing OK as quickly as possible.  Right now, a 12 hr day driving finds us somewhere in south central OK fed better than we expected (an Italian steakhouse?) and recovering with road trip margaritas (the recipe has been posted before), and nothing much to do but post a FFF.  Now TPP's gardening rules never to be broken involve one  rule you will violate only once unless you are a real slow learner - Never plant a loosestrife.  They can be beautiful devils, handsome but very invasive. Today's FFF is the gooseneck loosestrife (Lysimachia clethroides), which is elegantly handsome in flower, but it is still a hated invasive.  Technically our rule has not been violated; a previous owner planted it, maybe decades ago.  It occupies a shady hedgerow bed, but keeps trying to expand. Two other yellow flowered species were nuked when their true nature showed itself, but one still appears from tiny bits of root or rhizome.  Yikes! At any rate this one produces massive amounts of rhizome, and is tough to corral, and nearly impossible to totally remove.  But wow, that is some lovely inflorescence and they make a decent enough cut flower in late June.
Here'a another hydrangea inflorescence that's pretty nifty, an oak-leaved hydrangea.  This panicle (?) is nearly 18" long.  The large, showy sterile flowers stick out around the cylinder surrounding a cloud to tiny fertile flowers; no idea how many, lots.  They are opening bottom to top; you can see where the buds remain closed about half way up.  Lots of little black flies and beetles are crawling around in there; if you shake it the fall out in surprising numbers, but that's a little mean.

Floral mimicry - Spots

Floral mimicries are really nifty things, where a flower mimics a pollinator.  This has been reported for a number of flowers that pose as female insects attracting males interested in finding a mate.  This mimicry is a bit similar but not really.  What do you see?  A pollinating fly sees a fly, right down the the UV reflection.  It is a bit troubling that masking the spots did not impact the number of seed produced.  Also how is it that the spots only form on some of the ray flowers?  Inner most?  But it is so cool when you find one of these things, although it can be nigh on impossible to prove in some cases. This one is well known, a flower that attracts flies by looking and smelling like carrion. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - Pink/Purple Lace

It was a tough pick for this week's FFF, but took Mrs. Phactor's advice.  You may get to see one of the other contenders later on.  This particular shrub is a variety of Hydrangea macrophylla generally referred to as a purple lace top.  It's very pretty in flower and we've seen some marvelous displays especially where you get to look down upon the top of the shrubs, and then of course there is the color. This is not one of our favorites though because it only flowers on old wood (last year's aerial shoots) and they generally do not survive the winter, so no flowers.  Think of this as a purple barometer of winter; if mild, you get purple.  So not reliable here in the upper Midwest, but our winters are getting milder.  Here the flowers are arrayed in a flat-headed corymb with the large tepaled attractive flowers around the outside and the smaller fertile flowers in the middle.  Our shrub is not the most robust, so these can be bigger and fuller.  Our soil pH is not very acid, so the flowers are not as blue-purple as they could be at a lower pH, so these are a bit pink.

A little something to annoy everyone?

Last night the Phactors were awakened by a minor commotion in our front yard.  It was just a couple of yahoos trying to destroy the sign in our front yard put there by Mrs. Phactor and the F1.  Of course every yard sign is designed to annoy someone to the point they feel their freedom of speech allows them to trespass for the purpose of denying you your freedom of speech.  Take your pick of the annoyances.  But it would be nice to know exactly what statement ticked them off so much.  BTW they were unsuccessful, the sign is tough, and is now re-positioned so as to annoy someone else.  When you live between two college campuses, you get students who want to engage in such intellectual dialogue. 

That's pretty creepy - Devonian lycophyte

TPP taught plant diversity/plant morphology for many years and always loved to have the excuse to rummage through the paleobotanical literature.  Back in the Devonian, that little ole era when plants really colonized the land, things were really pretty different.  This reconstruction of a plant called Sengelia, not just of a piece but of a whole plant gives a very different perspective on early land plants.  Some parts of this lycophyte (clubmoss) are quite expected, for example,  the plant is mostly stems and stem-like roots; they branch dichotomously (equal forking at the apex), the stem is covered with enations, little outgrowths, but not leaves.  What us a surprise is that the authors interpret their fossils to growing prostrately, creeping along the land surface.  Not sure how they decided it wasn't a weakish more erect plant that got pushed over by water, flooding that produced the fossils, but Alexandru Tomescu is a careful researcher.  Knocked over plants also tend to have their stem tips turn up a bit at the ends as they try to grow upward again. Without taller plants to compete with, a sprawling, prostrate plant will do fine on often flooded sediments.  Here's the full citation: Matsunaga, K. K. S., & Tomescu, A. M. F. (2017). An organismal concept for Sengelia radicans gen. et sp. nov. – morphology and natural history of an Early Devonian lycophyte. Annals of Botany, 119(7), 1097–1113. 

Friday Fabulous Flower - older but better

When you purchase a 100 yr old house, it comes with landscaping.  And the Phactors have removed several tons of overgrown and ugly trees and shrubs, although a few have been rejuvenated.  One venerable member of the pre-Phactors landscaping was a big, old Rhododendron, 10 feet tall, and sprawling across the entire space between a shingle oak and our house.  It's decades old.  Naturally an azalea/rhododendron bed was built along the entire east side even though the oak hates them.  No idea what type of Rhododendron this is really, it's the last to flower (late May, early June).  In our plant list it's just the "old fashioned rhodie"; any suggestions out there? At any rate since it's height was getting out of hand and a stem broke with the help of said oak dropping a branch on it, TPP pruned the entire thing down to a more modest 6-7 feet shrub.  And it branched out, thickened its crown and flowered this year like a mad fool. How nice! This plant has been here before; here's a closeup. Asked for help last year too, but nada.  Is it just a R. roseum?

Summer gardening - parched, water, water!

June is beginning with some rather warm weather accompanied by a drought.  Our gardens are parched and newly planted plants get the most attention out of necessity.  TPP has already killed way too many hemlocks, a species he loves, but they seem to take a lot of TLC to get one established.  Our last rhododendron (wait for tomorrow) and our last magnolia are in flower, the former looks fabulous but the latter smells amazing.  TPP spent the day spreading water around some newly planted herbs and perennials, and giving Mrs. Phactor's perennial bed a good start on summer and most of our post-May Flowering.  Speaking of dry, last weekend we were tourists at a couple of sand prairies along the Mississippi River, part of the entertainment for the Illinois Native Plant Society (we be members) annual gathering.  The prairies were lovely even if one of them was mostly prickly pear cactus (who in their right mind would disk them up to plant watermelons - think Mickey Mouse and brooms in the sorcerer's apprentice). They were almost confluent coverage and not quite time for them to flower which would be lovely.  More later about an excellent talk about the services lost to agricultural mechanization and a book recommendation.  But it was hot out there in the open, and sandy.

Friday Fabulous Flower - beard tongue edition

Mrs. Phactor's perennial flower bed is a riot of plants that take some attention or they go missing or appear in places previously unknown.  One of those problems is the large beard tongue, Penstemon grandiflorus. It's a very handsome plant with gray-green foliage and large pink flowers, but it is closer to an annual than many of her perennials. So it tends to pop up here and there, but mostly along a foot path as it seems to like the open spaces that provides.  At least the seedlings are easy to identify and relocate if necessary.  It tends to be a bit floppy as well, never forming self-supporting clumps so prominently displayed in catalogues.  But it is a pretty thing.