Spiderwort Buds and Bloom

 

 

Despite carrying the name of Ohio, this smooth spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis Raf.) is one of the most elegant harbingers of spring in Texas. Found in prairies and meadows, at woodland edges, and along roadsides, it’s flowers are pollinated by long-tongued bees, especially bumblebees. Halictid bees and syrphid flies also will visit, but the syrphids simply feed on stray bits of pollen.

The genus name honors John Tradescant (1570-1638) and his son John Tradescant (1608-1662), botanists and gardeners to Charles I of England.

The author name for the plant classification, ‘Raf.’ is for Constantine Samuel Rafinesque (1783-1840),  who traveled and lived in the United States for many years. He collected specimens, and published over 6,700 binomial names for plants. He applied to be botanist on the Lewis & Clark expedition, but Jefferson chose Lewis to act as botanist, thus saving the expense of another person.

 

Comments always are welcome.

 

A Fuzzy Puzzlement

One curious cattail

I suspect most people are familiar with the broadleaf cattail (Typha latifolia), a common plant of marshes, swamps, wetlands, and ordinary ditches filled with standing water.

Cattail stalks contain two sets of tiny flowers. Male flowers, located at the top, disperse after they bloom, leaving the pollinated female flowers to ripen and turn brown beneath the expanse of empty stalk; as the seeds mature, they become the familiar ‘cattail’ beloved of children, birds, and home decorators.

As winter progresses, the smooth, brown seed head becomes ragged as birds pull at the fluff and weather begins to wear it apart. But on January 5, I noticed some catttails at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge that were more than a little out of the ordinary.

I counted at least a dozen stalks with the strange protrusions: some of the holes they surrounded were rectangular, some round. They didn’t seem random, and it seemed unlikely that birds had been at work. After some searching, I found that the larvae of the shy cosmet (Limnaecia phragmitella) will feed on flowers and developing seeds of Typha spp. The BugGuide page said: “Larval presence can often be detected by quantities of down protruding from the seedheads of cattails.”

Of course, “down protruding from seedheads” could mean any number of things, and the fact that these cattails were growing both some distance off the road and in water deeper than my boots kept me from examining them more closely.

When I sent photos to Thomas Adams, botanist for the Brazoria Refuge complex, he suggested they might be similar to galls that appear after a wasp lays its eggs in the cambium of an oak tree, but he’d never seen anything like them. Neither had a half-dozen other insect or wetland plant enthusiasts I contacted.

Today, I’m no closer to knowing what was going on in that marsh than I was on January 5. One of you may take a look and say, “Well, of course. They’re an example of (insert answer here), and they’re all over the place.”  If not? They’re still intriguing, and a reminder of the mysteries that fill the natural world.

 

Comments always are welcome.