My Love is Like a Red, Red…

 

Milkweed!  Red milkweed, that is: Asclepias rubra. Despite its common name, the flowers usually are shades of pink, giving rise to a second common name: tall pink bog milkweed. On a recent visit to the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve, most plants appeared pink rather than red, but these isolated examples of deeply saturated color seemed to meet Singhurst and Hutchins’s description of “dull red.”

Red Milkweed grows in pitcher plant bogs, seeps, and wet pine savannas from New Jersey south to Florida and west to Texas. As much as four feet tall, its terminal umbels are easily spotted above its companion plants.

Red milkweed ~ Asclepias rubra
Tall pink bog milkweed ~ also Asclepias rubra

Like other milkweed species, A. rubra already has been busy forming its attractive follicles, or seed pods. This sleek, smooth example, nearly four inches long, may have riped and released its seeds since my visit.

Comments always are welcome.

A Bouquet in a Blossom

 

If you enjoy a mixed bouquet, the Maryland milkwort (Polygala mariana) might appeal. Its pink-to-purple petals, combined with brightly colored accents, attracts the eye despite its small size; the densely-packed racemes of the plants shown here were only a half-inch in length.

As its name suggests, the plant can be found throughout the southeast and up the east coast. In Texas, it blooms in moist open pinelands and savannahs or on seepage slopes, and often is found in the sandy soils of the Big Thicket. At the Watson Rare Plant Preserve, Maryland milkwort filled a sunny, open area near the snowy orchids; in the Big Thicket’s Solo tract, they lay scattered along a sandy service road.

Several online sources describe the plant as having a single infloresence atop a simple stem, but I frequently have found the stem that supports the flowers branching near the top. 

Seen from above, the flowers have a pleasing symmetry. I found the bits of yellow described as stamen sheaths, but haven’t found a single online reference to the orange. The shape suggests they might be stamens; if anyone knows, I’ll add the information.***

In the meantime, I’ll enjoy yet another new flower from the Piney Woods: an intricate and colorful ‘mixed bouquet.’

 

 *** I found more information about the flowers’ various parts in a discussion of a related species: Polygala sanguinea, or purple milkwort.

It seems the lavender ‘petals’ actually are sepals, while the yellow and orange tube-like structures are the fused petals of individual flowers. At the center of the inflorescence, you can see unopened buds. As for color changes in the floral tubes, here’s what the article says:

“What explains the different colors of the floral tubes? If you look carefully, the yellow flowers are closest to the center of the display. They are the most recently in bloom, open for business, the bright yellow actively beckoning pollinators. The peach flowers have been open longer, and are shutting down. The deep pink flowers have been in bloom the longest, and are no longer seeking pollinators for themselves. This kind of color change is usually a plant adaptation to direct pollinators only to the receptive flowers that have not yet been pollinated. It makes the most efficient use of the pollinator’s efforts from the perspective of both the pollinator and the plant.”

As it turns out, ‘bouquet’ was a perfect description.

Comments always are welcome.

A Flurry of Summer Snowiness

As with so many flowers, the snowy orchid, Platanthera nivea, rewards attention at every stage of life. From tightly clustered buds to bright white flowers, it shines in moist woodlands, bogs, and pine barrens, where it also is known as the  ‘bog torch.’ Common in Florida and other southeastern states, it’s considered rare in Texas, which lies at the western edge of its range.

As its buds develop, dark green flower stalks, perpendicular to the stem, become more obvious.

Soon, the flowers’ spurs emerge. These long, hollow tubes contain nectar; as butterflies and skippers probe for nectar, the pollinia — cohesive masses of pollen typical of orchids and milkweeds — attach to the proboscis and are transferred to other flowers.

As the plants develop, the combination of buds and fully opened flowers can be charming. Because they bloom from the bottom up, the familiar torch-like shape soon appears.

Each opened flower reveals a corolla of two petals and one modified petal called a labellum, or lip, which attracts pollinating insects. Unlike many orchids, the lip of the snowy orchid points upward, rather than twisting 180 degrees to point downward and serve as a ‘landing pad’ for pollinators. The botanical term for the process that results in a downward-pointing lip is resupination; because that twist doesn’t take place in either the snowy orchid or grass pinks, their blooms are described as ‘non-resupinate.’

While butterflies and skippers are the snowy orchid’s primary pollinators, spiders, ants, and other insects lurk among its flowers. Here, a katydid nymph hangs out, its white-banded antennae a nice complement to the emerging blooms.

As more flowers open, the raceme takes on an increasingly cylindrical shape and its fragrance — a light scent that some describe as citrusy — becomes detectable. Quite often, unopened buds and spent flowers are found together: the cycle of life demonstrated in a single plant.

I suspect these orchids still are blooming, along with the plants that often accompany them. Tomorrow, I’ll know whether that suspicion is warranted.

 

Comments always are welcome.