What a Difference a Week Makes

Fewflower milkweed, April 26

Nestled among the ferns lining the boardwalk at the Watson Rare Native Plant Preserve, this pretty orange milkweed fairly glowed. Initially, its color tempted me to think I’d found butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), but the purplish cast to the flower’s center, the single stem, and thin leaves suggested otherwise.

In fact, I’d come across fewflower milkweed, Asclepias lanceolata. A species native to coastal plains of the United States from New Jersey to Florida to southeastern Texas, its bright, reddish-orange flowers frequently appear in marshes, or wet pine barrens characterized by well-draining sandy or loamy soil. A host plant for monarch, queen, and soldier butterfly larvae, A. lanceolata also provides nectar for adult butterflies and insects.

Tall, with lance-shaped leaves opposite one another on the stem, the plant  branches near the top into one to three umbels.  Each contains an average of only seven flowers, giving the milkweed its common name: fewflower. When I returned to the preserve a week after finding the plant with partially opened flowers, nearly all in its three umbels had opened, making its few flowers very impressive, indeed.

The same fewflower milkweed on May 3

 

Comments always are welcome.
Extra credit if you already know which song gave rise to the title.

 

Winter Blues ~ and a Bit of Orange

Scarlet pimpernel (Anagallis arvensis)  

It would seem that a flower known as the scarlet pimpernel should be red, but this pretty little introduced flower that can bloom throughout the year has an interesting secret. Sometimes, it’s blue.

The phenomenon known as color polymorphism isn’t uncommon, but it usually involves blue, purple, or red-flowered plants that become white because of their inability to produce anthocyanins: the pigments that give those flowers their rich coloring.

Both scarlet pimpernel morphs — the red/orange and the blue — contain anthocyanins, but they differ among the plants. What determines which color will appear is somewhat mysterious. There are suggestions that climate is involved, since the best predictor of flower color seems to be hours of sunshine. In England, red pimpernels predominate; in sunnier Spain, blue is more common.

The red version, of course, is indelibly linked to one of the more well-known novels in English literature, The Scarlet Pimpernel. Its hero, Sir Percy Blakeney, disguises himself as a hapless playboy, while also devoting himself to rescuing aristocrats from the French revolutionary guillotine.

Given to leaving a card with an image of the red flower at the scene of his rescues, he becomes known as the Scarlet Pimpernel. Given the pimpernel’s ability to change its own appearance, a card showing both blue and red flowers might have been equally appropriate.

 

Comments always are welcome.
Photos of both red and blue pimpernels were taken at the Brazoria Wildlife Refuge on January 27.