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Monday, May 18, 2009

The Wordy and the Other-Worldly

As I've observed all the flowers and plants around me on my recent walks, I've come across some truly bizarre species. In this post I'll feature a few of the plants with bizarre names (the wordy) and bizarre characteristics (the other-worldy).

This little white (or pinkish) woodland flower has become one of my favorites. It is known as broad-leaved starflower (Trientalis latifolia). Once you recognize the leaves, you notice them on the forest floor all over the place, but the buds and the stalks they're on are only visible upon the closest inspection (there are two buds in the first photo below). Different patches bloom at different times so while the leaves are abundant they aren't all flowering at the same time. They have been given the name starflower because the white flowers appear to be extended in mid-air like a star, since the stalks are almost thread-like:



I mentioned yellow sand-verbena (Arbonia latifolia) in one of my other recent posts, but a return visit revealed that the first of the flowers are beginning to bloom. They're bright little globes of sticky-looking yellow flowers that stand out like beacons on the sandy dunes:


One of the weirdest plant names of a species I've recently identified is the heart-leaved twayblade (Listera cordata). It looks pretty bizarre too with only a single pair of leaves, and flowers that sport two long lobes at the base. Apparently they also have an intricate pollination mechansim involving blowing out drops of sticky fluid onto unsuspecting insects, a phenomenon originally studied by Charlest Darwin:


The first time I saw the spotted coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata maculata) I thought it was a parasitic plant like Indian pipe, which taps into fungi that associate with photosynthetic trees, allowing it to sap resources from the trees without having any chlorophyll to photosynthesize itself. Spotted coralroot is actually a saprophytic member of the orchid family, which means it gets its resources by living off of decaying organic matter. So, coralroots don't have any green leaves and they don't photosynthesize either, but they also aren't parasites:


The behemoth of the bunch is the cow-parsnip (Heracleum lanatum), which at heights of up to 9 feet (!!!!) tall, looks to me like something that belongs in prehistoric times. The scientific name refers to Hercules, a man known for his size and strength. These specimens were probably about 6 feet tall, and I should go back with someone else to have a person stand next to them for scale. For reference, each of the leaves is probably about the size of a dinner plate, or even larger for the leaves at the bottom. Cow-parsnip actually a member of the carrot family, and while the leaves and flowers are toxic, the stems were widely eaten as a green vegetable by native peoples. I wouldn't risk it, however, as without caution the plant can be mixed up with poison hemlock:

3 comments:

The Chatty Housewife said...

So pretty! The coralroot really does look like it comes from the orchid family because of the petal shape and little dots. So interesting!

Monika said...

I know, once I had learned it was an orchid, it definitely fit the bill! I just never would have suspected in the first place....

Heather said...

Very interesting specimens, Monika. The coralroot grows around here, but I have not yet seen it myself. Your parsnip reminds me of the Queen-Anne's Lace (wild carrot) that grows around here (also easy to confuse w/poison hemlock). Neither our hemlock nor our carrots are that large yet, and certainly not in flower. They are more of a late-summer flower for us.
As always, so interesting to see how things grow differently in different places!