Pollinia: How Milkweeds Do It

It seemed simple enough. On the Blue Ridge Parkway on the way back from an oil change yesterday, and in no particular hurry. I pulled off to the shoulder of the road and grabbed my camera (which you can also use as a phone! Really!) and walked back a hundred yards to a nicely-lit display of surrealistically-orange Butterfly milkweed. I grabbed a couple of shots and brought them home.

But as so often happens, looking and thinking back to this ordinary moment with this common roadside wildflower, I considered the story contained in this and every living creature’s “natural history.”

How does this plant make a living in ways it shares with other milkweeds? And in what ways is this plant or group of plants different in structure or “behavior”, and what role does it play in the larger ecology of this place?

Well, these considerations are complicated, and to me, incredibly interesting and intriguing, posing at least as many questions as answers.

If you care to see deeper into the living world, dig into its stories, one insect, salamander or fern at a time. What you’ll learn will make you a more engaged and committed resident of your neighborhood, community and planet.

We are in desperate need of nature and science literacy that exceeds the eroding average in America in our precarious times.

Trust me: watch this video, and then find the nearest milkweed (probably the pink, sweet-smelling common milkweed) and dissect a single flower and find the pollinia.

What are pollinia, you ask? Honk if you watched this short video.

Spontaneous Flora of Floyd

One of my favorite features on the trip to town along 221 this time of year is the wildflower assortment, the “unplanted garden” in which yellow is disproportionately well represented.

Much less familiar than the yellow-rayed Black Eyed Susans or the soon-to-come goldenrod y is this yellow (or lady’s) bedstraw.  The flowers can only be seen individually if you stop your car (near Ray’s Rest for instance) and look carefully. The leaves remind me of the thready foliage of dill.

About this plant, Wikipedia has this to say:

“Galium verum (lady’s bedstraw[1] or yellow bedstraw) is a herbaceous perennial plant of the family Rubiaceae. It is widespread across most of Europe, North Africa, and temperate Asia from Israel and Turkey to Japan and Kamchatka. It is naturalized in Tasmania, New Zealand, Canada, and the northern half of the United States. It is considered a noxious weed in some places.

In the past, the dried plants were used to stuff mattresses, as the coumarin scent of the plants acts as a flea repellant. The flowers were also used to coagulate milk in cheese manufacture and, in Gloucestershire, to colour the cheese double Gloucester.[6] The plant is also used to make red madder-like and yellow dyes. In Denmark, the plant (known locally as gul snerre) is traditionally used to infuse spirits, making the uniquely Danish drink bjæsk [da].”

Spring at Full Tilt

An obliging Trout Lily, showing flower interior and speckled fish-shaped leaves

Don’t know about you, but for us, spring happened on Saturday (20 April.) By Sunday, the foliage of almost all trees was at least barely emerged, if not half-way, the sun setting spring colors ablaze.

It is a different orange, pink and red than fall leaf-change. The plant tissues are so early formed that light passes through the leaf tissue more than it is reflected off. I think I actually prefer springs delicate to fall’s bold palette.

And there are SO MANY different greens! A mixed hillside that includes some dark green white pines for contrast sets spring foliage off to best effect.

Who Thinks Up These Beings Anyways?

Once again, I’m taking the easy way out. I’m happy to share—need to, even—lest I finally accept the  eddys are good enough and just hush. So nothing fancy. No eye candy. Just the facts, m’am.

Not surprisingly, it is the fellow creatures we live with that draw my amazement, admiration and respect—not to mention the previously-intact ecosystems that gave rise to them, many of which are now on their way off the page of history occupied so completely and with such a heavy hand by our invasive species. 

You really should call in the children to see the spider-tailed snake and the gaping maws of Finches from Outer Space. 

For those who genuinely care for the sanctity of life, these “low” creatures and so many more marvels like them matter to the whole of life, far more than we will likely every know. The pity that many will never even be discovered to be observed and written about before their populations and entire species goes extinct in the very near term, perhaps.

What’s Up With the Weird Mouths of These Finch Chicks?

The Lure of the Spider-Tailed Horned Viper 

Seeking Superpowers in the Axolotl Genome – The New York Times 

The Root of All Weevil

Spontaneous generation?

They just are there–in the five pound bag of flour you just brought home yesterday. There, in the mixing bowl that was going to hold the biscuits for dinner, but now, in a puff of white smoke, ground grains with tiny hard beetles go into the burn pit out back.

But don’t blame the insects. They are just doing what they do to make a living, wingless though they are. They have learned to hitch-hike around the world over the past few thousand years as post-glacial humankind cultivated the land, then stored, then globally-shipped wheat products everywhere.

Read the details at NPR, and just go ahead and enjoy a little crunch in your next batch of pancakes.