Thursday, January 29, 2009

Winter Dreams of Summer Sex

Okay.  That's enough.  I know we've not reached the record yet (120 inches, winter of 1970-71), but jeez! there's just nowhere to put it!  That's my husband in the photo, standing on the sidewalk reaching up behind the snowbank in front of our house.  And he's a pretty tall guy.

I guess I wouldn't mind so much, but all the shoveling and the scraping of windshields and the digging out cars from the snowplow heavings has worn me out.  It's a perfect day for snowshoeing -- blue sky, moderate temp, not too windy -- but I need a nap.

While drifting and dreaming away on the sofa I thought about drifting and dreaming last summer while paddling the Hudson River.  Ah, lazy summer day, warm sun, gentle current, trailing my fingers in cool blue water, and hmmm, what the heck are those plants streaming along beside me?  Little white flowers just kissing the surface, shiny curlicue stems, long eel-like leaves translucent as Jello.  And nowhere to be found in my Newcomb's guide.  Then I remembered a piece Ed Miller wrote for Adirondac magazine some years back:  that must be wild celery (Vallisneria americana).

This is a truly fascinating plant.  What you see are the female flowers, and their corkscrew stems can coil looser or tighter to keep them exactly at the water's surface, creating a little dimple in the surface tension.  The much tinier male flowers grow at the base of separate plants, down at the bottom of the river (sometimes as deep as 20 feet but usually much shallower), and when ripe, rise to the surface and float along until they literally "fall for the ladies."  That is, the staminate flower slides into the dimple created by the pistillate flower and guess what happens next?  Well, yes, ahem, that, but then after the deed is done the corkscrew stem curls and contracts, yanking the new family down, down, down to where baby will grow in the nice soft mud. 

Now here's the irony.  Despite having evolved this complex and fascinating reproductive process, wild celery doesn't need to do it this way.  In fact, it more often reproduces itself not by seed but by cloning,  creating new plants from the tuberous tips of its spreading rhizomes.  Oh, well, even if they don't have to do it for babies, at least they still get to do it for fun. 

1 comment:

NatureGirl said...

Isn't Nature just amazing?!? Who needs to travel to outer space to discover new and bizarre forms of life, eh?