Thursday, July 2, 2009

More Flower Sex Stuff

Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain! Dear Lord, when will it stop? I hope by tomorrow AM, since that's when I'm joining my friend Sue for a walk, rain or shine. But shine sure would be nice.

In the meantime, I'm poking about in my photo files, reminding myself of what should be in bloom this week, if only the sun would show its face. Like Chicory, for example, which refuses to bloom on dark rainy days. This long-ago-introduced common roadside wildflower (Cichorium intybus is its Latin name) has long intrigued me, not just because of its lovely blue color, but also because of its twirly, curly reproductive parts. I could see that its female parts were dusted with pollen, but where did that pollen come from? Where were the male parts that manufactured that pollen? I searched around a bit on Google and finally found the answer. (In Microsoft's MSN Encarta encyclopedia, to give credit where credit is due.)

I knew already that this was a "composite" flower, that it was a bunch of tiny individual flowers all crowded together in the center, with only the outer ring having showy blue petals. And I figured those Y-shaped curling wands were the flower's styles (part of the pistillate, or female, organs). But I didn't know that those fluted, blue-and-white striped columns supporting those wands were actually the flower's stamens (the male reproductive organs).

According to what I read on Encarta, here's how it works: The pollen-producing anthers (part of the stamens) are joined to form a tube (the blue-striped column) through which the style extends. The anthers release pollen into the tube, and as the style elongates, it pushes the pollen upward, out of the tube, making it available for pollination by visiting insects or wind. The stigmatic (sticky pollen-receiving) areas of the style are located on two branches of the style tip, which separate after elongation, forming those curving Ys. They elongate quite a bit above the pollen tubes, to avoid self-pollination, their fertilization depending on wind- or insect-carried pollination from other flowers. I see in my photo, a little bee has been busy doing her job.

Chicory. Just an ordinary, everyday, common-as-dirt roadside weed. But what an amazing -- and beautiful! -- sex life!


Bird said...

A lovely picture, it illustrates your description of pollination so beautifully as well as being a gorgeous study in colour and form. The insect in the depths of the plant tops it off. And it's such a coincidence that we both wrote about interesting pollination techniques on the same day - perhaps we should start a new meme, "Plant sex Thursday" :D

Woodswalker said...

Yes, Bird, I saw your post about Bee Orchids. Very suggestive! Especially to bees. Actually, if we were to post photos of some of the orchids, we might have the porn police after us.

Ellen Rathbone said...

What a stunning photo. Who'd believe it was chickory?!?!

Woodswalker said...

Thanks, Ellen. And you're right about chicory: such a common plant, but what strange and beautiful secrets it contains!