Thursday, May 12, 2022

Sex Among Some Wetland Shrubs

It takes two to tango, for the wetland shrub called Sweet Gale (Myrica gale), which is blooming now along the shore of Lake Bonita in Moreau Lake State Park.  And most likely, many, many other wetlands across the northern regions of North America. It tends to prefer wetlands that are on the lower pH scale (more acidic), which would certainly describe the waters of Lake Bonita, a lovely little mountain-top lake that is home to many other plants (Pitcher Plants, Sundews, Rose Pogonia orchids, etc.)  that prefer an acidic habitat.

The pistillate (female) flowers are blazing red, but so tiny you have to look close for them.  It is very easy to pass by a thicket of female-flowering shrubs without noticing the flowers.  It helps to have bright sunlight igniting the flame-colored blooms!

 The tan-colored staminate (male) flowers are ripening their pollen on separate shrubs, counting on the wind to carry their pollen to the pistillate flowers nearby.

Sweet Gale's vernacular name is well deserved, for its leaves and seedpods are exquisitely aromatic with a scent very similar to that of Bayberry or Sweet Fern. That similarity of scent is not surprising, considering that all three belong to the same botanical family, the Myriaceae. That sweet scent can be enjoyed by crushing a leaf and breathing its fragrance, and the fragrance also persists in the seedpods that can be found clinging to twigs throughout the winter.

Although Sweet Gale typically bears male and female flowers on separate shrubs,  I have read that the same shrub can switch sexes from one year to another.  And it is not unheard-of for an occasional shrub to bear flowers of both sexes on the very same shrub.  So sex-switching does occur naturally from time to time in the botanical world. Perhaps this knowledge could help to assuage the outrage some folks feel about trans-sexuality among homo sapiens!

1 comment:

threecollie said...

You certainly got my attention with that title. lol Interesting!