An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Pistils

Shinleaf Flowering

6-6-16  shinleaf 318The evergreen perennial Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica) is often only noticed at this time of year, when it is flowering.  The flower is distinctive in that the prominent style of the female pistil is proportionally far longer than in most flowers, and extends beyond the waxy, white petals. The common name — Shinleaf — is a reference to the medicinal properties of the plant. It contains a drug closely related to aspirin; the leaves reportedly have analgesic properties and were used as a poultice on bruised shins and other sores and wounds.

There are several species of pyrolas and they vary in leaf shape and flower color/arrangement.  All of them belong to the family Ericaceae, which includes blueberries and cranberries.

Look for this four to twelve-inch plant in shady, damp woods and when you find one, peer up under the petals to see the orange-tipped male stamens.

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Pitcher Plants Flowering

6-17-16  pitcher plant flower parts labeled 298Pitcher plants are known for their unique, insect-trapping leaves, but their flowers are just as unusual.  Their petals are a deep burgundy color and attract pollinating flies by looking like raw meat. The sepals, usually green structures that protect the bud and then become inconspicuous when the flower opens, are leathery and remain long after the petals fall off, well into winter.  The pistil, or female part of the flower, has a typical ovary at its base, where seeds are formed, but the style (stalk-like in most flowers) expands into a large, star-shaped umbrella. This umbrella becomes the lowest part of the flower as it droops downward in its early open stages and collects pollen that falls off of the anthers surrounding the ovary. The stigmas, where pollen must land in order for pollination to take place, are located on the five points of the star-shaped style, where visiting insects land.  A pitcher plant is designed to be pollinated by pollen stuck to the body of the insect before the insect descends onto the lower platform section of the style, where it crawls around gathering nectar, and inadvertently, pollen. (Photo:  Northern, or Purple Pitcher Plant, Sarracenia purpurea.)

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Beaked Hazelnut Flowering

beaked hazelnut 400The blossoms of many shrubs are not necessarily big, flashy, strong-scented flowers, especially if they are wind-pollinated and have no need to attract insects. Beaked Hazelnut’s flowers are now blooming – pendant male catkins loaded with pollen and ¼ “- diameter female flowers. The female blossoms should be examined through a hand lens – they are exquisite little maroon flowers with magenta highlights and pistils that curl this way and that, in hopes of catching pollen grains. One advantage to flowering now, before leaves are out, is that the wind-dispersed pollen has fewer obstructions.

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Pussy Willows Emerging

2-12-15 026Even with sub-zero temperatures and feet of snow on the ground it is possible to find signs, such as pussy willows, that spring really is around the corner. What we call pussy willows are, in fact, the soft, silvery hairs that insulate the emerging spike of flowers, or catkin, within a willow flower bud. A willow catkin consists of all male or all female flowers. The first catkins to emerge in the spring are usually males. The hairs, or “pussies,” that emerge when willow buds first open trap the heat from the sun and help warm the center of the catkins, where the flowers’ reproductive parts are located. This trapped heat promotes the development of the pollen (or in female flowers, the ovules) of the flowers deep within the hairs. Eventually the reproductive parts of the willow flowers – the stamens and pistils – emerge, but until they do, we get to enjoy their silvery fur coats.

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Showy Lady’s Slippers Flowering

6-23-14 showy lady's slipper 139As with Pink and Yellow Lady’s Slippers, one of Showy Lady’s Slipper’s three petals is greatly modified into a large inflated pouch called the labellum. The two other petals attract pollinators with an alluring odor, but the insects that enter into this pouch are in for a disappointment, as lady’s slippers produce little or no nectar. Once inside, visiting insects are guided by very fine, slanting hairs on the inner surface of the pouch towards the flower’s pistil and stamens. Once it has entered the constricted passageway that leads to the reproductive parts, an insect cannot turn around and must pass by the pistil and stamens. Lady’s slippers rarely self-pollinate, so it is crucial that they not only attract, but also extract pollen from insects to achieve cross-pollination. Thanks to their structure, this happens more often than not. The flowering of Showy Lady’s Slippers peaks in Mid-June in central Vermont; if you know of a nearby fen (peat wetland that gets its water from rainfall and surface water), best visit it soon, as that’s where you’re most likely to find this species of orchid.

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Jewelweed’s Cross-pollination Strategy

10-1-13 bumblebee and jewelweed  092Jewelweed (Impatiens pallida), also known as Touch-Me-Not due to the sensitivity of its bursting seed pods, illustrates a strategy used by many flowers to promote cross-pollination. The male and female parts of the flower develop sequentially — first the male (stamen), then the female (pistil), so that they are not mature and receptive at the same time. The bumblebee in this photograph is squeezing into the spur of a Jewelweed flower in order to reach the sweet nectar it contains. In doing so, its back brushes against the strategically located, pollen-laden anther (tip of male stamen). When the bee enters another Jewelweed flower, if its pistil is mature, some of this pollen is likely to brush against the stigma (sticky tip of the female pistil), thereby cross-pollinating the flower.

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Bottle Gentian Flowering

9-10-13 bottle gentian IMG_8093Bottle Gentian, Gentiana andrewsii, is one of our latest blooming wildflowers, and one of our most beautiful. Because its petals are closed so tightly, only bumblebees (pictured) and a few other insects have the strength to push their way inside the flower to reach Bottle Gentian’s sugar-laden nectar.

Like many other flowers, Bottle Gentian times the maturation of its reproductive parts to discourage self-pollination. Male pollen-bearing stamens mature first, and by the time the female pistil is mature, the stamens have gone by so the flower’s pistil can’t receive its own pollen (see central pistil surrounded by withered stamens in insert).

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