Every day is Earth Day – how very cliché but it’s easy to forget in our increasingly urbanized existence. I recently graded undergraduate papers asking them “Will we ever know how many species there are on Earth?” The overwhelming answer was NO, but for mixed reasons. We are also losing species at a rate estimated to be similar to the previous five known extinctions, including the one that killed off the dinosaurs. Climate change, habitat loss, resource over-exploitation all threaten to shift our multitude of ecosystems that provide us shelter, food, water and air. The upshot is that no matter where you are, it doesn’t take much space to get back in contact our surroundings. We are always discovering new organisms sometimes in the smallest spaces. This little moss reminds me of it. I found it on a rock, growing only a couple of centimeters tall. There are probably about a dozen different visible organisms, from the Rock polypody on the right to the lichen and other moss species. Never mind that numerous bacteria and such that the naked eye can’t see. Our urbanized society will need some rethinking if we want to stem even part of the damage – but it can be done, a couple square feet at a time. So, don’t lose touch, channel your inner kid and bend down to inspect that rock! Stay curious
Medeola is a beautiful plant of the forest floor. When it’s not in flower, its single-tiered form blends in with the surroundings. As it gets ready to flower, it pushes forth a second tier that holds the flowers and fruit. Flower production does not necessarily occur every year but. when it does, the greenish-white flowers droop over the edges and turn into dark blue fruit.
Can you tell which part of this plant, Calla palustris, is the flower? Did you guess the white “petal”? That is called the spathe, a leaf-like bract that surrounds the cluster of flowers. The much tinier green and white flowers are held together on a spadix. If this plant looks familiar, it is related to the Calla lily that many people have sitting on their window sills. Funny enough, the Calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica) is not in the same genus as the plant shown above.
Like its relative, the Cherry, the black fruit of this member of the Rose family is edible. One of the French common names is interesting. The translation of Aronie gueule-noire (=black mouth Aronia) suggests that the fruit turn your mouth black when you eat the berries. I do not know from experience if they really do.
Plant fact sheet: https://gobotany.newenglandwild.org/species/aronia/melanocarpa/
Another Trillium fruit – this time the Painted Trillium. Fully mature, the fruit are bright red but this one is not quite there yet. You can see the different parts of the flower very distinctly in this photo. The purplish threads attached to the base of the fruit are the stamen, the male reproductive bits. The 3 white filaments coming out of the fruit are the stigma. They capture the pollen, triggering the development of a pollen tube. Those tubes act like a conduit, channelling the sperm to the ovule. Once fertilization occurs, the ovule balloons in size and the ovary matures into a ripened fruit. In general, Trillium require pollen from another plant in order to produce fruit (outcrossing). Some species, however, show potential for individual plants to self-fertilize (self-compatibility).
By Mario Gervais
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