Monday, July 9, 2012

Deception - Simpson's Grass-Pink

Cross-pollination is most commonly achieved by wind or insect. Pollen from the male part of the flower is transferred to the female part of another flower of the same species. Insects are lured in with the promise of nectar and are the ambivalent dupes of this well orchestrated exchange of genetic material. Not all promises are what they seem.

My good friends Milla and Richard and I were wildflower hunting on the CREW lands in Collier County, Florida recently. A prescribed fire and an extended drought have made conditions optimal for an amazing diversity of wildflowers, but there was one in particular that Milla insisted we had to find. She had seen it days before and she promised it wasn’t far from the parking lot.

How far?
“Near Lettuce Lake!”
Ok, that’s not far. I had an appointment and had to be somewhere as promised.

After an hour of stopping to photograph flowers I asked again “how far?”
“Just at the bend in the trail!”

Thirty minutes later the trail bent. There amongst a myriad of wildflowers, as promised, stood tall, a lone Simpson’s Grass-Pink (Calopogontuberosus var. simpsonii), a terrestrial orchid variety only found in seasonally wet, marly soils. The genus Calopogon translates to “beautiful beard” and refers to the unique bristles on the upper lip of the three-petaled flower. The bristles give the appearance of stamen and a false promise of nectar. While attempting to land on the upper lip, heavier insects will cause it to bend, dipping them back onto a mass of pollen grains which can then be transferred to the next flower where cross-pollination is achieved.
© Pete Corradino

This variety is distinguished from the common form, Tuberosus Grass-Pink Calopogon tuberosus) by a narrow and elongated upper lip and is found in grassy savannahs (at the bend in the trail!)

We found several more plants nearby, which all seemed to benefit from the recent fire and open canopy. It was well worth the walk and I was thankful for trusting in Milla’s promise. It did make me wonder how many insects have been tempted by the Grass-Pink’s deception and how many have learned to turn around before wasting their time. I’m glad I didn’t.  

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