Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Early Grass Pink - not so early this year

I made a trip up into the Florida panhandle recently in late April, primarily to transport family members back to the Orlando area for a visit. Of course, not one to waste a good opportunity, I scheduled a brief amount of time to head into the woods and check on the local flora. I have seen Calopogon barbatus (commonly known as the bearded grass pink or early grass pink) many times in the area...the first time happened when my family got our car stuck in some dirt on a side road in the Apalachicola National Forest. Typically, they come up at the end of March and into the beginning of April, so I didn't have much hope of finding them in bloom this late. Much to my surprise, many small racemes of pink, slightly-less-than-one-inch flowers greeted me along a familiar trailside. It seems that many plants are blooming late this year, owing to the unusually cold and long winter (for Florida, anyway--I hear that in the northern states, spring came a bit early).

Here is one of the first photos to make it through the rather arduous digital editing process:

Calopogon barbatus (Early Grass Pink, Bearded Grass Pink)
Note the bristle of hairs presented on the upper half of the lip. You might think (along with any self-respecting bee) that this is a cluster of stamens and/or pistils all covered in pollen and ready for the bees to collect (and thus distribute pollen between flowers), but you would think incorrectly. The true pollen is in the arrow-like structure (the column) arching downward from the center of the flower. The lip is jointed below the bristles, bending under the weight of the small bees that visit these flowers. This forces the bee onto its back onto the waiting column below. In the process, pollen is transferred to its back, to be picked up when it visits the next flower. Thus, this species of orchid uses trickery to achieve pollination, not offering any true reward (nectar or pollen) to the visiting bee. This strategy appears to be fairly successful, judging by the number of seed pods encountered on these plants in the wild.


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