Notes from the 3rd class of the Botany Conservation Course
by Course Volunteer Phyllis Daniels & Course Coordinator Mary Kiesau
Dana started off the class with a “side-bar” discussion of plant intelligence.
The Intelligence of Plants
|Bristlecone Pine Photo: Chris de Rham/Flickr/Creative Commons License|
Plants show an incredible amount of “wisdom” in their adaptations, if we apply human values to them. Plant don’t have a brain (as we think of a brain) but they have to do a lot to stay alive, not the smallest of which is to get all of their needs met while staying in one place. The hero of the plant world - the Bristlecone Pine - is the longest living being on earth. The oldest living organism is a Bristlecone pine in Nevada that is 5063 years old – just imagine, it has responded and adapted to and survived all the climate extremes from glaciers to drought over the last 5000 years.
We should rethink our idea of movement when it comes to plants. For instance, bunchberry’s little flowers open and explosively shoot out pollen at 500 mph (the speed of sound and 1000x the force of gravity). Why? Possibly because they grow low to ground in thick forests so they needed to adapt to a world where there is a lack of wind and few insects. Another example of movement is with mistletoe that grows on Douglas fir. Mistletoe spreads through fir stands by shooting out sticky seeds at 50 mph that hit another tree and stick to it like glue and then grow.
|The Bee Orchid|
Many flowers, particularly certain orchids, have evolved to look (and sometimes smell) like a female insect in order to attract the male insect of that species. These plants are called “deceptor pollinators,” Out of 22,000 species, one third are deceptor pollinators. In the Methow, the Fairyslipper or Calypso orchid is a deceptor pollinator.
Plants too seem to have a sense of smell. Dodder doesn’t photosynthesize because it is a parasite plant. When offered green wheat or a tomato to eat it chose the tomato - suggesting it could smell. Even when blowing only the scent of the two plants the Dodder choose the tomato.
Another plant adaptation are attempts to keep herbivores from eating/killing them. Some plants have created toxic chemicals, such as nicotine, morphine and caffeine, to repel herbivores. Western water hemlock is considered the deadliest plant in North America killing livestock with just a few nibbles.
Some plants have adapted ways of eating insects such as the venus flytrap, bladderwort and butterwort. Venus flytraps conserve energy by waiting until 2 tiny hairs inside the “trap” are triggered by the pray to be sure it is big enough prey to make it worth their while to close. This plant seems to have a memory of 20 seconds between when an insect touches one hair until it touches the second. Bladderwort can catch small fish and tadpoles using water pressure. Butterwort is carnivorous plant that catches flies with sticky leaves. Look for it in wet meadows in the North Cascades.
Dana then switched gears to teaching the last several plant families in our GILF presentation. We reviewed what we learned in the previous two classes, then moved on to learn the basic characteristics of the families in “10 or More Stamens” Group, the “Families with Fused Petals” Group, and the “Families with Free Petals” Group. But remember, when placing a plant in one of the seven ID Groups, you start with Group 1 and move through each group in numerical order deciding whether it fits or not.
The “10 or More Stamens Crowding the Center” Group (Group 5) includes the Buttercup and Rose families. We learned these families in the first night when they were initially in the “Central Clusters” Group, but Dana revised the groups.
Buttercup Family - This family can also be in the Bilateral Symmetry Group, but most have radial symmetry. Buttercups usually have 5-12 petals with simple to elaborate flowers. They usually have more than one pistil (female part), and they have 10 or more stamen (male part). The “look” is one of many pistils and numerous stamens. Includes: Anemones (fern-like leaves); Marsh Marigold (big round to heart-shaped succulent leaves); Buttercups (leaves mostly basal and palmately three-lobed; usually 5 petals and always very shiny); Columbine; Meadowrue (male and female flowers are on different plants, wind pollinated; leaves in 3’s and 3 lobed)
Rose family - 48 species in the Methow with extensive variation. Includes trees, shrubs, annuals & perennials. In all genera, there are multiple pistils and numerous stamens. There are always 5 petals & sepals. Most flowers are large & showy and there is often large, fleshy fruit (strawberries, raspberries, rosehip, etc.). No common pattern for the leaves except for the smaller plants, like brambles, you get a sense of 3 to 5 leaflets, mostly basal and toothed.
Three common genera are: Cinquefoil (Potentilla), Brambles (Rubus) and Spirea (Spiraea). Cinquefoils can be hard to tell apart from buttercups. Cinquefoils have sepals and buttercups don’t. Pull a petal off on a buttercup it has a nectary at the bottom of the petal and cinquefoils don’ts. Cinquefoils are very shiny, and their leaves are more toothed. Brambles almost always have white flowers (salmonberry have pink) and their fruit is usually a many-seeded pod. Spireas are small to medium shrubs with large round or long/erect clusters of tiny flowers.
The “Families with Fused Petals” Group includes the Heather or Heath Family, the Borage Family, the Phlox Family and the Primrose Family. (ID Group 6)
Heath Family – A very diverse family from saprophytes to trees but all with flowers that are bell or urn shaped (some are more open than others).
· The saprophytes are parasites on a fungus in the ground. They don’t photosynthesize but live on dead or decomposing matter. Includes pinesap, pine drops and indian pipe.
· Heathers are evergreen shrubby mats with needle or scale-like leaves
· Other genera with closed bell/urn flowers are blueberries (vaccinium), kinnikinnick and salal.
· Genera with more open bell-shaped flowers include wintergreen and rhododendron
Borage Family – Large family that can be hairy, have fiddleheads, a central bullseye in the flower, and/or have long flaring tubes of flowers. Six common genera are:
- Cryptantha - smallish, coarsely hairy, most have fiddleheads
- Fiddleneck – distinct fiddlehead, bristly hairs, flower a narrow tube
- Puccon – hairs not obvious but plant is scratchy, flowers not in fiddlehead but short tubes
- Stickseed – flower a short flaring tube with a colored ring in the center
- Forget-Me-Nots – like stickseed but smaller, slender and weak
- Bluebells – flower tube is closed, bell-shaped and droopy
Phlox Family – The GILF is: flower has fused petals in a long narrow tube with perpendicular lobes; leaves are narrow or ladder like. Four common genera are: Collomia, Gilia, Phlox and Jacobs Ladder
Primrose Family – family characteristics are mostly technical; they generally prefer moist soil, The flower “Shooting Star” is our most common Primrose.
A special family that is not in any of our Groups is the Currant Family.
Currants are medium-sized shrubs with maple shaped leaves, and edible (not always palatable) berries. There are several species of currant in WA.
The “Families with Free Petals” Group includes the Stonecrop Family, the Saxifrage Family, the Purslane Family and the Pink Family. Remember from ID Group 3 onward, the flowers have parts in 5 or multiples of 5. These family all generally have five petals, just like the last group, but these petals are free not fused.
Stonecrop Family – distinct in that they are small succulent plants that grow in dry, rocky places. Also known as Sedums, which is the genus.
|The GILF of Saxifrage|
|Purslane: two green sepals & pink stripes|
Pink Family – GILF cleft or split petals (some so deeply they look like 10 petals), ovary superior and bulbous, leaves usually narrow, always opposite, and borne on swollen nodes on stem. Genera include: Starwort, Silene, Chickweed and Sandwort.