Portraits of Wildflowers

Perspectives on Nature Photography

Archive for August 28th, 2011

A closer view

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As I mentioned in the last post, although the mowers at Brushy Creek Lake Park cut down the dense snow-on-the-mountain colony in the park’s meadow shortly before the plants had a chance to flower, the destroyers left a few stray individuals at the fringe of the colony close to the lake. Those plants did complete their development, and you can see the flowers in this lake-backed closeup of part of one plant.

Or you may think you see the flowers, but this species, Euphorbia marginata, isn’t quite what it appears. From a distance, and even from closer up, many people assume that the long, tapering, white-fringed structures with green running down the center are petals, but those are actually modified leaves called bracts. Most people who make it past that illusion assume that the “scallops” of the white collar at the center of each flower group are the petals, but that also turns out to be false. The five (if none have come off) would-be petals are actually gland appendages, together making up what is generally called an involucral cup, more specifically known in this family as a cyathium. No, the real flowers are the nondescript, pale yellowish-green little things at the center of each scalloped ruff, hardly what we normally think of as flowers. But in spite of our misconception the plant seems to have no trouble with its own conception and manages to get fertilized and produce seeds in abundance—at least if the mowers don’t fall prey to their conception of these plants as weeds and cut them down before they can flower.

© 2011 Steven Schwartzman

Written by Steve Schwartzman

August 28, 2011 at 5:54 AM

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