Tuesday, 26 April 2016

Water Lily wavy for a day



Plants use flowers to attract pollinators. Sometimes they co-opt a nearby leaf or two to add to the allure, but mostly its the flower that does all the attracting. (There are of course plants that simply shed their pollen to the wind or water; their flowers tend to be less attractive, to us as much as other animals.)

Our experience with cut flowers is that they last for a few days to a few weeks. Attached to the plant we might expect them to last longer and in many cases (think of a rose or a camellia bloom) a single flower can be enjoyed for weeks. Sometimes, like the Moth Orchid (Phalaenopsis) they hang around for months.

Oddly, given all the energy needed and outcome required, there are flowers that last a day or two only. The Day Lily (Hemerocallis species) does what it says on the tin: the flowers open in the morning and start withering away that evening. The Titan Arum (Amorphophallus titanum) lasts an extra day, but for a flower structure that can be over two metres long and wide, that's a big investment for a 48-hour sexual display.

The flowers of the Yesterday Today and Tomorrow (Brunfelsia) last a few days, changing colour daily, as do the much showier flowers of the giant Victoria Lily (Victoria). Plenty of variation but our expectation, or at least mine, is that most flowers will hang around for a week at least. So when I noticed over summer the Wavy Marshwort (Nymphoides crenata) flowers vanishing overnight to appear next morning as pink buds like those above I assumed the Marshwort was just closing up its flowers to protect their delicate petals (I riff on this in my post on Shy Flowers).


Wary of making assumptions I decided to run an experiment. Neville Walsh and I tagged a couple of flowers with a knotted piece of vegetation. I didn't photograph them on that day, but here is what the flower looked like the next morning (it's the one on the left, with the loose garland).


The tagged flowers were all spent but in each case a fresh bud was sitting erect, right next to it. By mid-morning the bud was open and the old one hardly noticeable except to the experimental scientist.


We checked the next day too, just to make sure our first flowers hadn't been opened for days or weeks, with us tracking their last hours just by chance. Sure enough, the new flower withered in the evening, never to open again.

To the casual observer the pond looks more or less the same every day, for weeks on end. That is what the Wavy Marshwort does, at least at Melbourne Gardens.


[The astute blog observer will notice this last picture is taken on the same day as the image at the top of the post - my pictures of the next day were very unattractive. But take my word for it, at this scale the daubs of yellow looked pretty much the same the next day, and the next, and the next...]

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