By Boak Wiesner
The rill is flowing at this time of year after all the recent rain. Over time, it has carved the deep valley familiar to walkers on the trails up and out to the south of the Wildflower Garden. Notice how the current on the outside of the meander has cut into the bank quite steeply while on the inside, it is very gradual. What happened to those plants on the outside bank?
This got me thinking about how the non-living aspects of a habitat play such a strong role in the distribution of the living organisms, not only spatially as in what species can exist in a certain place, but also temporally, for example, when plants bloom. White Pines show the impact vividly. The distance between the whorls of branches is directly related to the “goodness” of the growing season.
Bloodroot doesn’t have petals – those are the sepals we see, and they have no odor because, well, why? What other blossoms will the newly emerged bees visit for pollen? That’s right – right now, Bloodroots are the only game in town. Bees have no other choice. Their growth now is being made by using up the starches stored in their “bloody root” – actually, a rhizome, like ginger – from photosynthesis they did last summer.
I went nose-to-sporophyte with some moss I came across on the forest floor in the shade of a log, all nice and juicy after the recent fortnight of rain. Mosses are interesting plants, and considering that there are 358 species in our state alone – take that, oak trees! This alone should make them worthy of a much closer look.
While most plants are content minimize their gametophyte generations to nothing bigger than pollen and eggs, the moss plants that we usually see, on the other hand, are the gametophyte generation. The cells have only one set of chromosomes, not two. When it’s wet enough, though, mosses grow their sporophyte generation, the little heads sticking up – it looks like fur from a distance. That’s the generation that will release spores to perpetuate the species.
Very nearby, some Snow Trillium were blooming. Note how much like the Bloodroot they look with the familiar white-around-yellow arrangement. Many wildflowers in our state show the same pattern.
Boak Wiesner is a Minnesota Naturalist volunteer.