Saturday, June 9, 2012

Wildflower of the Week: A Mystery in Spurs

Spurred mystery plant
Last summer Mrs Home Bug Gardener and I, while walking a trail on our land that we had traipsed a hundred times before, encountered a plant that we'd never seen before. We had no idea what it might be, but it was very strange indeed: purplish, spurred, and square-stemmed with somewhat fleshy opposite leaves - more like a visitor from another planet, than a normal denizen of the Great North Woods.
Scrophulariaceae, not
Alas, none of our pretty picture books of Albertan flowers was of any use. So, it was off to the flora of last resort: EH Moss's completely picture-free Flora of Alberta. Alas and alack, it wouldn't key to family! Not a mint, not a snap-dragon (Scrophulariaceae - the family I thought most likely), not any of the families with 4 stamens and 4 petals! That left only leafing through each family and trying the generic keys - and final success on p. 455: Halenia deflexa (Sm.) Griseb., American Spurred Gentian.
American Spurred Gentian Halenia deflexa
Well, gentians aren't always 5-merous, a good thing to know, and finding a flaw in a key always makes me feel virtuously smug, but why spurs? Obviously there must be some interesting long-tongued pollinators coming to the spurs. So, off to the literature - for a frustrating round of fruitless research. Although there are 22 species of spurred gentians around the world, and one is considered an important medicinal plant (Tibetan Medicine - Halenia elliptica), and there are many papers published on the anti-oxidants the plants possess, their pollination ecology is a complete mystery!

KB von Hagen & JW Kadereit. 2003. The Diversification of Halenia (GENTIANACEAE): Ecological Opportunitey versus Key Innovation. Evolution 57(11): 2507–2518 

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful little flower. I have never seen this in all my traipsing in the woods. You must be thrilled to have identified it. :)