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Mar 20 2013

Bodacious Botany: Scarlett o’Hairy

One of the things about doing geology is that it gets you into the habit of staring at the ground. And when you do that, you notice things. Alas, here in the Puget lowland the things usually aren’t geological in nature. But they’re still pretty.

Bodacious Botany I

Bodacious Botany I

This cluster of botany was on a little mound, and couldn’t have shown off a nice selection of the local flora better if it had been planned. The brilliant red stuff caught my eye first, of course, and then I spent a moment admiring the progression from moss to scarlet plant to our lovely bittercress.

Bodacious Botany II

Bodacious Botany II

There’s some complicated chemistry going on in those red leaves. I’m very nearly sure that color is caused by anthocyanin, which is thought to act like sunscreen for baby and other vulnerable leaves. Yes. Even here, some plants slather themselves in sunscreen rather like people worried about skin cancer. I wonder if some of them might be doing it because they’re not locals, and hence evolved for more unfiltered sun than we get here.

Bodacious Botany III

Bodacious Botany III

I love the little hairs. Those are trichomes, and they’re relatively common, but not always obvious. Hairy plants always look a little strange to me, but there are good reasons for those hairs being there. Here, let Wikipedia tell you about some:

It is likely that in many cases, hairs interfere with the feeding of at least some small herbivores and, depending upon stiffness and irritability to the “palate”, large herbivores as well. Hairs on plants growing in areas subject to frost keep the frost away from the living surface cells. In windy locations, hairs break-up the flow of air across the plant surface, reducing evaporation. Dense coatings of hairs reflect solar radiation, protecting the more delicate tissues underneath in hot, dry, open habitats. And in locations where much of the available moisture comes from cloud drip, hairs appear to enhance this process.

So there you are. If you’re a plant, you’ve got lots of reasons to grow hair. And if I ever get a wild hair (ahaha), I’ll write about sentient, mobile plants that have developed obsessive rituals about their hair, including shaving it off for no apparent reason. Sound like any species we know?

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Ubi Dubium

    I found a website suggesting that it’s Herb Robert, a wild geranium. http://meadowsweetsnaturenotes.blogspot.com/2009/03/identifying-wild-flowers-by-their.html

    1. 1.1
      rq

      That looks more correct than my guess; I definitely agree that it’s a wild geranium, and this one is redder than the carolina one I found. *thumbs up*

  2. 2
    rq

    From its appearance, it is a juvenile; it’ll probably be more or less all green once adult. ;)
    So, I think it could be Carolina Geranium, but with the leaves still curling in on themselves, it’s hard to be sure. I’m mainly basing this on the fact that the adult plant has reddish-pink, hairy stems… It also happens to be on the list of lawn weeds, I think the same one on which the Mandelbrot leaf plant was found (although this is a Florida list, and that may have been a Virginia list… still, many of the same weeds seem to be on both: resilient much?).

  3. 3
    evilDoug

    If you like hairy plants, the mint family can be interesting. Many species have furry stems, and the stems are square. Resist any urge to take some seeds home to plant outdoors. Some produce prodigious quantities of seeds and can be quite invasive. Many are, however, quite beautiful (e.g. Giant hyssop – lots of Goggle images)

    Fully identifying plants (as opposed to getting close) can be frustrating, even with key in hand. Often you need to know details that aren’t there at any one particular time – things like flower AND seeds.

    If it is a Geranium, it bears watching later when the seeds are starting to ripen. The drawing at Wikipedia shows two stages of pistle. The one on the right is as it will appear after the flower petals have fallen. The one in the middle shows it after the seeds have been discharged. Assuming that species behaves like the ones around here, the seed discharge is quite impressive. The capsules don’t just slowly curl up and drop the seeds. Instead, the curly in abrupt and forceful, and the seeds are flung considerable distances. You aren’t likely to see it happen, but if you are around a quiet area with a big geranium patch, you can hear it.

    1. 3.1
      evilDoug

      Just once I’d like to mange to post a comment without some dumb error.
      “Instead, the curly in ” should be “Instead, the curling is”

      1. nothere

        mange. THAT’S funny

  4. 4
    Trebuchet

    Looks like herb robert, aka “stinking Bob”, to me as well. I think it was featured in another post a few weeks ago. If so, it smells really bad, so that’s the quick test.

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