Saturday, August 1, 2009

Floral Con-Artist



This is Grass-of-Parnassus Parnassia palustris, a delightful little flower that's very locally distributed here in North-East England and now much harder to find than it once was. These flowers were photographed in boggy grassland beside a moorland stream near Alston in the North Pennines. The spherical flower buds, which look like a white pearl set in a green clasp, open to reveal a ring of five yellowish-green fan-shaped structures ending in globules, positioned between the stamens and the petals. These structures are staminodes – modified stamens that fool insects in search of a meal. To a hover fly at least, they look like glistening drops of nectar but the flower produces no nectar at all, relying on this deception to attract pollinators. Despite its name, Grass-of-Parnassus is not related to grasses at all; it’s a member of the saxifrage family.

8 comments:

  1. This is a beautiful flower, Phil. Lovely pictures, too.

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  2. A clever plant; and that first picture is a stunner. It looks so delicate.

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  3. Hi Emma, this is another flower that I remember from Brooke Bond tea card collecting - I'd never seen it until I moved to the North East 35 years ago..

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  4. Hi Keith,isn't it amazing how some of the most delicate wild flowers grow in challenging situations? This one thrives in moorland areas and in sand dunes..

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  5. I also found this lovely plant on the 23rd Aug (after a 3 weeks search) in some old limestone hushings in a wild uncultivated valley in N.E. Lancashire about 3 miles from Nelson. I've just revisited the site and I estimated that there was about 300 to 400 flowers scattered along the valley side.

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  6. Hi David, Wherever it grows it does seem to have a very local distribution - I've only ever found it in a handful of locations around here. I did once grow it from seed that I got from a Dutch botanic garden - the seeds are tiny but germinate quickly and the plants grew and flowered well in pots, but I lost them when I tried to grow them in the garden. The plants in the photographs are in short grassland nera a rapidly eroding stream bank, so I don't think they have a long-term future.

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  7. Hi Phil

    I am very interested in the hoverfly in the photo - I live in Australia and we have a very similar creature which I was brought up to belive was a native bee!!!
    I have posted a photo at http://deborahlloyd.blogspot.com/
    and would be interested in your comments
    Cheers Deborah

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  8. Hi Deborah, you insect looks virtually identical to my hoverfly, except that maybe the yellow markings are a little darker ... but perhaps that's the effect of Australian sunshine..

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