Tuesday, May 11, 2010

A plant to rival the warblers

A rushing mountain stream in West Virginia. The loud rollicking song of a Louisiana Waterthrush greeted us upon arrival. The warblers were temporarily trumped by a fantastic diversity of spring wildflowers springing from the cool rocky soils of the glen.

The bird-seekers on our New River Birding & Nature Festival expedition were struck dumb by the spectacular beds of Fern-leaved Scorpionweed, Phacelia bipinnatifida. This plant belong to the Waterleaf Family, Hydrophyllaceae, and few uglies are found in this group. For a short while, these plants were ogled more than the birds.

Phacelias have a delicate, ephemeral aspect, and their beauty is multidimensional. From afar, this scorpionweed grabs the eye and forces one to admire their purple drifts. Up close, the intricate divisions of the leaves are intriguing and complex - bipinnatifida means "twice pinnately cleft".

The flowers are well worth a more than casual glance. The white cup of the corolla is ringed with rounded blue-purple petals that rank high amongst Nature's most pleasing hues. Those elongate rods thrusting from the flower are called filaments, and they're copiously beset with long threadlike hairs. A pollinator should consider itself fortunate to enter such a nectar house.

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