Sunday, June 20, 2010

Bluebells

A wildflower instantly recognizable to any Ohio botanical enthusiast, the Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica. It is the only of its ilk found here.

One of the great things about travel is seeing a broader spectrum of flora and fauna, which drives home the fact that there are often many more species in a genus such as Mertensia than what we see in our own backyards. Gaining a bigger picture view of plants and animals helps one to gain a better understanding of evolutionary lineages, differences among species, habitat niches, in addition to the sheer enjoyment of seeing interesting new relatives of well known and familiar species.

There are 18 "bluebells" in the genus Mertensia in North America, and this is Tall Bluebells, M. paniculata, photographed on the Kenai Peninsula in Alaska a few days back. Most bluebells are westerners and northerners.

Tall Bluebells are rather gangly; not as stout as our Virginia Bluebells. Nonetheless, like most of its brethren it is a striking, eye-catching plant.

This was my hands-down favorite amongst the bluebells: Oysterleaf, Mertensia maritima. It's the light green prostrate plant on the left, seen growing with Beach Pea, Lathyrus japonicus (The latter is threatened in Ohio; in much of Alaska it is a weed). When I first saw it, I was initially flummoxed until I took a closer look at the flowers.

Oysterleaf grows in sandy, rocky beaches along the sea, and like many salt-adapted plants, its foliage is quite thick and leathery. Where I saw it, the Oysterleaf was at or near the front lines of high tide wave action, and its prostrate habit no doubts helps it cope with regular beatings by the surf.

Kneeling down for a close inspection of the flowers instantly reveals it to be a member of the Mertensia clan, albeit quite a different cup of tea than what we are used to seeing in Ohio's spring woods.

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3 comments:

Janet Creamer said...

Fascinating stuff!

nina said...

That looks great on the black sand beach.
Just lovely.

Nicole said...

This time of year is undoubtedly the most beautiful here is Ohio. Even driving down the highways, I am sometimes in awe of all the color from our wildflowers. Bluebells have a special place in my heart, and these photos are amazing.