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Planet’s plants have amazing abilities

By Frances Lamberts

Even a small pocket of natural landscape can add warmth and richness, and the pleasure of many discoveries, to our lives. In my organically cultivated Monarch Waystation acre in Jonesborough, surprise never ends at the seasonal floral beauty, at what plants seem able to do and the many creatures with which they interact go give food or shelter, thereby enabling diverse other life. Scientists continue to reveal amazing sensory and discrimination and other abilities they posses. No wonder, though, since they have been at it and learned to become good at both surviving in their place-bound world and at serving other lives, ours included, for millions of years.

Our native clematis, the Virgin’s Bower, now is covered with clusters of silky seed heads, the curved “tails” of the seeds more than an inch long, to be carried away by the wind. Its foliage hosts the larvae of several moths, and abundance of small white flowers in midsummer have given food to the hummingbird, butterflies, bees and wasps, along with various flies and other small insects. Its foliage can also provide cover and nesting habitat for many songbirds.

Another native vine has hosted a few of the Pipevine Swallowtail butterfly larvae into late August this year, though most years its feeds many of these during the earlier summer months. Its common name, Dutchman’s Pipe deriving from the resemblance of its fused, tube-shaped flowers to Dutch smoking pipes, this plant is known to have been part of the community of the Appalachian mountains’ moist, deciduous forest for at least fifteen million years. Its tricks for getting the flowers pollinated, these being hidden somewhat in a dense tangle of lustrous, heart-shaped leaves, are a foul odor from the flower to attract small flies and trapping them by backward pointing hairs at the base. After dusting the insect with pollen, it then releases it to fly away, for another chance to pollinate another flower.

In their turn, the adult Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies help pollinate bee balm, lupines, phlox, thistles, petunias and a quite a range of other flowers.

Indeed, the famous Harvard University biologist, Edward O. Wilson states in a recent book about the planet’s plant and animal species: “Each species is a wonder to behold, a long, brilliant history in itself to read, a champion emerged in our time after a long struggle of thousands or millions of years, best of the best, an expert specialist in the niche of the natural environment in which it lives.”

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Frances Lamberts writes “With Conservation in Mind” every two weeks for The Erwin Record.