Thursday, May 17, 2012

Armed with pink fuzz

When I started my shade garden, years ago, where a previous tenant here had told me nothing would ever grow, one of the first plants I set in was London Pride. London Pride will grow anywhere; in waste urban lots, underfoot, in shade or sun, in dry ground, acid soil, on rocks, under snow, on weed-proof landscape fabric, even on concrete. They are impervious to slugs; deer and rabbits won't eat them; they resist weeds, even our indefatigable buttercups; they stay bright green all winter, and flower prettily in spring. What more could I ask?

London Pride is a typical saxifrageSaxifraga × urbium, a hybrid of (S. spathularis and S. umbrosa). It's a rosette of attractive, serrated, leathery leaves that sends up a leggy stalk with tiny white and pink flowers. It spreads rapidly, putting out new plants on short runners, making a dense green mat under a canopy of bright stars.

May display

Tiny (1.2 cm at their widest point), five-petalled flowers

It's possibly too easy-going for its own good; it is not a plant you find featured in your local nursery; too common, boring. Hard-working, dependable, sturdy, and boring. Until you get down to its level and really look at it.

Another name for it is "Whimsey". Whimsical colour combination here: green, white, yellow, pink, orange, brown, and "rosa Mexicana".

The flower has two stages; here, a new flower has white stamens with orange  tips. The central column, the pistil, is arranged like a pair of pliers with a deep pink pad on the business end.

Older flower; the stamens have dropped their orange tips, and the "pliers" have spread out into pale, curled lips, so it now looks like a white dolphin puckered up for a kiss.

But what have we here? Look again at the casing of the buds.

My grandson called my attention to these; he was examining a flower under his low-power microscope and discovered the fuzzy stems.

Pink hairs?

Look again!

Zooming as far in as I could coax the camera. Tiny stalks, each topped with a pink or red ball of jelly.

Laurie was intrigued, and was asking, "What are these things for?" Wrong question; variations appear without rhyme or reason, and then turn out to be useful. (Or not. Or we can't discover the function; we can't therefore assume that it has none.) So, "What does it do for the plant?" would be a valid question.

Well? What can we learn about these? The stems feel slightly fuzzy; on tender skin, like my lips, raspy and a bit sticky. The catch on my hair, and pull it. The individual stalks, for all they are so fine and transparent, are strong; when I squeeze them between my thumb and fingers, they pop right back up.

I can see them irritating the tender underbellies of snails and slugs. This may be why I sometimes find a slug on a leaf, but never on a stalk or flower.

And this: examining one single stalk, I found an aphid, and three tiny flies, all thoroughly stuck on, and all dead.

The fly is just over 1 mm. long.

The flowers attract little wasps and the occasional bee, looking for nectar and collecting pollen, but it seems that the rest of the plant is off limits. Come to think of it, I've never seen an ant on one, either.

In this context, a quote from Wikipedia, about another saxifrage, is intriguing:
Round-leaved Saxifrage (S. rotundifolia), whose sticky leaves seem to catch small invertebrates
I think a bit of experimentation is in order. Tomorrow, I'm going looking for bugs to test on London Pride stalks.

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1 comment:

Tim said...

I think some of my houseplants could learn a thing or two from London Pride, in stopping potential aphids in their tracks, literally.