The Crocus (Manitoba’s Floral Emblem)
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A luscious prairie flower pops out of the ground even though snow may still be lying around it. It’s one of the first signs that spring has finally arrived.
Until this spring, I have never seen a crocus. Embroidering one on a quilt several years ago, I learned of the colour, and had a brief encounter with its appearance, through pulling light purplish, mauve shades of embroidery thread with a needle in and out of a piece of broadcloth.
Yesterday, I got lost in the woods upon returning home from a long weekend holiday. What a lovely experience being in the wilderness of southern Manitoba during a cloud burst. The roads showed signs of flooding over, the SUV deeply immersed in ruts and muck. A smell of swamp, trees and new life emerged. Wild birds were singing gloriously. I left two windows open so I could envelop the sounds and scent.
I might have missed it had I not turned my head just at the exact moment. A small hill, the edge of the road half circling it, and a vision of a hazy blue caught my eye. My search for the final month or so ended with triumph. They stood, half bowing, as though prepared to greet royalty… their sight beyond belief for these ravenous eyes. It had not been all in vain; my travels down out-of-the-way roads and byways.
Upon reaching home, I downloaded my photos to my computer. What a joy to have caught these photos and right after a heavy downpour. No words could describe my feelings at that moment. I was like a child who came across a new toy quite by accident and it being the treasure he has been longing for a long time.
If you would like to read about these wild flowers that really do stand the test of the harsh winter we have just gone through, do continue to read.
Saucer-shaped is said not to be accident. Neither is the fuzzy centre composed of yellow stamens and a tuft of greyish pistils, nor its highly reflective petals. Solar heating … Crocus Style.
The sunlight that reaches the crocus’ shiny petals is reflected into the flower centre. This energy is bounced around between the stamens and pistils warming these vital reproductive parts of the flower. On a sunny day the temperature inside a crocus flower can be as much as 10 C (18 F) warmer than the temperature of the surrounding air. Not only does the dish shaped flower concentrate the sun’s warmth, it tracks the sun across the sky, maximizing the length of time each day that it can stay warmer than the surrounding air.
The warmth at the flower centre aids the development of pollen and seeds, but may also help insects survive and reproduce in the somewhat harsh climate of early spring. So, the next time you see a crocus, take a close look at its yellow centre. The insects you see crawling around may not just be there for a meal. On a cool spring day the centre of a crocus flower is a place to warm up a bit!
Crocus seeds are self-planting which is a rather common trick of prairie plants. Crocus seeds are shaped like spears and are covered with backward pointing hairs. The long tail is “differentially hydrophilic” – meaning it is composed of strands, which soak up water at different rates or to different amounts. The result is that when the tail gets wet or dries out, it moves, twisting as the fibres stretch or contract in relation to each other. The movement, combined with the backward pointing hairs tends to push the seed head down and through plant litter and loose soil, effectively “planting” the seed, or at least getting the seed closer to the sandy soil surface and improving its chances of germinating.
In a prairie ecosystem there is very little open soil for seeds, and no one to dig a hole and “plant” them. Most prairie plants are perennial and re-grow each year and the prairie surface is usually covered with dead, matted plant material, a barrier to seeds reaching the soil. The self-planting strategy greatly increases the odds of a seed reaching the soil surface. The strategy is found among a wide range of prairie plants and reaches its zenith with Porcupine Grass (Stipa spartea). The seeds of this grass are up to 12 cm long, with the 1.5 cm seed head tipped with a needle sharp point.
© 2013-2014 D. Delaney. All original photographs, unless otherwise credited, are fully copyrighted by the author. Unauthorised use or duplication of the content without written permission from the author is strictly prohibited.