Sunday, March 15, 2009

Deconstructing the nasturtium

I've written in the past about my love/hate obsession with the nasturtium. Spring is about to happen here in the Arizona mountains and my thoughts are turning once more to pots filled with bright flowers. Including nasturtiums, which this evening brought to mind a series of pictures from last year, taken to show the different parts of the flower.

If you look closely at either of these blossoms, you'll find that the nasturtium has five petals (as a rule), but that three have "whiskers" at the lower end, while the other two sport stripes that lead down toward the center of the flower, where the real work is done.

It's pretty obvious, even to a rank amateur like myself, that the stripes are there to guide an insect toward the stamen either to pick up a load of pollen or to shake the anther, causing the pollen to alight on the stigma to start the seed-making process. But: what about the whiskers on the other three petals? Quite frankly, The Google didn't help me much with that question. I learned how to make caper substitutes from the seed pods as well as potato nasturtium soup. No talk about whiskers.

Perhaps their function is to brush off any pollen that sticks to a visitor, so that it falls back to the stigma. In any event, here are close-ups of both kinds of petals. Very possibly those stripes have a special color in ultra-violet light to catch the eye of the wandering insect -- that is often the case with flowers.

The plant doesn't count on stripes alone -- or bees and other bugs, for that matter. Each blossom also offers a heavy-duty nectary to entice hummingbirds or possibly hawk moths to help with the important job of pollination. It's strange but my mother, who introduced us kids to the honeysuckle nectary, never cottoned onto the syrup potential of a nasturtium. Maybe because the flowers are orange and she really, really didn't like that color! A pity. Oh, yes -- the nectary is that horn-shaped extension curving down from the bottom of the flower.

12 comments:

OmegaMom said...

Well! You got some heartfelt "Oooh!"s and "Ahhh!"s from me and OmegaDad with those pics. I particularly like the real closeups, them's purty nice, mamasan. I wouldn't mind having the USEwhiskers and centerclose in big files. Hint, hint. (Unlike Grandma, I *love* oranges and orange-y reds.)

Antipodean Curmudgeon said...

At the back of the block(lot) of almost all the aught 30's homes around here, ours for instance, nasty stir shums proliferate along the fence line. We are lacking in one colour though, a velvety deep dark maroon. This colour must be recessive or something, as we had it in the dim past.

Hermanp

Granny J said...

dotter -- I too love those brilliant colors. Big files on the way.

bro -- can you buy packets of individual colored seeds? If not t the local WallyWorld, try going on line.

Linda G. said...

Beautiful photos GJ, and a thought provoking botanical post! Wonder what the whiskers are for anyway...

Minot said...

You aroused my curiosity about the whiskers. This is what I found--From The Standard Cyclopedia of Horticulture by Liberty Hyde Bailey:"The beard in the throat of the ... flower protects the pollen from rain and also discourages the insect from entering the flower on the wrong side."

azlaydey said...

I'll never look at the lovely nasturtiums the same way again!!

Anonymous said...

The flowers complete with nectar filled horn are great in salad, especially with a few violet blossoms and their tender young leaves. Lots of Vit C too.

Great pics, too.

Jean W

Granny J said...

lindag -- thanks to Minot (below) we now know about those whiskers! Otherwise, I'd still bespeculating!

azlaydey -- hope knowing too much about them doesn't diminish your pleasure!

jean -- what a pretty combination!

Anonymous said...

Me things you could enter USEwhiskers and centerclose both in a photo contest somewhere... especially a contest that focuses on botanicals!

~Anon in AV.

Granny J said...

anon av -- don't know where I would find such contests, tho I might get listed in a botanical/gardening blog carnival. However, thank you for the vote of confidence. I think it's just because those flowers are so spectacular in themselves.

meggie said...

I read an anti rant against nasturtiums with suprise. I have never disliked them, & see them here as welcome cheery free visitors. I love their cheery colours, & my grandmother swore by their tasty addition to salads- though I have never tasted them.

Granny J said...

meggie -- I think that this year, I will try eating the leaves -- and maybe even a flower or two. They certainly come well recommended.

 
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