Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Cuckoo-pint


Cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum, longitudinal section. High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2014.
Cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum, longitudinal section. High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2014.
 This is the fascinating interior of a common plant of hedgerows and woodlands, Cuckoo-pint or Lords and Ladies, formally called Arum maculatum.  Normally you see something like this:

Cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum, in a hedgerow. High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2014.
Cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum, in a hedgerow. High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2014.
Triangular leaves, rather shiny, often quite dark, sometimes spotted with brown or black markings - hence the species name, maculatum.  At this time of year, if you delve into the greenery you will also see these:

Cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum, inflorescences. High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2014.
Cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum, inflorescences. High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2014.

They look like flowers, but they aren't; they are a structure of which the flowers, which you can't see, form only one part.  You see a club-shaped spadix hooded by a green spathe, with a closed chamber below.  When it is ready for pollination, the spadix heats up, which attracts little midges, which travel down into the chamber below - but they can't get out,  because it looks like this.

Cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum, longitudinal section. High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2014.
Cuckoo-pint, Arum maculatum, longitudinal section. High Elms Country Park, 21 April 2014.
They can get past those downward-pointing hairs easily enough, but pushing through the other way is hard for such tiny creatures.  And they are very small flying things.  Some escaped when I opened this up.

At the bottom are the female flowers, ready to be fertilised with pollen brought in by the midges.  When that is accomplished, the dark red anthers ripen and release this plant's pollen, and the ring of hairs withers, allowing the midges out.  They brush past the anthers and leave with a fresh load of pollen to take to the next plant.

Later in the year there will be spikes of bright vermilion berries, with no signs of their origin.  By then the leaves will all have died back.

From complex arrangements like this (and it's not the strangest plant by a long way) we can deduce that cross-pollination has a very high survival factor compared with self-pollination.

(Incidentally .. the "pint" in this plant's common name is a shortened form of "pintle" and means "penis."  That's rural names for you.)

3 comments:

  1. Oh my gosh! We do have those in Louisiana, or what looks like them on the outside, and I never guessed. Perhaps I'll take a razor blade to one of them? Wonderful.

    ReplyDelete
  2. You would probably find something very similar. It's a real surprise!

    ReplyDelete