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Pickerel-Weed Family

( Originally Published 1922 )



Pickerel Weed

Pontederia cordata

Flowers—Bright purplish blue, including filaments, anthers, and style; crowded in a dense spike; quickly fading; unpleasantly odorous. Perianth tubular, 2-lipped, parted into 6 irregular lobes, free from ovary; middle lobe of upper lip with 2 yellow spots at base within. Stamens 6, placed at unequal distances on tube, 3 opposite each lip. Pistil 1, the stigma minutely toothed. Stem: Erect, stout, fleshy, 1 to 4 ft. tall, not often over 2 ft. above water line. Leaves: Several bract-like, sheathing stem at base; 1 leaf only, midway on flower-stalk, thick, polished, triangular, or arrow-shaped, 4 to 8 in. long, 2 to 6 in. across base.

Preferred Habitat—Shallow water of ponds and streams. Flowering Season—June October.

Distribution—Eastern half of United States and Canada.

Grace of habit and the bright beauty of its long blue spikes of ragged flowers above rich, glossy Ieaves give a charm to this vigorous wader. Backwoodsmen will tell you that pickerels lay their eggs among the leaves; but so they do among the sedges, arums, wild rice, and various aquatic plants, like many another fish. Bees and flies, that congregate about the blossoms to feed, may some-times fly too low, and so give a plausible reason for the pickerel's choice of haunt. Each blossom lasts but a single day; the upper portion, withering, leaves the base of the perianth to harden about the ovary and protect the solitary seed. But as the gradually lengthened spike keeps up an uninterrupted succession of bloom for months, more than ample provision is made for the perpetuation of the race—a necessity to any plant that refuses to thrive unless it stands in water. Ponds and streams have an unpleasant habit of drying up in summer, and often the Pickerel Weed looks as brown as a bullrush where it is stranded in the baked mud in August. When seed falls on such ground, if indeed it germinates at all, the young plant naturally withers away.

Of the three kinds of blossoms, one raises its stigma on a long style reaching to the top of the flower; a second form reaches its stigma only half-way up, and the third keeps its stigma in the bottom of the tube. The visiting bee gets his abdomen, his chest, and his tongue dusted with pollen from long, middle-length, and short stamens respectively. When he visits another flower, these parts of his body coming in contact with the stigmas that occupy precisely the position where the stamens were in other individuals, he brushes off each lot of pollen just where it will do the most good.



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