Flowers - Pickerel Weed
( Originally Published 1916 )
(Pontederia cordata), Pickerelweed family
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 leaves 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 sometimes 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.
In the Bulletin of the Torrey Botanical Club, Mr. W. H. Leggett, who made a careful study of the flower, tells that three forms occur, not on the same, but on different plants, being even more distinctly trimorphic than the purple Loosestrife. As these flowers set no seed without insects' aid, the provisions made to secure the greatest benefit from their visits are marvellous. Of the three kinds of blossoms, one raises its stigma on a long style reaching to the top of the flower; a second form lifts its stigma only half-way up, and the third keeps its stigma in the bottom of the tube. Now, there are two sets of stamens, three in each set bearing pollen grains of different size and value. Whenever the stigma is high, the two sets of stamens keep out of its way by occupying the lowest and middle positions, or just where the stigmas occur in the two other forms; or, let us say, whenever the stigma is in one of the three positions, the different sets of stamens occupy the other two. In a long series of experiments on flowers occurring in two and three forms—dimorphic and trimorphic—Darwin proved that perfect fertility can be obtained only when the stigma in each form is pollenized with grains carried from the stamens of a corresponding height. For example, a bee on entering the flower must get his abdomen dusted with pollen from the long stamens, his chest covered from the middle-length stamens, and his tongue and chin from the set in the bottom of the tube nearest the nectary. When he flies off to visit 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 necessarily brushes off each lot of pollen just where it will do the most good. Pollen brought from high stamens, for example, to a low stigma, even should it reach it, which is scarcely likely, takes little or no effect. Thus cross-fertilization is absolutely essential, and in three-formed flowers there are two chances to one of securing it.