Saturday, April 26, 2014

Splinter Hill Bog: Ferns!

Bracken and pine in a recently-burned section of the bog tract.
I've saved a post about the ferns of Splinter Hill Bog for last! We saw several species on our trip, in various stages of early spring loveliness. The common species included Osmundastrum cinnamomeum (cinnamon fern), Osmunda regalis (royal fern), Woodwardia virginica (Virginia chain fern), and of course the ubiquitous Pteridium aquilinum (bracken fern).
Woodwardia virginica
Woodwardia virginica
Pteridium aquilinum
Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
Osmundastrum cinnamomeum
Osmunda regalis
Osmunda regalis
Osmunda regalis

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Splinter Hill Bog: Drosera spp.

A cluster of Drosera capillaris, the pink sundew.
In addition to several species of pitcher plants, we also saw two species of Drosera, commonly called sundews, on our visit to Splinter Hill Bog. Drosera has always been one of my favorite plant genera; there is something really lovely about their little pads that always seem to be glistening with dew (though of course, it's not dew... it's insect-trapping glue). The two species we saw are both new to me, though one closely resembles the northern species I'm most familiar with, Drosera rotundifolia.

Drosera capillaris
Drosera capillaris
Drosera capillaris in flower
Drosera tracyi, the Gulf coast sundew
Drosera tracyi trying its best to look like a fern

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Splinter Hill Bog: Sarracenia psittacina

The last of the pitcher plant species we encountered at Splinter Hill Bog was Sarracenia psittacina, the parrot pitcher plant, so named because of the shape of its pitchers. This species is much shorter than the others, and tends to have its pitchers appressed to the ground, rather than upright. It's easy to miss as it's much smaller, too. This one was not yet in flower when we visited.

Sarracenia psittacina and Lycopodiella inundata

Downward-facing hairs, characteristic of many carnivorous plants.
There are little translucent windows in the ends of the hoods to confuse light-seeking insects who will try to exit that way.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Splinter Hill Bog: Sarracenia purpurea

Purple pitcher plant, with yellow stigma/style
The second species of pitcher plants we saw at Splinter Hill Bog was the purple pitcher plant, Sarracenia purpurea ssp. rosea. This is a southern subspecies of the widespread species that's found in much of the eastern U.S. This plant differs quite a bit from S. leucophylla, the white-topped pitcher plant, particularly in the morphology of the pitchers. S. purpurea's pitchers are short, squat, and green to reddish in color, with none of the white pigment (or lack of pigment) that characterizes S. leucophylla.

Note the downward facing hairs, to help catch dinner

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Neochrome evolution in ferns

Photo by Fay-Wei Li, via
Some very exciting new research on fern evolution was just published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences! Researchers have known for years that ferns possess a chimeric photoreceptor, called neochrome, that allows them to use both red and blue light for photosynthesis. This is a significant advantage in forest understories where blue light has often been filtered out by overhanging leaves of taller plants. In the new paper published yesterday, a team of researchers led by Fay-Wei Li at Duke has discovered that neochrome in ferns is actually most closely related to neochromes in hornworts, and that it likely passed from hornworts to ferns via horizontal gene transfer about 179 million years ago. The timing of this event suggests that this transfer, and the low-light photosynthetic ability it conferred on ferns, allowed them to subsequently diversify "in the shadow" of angiosperms, as the latter exploded in diversity starting around 120 million years ago. This is a really cool finding, and expands our understanding of fern evolution and diversification tremendously!

Check out more coverage of this story in the Economist:
Time and change: The survival of ferns to the present depended on an ancient accident

And at
Ferns borrowed genes to flourish in low light

And read the abstract of the paper here (subscription to PNAS required for full article):
Horizontal transfer of an adaptive chimeric photoreceptor from bryophytes to ferns

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Splinter Hill Bog: Sarracenia leucophylla

One of the most impressive plants we saw on our field trip to Splinter Hill Bog (see part I) was the white-topped pitcher plant, Sarracenia leucophylla. We arrived a bit too early for the height of its display; in a few weeks the whole bog will be solid with these pitchers. Nonetheless, it's a beautiful plant, and quite a few were already leafed out and in flower. The flowers of Sarracenia are beautiful and somewhat complex, and have evolved to maximize the chances of outcrossing by ensuring that pollinators first brush against the stigma with any pollen they may be carrying, then pick up new pollen, and finally exit without touching the stigma again, thereby hopefully avoiding self-pollination.


The remains of last season's dining 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Splinter Hill Bog, part I

This past weekend I went on a field trip to Splinter Hill Bog, near Perdido, Alabama, with friends and colleagues to find carnivorous plants. There are many great places to find plant carnivores in the Florida Panhandle and boggy areas to its west, but Splinter Hill boasts a diversity that few others can match: 5 species of Sarracenia (pitcher plants), 3 Drosera (sundews), 1 Utricularia (bladderwort), and 2 Pinguicula (butterworts). We managed to see a fair number of these including most of the pitcher plants and sundews, and Utricularia. Photos of those will follow in subsequent posts; here are some shots of the bog and assorted other flowering plants we encountered.
Flowers of Sarracenia leucophylla, the white-topped pitcher plant
The group, hunting pitcher plants
Pinus palustris, longleaf pine
Hellenium sp.
Polygala lutea, orange milkwort
Vaccinium corymbosum, highbush blueberry
Linaria sp.
Lycopodium alopecuroides
Pinus palustris, longleaf pine, after a burn