Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Come Visit, Then Leave

Plants use flowers to communicate with aliens. Over eons of meticulous research, the most creative plant families have developed countless new and intricate products. Each floral brand is refined to most effectively capture the attention and to direct the visitation of a specific sector of the mobile animal population - bees, flies, moths, ants, beetles, rodents, bats, birds, etc. - or the mobile inanimate vectors of wind and moisture.

These colorful products are embedded with coded messages to influence their target audience. The simple part of the message is "Come visit. Then leave."
Plants post billboards of brightly colored petals, some done up in infrared hues that are only visible to the compound eyes and rudimentary brains of insects. Refreshments might be offered as further enticement. In the front lobby, there are billowing columns of pollen. For the more discriminating patron, nectar glands are hidden deep within the recesses of the florid establishment. Some plants even offer honeydew-colored aphid slaves for ants to harvest and move about the plant kingdom. As far as I know, musical entertainment is not offered by flowers.

Meanwhile, the unwitting alien visitor is tricked into doing the plant's bidding: "Fertilize my intimate plant parts so that I can reproduce and spread."
Sometimes, controlled timing of the blossoms or trapdoor apparatus on these attractive flowers manipulate alien visitors to bring pollen from another plant rather than allow self-pollination. In this way, the plant stealthily refines its message and furthers its goal of reproducing and even to adapt over generations into a new design.
Humans tend to misinterpret the messages of wildflowers. Most humans are innately attracted to the colors and scents of wildflowers, and assume these complex designs are created for their human enjoyment. The ungodly among us strip the flowers into their functional parts (petals, sepals, pistils, stamens), count and measure the parts, describe small details and then organize the wondrous variation of wildflowers into human-defined families, genera and species. Humans of a spiritual bent see God's hands and gifts in the fascinating complexity, ecological persistence, inspiring beauty and mystery of wildflowers.
Yet humans are only able to see, smell, taste and feel a small fraction of the intricate and minute detail of the floral world. Basically, humans don't get it - flowers are highly evolved rituals of plant sex and the only role humans play are to occasionally assist in the hand-off, which, by the way, fairies are better at.
In order of appearance:
common popcorn flower, Plagiobothrys nothofulvus, Dipper Ranch, April 2009
gum plant, Grindelia sp. and beetle, north of Salt Lake, Utah, 2006
checker lily, Fritillaria affins, Rancho San Antonio Open Space Preserve, 2002
pipevine, Aristolochia californica, Angel Island, March 2009
arroyo lupine, Lupinus succulentus, Dipper Ranch, April 2008
California poppy, Eschscholzia californica, Dipper Ranch, April 2008
currently unidentified fairy, Dipper Ranch
Chinese houses, Collinsia heterophylla, Bear Valley, Colusa County, May 2003

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