Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Blooming Spring

With the recent warm weather, the Audubon Center at the Francis Beidler Forest is experiencing a plethora of flowering plants.  We noted the Dwarf Trillium (Trillium pusillum) yesterday.  Nearby, the Common Blue Violet is flowering.  The color of this plant is highly variable ranging from deep purple to almost white with a wash of purple.

During Saturday's field trip to the marl bluff overlooking Mallard Lake, we found Spring Coral-root (Corallorrhiza wisteriana).  This plant is part of a group called saprophytes.  Saprophytes have no chlorophyll and therefore do not photosynthesize.  Saprophytes are either parasitic or, as is the case with Spring Coral-root, obtain their food from decaying organic material.  In order to maximize the amount of water and nutrients absorbed from the forest soil and overlaying decaying organic material, Spring Coral-root and other saprophytic flowering plants have developed a mycorrhizal association with fungus.  The fungus at the plant's roots increases the total surface area for absorption and passes the water and food to the plant.  The relationship is obligate and the saprophyte will not survive without the fungus.  Therefore, transplanting saprophytic flowering plants is nearly impossible as the relationship between the plant, the fungus, and the specific soil are difficult to replicate at another site.

Images by Mark Musselman

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