04oct ~ Duds

Just look at that rich, robust green—what a vigorous plant.  I’ll bet when those flower buds pop, it’s going to be something special.  It is growing here at Brawley Creek, commonly enough that I felt like I should know it—I was just waiting for the flowers so I could key it out.  The next thing I knew they were setting seed, Dang!  Missed them again this year.  I supposed that they were like dandelions; both are composites, their buds are somewhat alike, about 3/4” long, and when Dandelions open to a flower it is really striking, then it closes, and re-opens when the seeds are ready to fly.

After several years of no flowers— yes, it took that long—my suspicions were aroused—all those buds and all those seeds, but no flowers…hmm.  The plant is often 6 or 7 feet tall, so you have to look closely, but there it is at the tip, the whole flower in its maximum splendor, looking like a broad sharpie.  Who’s going to pollinate that???  (Answer: wasps and Honey Bees, although I’ve never seen any pollinators at the flowers, another reason it took me so long to figure this one out.

The second image shows that the flower parts remain as the “bud” splits open to reveal the pappuses (aka fuzz) that will disperse the seeds.  Pappi is also proper, both are distinct from papooses, although there is an intriguing commonality.

The plant is Fireweed (Erechtites heiracifolius) called Fireweed, or American Burnweed, so named because it is a great disperser as you might expect, and often common after fires. (Wikipedia spells it incorrectly with an extra “i” heiraciifolius.)

I learned that Fireweed was Chamerion angustifolium—  the beautiful pink flowers of the West, also common after fires, but that doesn’t occur in Missouri.  Wikipedia suggests Pilewort as another common name for this one — I’ll stick with Fireweed.

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