PRIMROSE PATH OF ECOLOGY CAN BE FASCINATING
grandson burst excitedly into the room after a trip to Atlanta. Had
he gone to a Braves game? Visited the Georgia Aquarium? Traveled to
the top of Stone Mountain? No. He had watched an evening primrose bloom.
to his account of this fascinating environmental event and then told
him of the first time I saw this magnificent natural performance.
I was visiting
my sister in Tuscaloosa, and as we prepared to sit down for the evening
meal, a next-door neighbor, Donna, knocked frantically on the door.
Hurry! she said. The primrose is blooming.
at Donna standing on the porch, then at each other. Unspoken but obvious
questions hung over the table: What on earth was she talking about?
Was this blooming primrose worth returning to a cold supper?
and brother-in-laws looks were edged with some concern for their
friend and neighbor. But Donnas urgency prevailed. The group decision
was made. The three of us followed Donna to her house. She headed toward
a row of shrubbery.
fading light of dusk we could just make out each others sidelong,
at a bush bearing half a dozen bright yellow flowers, each with four
primly arranged petals. She pointed to an unopened bud. Watch.
Watch. Its going to open.
over Donnas behavior was quickly replaced by curiosity about the
primrose. We could see the pale yellow bud quivering on the branch.
It began to unfurl.
five seconds the bud had spun open completely. A perfect primrose flower
bloomed on the bush. From bud to flower in seconds!
was most dramatic for a plant. Aside from watching a Venus-flytrap capture
a housefly, I had never seen a plant do anything so remarkable. Type-A
behavior; truly a plant in a hurry. A moment later another bud did the
behaviorists can be found in universities throughout the world, but
if plant behaviorists exist, they are rare. In such a profession, an
expert might focus on carnivorous plants that reverse the food chain
on animals or sensitive mimosa plants whose leaves close when touched
or plant species that catapult their seeds.
In a circus
showcasing plant behavior, the primrose performers would take the center
ring in the Big Top. Why do these flowers open with such fanfare? One
need not be a botanist to theorize about natures mysteries.
that like many other night-blooming flowers, these primroses were pollinated
by nocturnal animals such as bats, moths, or other fly-by-night insects.
The scent emanating from the primrose was sweet; perhaps the fragrance
was an attractive lure to some special evening visitor.
insects are often vital for the pollination of particular plant species.
Turns out the open flower of the evening primrose attracts a beautiful
little pink and yellow creature, the primrose moth, which is a primary
was the flowering act completed in such an abrupt fashion? Most flowers
produce their sweet smells over several days. The evening primrose packages
its scent into one sudden burst of fragrance.
the flowers perfume is propelled a greater distance into the night
air and is, therefore, more likely to reach a waiting audience of primrose
unfurling of the petals undoubtedly assures that any airborne scent
will be sent afar. The flowers wilt the following day, but other buds
await their turn the next evening.
traits such as the one observed in the evening primrose are a feature
of every species. Such traits are only revealed when someone is present
at exactly the right time and place.
research ecologists discover new attributes of the most common plants
and animals, not to mention discoveries about rare and unusual species.
I told my grandson to think about why evening primroses do what they
do but not to worry if he doesnt figure it out right away.
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