Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Non-flowers of the Greenville Y

At this time of year my blog usually emphasizes flowering plants. After a long winter, I enjoy welcoming them back. The spots of color along the roadsides are an enjoyable distraction and I'm constantly tempted to stop and hike a ways through the woods and meadows. On this particular day there were no new species blooming at the Greenville Y, so the non-flowering plants and fungi got my attention. The little fungi in the top two photos, popping out of a beautiful green mat of moss, always remind me of a scene in Alice in Wonderland, the one with the worm smoking on a water pipe. When I was a high school biology student, fungi were plants. Now they're in their own kingdom. Now, when you play 20 Questions, if you're thinking of a mushroom and your opponent asks "Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?" what can you say? None of the above. That'll leave him totally puzzled. About the only possible answers would be God or fungi.
The third photo down shows an array of lichens on a slab of rock. Lichens are an interesting merger of fungi and algae, the latter being non-flowering plants. One of the first people to realize this association called symbiosis was Beatrix Potter. She was well on her way to becoming an important scientists when the male establishment wouldn't let her into the academy to report her findings. Her detailed drawings of lichens are classics. She finally gave up science and wrote the Peter Rabbit books. To literary types, that's probably a blessing in disguise. However, to modern female scientists like Lynn Margulis, whose theories about the endosymbiont hypothesis were laughed at by male scientists, but later became standard textbook fare, it probably represents a tragic loss of scientific talent.
The fourth photo is of a particularly beautiful patch of rock covered by a variety of lichens and mineral stains. Next is a patch of moss with prominent "fruiting" bodies. Last, is a fern, another non-flowering plant. The rocky area just north of the Highway 70 bridge over Indian Creek is a particularly interesting area biologically. Easy access, but be careful of slippery and wobbly boulders. Don't pick the flowers!

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