Monday, February 27, 2012
Interesting Life Histories
The bottom photo is Mullein, a member of the snapdragon family, Scrophulariaceae. Each of its many flowers has both male and female parts, like most flowers. A fascinating feature of this plant, besides its European origin and rapid spread across the USA, is that it's a biennial. In the first season, it produces only a ground-level rosette of large, wooly leaves. Their shade provides great hiding places during the heat of summer for many kinds of bugs and lizards. In the first fall, these leaves turn brown, and the plant appears dead. However, it's still alive below ground. During the second season, a new rosette of green leaves appears in spring, then a rapidly growing spike develops six or more feet in height. I've seen a few exceed ten feet. The top foot or more ends up covered with yellow flowers. They produce thousands of tiny seeds, and often support many feeding birds.
At the end of the second season, the plant dies, but the tall, brown stalk may stand through one or more winters. The one pictured above dies last fall, and the current winter is taking a toll. It is bent toward the ground and probably won't stand through the coming summer. The early leaves of the next crop have already appeared in the immediate surroundings.