Wednesday, July 18, 2018

preoccupation: gloomblossoms

Sometimes I get wrapped up in something strange and/or beautiful (really the two attributes seldom occur independently) I find out in the woods, like damselflies or wood thrushes or spring peepers. Lately I've been into Monotropa uniflora, which I must insist on calling gloomblossoms. They're already called Indian pipe, ghost pipe, ghost flowers, and corpse plants; what's one more colloquial name?

Via the Botanical Society of America:
The plant is entirely white, and each step is tipped by a single flower. If the plant is bruised or dries up, it turns dark brown or black. The fact that the flowers bend over probably relates to the wet places where they grow: if the flowers pointed upward, they might collect rainwater, and the nectar that they offer visiting insects would be diluted. The pollen grains would also be wet and wouldn't cling to visiting insects properly. 
The indian pipe gloomblossom is a flowering plant, but it isn't green, so how does it get its food? Even today, you see misinformation about that. People thought that it lived on decaying leaves and called it a saprophyte. Today we know that it has short, stubby roots that contain fungi. And the fungi, extend in a web-like way through dead rotting leaves and connect up to the roots of conifers. The conifers provide sugar, which the fungi carry to the Indian Pipe gloomblossom plant. So it's really a parasite, but on fungi.
Field observations:

Monday, July 16, 2018

Stray thoughts: on wood thrushes & cetera

Apologies for leaving this "web log" of mine to sit unattended and cultivate moss. I've been absorbed in a longform fiction project (superstition inhibits me from calling it a "n-v-l" until it's finished) which has swallowed most of my (non-procrastinatory) leisure time. I don't think this one will be a mere wind egg, though I'll be skipping directly to self-publishing instead of spending a year trying to get the attention of the small presses and gatekeepers. I already know that this one has no chance of impressing them, but it is nevertheless a project I'm compelled to see through to completion.

*               *               *

Bench where yr correspondent jotted down the rudiments of this post

Today I'm visiting the folks in North Jersey again. As usual during these trips, I stopped by Hidden Valley, a public park I've written about before, and where most of my Instagram photos are taken. As usual, I got a lot of thinking done; saw a lot of ghost pipe (gloomblossoms) and dwarf ginseng, encountered several different dragonfly species in the meadows, chewed on some wild raspberries and blackberries, and got my feet muddy following after a pileated woodpecker. Good times. But I was dismayed to to find the woods much quieter than expected.

At 3:00 PM on a mid-July day, with the sun out and the temperature approaching 90° F, I heard jays shouting, catbirds mewing and rambling, chipmunks yipping, the distant thudding of a woodpecker banging its face against a tree trunk, and the sibilant agitations of the leaves in the way of the wind. But on an afternoon that should have been ideal for them, I heard almost no cicadas, and not one wood thrush.