Mountain Laurel and Small Flowers
Updated: Jun 20, 2020
The laurel are putting on their finery and it is time to go visit! There are also lots of little native wildflowers to discover if you look carefully. I am grateful I can easily visit places where they are blooming. (Note: Most of the flowers in this blog can currently be found if you take the hike to Bear Hill in Middletown. Click here for details.)
Some of the mountain laurels have an astounding number of blossoms.
The buds are worth a close look. They have such a bizarre and interesting shape.
The variation in colors and the contrast with the green of the leaves help draw me in for further exploration. I wonder why the buds and flowers are shaped this way.
Connecticut did well in selecting mountain laurel as their state flower.
If you look closely, you can see that each of the ten knobs on the bud become little pockets that trap the anthers (pollen carrying part of the flower). But why? In most flowers the the anthers are exposed so the pollen is released at the slightest touch of a visitor (pollinator).
Mountain laurel have a really cool pollination strategy. The pollen is well protected from wind and rain in the pocket. When a pollinator lands on a flower searching for nectar, their weight can cause this mini-catapult to be released and the pollen is flung from the anther at the end of the stamen onto the flower visitor. Notice in the photo below that some of the anthers have been released.
Interesting research by the botanist Callin Switzer has recently revealed with high-speed video recording equipment that the pollen is flung right at the position the pollinator would likely be. He found that the pollen was launched at an average maximum speed of 3.5 meters/second. He concluded that mountain laurels have "one of the fastest-moving floral parts recorded"! Click here for a blog with more information and videos of the action.
There are also so many amazing small flowers that you can find if you slow down and notice all that is around you when you are out exploring. I love the tiny, white, fuzzy flowers on Partridgeberry. The photo below includes a bright red berry from last years flower.
If you look closely at the flower of Maple-Leaf Viburnum, you can see it is really many tiny flowers clustered together. On warm days you can often find insect visitors on the flowers. The leaves are shaped like maple leaves, but they have many tiny hairs and are much softer to the touch than maple leaves.
The feathery-leaved Yarrow and this mystery plant also have clusters of tiny white flowers.
Any guesses on the identity of this mystery plant?
This is one to avoid. Most of us rarely see the flowers of poison ivy.
I think the tiny flower of Blue-Eyed Grass is gorgeous.
I am also fond of Yellow Star-grass. This tiny wasp appears to be enjoying it too.
The unusual looking flower of Indian Cucumber-Root is easy to miss under the top whorl of leaves.
There is so much you can enjoy observing outside if you focus on what is around you. A friend of mine told me that there is a silver-lining of these times. She is noticing many interesting things and finding more peace in the woods since she is spending much more time hiking by herself.
If you keep your eyes and ears open, it is amazing what you can discover!
Share what you notice with a family member, friend or neighbor.