The Private World Of Plants

When we look at a photograph of a beautiful flower, we can see two dimensions—height and width. When we see nature firsthand or view it through a stereoscope, depth is added. 

We need only to open our eyes a bit slider and look a bit closer to see yet another dimension. Perhaps we could call this understanding, comprehension, or seeing from within.

World of PlantsPin

Unnoticed Nature’s Wonders In Backyards

Travelers return from faraway places and tell of strange and exotic plants. But often, they fail to note nature’s wonders in their backyards.

If you had gone out last fall (and you could go out this February day), you would have seen short-stemmed knobs, tinted softly green and purple, on the tips of the dogwood tree’s branches. 

They are flower buds already well formed and ready to burst into bloom the moment spring gives the signal. 

Although I had passed my dogwood scores of times each winter, it wasn’t until someone told me how well-formed the Inids were months ahead that my eyes were opened to see them.

Viburnum Carlesii “Pink Snowball”

Go look at the pink snowball (Viburnum carlesii). You find what appears to be undeveloped dead leaves up and down the stem and many clusters (very unlike the softly colored knobs on the dogwood) of what must be dried buds that failed to open. 

Watch them when spring comes! Those dried bud clusters swell into coral-colored buds and later blossom into pale pink snowballs. Finally, the dried leaves grow into lusty foliage.

Mertensia Virginica “Lovely Bluebells”

Our lovely bluebells (Mertensia virginica) go dormant soon after blooming. 

If we dug down in midsummer, we would find fleshy roots if our eyes were keen, for they are nearly the same color as some of our soil, but they would appear tattered and lifeless. 

But when we dig down in late fall, we find new shoots— practically at soil level—have emerged from those lifeless-looking roots. I had supposed all this growth took place in early spring.

Lily Of The Valley Blossoms

Plants vary as much below ground as they do above. If someone asked for lily-of-the-valley blossoms from our gardens in the spring, we would know exactly which blossoms to cut. 

One day when lilies of the valley were dormant, a woman called to tell me that her daughter wanted some of her plants. “What do I do?” she asked.

For a moment, I couldn’t say a word. “Take a spade and dig them!” seemed the obvious answer, but there was surely more that she wanted to know. 

I concluded she had no idea what to look for, so I described the root system of this plant. 

If someone asked for a plant, would you know what to look for if the roots were in a bed of mixed varieties of dormant plants? 

  • Does lily-of-the-valley have a bulb like a true lily? 
  • Fibrous roots like a phlox? 
  • A corm like a crocus? 
  • A tap root like a dandelion? 
  • Fleshy roots like Mertensia? 
  • Creeping rootstocks like Solomon’s seal? 

Climbing Vines

Vines climb—we can see that. But I wonder how many of us have ever noted by their climbing methods and in what direction the twins go around their supports. 

I had never thought there was any ordered plan for this, but when my eyes were opened to observe these things, I was astounded at what was to be learned about climbing plants and their habits. 

Morning Glory Vine

Try to make a morning glory vine twine clockwise or to the right. Note how equally stubborn a honeysuckle vine is if you try to make it twine counterclockwise or to the left.

The clematis climbs by hooking its leaves over the support and twisting its stems. The trumpet vine sends out adventitious roots to hold its branches to its support. 

Grape Vines

Grape vines hold tightly with tendrils that wind round and round like spiral springs. 

Cobaea scandens, the cathedral bells vine, also have tendrils but note how they appear to take the place of terminal leaflets. 

Evergreen Trees

When evergreen trees are mentioned, we may think of trees that have needles in the winter and summer. 

A family moving to a new home found several trees among the evergreens that appeared entirely dead. 

There were cones on the trees, but all the needles had dropped off. Nevertheless, it took only a few thrusts of a sharp ax into a tree to show it was green and very much alive. 

When spring came, new needles grew. When fall came, the needles dropped again. These were larch trees. It is their nature to shed their needles yearly.

Fruit Of The Yew

We know the pine tree cones and the blueberries of the red cedar (juniper), but have you seen the fruit of the yew? 

It is a fleshy berry-like fruit much larger than the cedar, bright scarlet. One can see the dark seed in the fleshy cup or collar. 

We can lift the branches in late autumn and, by observing the well-formed buds, tell which plants will have the pollen next spring and which the scarlet fruit next fall. 

Globular Buds

The globular buds are on the staminate, or pollen-bearing, plants. The conical flower buds are on the pistillate or seed-bearing plants.

Have you seen the swaying catkins on a walnut tree in the spring and wondered what they were? 

They carry the pollen necessary to fertilize the loose clusters of pistillate flowers found on the same tree where the nuts will develop.

Formosa Lily Buds

Such gymnastics as regal and Formosa lily buds perform to reach the seed pod stage! When buds first appear, they are vertical. 

As they grow, they turn downward until they are almost upside down. Then, with the opening of the blossoms, they assume a more horizontal position. 

As the seed pods swell and mature, they are held up in the same vertical position as the buds when they first appeared. 

Most flower spikes open the lowest blossoms first and work toward the top. Liatris starts at the top and opens downward. 

Delightful Blooms Of Penstemons

Penstemons have the delightful habit of opening a few blossoms in each of several clusters, and thus it appears that more of the flower stem is in full bloom for a longer time.

Have you ever looked into the very heart of a violet plant, down under its leaves, in late summer and early fall, and found pods full of seeds? 

These are called cleistogamous and were not formed in the usual way by buds that opened into flowers pollinated by the bees. Instead, they developed from enclosed flowers that were able to self-pollinate. 

44659 by Olga Rolf Tiemann