Saturday, March 08, 2008

Ever Seen A Puzzled Bee?

Not all flowers can be beautiful, or fragrant, or striking. Some are just... well, what would you call it... hmmm. I once watched a honeybee circle this little flower, eyeballing it for five minutes, then fly off in puzzlement. This plant is Asarum caulescens, a type of wild ginger, and asarum flowers aren't meant for bees anyway; most of the species have their flowers very close to the ground and are fertilized by beetles. This particular asarum flower is puzzling to me too, as the flowers are held on upright stalks off the ground, and seem too small to be fertilized by all but the smallest beetles, so I can't imagine what it would be attempting to attract. I do know its foliage (along with several other species of asarum) is critical to the existence of a beautiful butterfly, a type of swallowtail (Luehdorfia japonica) that is considered the national butterfly of Japan. In its native range in the mountains of Japan, Asarum caulescens is the prime plant eaten by the caterpillar of this butterfly.
Apparently Asarum caulescens is very closely related to our North American native ginger, Asarum canadense. Both have somewhat fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves that are deciduous, and so both are pretty hardy compared to the evergreen gingers which, in our midwest winters all too often become wannabe-evergreen gingers. The evergreen gingers, of course have now been assigned to their own genus (hexastylis).
I believe that some gingers can be self-fertilizing, and maybe this odd little flower just doesn't care a wit whether it attracts a pollinator or not. I know it didn't do much for the honeybee.

Picture of Luehdorfia japonica butterfly:

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I responded to your question about my employer at my blog, but in case you don't check back, this is what I said. . . .

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

Well it looks like you got it on your own, but okay. Your hint is:

"Naval Teleplays."

This will either clear everything up immediately, or it'll be nonsensical and confusing.
Got it.
Gingers are so beautiful. I have two types, the canadense variety you mentioned that grows quickly and then a lovely glossy European ginger that I wish would grow faster.
Melanie... if you want to see slow, try some of the evergreen gingers.
Don, I was looking to buy some seeds if you'd like to sell them as I'd like to grow them. This variety of wild ginger is the basis for my family crest.


I'd be happy to send you some free ginger seeds, but I don't think they set seed here; I don't think we have the proper pollinating insect for them, or something. I'll look more carefully this year; you have to get down and look underneath, but I've never seen a seedling for any of these exotic gingers, so I doubt I'll find any.

See the above web page for more information on the wild ginger plant and significance to Japanese.

I did find some two weeks ago at the Rhododenron Botanical Garden in Federal Way, Washington. I don't think they are all that common in U.S. I have asked if they could propogate some for me.

Thankyou for your offer of seeds. I do really appreciate it.

Pete Matsudaira
Sammamish, WA.
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