Saturday, August 4, 2012

Oh, Harry... You So Handsome!

I made a quick stop today at a preserve in LaPorte County, Indiana and was astounded by the size of the population of Rhexia virginica (Virginia Meadow Beauty, aka Prairie Pitchers, or Handsome Harry) in an artificially excavated sand flat.  I've visited this site fairly regularly over the past several years, and this is the first time I've seen Rhexia virginica spread out through most of the sand flat; usually it is just around the perimeter, and sometimes there are just a few plants.  In years with normal precipitation, the sand flat is a pond, at least through the spring.  Maybe the dry conditions this year have benefited Rhexia virginica at this site.

I'm not sure how this species acquired the name "Harry," but the "Handsome" part sure isn't any mystery.  The unique stamens of Rhexia virginica, with the anther attached to the filament at a knee-like joint, release pollen when the wings of a nearby bee buzz at a particular frequency (a phenomenon known as buzz-pollination).  The leaves of Rhexia virginica are very similar to the leaves of other members of the family Melastomataceae (or Melastomaceae), as they are opposite, decussate, and have three veins running their length.  The leaves also have distinctive pubescence, with hairs that stand perfectly upright on their top surface.  The family Melastomataceae is primarily a tropical family, and even in the tropics where plant richness dwarfs that of the Midwest you can quickly recognize a plant from this family just by looking at the characteristic leaves.

Rhexia virginica grows in wet to moist sand in much of the eastern half of North America, with a stronger distribution along the coastal plain.

1 comment:

Steve said...

I've seen this recently in Laporte county too. Judging from the pictures though, not in the same place.