Saturday, September 29, 2018

What do Hummingbirds do in a Downpour?

We've had some cold and stormy weather lately with heavy rain throughout the day, and the bird feeder has been quite popular.  But what do the tiny hummingbirds do in a downpour?

Researchers used slow-motion cameras to find that hummingbirds have a method to cope with even heavy rain.  Much like a dog, they whip their heads back and forth in mid-flight to shake the water off of their feathers.  Incredibly, hummingbirds do this with acceleration that reaches a g-force of 34 - five times faster than a Formula-1 race car!

Of course, even with this capability, these tiny birds appreciate a sheltered place to dry off a little.  This female hummingbird spent a rainy afternoon going between the flowers out in my garden to feed and a hanging plant under my front porch to rest.  It was apparently a good place to dry off her wings and stretch a little...

... and catch a few little bugs.

She looked so cute fluffed up against the cold, wet day.  I doubt I will see her or the other hummingbirds for very much longer, as it is about time to head south for the winter.

After this week's weather, she is probably eager to start her migration!

Friday, September 14, 2018

It's a Trap!

Everywhere we turned last Sunday, there was a trap.

Sarracenia hybrids
We were at what was probably the most dangerous plant show on the East Coast - the annual Carnivorous Plant Show put on by the New England Carnivorous Plant Society at Tower Hill Botanical Garden.  And what an amazing collection of plants it was!

15th Annual Fall Carnivorous Plant Show at Tower Hill Botanical Garden
The New England Carnivorous Plant Society prides itself on showing an incredibly diverse collection of carnivorous plants, and it shows.  There was far more than your average Venus flytrap here! We were surrounded by plants from around the world that get their nutrition primarily from insects (or the even the occasional frog, lizard, or bird)!  This lets them grow in places where many other plants cannot, such as in poor or very acidic soil.  I'd hate to be a bug in this room...

The tropical pitcher plant Nepenthes edwardsiana ready and waiting...
My personal favorites have always been the Sarracenias, our native Trumpet pitchers, and there were many gorgeous varieties to be seen.

Clockwise from left: Sarracenia 'Diana's Delight'; collection of Sarracenia, including S. x 'Morell', Srubra, and Sleucophylla 'Red'; Sarracenia psittacine var okeefenokeensis 
Most Sarracenia are native to bogs and marshes in the Southeastern US, but there is one that is native here in New England and rightly well represented at the show - Sarracenia purpurea, aka the Purple pitcher plant.

our native Sarracenia purpurea
Most pitchers have hoods that prevent too much rainwater from getting into the pitcher and diluting the digestive fluids in it, but the hood of the Purple pitcher plant is less covering, letting the tubes fill with water.  A whole little microcommunity of bacteria and invertebrates live in this pitcher water and helps break down the prey to make the nutrients more usable to the pitchers.

Clockwise from top: S. purpurea ssp venosa, S. 'Green Latrine', S. x purpurea 'Alderman Lake Bog MI' x 'Brunswick Beauty
Also native to North America is Darlingtonia californica, aka the Cobra Lily or the California pitcher plant.  Native to bogs and streams in Northern California and Oregon that are fed with cold mountain water, these can be hard to grow in cultivation.  The roots of this plant start to die back if they get warmer than 50°F (10°C).  Members of the New England Carnivorous Society took it on as a challenge to grow these plants for this year's show, with somewhat varying success.

Darlingtonia californica
In South America live the counterparts of our native pitchers, the Sun Pitchers, or Heliamphora.  Instead of a hood or lid, these pitchers boast a 'nectar spoon' on their tops, which attracts prey.  A slit in the side of the pitcher regulates the level of rainwater inside the pitchers.

Heliamphora heterodoxa
Tropical pitcher plants Nepenthes look very different from Trumpet pitchers or Sun pitchers.  Most are vines and can grow up to several meters long.  The tips of the modified leaves produce tendrils, which form into pitchers.  Some tropical pitcher plants produce huge pitchers that are capable of ensnaring small critters like mice or lizards.   

Clockwise from top left: N. alata x ventrata, N. 'The Succubus',  N. ventricosa x truncata,  N. bongso
Sundews, or Drosera, have a completely way to catch insects. Their leaf surfaces are covered with many tiny tentacles, and each tentacle has a drop of sticky substance at the tip to lure and entrap prey.  Anything that lands on it becomes stuck and subsequently digested.  

a closeup of a Thread-leaved Sundew
  At the show, the Sundews ranged in size from cute and petite...

Drosera callistos, aka Pygmy Sundew, which is native to Australia
... to large and rather threatening to those who pass by. 

I think this one ate its sign.  It is likely Drosera tracyi, which is native to the US.
Carnivorous plants do have blooms!  Most hold their flowers on long stems far above the plant, so that they don't block possible prey from approaching the plant.  Butterworts (Pinguicula) are carnivorous plants that are usually grown for their pretty flowers.  The leaves look much like succulent leaves but are sticky to catch small insects.

Pinguicula species mounted on waterrock from Japan
The coolest plant on display was possibly a Corkscrew plant, Genlisea.  Corkscrew plants look quite plain and harmless from above...

the tiny leaves of Corkscrew plant Genlisea hispidula
However, instead of roots, these plants have modified, corkscrew-type leaves that catch tiny insects under ground.

the corkscrew 'root' traps on display in a water tank under the plant
The show even featured an aquatic carnivorous plant - the Waterwheel, or Aldrovanda vesiculosa.  Waterwheels float just under the surface of the water and catch prey in traps that look much like those of a Venus flytrap.  They are native to lakes and ponds in the Western Hemisphere and spread by sticking the feet of passing birds.

And of course, no self-respecting Carnivorous Plant Show would be complete without a thoroughly lethal-looking fairy garden.

Beware, traveling salesmen...
This was such a fun show, filled with so many different and amazing plants!  Thankfully there was also an area with vendors selling some of them to add to my growing collection...

my new Drosera graomogolensis 
Happy gardening,
and happy hunting...

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