Dibbles and Bits

This week, we’re considering two of the many amazing features of plants—adaptability to where they are planted and drawing pollinators.

Specialized plant roots help bulbs and corms grow at the correct depth. Tulips are a spring favorite and many were planted earlier this fall in our region. Guides are helpful to find the correct depths for tulips and other spring bulbs.

Given favorable growing conditions, perennial tulips have a built-in mechanism to ensure that bulbs will adjust deeper over the years. Sometimes they started too shallow, or spring thaw may heave some bulbs too near the soil surface.

Tulip bulbs will have fibrous roots to obtain water in spring. They also have contractile roots

that become anchored and pull bulbs to their correct depth in the soil over time. The roots are wrinkled like a shrinking garden hose and contract and pull the bulb downward. Contractile roots help the bulb to adjust to a depth that the blue light spectrum is tolerable.

Of course, bulbs are a vegetative form of reproduction, providing similar pink tulips year to year. In nature, if a tulip uses its sexual form of reproduction and produces seeds from its flowers, the seed falls to the soil surface and a different tulip plant grows and produces a bulb. That seed also utilizes the contractile roots that draw the plant downward so that the soil depth of the developing bulb is favorable for the tulip.   

Wild garlic, difficult to irradicate, also has contractile roots, as do corms like gladiolas and crocuses. 

What is it about flowers that draw honeybees into our yard? The colors of flowers and patterns on the flowers draw honeybees. Their vision only allows pattern discernment at close range but the combination of color and pattern draws the bees most often. 

That’s according to a study by Dr. Natalie Hemple de Ibarra at The University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. Her research is to learn more about evolutionary pressures on the colors and patterns of flowers. 

This relationship between pollinators and flowers may have bearing on the limited colors of flowers in nature. Some blooms have intricate patterns and less color. The abstract appears in the November/December 2022 The American Gardener.

Thanks for visiting Plant Exchange Blog. You may find more on a topic of your interest, such as “Plants of the Region” or in recent  past posts. We welcome the chance to visit with you again next week.  

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