Friday, June 25, 2010

Another Pyrola

Much as I love Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, sometimes it lets me down. Take for example the following flower:

I know it's a pyrola, but I couldn't for the life of me determine if it was shinleaf, which is very common around here, for green-flowered. The obvious answer, just looking at the thing, is that it is green-flowered, because the flowers are, well, green.

Shinleaf has white flowers, and green-flowered can be green, greenish-white. But can not-quite-ripe shinleaf flowers also be greenish? A lot of white flowers are somewhat green before they come into their full bloom.

Then there are the leaves. Here is the photo:

According to Newcomb's green-flowered's leaves are thick and nearly round, not shiny, 1/2-1 1/2" long, wth the stalk no longer than the blade.

Shinleaf's leaves rae also not shiny, are 1-3" long, and longer than wide. The leaf blade is usually longer than its stalk.

I look at the leaves, and I'm just not convinced they are round, nor am I convinced they are not round. As for shiny-ness, well, that's anyone's guess. I will have to visit the plant again to acertain the thickness of the leaves.

After much agonizing, I think I am resolved that this is green-flowered, if only because the flowers are greenish.
What's really cool about this plant, however, is the underside, where the reproductive parts are located.

Looking at them close up, we see a bunch of hollow tubes encircling a long solid tube:

Those hollow tubes are the anthers, part of the male reproductive parts. Pollen is shed from the hollow openings, falling downward.

The green tube in the middle is the female part. Pollen is transfered to the sticky tip, which is the stigma. But it's not the same plant's pollen that lands here. The pollen, which is also sticky, sticks to visiting insects (mostly flies). They in turn transfer it to the stigmas of other flowers they visit. This way the flowers do not fertilize themselves, and cross-pollination occurs.

Pyrolas - fascinating flowers no matter how you look at them, and so much variety! I can now say I have seen five of the six (or is it seven?) we have in New York. The only one I don't think I've seen is P. americana, sweet pyrola. Although, P. minor, the mountain pyrola, may also have eluded me.


  1. You see, and you know what you're doing. I'm getting to be able to get around Newcomb's, but, for a beginner, it can be a real challenge. Luckily, I'm not at the point yet where I'm looking for rare or unusual flowers. My usual method is to look in Newcomb's, see if I can find something that I think might be it, then go to the internet and look for photos that might confirm that.

    Whatever it is, that is a neat little flower. Thanks for the close up view. Fascinating.

  2. I agree, Newcomb's isn't perfect. I find a rare bur reed on Pyramid Lake each year, but Newcomb doesn't even list it, let alone have a drawing of it, so I was calling it the wrong name for years. I'm pretty sure your pyrola is P. virens, both by the color and the shape of the leaves. With Shinleaf, I think of the buds as more pinkish than greenish. When I'm unsure, I often go to Google Images and compare photographs. But that can be confusing too. Love your macro image of the pyrola's "private parts."