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  • Writer's pictureJean Linville

A Sea of Flowers & Mimicry

Over the course of this year, I have been helping with a collaborative project between Highstead and The Hickories to establish local genotype, native wildflower plant populations that will be utilized for seed production. (For an explanation of genotypes read my March 1 blog.) How did this come about? Highstead staff collected seed from local landscapes last fall and this past spring they germinated seven different native wildflower plants in their greenhouse. The small seedlings were then transported to The Hickories where they were planted into "Founder Plant" rows.

​​Over the summer, the plants settled in and now they are in full bloom and beginning to set seed. They have done much better than we anticipated and soon we will be able to begin an honorable harvest of seed from Joe Pye Weed, New York Ironweed, Swamp Milkweed and possibly some of the mountain mints. Once they are cleaned and dried, the seeds will be passed on to growers who will then germinate them and produce plugs that will be available for sale to the general public. This is a project that I am very excited about!

At first glance when you enter the field where the plants are being grown, it looks as though each row is a uniform sea of whatever plant is growing there. But upon closer inspection, one quickly sees that this is not the case. There are con artists at work here! Entwined and "hidden in plain sight" are weeds of the most conniving type. These weeds mimic the plants that they are growing with. For example, plantain loves to grow with the Penstemon, ​​reedy grasses dominate the Swamp Milkweed and Quick Weed is entwined in the mint and Wild Bergamot. To get an idea of just how well these intruders blend in look closely at these images. In the image to the far left, the center, lighter green plant is a young, undesired, plaintain. The surrounding plants are the Penstemons we are growing for seed production. The second image is of Wild Bergamot with Quick Weed growing in with it. The leaves of the Quick Weed look almost identical to the Bergamot. It is only after the Quick Weed flowers that it gives itself away as the Bergamot does not produce white and yellow flowers. Many plants engage in this art of mimicry which is really pretty amazing. Weeding in these beds needs to be done with care and an attentive eye. To learn more about mimicry, click on the Bergamot image.

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