Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

September 10, 2008

Getting Ticked

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:14 pm

  Have you ever been ticked off?  I mean, really ticked to the point where you couldn’t get back to normal for hours afterward?  Well, I have.  After a nice morning meadow walk recently, I found myself getting so ticked that I was still left de-ticking the following morning. Why, I was still feeling effects of the incident days afterward. No, I’m not talking about getting mad, I’m talking about getting evenly covered by the hitch-hiking seeds of the Tick Trefoil plant.  When these seeds grab on for a ride, they are on for the full fare (see the pant leg above).

  During the early summer months Tick Trefoils, grassland members of the Pea family, express their family ties with rich magenta and pink blossoms that look much like those found on their garden variety cousins. Different species have different sized flowers but all produce very un-gardenlike hairy seed pods (see here). As the plants mature they begin to lean over and gradually bend closer and closer to the ground (something like people in this regard, eh?). The intention -if you can say that a growth habit implies a motive – is for some hairy beast to come along, rub against the seed pods, carry off a few of the seeds, and take them for a long distance ride. This transport service is expected to be provided free of charge or at little cost.

  When the Trefoils were developing their ingenious seed distribution scheme long ago, they did so with the idea that creatures such as woodchucks, deer, and rabbits would provide the taxi ride.  Hitch-hiking is a proven tactic for plants wishing to spread their ways. Burdock, Agrimony, and Enchanter’s Nightshade are a few other plants that have gone the four-legged delivery route. Humans were not part of the original plot, but their clothing proved to be the perfect transporting medium.    If my pant leg is any indication, this is a terribly effective method.

  I counted an average density of about 12 seeds per square inch on my pant legs below the knee. After further careful calculations, I came up with the total figure of around 1,023 ½ attached seeds – O.K., I didn’t actually take my calculations that far.  Perhaps you can do the math and let me know how many square inches of pant leg there are on a pair of Size…wait a minute, this is getting too personal.  Never mind, let’s just say I harvested several handfuls of seeds – including a few located in deeply private locations which I discovered later. It’s really hard to explain exactly what you are doing when standing in line at Meijer’s while de-ticking!

  Each Trefoil pod consists of a series of weakly linked segments that easily break apart on contact into separate triangular seeds (see here). They are covered with a fine coating of bristles which insures a Velcro-like adhesion to any rough surface. They cling tenaciously once attached. The common plant name, as well as the alternate names of “Tick Clover” or “Beggar Lice,” refers to this trait.

  In nature, the unwilling animal seed carrier is supposed to gradually shed these seeds as they rub up against other plants or groom them off. Either way, there is a significant distance laid between the pick-up and drop-off sites and the plant has “done some travel’n” to new potential grounds. With fuel prices the way they are, this ride-sharing is an admirable idea.

1 Comment »

  1. I wasn’t ticked to hear you speak at Growing with Master Gardeners in Dearborn Saturday! I enjoyed your talk (even if long narrow squirrels on a stick are disconcerting!). I enjoyed your perspective and your sense of humor; you were definitely a great speaker to go late inthe afternoon. I’m hoping to make it to hawk fest.
    ~ Monica

    Comment by Monica — September 15, 2008 @ 8:49 am

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