Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 22, 2009

Mellow Yellow

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 8:35 pm

Yellow can be an infectious color. No, I don’t mean that in a negative sense.  It is a color that tends to like company and, if it lacks companionship, soon draws it in.  You could say that it spreads and affects the world around it. Take for example one of our yellow Frenchtown township fire hydrants. Given the fact that these structures often suffer the from the effects of dog pee,  it is an appropriate shade for a hydrant – better than red, in fact. I photographed the lonely hydrant (see above and here) along the edge of a field of green winter wheat. A large cluster of yellow plants are collected around it like moths to a porch light.

These plants, called Field Pennycress, are making something like an artistic statement. They are members of the mustard family who reserve their yellowness for their seed pods instead of their flowers.  It almost looks like they are attempting to hide the hydrant from the standard red brush of the traditionalists. Or, is the hydrant hiding from liquid-filled canines?

A lone Spatterdock  flower (see below) calls immediate notice to itself due to it’s yellowness. Better known as the Yellow Water Lily, this waxy plant bloom never fully opens. It exposes just enough of it’s inner sanctum to attract pollinators. As a yellow period in a paragraph of green, the effect is subtle but effective.

Towering above the understated spatterdocks, the cattails reserve early summer for thier yellow expression. The cattail flowering season lasts only for a week or so, but it is a grand yellow event when it occurs in mid-June. As the male flower spikes mature, they begin to shed buckets of powdery pollen to the wind (see below). Each spike looks as if it were dipped in bright powdered tempera paint.  The action of even a gentle breeze will cause the grains to disperse into the wind as puffy clouds of fertility. When thousands of cattails are shedding at the same time, the effect is magical.

Cattail pollen is only mildly allergenic, so it’s unlikely to make you sneeze. It is, in fact, often collected as a food source (called pu huang in Asian tongue) and mixed with wheat flour for baking. The grains are fairly heavy, as pollen goes, and most of them drop down to the water after a short ride on the breeze.

As the masses of cattail pollen collect on the wet surface, they begin to adhere to each other and form stringy mats which look like shredded silk (see below and here). Due to their four-parted micro-structure they inherently link together into linear shapes like so many buidling blocks. A cattail pollen mat is a piece of very temporary art. They form due to the gregarious nature of yellow, but the action of the wind & water soon pulls it apart.

The deep greens of mid summer will eventually win out over most of the natural yellows until they return in the autumn. The artificial hue of the hydrant, however, will continue to beckon territorial mutts throughout the summer.


  1. I enjoyed the intricate weaving of art with science… beautifully done.


    Comment by Kathy — June 23, 2009 @ 11:15 am

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