Naturespeak A naturalist's view of the world

June 2, 2010

The View from the Dollardock

Filed under: Uncategorized — wykes @ 10:48 pm

The Memorial Day weekend at Dollar Lake was very quiet indeed. Thanks to the weedy pond-like nature of this northern Michigan Lake, nary a Jet Ski or motored craft of any kind upset the glassy water. The view from the end of my crooked dock consisted of submerged bladderworts, cattails, and the frantic defensive activities of a pair of Red-winged blackbirds protecting their nest.

The most obvious visual features of the shallows were the Spatterdock lilies whose ball-like flowers and broad floating leaves covered the surface. There were so many that I was tempted to temporarily name my dock “the spatterdock”, but no one names their dock (besides, “the Dollardock” works just fine).  Sometimes called Cow Lilies, these quiet water plants begin blooming in late May and continue into summer. Many of the heart-shaped leaves are already showing signs of seasonal wear with signs of insect damage and evidence of a few muskrat and turtle bites. The fresh leaves, yet unfolding beneath the surface, were still in pristine condition (see here). They would soon suffer the fate of the older leaves as summer progressed. We have reached that time of the season when the crispness of spring yields to the worn look of summer.

The yellow blooms of the Spatterdock are of the reluctant type. They never appear to get past the bud stage – opening only slightly at the center to allow pollinators (see here). The outer “petals” are actually sepals (a distinction that matters only to a select group of botanists). An inner ring of small petals and stamens circle a large central flat-topped pistil. Since the inner sepals are tinted red (see this view) these Dollar Lake ‘docks were probably a variety known as Bullhead lilies. On the first day of opening, if you can call it that, the bloom exudes a slightly sweet smell. This fragrance ferments over the course of the bloom cycle to a sour brandy-like odor which proves irresistible to pollinating flies. Cow lilies are not proud, if stink gets the job done then stink it is. It was impossible to photograph one of these flowers without including a few flies in the shot (see below and here).

Once pollinated, the petals – er, sepals – deteriorate and fall away to reveal green fluted seed pods (see below). These pods eventually fall apart to distribute their cargo of large ¼ inch seeds. It is said that these seeds can be heated over a fire to a point where they pop “like poor quality popcorn.” Given my experience with Jiffy Pop over the years, I’d have to equate Spatterdock with this “magic treat” (in other words I have never successfully popped a good batch of Jiffy Pop). For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, be thankful for microwave popcorn.

At every angle of the sun, the intense yellow Spatterdock flowers offered some great artistic views. From the dim light of early morning to the harsh light of mid-day and back into the crepuscular time of evening, I was lured into taking way too many shots of these incredible aquatic plants.

The other near-shore plants were very much in evidence as well, although I ignored them photographically. The bladderworts were sending up lightly attired stalks adorned with pea-like yellow flowers. Their blooms were showy, but they paled when in the company of the massive spatterdocks. There are two kinds of cattails at dock’s edge, the Broad-leaf and Narrow-leaf variety, and they both were growing at a tremendous rate. I sliced off the exposed portions of a few of the Broad-leaf fronds that were poking up through the slats when I arrived. These leaves were cut flush to the level of the dock surface.  Three days later I found that the plants had grown an additional 10.25 inches above the surface – adding over 3 inches a day to their height! On Dollar Lake one could almost set up a lawn chair and watch the cat-tails grow (almost).  I did set up a lawn chair to watch the Spatterdocks.

Most of the Narrow leaf cattails were entering their flowering stage. Their male flower stalks were pushing up through the furled central leaves of the stem and starting to shed pollen. At one point, the male red-wing blackbird landed forcefully on one of the pollen rich stalks and caused it to explode into a cloud of bright yellow dust. The golden wand slapped the bird on the side of the head and coated him with a layer of pollen. You could say that he was spattered by the dock! For the next hour or so, this deep black bird sported a yellow bronzed head (see below). It appears that yellow was the festive weekend color on Dollar Lake.

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