Monday, 15 July 2013

Wednesday wildflower: winter heliotrope

Winter heliotrope isn't a true heliotrope, but a daisy, related to the senecios I've featured in a few other entries in this series (here and here).  But it is both a wildflower and a weed, a garden plant that has escaped.
Winter heliotrope, Petasites fragrans.

This patch was in Aro Valley, an old-established part of Wellington, originally working class but now a mix of gentrified old cottages and student flats, arty cafes and boutiques.  The plants were in a garden that had a rather wild appearance; I'm sure its owner was deliberately aiming for a wilderness look.
Winter heliotrope flower heads.

The flowers are pink, instead of the usual yellow for this tribe of daisies (Tribe Senecioneae, characterised by the involucral bracts being in a single row, not in overlapping rows like roof shingles).  Winter heliotrope is dioecious (has separate male and female plants), but all the plants in New Zealand are males.  Their outer ray florets are all sterile (they make neither pollen nor seeds); ray florets are female in most daisies (the general structure of daisy flower heads is explained here).  The inner disk florets are male (often hermaphrodite in other daisies).  Not being able to have sex doesn't deter this plant a bit, because it is able to spread vegetatively, and of course people deliberately and inadvertently help that process.

You might note the stigmas in these florets, the large white somewhat feathery things poking through the tube of purple anthers in the centre of these florets.  How come male florets have such a large stigma?  In this and several other families, the pollen is presented on the stigma, so even though the florets are male, they still need well-developed female parts for pollen dissemination.  In a hermaphrodite daisy floret, the stigma opens after the pollen has gone to expose the two receptive surfaces.  I didn't examine these closely at the time, but in the photo I can't see any that have opened.

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