alien among us or beautiful invader

Purple-Loosestrife-_7718 This amazing plant is purple loosestrife (lythrum salicaria). It has a terrible reputation as an invasive species and is black-listed nation wide because like so many introduced species, it has no natural predators here, so it takes over and displaces the native plants in its environment. If you search purple loosestrife, you get headlines like “invasive species, weed alert” and even “aliens among us”–phrases with which cultural studies theorists would have a field day (sorry, no pun intended).

Yes, I do understand this concern over the damage an introduced species can cause, but before I diligently consign my pilfered roadside example to the flames, I have to admire the astounding beauty of this plant’s pollen-bearing blossoms. Each flower has BOTH brilliant green pollen AND golden pollen–two different pollen colors, two different stamen lengths, and even two different stamen colors. This brilliant palette is further enhanced by the purple-pink of the petals. Gorgeous visual cues to attract pollinators. Of course, this is one of the plants that Dorothy Hodges includes in the book I’ve been working with for some time now. When I first saw her sample (below) with the 2 different pollen colors in it, I couldn’t believe it. Yes, tonality of pollen changes from plant to plant and season to season depending upon environmental conditions, but this variation is astounding. So, yesterday’s discovery of the plant itself at a UBC roadside ditch has proved immensely informative. The blossoms actually do have two colors of pollen!  Moreover, purple loosestrife is trimorphic, that is, it has 3 types of flowers. (The variations have to do with the relative lengths of the stigma/style and anther/filament combinations). Adaptations, I presume, to aid the plant in ensuring pollination. DH-116-purple-loosestrife Whatever its reason for having such colorful pollen, I much prefer the epithet, “beautiful invader,” that Canadian photographer, Brian Johnson gives to purple loosestrife. You can read more great information in the article that Brian Johnson wrote for Microscopy UK. Brian’s floral photography (called “A Flower Garden of Macroscopic Delights) is astoundingly beautiful, and well worth checking out.

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