Friday, February 10, 2012

Why Indian Cucumber Stems Are Fuzzy

Every once in awhile the answer to some long-standing question presents itself in a wholly unexpected way. Friends recently made a gift to me of a book on wildflowers called Nature’s Garden, Doubleday, Page and Co., NY, 1900. It’s a big, thick hardcover, with black-and-white photographs. The text abounds with personal thoughts of the author, one Neltje Blanchan.

While I haven’t read this book cover-to-cover, I do sometimes pick it up and read a few pages. The text is divided up according to flower color. This morning I was in the Yellow and Orange section.

The chapter on Indian Cucumber, Medeola virginiana, interested me greatly. Here’s why.

As anyone familiar with this intriguing plant of dappled woodland shade knows, the stem is glaucous, which means fuzzy. I liken the white, loose strands of fuzz to lint and that’s as good a comparison I’ve heard thus far.

My question concerning this and other plants is this. Why are some plants glaucous? What purpose does the lint serve? It does not seem that any feature of any plant was assigned at random, for no apparent reason.

The author offers an answer, and it sounds good to me. She said, “While there is a chance of nectar being pilfered from the flowers by ants, the stem is cottony and ensnares their feet.”

Of course in order to accept this explanation as accurate, I’ll need to wait until next spring. Then I’ll capture a few ants and place them at the base of an Indian cucumber plant. Will the fuzzy stuff “ensnare” their feet? I don’t know, but it will certainly be fun to find out.

And that, in a nutshell, is the essence of what keeps me reading these old-time books. Each volume offers some little bit of wisdom. And while I’m breathing and these books reside in my library, that wisdom won’t be lost.

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