Wednesday, April 20, 2016

I Spy: Flowers Edition

After a lecture on the different relationships with animals that angiosperms have evolved to pollinate, we split up into groups to search for all the flowers we could find along the trails of the Bosque Eterno de los Ninos, near Monteverde. As I began walking to the trails I realized how little attention I had paid to the flowers here in Costa Rica with the exception maybe of orchids, but as soon as I stepped foot on the trail with my mind set on flowers, I began to see that they were all over the place. Finding the flowers was a great exercise as it required the use of all of my senses- looking for the spots of color among the green trees, smelling both the good and bad (well bad for humans) odors of the flowers, and listening for wings beating towards a flower.
            It was interesting that a lot of times I would look at a plant and think some part of it was definitely a flower, but really was not, such as with the bracts of Heliconia. And other times I would walk right by a plant before realizing that there actually were flowers on it, just not the showy kind we often think of. Whenever I spotted a flower or anything that might be a flower, I would take it and place it in a plastic bag that I brought with me.
            I had learned in high school that insects and angiosperms had a close relationship as the flowers of the plants needed to be pollinated by insects. I had not realized however that often the flowers need a specific insect or other kind of animal to pollinate them. These close relationships have led to flowers with distinct traits based on the specific animal that pollinates them. Walking along the trail I spotted some white flowers on the trail with urticating hairs on it. I immediately recognized it as a bat pollinated flower. A few steps later I noticed some large red tubular flowers that would be pollinated birds. The differing colors, shapes, and smells made it clear what type of animal would be attracted to which flowers. My human eyes and senses were alerted by some flowers more than others, but even what I saw and smelled would not compare to what the pollinators experience as they fly through the forest looking for food.
            By the end of the walk I had almost filled my bag with flowers (and some things that would turn out not to be flowers) in all different shapes and sizes. Seeing all of the different flowers together really emphasized how unique they were for their specific pollinator. When all of the groups had returned from their walks we split our findings into groups based on their pollinators and saw and smelled the differences.
            After that hike, whenever I went back out into the forest my eyes were still scanning for flowers and I had to remind myself to see more than just the flowers. Over the course of this semester I have been able to focus in on so many areas of the forest from leaves to insects to flowers, but I am also learning how to go out with no expectations so that everywhere I look I find amazing plants and animals all around me like the frogs hopping in the leaf litter and the butterflies floating around our heads.

Kali McGown
Middlebury College

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