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Monday, March 10, 2014


Here's a plant that I've been oohing and ahhing over since our walk in Marin County on Saturday.

I know, I know...I need to get my head out of the tidepools more often!  ;)  

This is Coast Silk Tassel (Garrya elliptica), an evergreen shrub that grows in coastal scrub and mixed evergreen forest habitats from southern Oregon to southern California.  It flowers from late winter to early spring.

Coast Silk Tassel is dioecious male and female flowers are borne on different plants.

The photo above is a closeup of the male flowers.  Here's an expanded view of the entire "tassel":

Female flowers look quite different.  I'll do the same thing show a closeup first, and then an expanded view:

While trying to learn about the structure of Coast Silk Tassel flowers, I came upon a very interesting description.  

Below is a closeup of the male flowers again.  Note that there are small globe-shaped flowers extending downward from fuzzy, purplish bracts.  The flowers have 4 linear segments that arch around and meet again at their tips.  This creates four "slits" or "windows" through which you can see the anthers (the parts that produce the pollen).

In his paper about the systematics and evolution of Garrya, Gerald Dahling suggests that the "chamber" created by the male flower parts could catch loose pollen and prevent it from falling to the ground...and then the wind could pick up the pollen in the chamber and carry it out through the slits.  (This would potentially be an adaptation to prevent pollen desiccation in arid environments.)  I don't know if anyone has ever tested this, but it was interesting to think about and it made me look at the male flowers in a whole new way!

Dahling, G.V.  1978.  Systematics and evolution of Garrya.  Contributions from the Gray Herbarium of Harvard University, No. 209, pp. 3-104.

One more look at these wonderful, cascading, pendulous, catkin-like inflorescences:

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