Wednesday, September 5, 2012

A Bit of Botany: Stamens & Pistils

As a child, I asked and asked for a microscope.  It's not that I wanted to be a scientist; I just liked seeing things up close. Staring at the way a leaf dried into brown and gold curves could entertain me for a lot longer than the Betsy-Wetsy doll from Aunt Edith.  No, there was nothing wrong with my eyes and not much wrong with my brain; I just found details more compelling than the “big picture,” (and dolls that peed weren't exactly stimulating).  Our eyes sweep by gardens so quickly. Too much is lost, left as a dot of yellow or a smear of purple. How much of a vista can a brain process?  And though I can enjoy that moment of beauty, I'm not fully engaged.  I'd rather sit in the first row and get hit by the sweat from a pirouetting dancer than sit in the last to coolly admire the choreographic designs. I really like intimacy.

Photographic intimacy.  With plants.  Let me say now that I really hate those people portraits where the bigger the person's pores, the more successful the photographer thinks he's been. I just want to wash my face and clean my lens.

But stamens, I really like stamens. I like how they reach out, reach up. Wave around. Attention-seeking. With fairy dust. Yes, I have pollen allergies, but magic is magic and sneezing is simply another way shouting “shazam!”
Too much? OK, I just like how they look. 

Trientalis borealis
 Botany 101 minus 10: stamens of a flower are collectively referred to as the androecium ( meaning: little house of man, or something like that). A stamen has an anther, which waves about, sprinkled with pollen (as Walt Whitman would put it “the father stuff”), held aloft by a filament.
The gynoecium (yes, little house of woman) refers to a collection of one or more carpels or pistils, depending on whom you read. I'm going with “pistil” because its got a kind of Annie Oakley ring to it (though I think she used a rifle.) The pistil is composed of a stigma, which takes in the pollen, a style, the hollow tube the pollen travels down to the ovary which houses the ovule. And I'm assuming you can use your imagination for the rest.  The Starflower above has seven stamens and one pistil at the center.

Using a Macro lens lets you get close enough for what I sometimes refer to as the OB/GYN view of a flower as seen with this Hellebore on the right.   Some might find this shot a bit off-putting, but I LOVE how amazing the flower structures are.  The pistils rise above the swarming stamens like underwater creatures swimming through oceanic vegetation.  And those gold-green tubes all around?  Those are the nectaries, also known as honey leaves.  The insects have to fly into the nectaries to get the nectar, and as they go in and out, pollen adheres to them which then gets transferred to the stigmas.

But, for me, these botanical contemplations breed metaphors rather than taxonomy.  After all, I'm a writer not a scientist.  When I stare at the St. John's Wort below, marvel at the numerous stamens seeming to burst from the base of the pistil, I see a celebration, just-launched fireworks on a grand yet tiny scale.

Hypericum androsaemum “Albury Purple”