Saturday, May 11, 2013

Secret Sex Life of Jack-in-the pulpit: Is Jack gender bending into Jacqueline!!

photo by Jonathan Schechter, Brandon Twp. Michigan 5/8/13

Size matters! 

And that is a fact of life in this not so naughty nature sex talk about a woodland plant naturalist love to gaze at - the near mystical sex changing Jack-in-the pulpit.  Look carefully under the hood, and there you find spongy old Jack!  But before you head off to shaded fertile woodlands in search of this protected wildflower here are facts of reproductive life of this understory beauty that glistens and shimmers with moisture on rainy mornings as it stands erect among the dry leaves of summer:

Botanists have struggled to discover the ways and whys of the transformation and the consensus is that size matters. The sex secret lies underground and is dependent on environmental conditions and is determined by the size of the corm; an underground root structure.  A small corm produces a male but at times of good growth the corm is large and the plant is female. But there is a twist - if the female produced lots of berries the corm size may then reduce and the next year the plant is male. And the sex can change from year to year!

Deer play a role, too, for they will occasionally browse on the leaves even though it is not a top choice entree.  Leaf destruction by deer or other creatures increases the chance of the plant being male. I did a quick survey in my woods this morning, and found only one Jacqueline among a sea of tiny rain moistened Jacks.

How do I know?

Females have two leaves and males have only one.

(NOTE: Each leaf has three-leaflets)


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