Deeper into the hidden world the Mountain’s call pulls me. The big blue truck rolls beyond the old fence posts covered by roses that have gone feral and surrounded fallow ground with thorns and bright red hips. Below the road and beneath twisted branches squirrels play where once a groomed orchard grew. And still, the sleeping mountain calls me deeper into the seldom seen to show me how well she has been healing. And there in a ditch where the forest meets the road was a treasure I’ve only seen in books and gardens during all my wanderings. A colony of white Turtlerheads! Now I realize that this is a common sight in the garden but in 52 years I have not found them in the wild. Which is odd to me because here we have an Appalachian Native plant that seems to have migrated from forests to gardens.
The plant gets its name from the shape of the flower which resembles a turtle with it’s mouth slightly open.
There is a reason for the open mouth look. In the pre-Columbian era this ensured pollination by bumblebees. The opening is slightly more narrow than a bumblebee’s body. But, only the bumblebees are strong enough and the right size to force their way into the mouth to reach the supply of nectar that pools in the bottom of the flower. European honeybees are not strong enough to force their way in and the large carpenter bees are too large to fit in. So the bumblebees are the sole pollinators for Turtlerheads. If you look closely at tonight’s Feature Image you’ll notice a structure that looks amazingly similar to a human tongue. And the top lip seems to have a single “tooth” hanging down. These are the reproductive organs of course. As the bumblebees wiggle their way into the flower they pick up and transfer huge amounts of pollen.
However, the European honeybees have discovered a hack. They chew their way through the side of the flower and rob the nectar without any pollination. None of research actually says it but I conclude that the same pollinators that are so necessary for the food production of the world are also a limiting factor in the success of the Turtlerheads. So what does it matter. Well, it matters to the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly that hosts its eggs almost exclusively on the Turtlerheads. The implications being that without the flower we lose the butterfly. Fortunately, we have many cultivars that are planted simply for beauty by some and specifically for preservation of the Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly by others.
But what really made these special is because in the mid 90s I helped cruise the timber that was clear cut before the mountain was strip mined down to bare earth. And we’ll soon be coming up on the 30 year mark in the forest regeneration of this mountain. So to find a plant that I have not found in the wild growing so close to an unlikely location gives me great hope for the full restoration of the forest in this area. It takes a long time for nature to reclaim this kind of thing on her own but she can do it. I have been on land that is beautiful rich forest today but was cleared fifty or more years ago. But don’t think that makes me against mining. These men pull light from darkness and supply the carbon that strengthens the steel that modern world is built from. No, I am pro reclaiming that which was mined. We can have the best of both worlds and all it takes is a little thinking and planning. But that will have to be a topic for another day because this post has gotten way larger than I intended. So good night friends and be blessed throughout your days.
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