Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Little Promises of Summer

Huckleberry flowers (c) John Ashley
Huckleberry flowers blooming today near Whitefish
Don't look now, but there are hordes of young huckleberries growing up wild in the woods. Better yet, get out and look closely at the spring huckleberry flowers that are just now starting to bloom, then come back later in summer for taste-testing.

Huckleberry flower (c) John Ashley
An androecium of yellow stamen hidden inside
From above, huckleberry flowers can look surprisingly like reddish berries that are two months early. The bell-shaped flower has a small opening that invariably opens downward - which probably relates somehow to successful pollination during May and June, our rainy season. By gently twisting the stem, you can peer inside the tiny flower to see the working parts.

The yellow, pollen-forming stamen are hidden in there, tucked away and dry on the inside. (The whorl of stamen is called an androecium, Greek for "man house.") The pollen-catching stigma sticks out just far enough to be a minor obstacle to any insect trying to crawl inside. (The stigma is visible below the greenish flower, in the upper photo.) Previous visits to other huckleberry flowers might have left a little pollen stuck to the insect, and now this pollen rubs off onto the stigma.

Presto! Some of the seeds are fertilized, a berry begins growing, and summer starts taking shape in northwestern Montana.