Tuesday, July 14, 2015

You Don't Have to See It to Notice It: Wood Nymph, Moneses uniflora, Pyrole à une fleur

In my meanderings at the lake (my parents's property in the Upper Gatineau), I came across some Moneses uniflora (aka wood nymph, oneflower wintergreen, single delight, & many other names) that was well-placed for some photos.

Moneses uniflora
For those familiar with the property, it grows fairly abundantly in the cedar bush. Today's shots were taken by the metre-deep pond.

For those unfamiliar with the property, this plant is native to and found in temperate, moist coniferous forests in the Northern hemisphere [1] and was thus quite predictably found in an area where the water table is quite high (we know of at least one spring letting out in the area; the place is crisscrossed with little streams and puddles and is always very damp; it is not a place you walk if you plan to keep your feet dry), and which is populated primarily by Thuja occidentalis (white cedar). This is its native and natural habitat.

The pictures were taken quite close up (I had to lie down on the ground to take it and rose predictably quite damp as a result), so the size of the plant is not immediately obvious. In spite of its reasonable stature in the photos, Moneses uniflora is actually a very small, unpreposessing flower; the one I photographed here appeared to be quite typical of the population and was no more than 3 or 4cm high, though some sources seem to indicate that it can grow as big as 6 inches tall [2] (this may be more likely in warmer climates with longer growing seasons).

Moneses uniflora side view ; note the prominent pistil

It is very likely that people have walked by this plant many times without ever noticing it, small and plain as it is. But though people may walk by without taking note of it, it is possible that they still perceive its presence. It isn't visually dramatic, but it produces a strong and very pleasant fragrance [2] that, where it grows abundantly, sweetens the air. The scent of this flower is part of the sweet, moist, earthy smell I associate with the cedar bush.

The strong fragrance of the flower is attractive to bees, but the plant is in this respect deceptive; they will find no nectar in these flowers [2]. Nevertheless, the bees are able to collect pollen, which rather than being borne on the surface of the anther, is actually inside it. There is a pore at the tip of the anther through which pollen will fall when a bee shakes the anthers by vibrating its wings [2], thereby shaking the pollen loose -- this is called buzz pollination (which is a fascinating topic for another post).

Moneses uniflora
From a North American perspective, Moneses uniflora is native to much of the continent (US range map here, Canada range map here). It is endangered in Connecticut and Ohio, and threatened in Rhode Island [3]. It is secure in most of its native Canadian range, except Nunavut where it may be at risk and Newfoundland & Labrador, where its status has not been assessed [4].

A few sources suggest the Moneses uniflora's potential medicinal use against colds [2,5] and as an antibacterial agent [2].

Because of my mother's musical predilections, I associate all this summer heat with the Tragically Hip, whose music my mother frequently played when we were driving up to the lake. Here's to the beauty of a Canadian summer. I hope you all are able to make the most of it.

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