Blue-eyed Mary: small flower, big attraction

Collinsia_parviflora2_web

Collinsia parviflora (small-flowered blue-eyed Mary) is a gorgeous native wildflower in BC. It’s one of the first spring wildflowers to emerge — providing that first rush of colour and excitement after a long wet winter.

One can only imaging that small-flowered blue-eyed Mary is a welcome sight to a large number of native bees — which, according to the Xerces Society, are attracted to the nectar within the tiny flowers.

Interestingly, not only does Collinsia parviflora produce nectar within its flowers, it also has nectaries (nectar packets) that occur near the leaves. However, it’s thought that this nectar attracts mostly ants — whose presence provides protection from herbivores.

Small-flowered blue-eyed Mary is also a larval food plant for the critically imperilled Taylor’s checkerspot (Euphydryas editha taylori) in BC.

And if all that didn’t make Collinsia parviflora interesting enough, it seems that it has some genetic intrigues as well. Some BC populations of small-flowered blue-eyed Mary are polymorphic for a gene that causes purple-spotted leaves.

But those spotted leaves tend only to appear in cooler temperatures. If plants with the spotted genotypes are grown at higher temperatures, the spots don’t appear. If spotted plants are moved from cool to warm (say from outside to a greenhouse), the spots disappear in a few days. Researchers think that the dark spots may absorb sunlight and heat up the leaf more effectively and that higher leaf temperatures increase the rate of photosynthesis in the plants during the winter. (Read Wildflower Genetics by Anthony Griffiths and Fred Ganders for more details.)

That’s a lot of interesting packed into a small plant.

Advertisements