Friday, April 1, 2016

The Ant and the Lily

A detail of the second journal page from my botany walk at Monocacy Hill on March 30th. The Trout Lilies, Erythronium americanum, are just beginning to bloom! 

The Trout Lily and the Ant have a special mutualistic relationship called "Myrmecochory". This relationship benefits both the plant and the insect. The Trout Lily seed has an "elaisome" which is like a little sac of ant food attached to it. The food is made of yummy oils and lipids. When the ant finds a Trout Lily seed, it hauls it off to its colony to feed the young'uns. The ants don't usually eat the actual seed itself and, being the neat and tidy creatures that they are, they discard it. So the seeds are tossed into the "trash" which is a chamber designated for this purpose. In the chamber are other discarded bits and bobs along with ant frass. Frass is the polite way of saying ant poop. So, in essence, the ant has just planted and fertilized the Trout Lily seed. The seed is safe from birds or other animals which may have eaten it and now it can get on with its business of growing into a beautiful new lily. 

I did a rough sketch of the lily while in the field. After a few years of working at this, I can put more sketches on the page in a shorter time. Remember now, there are other people present who are setting the pace of the walk and talk. While some are taking pictures or looking up the plant in the field guide, I start in right away to draw. I usually hang back just a few seconds to add some details and then scurry down the trail to where the group has stopped at the next blooming specimen. Warning: be careful when walking and sketching! Experience talking here. There are rocks and roots on the trail that can trip you up! Is this "distracted walking" like texting and walking? Coloring is definitely out when walking so at home I used Prismacolor Verithins to put some color on the page.

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