Friday, August 28, 2009

Gardens are full of beautiful vignettes, surprises and delights – if you take a few moments to look for them. Strolling with my camera through Fairchild not long ago I came upon two such garden moments: a curled Cecropia leaf and lichens on a palm trunk.

Lovely Cecropia leaves, even when fallen.

Cecropias are pioneer trees in the rain forest.  They have short-lived seeds that germinate in the full sun of a light gap and then race upwards at a dozen feet a year. There are several species of this tree and they are found in varying conditions, from wet to dry, from sea level to mountaintop. Their palmate leaves are quite large in order to soak up enough sun to produce such prodigious growth, and when they fall and dry, the under sides are beige-white. Some cecropias live with a particular species of ant in their hollow stems. The ants fight off other insects that might eat the leaves in exchange for glycogen that the tree kindly produces at the base of the leaf stems what are called Mullerian bodies.

Colorful lichens on a palm trunk.

Lichens are a combination of an alga and a fungus, living together to benefit each other. Some are rather flat, others leafy, and still others are “shrubby.” Lichen fossils have been dated to 400 million years ago. Many lichens are sensitive indicators of air pollution. They like dry conditions, relatively speaking, and form on trees, rocks and in areas such as the scrub ecosystem of Florida – hot, sandy and windswept. There, you’ll find reindeer moss, round and puffy lichens covering the sand. They don’t have roots, but get moisture from dew.