Monday, August 2, 2010

Twisted for Survival

Joaquim Alves Gaspar

They seemed pretty insignificant, really - tiny pink polka dots of flowers scattered through the grass. Amazing they survived at all, much less bloomed, considering all the other wild grasses, clovers, and dandelions jostling for room and domination. Not to mention the dozens of RVs and countless feet treading there daily. I did not think much of the flowers, only noticed their bright pink color.

We had come on another camping trip to Fort Flagler State Park, on the tip of Marrowstone Island. The weather was “iffy”, as it so often is there, with foreboding clouds approaching from the northwest and strengthening breezes. Lying on the point as it does, this park is vulnerable to some terrific storms and accompanying winds. Much of the campground is open and exposed; the few shore pines that offer a measure of shelter are short and stunted. Although the environment there is somewhat harsh, numerous plant and animals species not only survive, but thrive.

We’d hiked up the steep hill to traverse the trail along a high bluff, passing numerous concrete bunkers left over from Fort Flagler’s heyday. We’d taken a trail new to us down into the housing area, then continued on trails that took us around the perimeter of the entire park, about five miles in all. A great many wildflowers poked up through the greenery and among them, here and there, were the little pink blooms.
Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé
Flora von Deutschland, Österreich und der Schweiz
1885, Gera, Germany

Later, I consulted a field guide to try to identify several of the more unusual plants and trees that we’d seen on our hike. Eventually, and quite by accident, my eyes again landed on those little pink flowers in the grass. I really doubted they’d even be in the book, but decided to see if they could be identified. Surprisingly, I narrowed them down to one of two species - the identifying factor being the seed pod. So into the grass I went, in search of a two-inch-long, sharply-pointed “stork’s bill”. I found several green ones and then what I was looking for - a fully ripe, dried one. Sure enough, just as the book said, the pod broke apart into five identical quarter-inch seeds, each with a hair-thin twisted tail attached. I decided to test what the book said.

Carrying my treasure into the trailer, I filled a small saucer with water and dropped the seeds in. As we watched, each of those cork-screwed tails slowly straightened out until each seed resembled a tiny arrow. Lifting them out and onto a dry paper towel, we watched in amazement as each of them dried and twisted back into the spiral corkscrew shape that it had when found. In fact, they squirmed and jerked with each twist!

Although introduced here, these tiny seeds of the Common Stork’s-Bill, or Filaree, come equipped to drive themselves into the soil as a way for this species to survive the rigors of a place such as Marrowstone Island. As the weather around them alternates between dry and wet, they alternately twist and straighten their long tails so that the arrow point of a seed finds its mark.

When you sow,
you do not plant the body that will be,
but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
But God gives it a body as he has determined,
and to each kind of seed he gives its own body.
1 Corinthians 15:37 - 38

‘...You have made known to me the paths of life;
you will fill me with joy in your presence’
Acts 2:28

First and third picture files from Wikimedia Commons


  1. Oh, that's incredible! I really enjoyed reading about these flowers and their seeds and seeing the pictures.

  2. Thanks! I know that as a fellow nature-lover you undoubtedly know that these tiny "miracles" are all around us - if we only pay attention & open our eyes. That's why it's so much fun to share. I'm thoroughly enjoying your blog, also.