in the evening the relative humidity of the air increases, or rain may be immi-nent if it remains cool during the day.So cool air indicates to plants that thereis a risk that their pollen may becomemoist and it is best to close shop toprevent damage to goods. A secondreason for closing shop is because nocustomers are on the street. The activ-ity of most diurnal insects decreasesat low temperatures, which for flowersmeans no clients - so just stay in bed allday and don’t waste your energy. Justthe opposite happens with nocturnalinsects though. If, as a plant, you optfor nightlife clients, the evening signalto open your shop comes at a risk. The risk is losing the male function(production and storage of pollen inthe stamen) of your flower: little pointin having many pretty girls around inthe evening without having some viableboys around. Several of our plants usethis seemingly risky nightlife option,like the aandblommetjies (
species). It is quite obvious why theseplants open their flowers in the evening:to attract specific pollinators, but notvery clear how they protect their pollenassets in the process, when other flow-ers tuck them up safe and dry. There isclearly more to the story than just theobvious.
The first time I noted how moisturecan affect pollination in plants was in aspectacular stand of
flowers on the slopes of the Outeniquamountains. I tried to collect pollen fromthese plants a day after rain, but couldnot find any, even though the flowers were perfectly intact. The rain washedaway all the pollen that was releasedbefore the rain and none of the anthersof the other open flowers were willing torelease their pollen: they were waitingfor warmer weather. No pollen was thusavailable in this population for two tothree days. Being puzzled by this I thenmarked the sections on the inflores-cences that had open flowers with bitsof wool and returned a few weeks later.Almost none of the flowers that wereopen at the time of the rain had devel-oped capsules with viable seed, simplybecause there was no viable pollen tobe pollinated. I have noted this subse-quently many times in
inflorescences. Once the plantsare in seed one can even often tell whena cold front passed through the area,as a series of undeveloped capsulesmark those rainy days. I suspect thatthe same happens in
flowers.I recently saw another interest-ing example in my garden when Iopened my sprinkler system to watera lovely bed of flowering
Nerine fili- folia
. Not a single one of them pro-duced seed afterwards, as I unthink-ingly washed all the viable pollen away.So we do have some species in whichthe flowers seem to offer little protec-tion to protect their pollen from cool, wet conditions. These species seemto be characterized by inflorescencesthat produce many flowers that opensequentially over a prolonged period.So, those flowers that are literallycaught with their pants down in wetconditions are simply compensated forby others that will open during betterconditions.
By now some of you will probablyalready mumble that this is just anoth-er ‘old-wives tale’ with no scientific evi-
TOP RIGHT: Safety in numbers.
is anexample of a plant that does not seem to employspecial measures to protect its pollen from gettingwet. The inflorescence, however, consists of manyflowers that are opened sequentially to ensure thatnew pollen is released after the rain has passed.BELOW RIGHT:
is a classic exam-ple of a ‘windsock-flower’, where a thin flexibleflowering stem enables the flower to turn its back on any moisture-laden wind. This flower designoften occurs in plants of high rainfall areas, whereit allows the flowers to stay open at night or evenwhen it rains because the pollen is very well pro- tected against moisture.
Photos: Jan Vlok.
like most other aloes, never closes its flowers. None, or very few, of theseopen flowers will set seed if it rains. Aloes oftenflower in the dry season but even if it rains, theyjust rapidly open a whole set of new flowers after the rain, and some will be pollinated. Once theplants are in seed one can even often tell that acold front passed through, as a series of undevel-oped capsules mark those rainy days.
Photo: Jan Vlok.
LEFT: Most of the carrion flowers, like this
stay open at night and evenwhen it rains. Like orchids, they have little toworry about as the viability of their pollen is safe:well protected in waterproof bags.
Photo: Jan Vlok.