Apr 5, 2011

Flowers are my fiction

I've been a little stressed lately. Who hasn't, right? Revolutions, worker uprisings, climate change and the day to day. I have a few coping strategies for stress. Dissolving into fiction for brief spells usually gives my brain a chance to relax. For some reason I keep choosing heavy material, e.g., Beloved  (Toni Morrison), Flight (Sherman Alexie). I switched to non-fiction, grabbing Eaarth by Bill Mckibben at a used bookstore last week. Also heavy, whew. I groaned aloud through the entire introduction as McKibben counted the ways in which we are supremely fucked on this rock.

For the moment I've given up on reading and turned to Spring for reassurance. Delving deeper into botany serves as a delightful distraction, particularly as buds open all around us. I found myself squinting at poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum) flowers at Lake Merced today. They're tiny and not without charm. Their allure held me up for a second, but I resisted the urge to get a closer look with my hand lens. As much as I hang out with poison oak, I couldn't recall its family this afternoon (Anacardiaceae).

Learning plant families dominates my botanical pursuits at the moment. I might be a little obsessed with the families. I almost wish that when you asked people "What's this plant?" that they responded with the family instead of the species. I know it wouldn't be the most precise answer but how cool would it be to learn the families first? We learn the kingdom and then the species but I want what comes between them.

Thus the delving into flowers and families. In order to learn the families, I'm frequently counting flower parts, teeny tiny flower parts. Plant id sucks me in like a good book. A little oak branch can be a whole new world, with its own weather, topography and critter community. It's easy to get caught up in the bugs, thereby forgetting the flowers for a second. I couldn't capture the tiny white bugs on this oak leaf (Fagaceae, Quercus agrifolia), but you can see their labor in the crevices of the midvein. I dunno what this critter is, despite my half-assed attempt to find it in the Peterson Insect Field Guide.

The house I live in has an abundance of nature books and clever tools for the investigation of small plant parts. I'm enjoying the drafting table and ample work lamps as I pick apart petals in search of pistils and other pieces. Tweezers that screw together to hold samples: brilliant! Sharp scalpels that slice through soft, flexible sepals and petals make getting to the insides quick and clean.

I've always taken comfort in counting, so I suppose it's natural for me to enjoy counting flower parts from the outside in. Here's some amateur flora porn from today's adventure with the families.
Grossulariaceae, Ribes sanguineum
Sepals from Lamiaceae family (Stachys?)

Staminate flowers of Fagaceae, Quercus agrifolia

Lamiaceae up close with stamens

Buckeye stamens (Hippocastanaceae or Sapinaceae, Aesculus californica)


Beth! said...

flora porn - ha!

batgrrl said...

Actually I think the q. agrifolia leaves themselves have "hairy armpits" -- it's not from the insects. Find another q.a. tree and look at other leaves. It's way cool. If you want plant families you must try to talk your way into the plant tax class at SFSU. A very intense semester but you'll end it knowing all the families in CA. Highly recommended.

rachel kesel said...

Right on, Jennifer! I saw little white critters crawling in those pits so I thought they made the stuff. I almost took plant tax my last term at sfsu but decided to go for a light semester instead (in other words I chickened out!). A few of my co-workers have also taken it and rave about it.

Sorry I missed you at Stray Bar a few weeks ago. I got your email too late. Be in touch next time you're here! I even live in Bernal right now.

Taking The Compact said...

Love the pics, they take me back to when I was kid and flowers kinda freaked me out because they looked other worldly and just not right. Now I can appreciate them.