Monday, May 2, 2011

Thoughts on a Tulip

Backyard Tulips
i decided to focus my attention on my backyard for a couple of iSites this week, for a couple of reasons.  1) i love my backyard and have put a lot of effort into making it beautiful and 2) i'm getting seriously close to my next trip and the deadline for all of my assignments - and my backyard is very convenient.  and the tulips are out and beautiful this time of year.

so, tulips.  while outside, i studied my tulips looking through the lens of multi-functional design.  when thinking about this, i divide the tulip plant into three parts - the bulb root, the leaves, and the flower.  i'll focus on the flower because we don't plant tulips for the foliage or the bulb.

primary function of the flower:  to attract pollinators for reproduction.  tulips can reproduce asexually by growing new bulbs and through self-pollination and sexually by cross-pollination.  asexual bulb reproduction is quick and efficient because they can sprout flowers the next year if conditions are right, thereby increasing the odds that they will be able to reproduce sexually and cross-pollinate their genes in the future. sexual reproduction and seed production is much slower - it takes around 8 years for a seed too mature enough to produce a flower - so the tulip needs both types of reproduction to carry on the species - asexual reproduction to increase their numbers and sexual reproduction to increase diversity in the species.  this diversity is what allows the plant species to weather the plant's dynamic non-equilibrium, or constantly changing conditions.  but other than the obvious reproduction aspect, what other functions does the form of the flower serve?  
  • why is it barrel shaped?  the petals spiral out from the center where the female pistil and male stamens are located.  the pistil has 3 sides (ovaries) to it and there are 6 stamens.  once the petals open up a bit more, they will channel water to the bottom of the flower and then down the stem to the roots.  the same can be said for the leaves, which are rippled at their sides.  not sure why.  the flower has the ability to self-fertilize, which is also confusing because that is also asexual reproduction and does not add to the diversity of the species.  
  • why the vibrant colors?  some are multicolored and variegated while others are monochromatic, with colors that vary like a rainbow.  some of the variation is a result of cross-pollination, no doubt.  perhaps the species is just testing out which colors attract which pollinators.  bees are good pollinators, but it seems like tulips self-pollinate the majority of the time, which would seem to negate the purpose of sexual reproduction increasing diversity.  perhaps the need to sexually reproduce isn't that great in this species because it's been propagated by humans for so long?
  • why does the flower and stem tilt toward the sun?  does it contain photosynthetic properties?  it isn't green, so i doubt that.  perhaps it is like a solar tracker, and by tilting the flower and stem to toward the sun, the rest of the plant follows suit?  i know the stems is highly conductive of water and will wilt very quickly when water is removed.  perhaps the water in the stem directs the flower somehow?  when the water warms by the sun, it rises to the top in the direction of the heat?  dunno.
i need to so more iSites on animals, but they just don't sit still long enough to get a good look at them!  but plants are definitely multi-functional.

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