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Large-flowered Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia
grandiflora), Family Scrophulariaceae
Credit & Copyright: Dr. Bruce G.
Explanation: These beautiful blooms have a visitor. With its bicolored flowers, this spring-blooming annual has the appropriate and wonderful name of "large-flowered blue-eyed Mary." But what is in Mary's blue eye?
This unidentified ant is likely on a search for sweet nectar. Dr. Elizabeth Elle notes that blue-eyed Marys have extrafloral nectaries or packets of nectar occurring outside the flower, in this case on their leaves. This ant is probably looking for these sweet nectar "tears" of Mary's blue eyes. In return, the plant might benefit from the ants that defend it against herbivorous invertebrate invaders.
In the main photo above, Dr. Elle pointed out that the flower on the left has a small white mark on the lower petal. This is a "bee kiss," which is a mark left by the tarsi of the bee upon pushing the lower petals out and down to open up the keel of the flower to get to the pollen within.
So, like a small concert conductor, this unassuming plant orchestrates bees for pollination (and "bee kisses"), ants for defense, and at least this ecologist for photography. Moreover, one source (the Native American Ethnobotanical Database) notes that Navajo and Kayenta Native Americans used the similar small-flowered blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia parviflora) to make a horse run fast, and Utes used the plant to treat sore flesh.
blue-eyed Marys are found
in western North America in shady sites of grassy areas or
moss-covered rock outcrops. According
to Pojar and MacKinnon (1994), the name "Mary" likely refers to the
mother of Jesus.
Next week's picture: White Cliffs, Ancient Sea
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