Commelinaceae (Spiderwort family)
Description: Perennial herb with slender, branching stems from 6 to 24 in. tall with alternate, linear to lanceolate leaves with parallel veins and basal sheaths; the stems frequently weaken and recline with age. Showy flowers on slender stalks from a folded bract (spathe) consist of 2 pale blue (rarely pink) upper petals up to 1 in. long, and a much smaller, white lower petal. Fruit a capsule. Flowers June-Oct.
Habitat/range: Forest openings and woodlands, especially on deeper soils of granite outcrops. Common in piedmont, uncommon in mountains. Eastern and central United States.
Taxonomy: A genus of 170 species with a nearly worldwide distribution. The 4 species in the mountains and piedmont include 2 native species (C. erecta and C. virginica) and 2 introduced species (C. communis and C. diffusa).
Ecology: Although the flowering season is long, lasting from June through October, individual flowers are shortlived, opening at sunrise and closing by midday, never to open again, hence the name "dayflower." At first glance, the flowers appear to have just 2 petals; however, a much smaller petal is barely visible below the main part of the flower. Each flower has in its center several "feeding anthers" whose pollen functions as the primary pollinator attractant (the flowers lack nectar), and 2 "pollinating anthers" whose pollen is more likely to be inadvertently deposited on stigmas by pollen-foraging bees. Appropriately, the "feeding anthers" are a conspicuous bright yellow color, whereas the 2 blue "pollinating anthers" are relatively inconspicuous and less likely to be visited. If insect pollination fails to occur, the stigma curls, contacting 1 or more of the anthers as the flower closes, resulting in self-pollination.
Wildlife: Meloid beetles (also called blister beetles, because they produce a secretion that blisters the skin) feed on pollen and other parts of the flower. Because they mate within the inflorescence, their larvae can heavily infest the flowers by midsummer.
Conopholis americana (L.) Wallr.
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