Valentine’s Day was this week and the stores are still dripping with cellophane-wrapped roses and well-dressed chocolates, now discounted. Optimistically savvy singles worked out their thumbs, hoping a stellar swiping game would de-single them.
I mean, I’ve heard some people are into that.
It’s all a little weird.
Humans on the hunt for love…or a reasonable facsimile.
But we aren’t the only oddballs out there.
Plants do some pretty funky tricks in their hunt for leafy love.
Think you’ve waited overly long for your date? Stop looking at your phone and empathize with the patient hazelnut. He starts the pollinating game in November, making giant male catkins that droop off the branches in clouds of sexy pollen by January. Meanwhile tiny female flowers begin to sprout from the tree trunks. But when the pollen lands on the female flower, he never suspects he has a four to five month wait for actual fertilization. His girl is one slow mover. Hazelnuts were not meant to bide their time here on the Colorado Plateau, so don’t go looking for love in all the wrong places; keep your hazelnut fascination virtual. If you’re looking for nuts, a nice Arizona walnut will fit in here in Flag, or you could go gather some piñons.
Want to dazzle your Valentine with more talk of ‘taking it slow just as fast as you can’? The Sumatran Amorphophallus titanium with the world’s largest inflorescence takes 7-10 years for the guy to grow its indecent inflorescence! (It’s called Titan arum for short; David Attenborough coined this name as the translation of the scientific name is awfully lewd.) Once mature, the whole mess is over in 12-48 hours, collapsed into a mass of plant material masquerading as a still cooling corpse in both odor and temperature. Sound attractive? Well it takes all kinds. You will have to enjoy this quirky plant from a distance; Flagstaff and Sumatra are not on speaking terms when it comes to hardiness zones. You can grow any number of agave varieties more appropriate to the Colorado Plateau, if you are determined to impress with a giant inflorescence.
Is your dating game a bit subtler? You may have more in common with the pointed planting plans of our native needle and thread grass (Stipa comata or Hesperostipa comata). The pollination is pretty normal, but this plant is working on its long game. Each seed head looks like a miniature arrow with a thin string wrapped around the shaft. When the arrow falls onto the ground the pointed tip lies in wait like cupid’s arrow. Then, when the rains come, the thread soaks up the moisture and expands, gradually putting the seed into the softened mud. This grass comes prepared to basically be its own cupid, taking reasonable advantage of opportunity. Good advice, without any of the scandalous images common to some of our more tactless pollinators. As with any cupid operation, use caution if you decide to give Stipa sp. a home in your yard. Spear grasses like this one can be dangerous to pets due to pernicious burrowing tendencies. They don’t always differentiate between dirt and fur.
If these options sound a bit unnerving, rest assured. Romance isn’t the only story available, even Valentine’s week. The orchids demonstrate that you can survive perfectly well as a singleton. Holcoglossum amesianum is a hermaphroditic acrobatic independent that twists its anther up into its own stigma in an act that results in successful fruit production 50% of the time. Not to be too cynical, but you have options! These particular orchids grow in China, but you could get a similarly independent orchid to be your very own Valentine if all of this seasonally imperative romance is just a bit inconceivable. Obviously, you will have to keep your orchid inside the house. But they love sappy bad movies and they keep their petals out of the ice cream, so it will probably work out OK.