Saturday, July 4, 2015

America's Autotrophs

Here in the US of A, it is Independence Day, the birthday of the country. Everyone is familiar with the flag, the Eagle, the Uncle, the music of America.. but where are the plants in all of this?! So today, in honor of America's birthday, I present her autotrophs (self feeder, aka plants)!

While the Bald Eagle was chosen to represent America in 1782, the first autotroph to represent her was the national flower which was not chosen until 1986. It took more than 200 years for America to pick a plant. The national flower, signed into existence by President Ronald Regan, is the Rose.
A rose in a flower arrangement - personal photo
Why the rose when it is, mostly, an introduced species? A few reasons. There is a beautiful rose garden at the White House. George Washington created a rose cultivar. It was brought over by some of the early colonists from Europe to America. I suppose this makes it a decent symbol, as it is as much a part of North America, as the colonists who founded the country. I still would rather have seen a native autotroph... thankfully America fixed that mistake with the national tree.

Oak - personal photo

The national tree was designated in 2004 via popular vote. The mighty Oak was declared the winner by a landslide. Oaks have several things in their favor for being the national tree of the USA. First, their genus name Quercus is incredibly fun to say! Next, there are over 90 native oaks in the US, almost every state has some type of native oak tree! The wood from oak trees were used to make log cabins as settlers moved west, create ships for commerce and war, and make very good wine barrels. And lastly, Oak gives me one of my favorite lines to spout from M*A*S*H.

Bet you don't know what kind of wood this is?
Nope, it's oak!
Oaks are angiosperms, meaning they are flowering plants. The male flowers look like little tendrils dripping down and dumping pollen upon unsuspecting allergy sufferers every spring. This design is helpful as it allows the pollen to be blown around to other branches and other trees where it can come in contact with the female flowers. These female flowers, once fertilized, will turn into acorns. The diagram below is from the white oak (Quercus alba).
USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 1: 622.

Oak leaves can be lobate, as seen in the white oak above, serrated, or smooth. These leaves will turn beautiful colors in the fall and then, often, remain on the tree, dead, until spring. Oak bark is very rough, and often furrowed (grooves). If you ever want to try and key out a particular oak species use this very detailed Flora of North America oak key.

So, there we have America's Autotrophs. As you go out tonight, you can tell all your friends as you watch the fireworks what tree and flower represent the nation. So far, none of my friends have been able to correctly guess (though they all got the eagle!), let me know if you have better luck with yours!


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