Following is a unique portfolio of never before published images of the latest Unnatural Flowers that have bloomed at the Falls of the Ohio. This follows a previous article on this riverblog (see…”Unusual Flora at the Falls of the Ohio”, Jan. 13, 2013) that first exposed the bizarre flora that have adapted to this highly disturbed site on the Ohio River. It is speculated that these new organisms are able to metabolize decaying plastic in novel and sometimes disturbing ways. Characteristic of these faux flowers is a lack of photosynthetic leaves. It is believed that the energy utilized by these plants is created from breaking plastic polymer bonds and forming new compounds or by elaborate parasitism. Examples of both will be highlighted. Key also are the various petrochemical connections which rhyme historically to a more ancient world illustrated beautifully by the site’s Devonian Era fossils and our culture’s reliance upon oil and coal to power and pollute everything. It is my belief that these unique forms appearing here are no coincidence. Let us first acquaint ourselves with various members of the “Chemical Rose” family. An example of which leads off this post. Here are more recently found roses.
This variety appears to have rootlets growing between the plastic-hard rose petals. As with all “Chemical Roses”…there is no sweet perfume to inhale.
This “Chemical Rose” example is growing out of the mud on a leafless, thorny stem. No telling what chemical compositions are co-mingling in this ooze?
This ” Red Chemical Rose” has adapted to growing on sand. While the next example has synthetic, fabric-like petals. It does add a beautiful yet bittersweet presence to the landscape.
This “Petrochemical Petunia” is a late Spring oddity and prefers moist, iridescent sand and full sunlight. It presents as a completely synthetic, hybrid blossom. It is not clear at this time if some pollinating agent is necessary for its propagation.
Imagine my surprise upon discovering this “Little White Polymer Phlox” growing from the ruined wood on this stump. This specimen was found very close to the water and in an area that floods frequently. The phlox needs just the right temperature and water content to break down this former tree’s cellulose matrix to make the nutrients it needs to grow.
Also growing in poor wet soil is this florid “Chemical Chrysanthemum”. Among its requirements are a warm, CO2 rich atmosphere and coal which washes up within the Falls of the Ohio State Park from the frequent barge traffic that moves up and down the Ohio River.
Growing between the beached and bleaching logs is this aptly named “Driftwood Tulip”. It can appear at any time and shows itself briefly upon its woody stem before sinking back into the riverbank from whence it came.
For a lack of a better description…this plant had temporarily been named the “Epiphytic Mimic” because it presents like some of our true orchids. This specimen may have flowered recently. Its green leaves do not perform photosynthesis. It hangs out and receives moisture and nutrients through a complex system of fine polymer rootlets. And now…for something a little different. The following unnatural flowers appear to be parasitic, but patient study may find them to be more complex and perhaps even symbiotic by nature?
The “Yellow Fabric Pansy” in this photo appears to be hitching a free ride on a primrose flower. The same relationship can be found on this “Pink Blossoming Indigo Bush”.
The pink flower with the rhinestone-like center is unlike the rest of this flowering and indigenous shrub. Next we come to the “Augmented Moth Mullein”.
The prevailing thinking about how some these strange flowers acquire their petrochemicals is through ultraviolet decomposition of man-made plastics. On the microscopic if not molecular level…these tiny compounds recombine with the existing plants’ DNA. Here’s another fine example.
Like the previous plant, the “Yellow-flowering Pokeweed” is a recombined hybrid and favors appearing in the early summer. Traditional pokeweed plants produce weak looking white flowers that will transform into dark, pigment intense berries in the Fall. It is not certain how this plant will respond, but I have my eyes on it. In closing, I would like to present one more image that illustrates the tremendous crossover potential of plastic polymers and living tissue. Thus far, this is the only example of a “Mushroom Flower” that I have come across and the only unnatural fungus that I have discovered at the Falls of the Ohio State Park. No doubt other species are out there just waiting for a trained botanist to reveal to all. As the environment warms and the normal weather patterns change, the natural rhythm of life will be altered, however, life may prove to be the most plastic and resilient of all.