Last weekend, I headed out to the Shaker Trace Trail at Miami Whitewater Forest to get some photos of my favorite prairie flower that’s currently in bloom: royal catchfly.
Around the 4-mile marker, I thought I hit the jackpot. I snapped pictures of different types of coneflower, milkweed and wild bergamot…but no royal catchfly. Riding a little further, I even found some rose gentian. But again…no royal catchfly. I almost gave up, but right around the next bend I finally found some – and it was growing close enough to the trail to get a decent picture! Mission accomplished!
So what makes this one flower worth all that trouble? Well, first of all red is not a common color for prairie plants, because many pollinating insects, like bees, can’t see red. Secondly, you can often spot butterflies and hummingbirds around these flowers. This is probably because the flower is somewhat tubular in shape with the nectar towards the bottom of the tube, and it takes a long proboscis (like butterflies have) or a long tongue (like that of a hummingbird) to reach the nectar. As a bonus to the flower, when these creatures go after the nectar, they end up inadvertently collecting and spreading its pollen.
The name “catchfly” comes from the fact that the plant’s stem is covered in a sticky fluid. This sticky goop is thought to help protect the plant from insects crawling up the stem and breaking into the tube containing the nectar without pollinating the flower. Researchers are also beginning to look into the possibility that the fluid may contain digestive enzymes that could break down the insect bodies that get stuck, so the plant doesn’t become covered in them. Pretty cool, huh?
On top of seeing this amazing flower up close, I also ended up getting some pretty good pictures that day. Not a bad way to spend a Saturday morning!
Amy Roell, Outdoor Education Director