The street I grew up on was lined with Sycamore trees. Their leafy masses were a delight in summer and always produced some good-natured grumbling during fall raking. These were small city lots and as time moved on problems developed. Blocked sewer lines became common and sidewalks started to lift and shift, making walking difficult and potentially hazardous. The repair costs were a burden for most owners so my family and most of the other homeowners had their trees removed. The city proposed replanting with new trees of a different type and most of us accepted their offer. The trees they planted were selected for their smaller mature size and evergreen leaves. The homeowners were satisfied but something was lost and the feeling of a neighborhood was gone, at least to my eyes.
After several years of living with the new trees it was apparent something was different with ours. Most of the others remained tidy, growing modestly and seemed unchanging from year to year. Ours insisted on being different. It grew faster than its street mates, always suckering madly. Its branches were longer, its leaves more lustrous and luxurious. The reason it was different was revealed when pods appeared and dropped on everything below it. The city had planted Carob trees and ours was one of the few females around.
Whether for beauty or fragrance or the fruit that may develop, we enjoy flowers for many reasons. Their real purpose, however, is reproduction and continuance of their genetic lines. Most plants have flowers with pollen and seed-bearing parts, their stamens and pistils, in one flower. These types of flowers are described as “perfect”.
Imperfect flowers are unisexual, being either staminate (pollen-producing) or pistillate (seed-producing) but not both. Monoecious (moe-NEE-shus), meaning one house, have separate flowers on the same plant. My alders already have small pollen-laden catkins waiting for spring and their assignations with the cone-like females. Corn, squash, calla lilies and other aroids, and tuberous begonias are common examples.
Dioecious (dye-EE-shus), meaning two houses (see the pattern) are imperfect flowers on different plants. This is a very small group in the floral kingdom and you have to wonder why this was thought to be the path for survival and continuation of their lines. But it works and the plants are still with us. Allow me to introduce you to some of these odd plants. Part 1 of a 6 part series. Tomorrow – part 2