Don't have to put on the red light

The crown anemone comes in colors other than crimson.

By DAVID SIMONS
January 18, 2010 00:51
4 minute read.
Don't have to put on the red light

flower. (photo credit: Shmuel Bar-Am)

The crown anemone, kalanit metzuya in Hebrew, is a geophyte, protected by law, that grows all over the country excepting the arava. It is a member of the buttercup family and is often mistaken for the turban buttercup - nurit asia in Hebrew - the only other red buttercup of the more than 200 buttercup species, which also grows in Israel and flowers a little later than the anemone. The anemone opens in the morning, like the sunflower turns to face the sun, and closes in the evening or in rainy weather.

The crown anemone is one of four large red flowers growing in Israel and the first to flower. It is followed by the turban buttercups, the tulips and finally the poppies. All these flowers are pollinated mainly by amphicoma beetles, which, unlike bees, have no difficulty seeing the color red. Bees, on the other hand, see red as black - not a normal flower color - which is why the bees are not apt to visit red flowers. Since the amphicomas do not drink nectar, none of the four red flowers produces nectar. The beetle is also much clumsier in flight than bees, so all the flowers are cup-shaped, enabling the beetles to land in them rather than on them, guided by the flowers' black centers. This is also a fine example of co-evolution - the four flowers bloom at different times to avoid competition over pollinators.

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The flowers are hermaphrodite and in order to avoid self-pollination are also dichogamous, which means that the male and female parts do not become mature at the same time. Dichogamous plants are either protandrous, where the plant is first male, or protogynous, like the anemone, where the flowers are first female. From the plant's perspective, this is the best way of doing things - the flowers in the female stage offer no reward for visitation. They do not produce nectar because the mouth of the amphicoma beetle is unable to drink it, and they do not produce pollen when the flower is in its female stage because they do not want a lot of visiting beetles which might eat it. Once the flower has been fertilized its ovary starts to harden, until, after a week or so, the flower becomes male and offers prodigious amounts of pollen. At that stage the ovary is sufficiently hard that the beetles do not eat it, and the flower receives a multitude of visits from beetles, many of which spend the night in the flower.

Although most of Israel's anemones are red the flowers grow in a wide range of colors - 25 shades, according to a study. Those growing in the south and center of the country are red while those in the north are a variety of colors ranging from white to purple. The color of the flower is determined by the parent flower's genes, just as our hair color is a function of our parents' genes. In humans, the gene for black hair is dominant and that for blond is recessive. If we inherit a dominant gene and a recessive gene, our hair will be black. Only by inheriting two recessive genes will our hair be blond. The crown anemone has three pairs of genes determining its color, each at a different locus. The first locus is red, the second white, and the third mauve. If at the first locus both genes are recessive, then, irrespective of the genes at the other two loci, the flower will be red. For the flower to be white only one gene can be recessive and at the second locus both genes must be recessive. In other words, the most common color is determined by recessive genes.

Red anemones are better able to grow in dry areas whereas the other-colored flowers require more water. The red ones are also able to grow on most types of ground while the non-reds seem unable to grow on soft chalky ground. So, while the color of a potential flower's seed is gene-determined, where the wind-dispersed seed lands will determine whether it will ever become a flower.

Also flowering nearby is the mountain star of Bethlehem, netz hahalav haharari in Hebrew. It is a member of the lily family, together with the tulip, hyacinth and asphodel. It grows from a bulb and can be found in the center and north of the country. Its bulb is poisonous but when cooked becomes edible.

With many thanks to Noam Barshai.

How to get there:

At Alonim junction, where route 7513 meets route 75, drive north on route 7513 for 2.8 km. The white anemones are on your left. Continue on 7513 until the entrance to Alonei Abba. A further 510 meters and you reach the Alonei Abba nature reserve. There are stars of Bethlehem everywhere.


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