Tarflower: Why so sticky?

Tarflower (Bejaria racemosa) is now blooming beautifully at ORCA on the south side of Oslo Road. A member of the heath family (Ericaceae), tarflower thrives in the acid soils of xeric scrub and scrubby pine flatwoods.

Flycatcher is another common name for this plant that refers to the special stickiness of the outside of its petals and sepals, a unique adaptation that prevents insects like ants or flies from “stealing” nectar or pollen without providing pollination services. Below you can see the pollen-laden stamens beginning to issue forth from its floral buds and a small insect trapped on the outside of the floral bud.

Native bees pollinate tarflower without becoming stuck. Sweat bees (including Agapostemon splendens, Augochlorella aurata, A. gratiosa, and Augochloropsis sumptuosa), leafcutting bees (Anthidiellum perplexum), mason bees (Anthidium maculifrons, Megachile brevis pseudobrevis, M. mendica, and M. petulans) and bumblebees (Bombus impatiens andB. pennsylvanicus) visit tarflower, according to Dr. Mark Deyrup, Entomology Senior Research Program Director and Research Biologist at Archbold Biological Research Station.

The floral buds are held in racemes, as the species name racemosa indicates. The buds open from the bottom to the top and are held an equal distance from the central floral stem. The pedicels, the stems of the flower buds, also are sticky.

Flowering usually occurs in the spring and early summer. The white or pinkish white flowers have 7 well-spaced petals and 12 to 14 stamens …

Tarflower is easily overlooked when not in flower and quite evident to people and to insects when in bloom.

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