A mystery solved, sort of - Sternbergia colchiciflora

John T Lonsdale john@johnlonsdale.net
Fri, 02 Feb 2007 08:20:51 PST


I don't think there's any parallel with Crocus korolkowii.  The latter
flowers and is pollinated normally but the ovary is below ground and not
extended above ground to release the seeds.  This Sternbergia is only
pollinated below ground if the flowers don't form properly.  Somehow the
fertilization process is fine, I assume the plants are self fertile and the
pollen/stigma comes into close contact, close enough to effect pollination.
After this time seed capsule formation proceeds normally and the capsules
appear above ground, mature and shed the seeds.


I am saying that a given plant might or might not form flowers correctly
above ground depending on some limiting factor (presumable temperature or
moisture related) - and I want to know what that limiting factor might be so
I can make sure it is not limiting.  It is not some genetically fixed
property.  It may be that the plant 'thinks' conditions above ground will
not support a pollinator or pollination so it doesn't bother making flowers
- more likely it is some other physiological limitation that just screws
things up?






John T Lonsdale PhD
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From: Jim McKenney [mailto:jimmckenney@jimmckenney.com] 
Sent: Friday, February 02, 2007 11:09 AM
To: john@johnlonsdale.net; 'Pacific Bulb Society'
Subject: RE: [pbs] A mystery solved, sort of - Sternbergia colchiciflora


I wonder how many other people thought what I thought on reading John
Lonsdale's post: doesn't this remind us of something? 


That something is the way the seed capsules of Crocus korolkowii form
underground and never appear at the surface. 


Synge described Colchicum colchiciflora as sweetly scented, so perhaps this
species has a pollinator which responds to scent and not to the sort of
visual clues provided by petals. Or, maybe those seeds are produced by


This species is also described elsewhere as having a short style. It would
be interesting to know if the plants which bloom underground have long
styles which protrude above ground. 


There are orchids which bloom underground, too: maybe this Sternbergia is
moving in that direction. 


John, when you say "why do some plants do this and others not", are you
saying that certain plants always do this and certain other plants always do
not, or are you saying that a given plant might or might not do it depending
on some limiting factor? As I read your full query, it seems to suggest the
latter. But isn't the former a possibility?


Keep us posted: this is fascinating. 



Jim McKenney


Montgomery County, Maryland, USA, USDA zone 7

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