Friday, September 20, 2013

Night of the Moonflowers!

Last Sunday, Melinda's last night off before her next round of chemo, we took a little evening road trip while she was feeling good.  For some time I'd wanted to take pictures of the evening blooming of Datura Wrightii, known by a variety of other names such as Locoweed, Jimsonweed, Moonflower, and others...  I'd been intrigued by the blog posts by "Ranger Kathryn" regarding watching them open in the evenings, her link listed down on the right side of our own blog. 

We headed out to Kitt Peak, where I've seen the plants before.  About a mile below the mountaintop observatory, we found a couple healthy plants conveniently next to a pullout.  Since it was still a little before sunset, the buds were all still closed, so I set up a couple cameras and timers to watch a couple of good-looking candidates.  For each I used the on-camera flash, since it would soon be dark, and set the timers to take a picture every 20 seconds - one for a side view, one looking down the tubular flower bud.  The photo at left shows one of the cameras well after dark, the bright moon illuminating the distant domes, the flash illuminating the datura.

We didn't have long to wait, pretty much as soon
as the cameras started, the buds started unwrapping and they sprang open about a half hour after sunset.  Ranger Kathryn in her posts above noted the rush of insect pollinators, but since we are now clear of monsoons, sort of late in the blooming season, we didn't see a big rush like she did...  But it was quite striking how quickly they went from closed to open.  The pictures shown here show the change, but it is the time lapse constructed of all the nearly 600 images that is most interesting!  We had the slightest bit of breeze, accounting for the movement you see in the time-lapse, but Ranger Kathryn notes that even in still air that vibrations seem to originate inside the plant...

Here is the time-lapse, with a little intro and epilogue:

And yes, the time-lapse sort of spoils the surprise
- we did have some pollinating visitors show up in two of the frames - 2 different species of hawkmoths, genus Manduca. I believe the one displaying only their rear end out of the trumpet-shaped flower (at right) is Manduca Rustica, the other at left is as yet unidentified, as it doesn't show as clear markings, though the long proboscis is revealed in the flash image. Both of these images are at full camera resolution to show maximum detail...

While up at the Observatory a month before, a few days before the Perseid meteor shower, I was getting buzzed by big moths like this a good part of the night.  A couple nights later, with Melinda present, I detected only a couple, so their population must be quite variable, but they sure get your attention when they are flying around your face!  Next year we'll have to go a little earlier in the season and see if we get more pollinators...

No comments: