by Wendy Langhans
Handles on bags. Such a simple thing, but it allows us to carry more than we otherwise could. That’s true for us and also true for pollen-carrying insects.
When we think of pollen, we think of tiny, mustard-yellow powdery grains, the kind that stick to beetles and bees.
But not all pollen is packaged that way. Orchids, yucca and milkweed produce pollen in packets known as pollinium (pl. pollinia). And just like grocery bags, milkweed pollinium come with a “handle”.
A botanist would describe this structure as “two pollinia attached by translator arms to a corpusculum”. Now that’s certainly clear as mud, right? How about - I use my hands to grab the handles of a pair of grocery bags? Is that better? For a botanist’s eye-view of milkweed flowers (and their terminology), go here  and scroll down to Number 4.
To understand how insects “schlep” pollinia, imagine you are taking a trip to the grocery store. You wander up and down the aisles (just like insects climb around the milkweed blossom in search of nectar).
At the checkout counter, you slide your debit card through the card reader (the insect’s leg accidentally slips down into one of the “stigmatic slits”). You leave the store, carrying two bags by their handles (the insect leaves the flower, pulling out two pollinia). The only difference is, instead of heading for home, the insect heads off to another milkweed blossom.
Here in our Santa Clarita Valley, we have several types of milkweed, including Desert Milkweed (Asclepias erosa). If you look closely at these photos, you can see the pollinia “grocery bags”.
The other day, a polite young man at the checkout counter asked me, “Would you like some help carrying that to your car?” It’s a question I’m hearing more and more these days; perhaps it’s a result of my graying hair. As I lifted my two cloth bags by their handles, I responded with my best grandmotherly smile and said, “Thanks, but I think I can manage it.”
Upcoming Outdoor Events:
Every Saturday at 11:00 AM & 1:00 PM. Family Nature Walk (11) and Animal Show (1) at Placerita Canyon.
For more information, click here .
Saturday, July 17, 8:00-10:00 AM. Bird Walk walk. Towsley Canyon. Get out in the park before the heat of the day and enjoy a bit of bird watching and exploration. Our bird guide extraordinaire, Volunteer Naturalist Roger, will share his expertise and considerable knowledge on this easy walk. Beginners are welcome. Bring your binoculars and meet at the entrance to the park. 2 hrs. For map, click here .
Trail Maintenance Schedule. Come join our volunteers as they help maintain our trails. Contact Steve at email@example.com  for time and place.
Wednesday mornings, July 1, 14, 21 & 28.
Saturday mornings, July 10 & 24.
You can listen to stories like this every Friday morning at 7:10 a.m. on "The Hike Report", brought to you by your hometown radio station KHTS (AM1220) and by the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority.
For the complete MRCA hike and activity schedule and for trail maps, click here or go to www.LAMountains.com .