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April showers bring May flowers

This past week flowers on Humboldt State’s campus have come into full bloom

Rhododendron, azalea, coltsfoot and more plants have begun flowering. Don’t forget to stop and smell the rosemary. Flowers’ sweet smelling perfume waft across campus, attracting a host of pollinators and people to their petals. Our biologists are on a buzz researching flowers on campus.

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Stefani Brandt pointing to the date of the first flowering plant. | Photo by Collin Slavey

Stefani Brandt is one such biologist. Brandt teaches plant taxonomy on campus, the branch of science concerned with classification of organisms. She said flowers serve one function: sex.

“Flowers have evolved to be the perfect fix for their pollinators,” Brandt said. “If no pollinator showed up, there would be no flowers. The flower uses scent, color and shape to attract pollinators that spread sperm and pollen from one flower to the egg of another. Once fertilized, every flower produces a fruit.”

Casey Albarran is a co-director for CCAT and a biology student who is investigating Petasites frigidus var. palmatus, otherwise known as Arctic sweet coltsfoot. Albarann is working with Michael Messlet to learn about what pollinates the mysterious plant. Together they are hoping to discover what pollinates the plants.

“Petasites is a complicated plant,” Albarran said. “It is dioecious, meaning there are male plants and female plants. It is native to this region and there is not much we know about it. We’ll check on it for ten minutes at a time and try to learn what pollinates it.”

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Casey Albarran posing with the Arctic colts foot he is studying. | Photo by Collin Slavey

Albarran said the research group has already began collecting pollinators. Some flies and bumblebees have been captured to be studied. Keep an eye out on campus for pollinators like the bumblebee and treat them nicely. Those bumblebees are responsible for making sure the beautiful flowers come back year after year.

Biologists keep track of when flowers bloom each year. Phenology is the study of periodic life cycle events such as a plant’s first flower. These life cycle events are often sensitive to climate and temperature and are used as indicators for climate changes.

Our grounds crew takes care of plants on campus as they grow and change. Skye Freitas prunes the campus trees to prepare them for flowering. Freitas cuts away dead branches and shapes trees to help the tree thrive.

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Sky Freitas hanging out with some plants. | Photo by Collin Slavey

She said she enjoys working with plants every day. Since the bloom has happened on campus, Freitas is more than happy to take care of the plant life.

“It never feels like I’m actually working,” Freitas said. “It’s very therapeutic to work with the trees. I get to help make sure all the nutrients get to the right place.”

Petasites, however, is not waiting for Freitas to visit. It displays its white flowers, beckoning pollinators to its petals. Albarran and his team monitor the plant as pollinators begin to fly towards it, landing on the flower in search of Petasites sweet nectar.

In due time the plant shall be fertilized to create fruit, restarting its life cycle so it may live on to flower another day.

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A blooming trillium flower. | Photo by Collin Slavey

“There are over 300,000 species of angiosperms, flowering plants, in the world,” Brandt said. “There are probably over a hundred on campus. There is a reason they smell good and look pretty.”

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