Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Uliginous and corymbous.

There’s a couple of adjectives for you. Uliginous means slimy or swampy or muddy or oozing. You could almost guess that’s what it means, just by the sound of it. As a botanical adjective, it means living in a swampy or muddy place.

Corymbous means like a corymb, which is also a botanical term, a flat-topped flower cluster with the longest stems at the periphery and shortest stems in the centre, from the Greek korumbos, a cluster.

Why these esoterica? Because what’s left of the local bog is a blueberry battlefield, with the native species, Vaccinium uliginosum, the bog blueberry, losing ground to the invasive Vaccinium corymbosum, the highbush species native to eastern North America and farmed here on land that was formerly bog.

Young leaves of Vaccinium uliginosum.

Flowers of Vaccinium uliginosum.

The bog blueberry is a small shrub that grows about knee-high, with attractive blue-green, sub-oval leaves and delicate pink bell-shaped flowers. It leafs out late and blooms late compared to V. corymbosum, which can tower to several metres. Thus Vaccinium uliginosum loses the sun game early in the season, and is relegated to the outer edges of the corymbosum clumps.

Lonely berries of Vaccinium uliginosum.

Bog blueberry, like many bog plants, is an arctic relic, left behind as glaciers receded northward, and grows on nutrient-poor boggy ground where few other species could survive (uliginous places). Even when not in competition with a precocious easterner it is slow-growing, and is not terribly productive. An average-sized shrub will produce a handful of berries, whereas the hypertrophic invader, which has a genetic constitution suiting it to these same acidic soils, produces corymbs of flowers that turn into buckets of berries.

Riotous berry bunches on Vaccinium corymbosum.

Bird droppings transport seeds from farmlands to wild lands, and once V. corymbosum becomes established, the process accelerates: migrating robins and others preferentially take its berries, thus preferentially ingest and poop its seeds. And on it goes.

Not a good story, but at least we all now know what uliginous means. It’s a word that could come in handy describing a used car salesman or politician (think slimy). It seems wrong, in that context, to apply it to sleepy little bog blueberry. In personality, the advantage-exploiting corymbosum is the more uliginous species.

Corymbous? No pizzazz. Leave it to the botanists.

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