A Close-up View of the "Foxtail Lily"

(Eremurus spectabilis)

by Brian Johnston   (Canada)

This striking plant is not grown in my area with its long severe winters, but it is shipped from places such as Holland to Toronto as a cut-flower.  Although the Foxtail Lily is native to Iran, Turkey and Afghanistan, it has been grown successfully in many parts of the world.

The long stem with its spike of yellow-green flowers can be up to three metres in height!  My example, (a cut-flower), had a one metre stem.  In the image above, it is evident that the flowers bloom from bottom to top in the spike.  Some dry, brown blooms and their stems were removed at the base of the flowering head for the purpose of taking the photographs in the article.

Eremurus is derived from the Greek “eremos” meaning solitary, and “oura” meaning tail.  “Spectabilis” can be translated roughly as showy.  In addition to the common name “Foxtail Lily”, the plant is often referred to as the “Desert Candle” or “King’s Spear”.

Notice, in the image below, that the prominent stamens project some distance out of the flowers.  Newly opened blooms possess bright orange anthers, while more aged ones have anthers that are yellow-brown.

The two anther colourations can be seen clearly below.

I must admit that my favourite part of the flower-head is the upper portion consisting of green-striped yellow buds.  Up close, they are quite sculptural in nature.

Eremurus flowers possess six oval petals, each with a green radial stripe.  The yellow structure that can be seen at the centre of a flower is the ovary.

It is easier to see the flower’s structure when it is removed from the spike.  There are six orange anthers, (the male pollen producing organs) held aloft by long green filaments, and a single green pistil, (the female pollen accepting organ) on the end of a long green supporting style.  The pistil is the angled green column just to the right of centre in the image.

The green stripe on each petal is more clearly seen on the underside.  Notice that there are no bracts (modified leaves) at the base of the petals.

Three photomicrographs follow which show the cellular structure of a petal.  (The last image shows a portion of one of the green “stripes”).

A side view of the edge of the flower-head shows the very distinctive long stamens and pistils.

The much higher magnification image below resolves the coating of pollen on two anthers that have become entangled.

When a flower first opens, each anther has a curved shape with a curled tip.  The curl seems to straighten out as time passes.

The following two images reveal slightly “older” anthers.

Later still, each anther decreases in size and curls up even more tightly than when the bloom first opened.  Notice that the bright orange colour has started to fade.

Under the microscope, the cellular structure of an anther becomes visible.  The small specks in the second and third images are pollen grains.

Much higher magnification reveals more details of an anther.

The stigma at the tip of the style is almost indistinguishable from the style itself.  The second image shows pollen grains which have been captured by the stigma.

Phase-contrast illumination best displays individual pollen grains.  The one on the right was not typical, and appeared to have dried out.

The almost spherical structure at the centre of the image below is the ovary in which the seeds develop.  Since this species has its ovary above the petals, the ovary is referred to as “superior”.

The Foxtail Lily grows from tubers similar to dahlias.  Although I have not seen such a tuber, it is said to resemble a starfish in shape.

This article is similar to several others that I have written, in that it concerns a cut-flower, obtained during the height of the winter season in Ontario, in order to take my mind off the fact that native wildflowers would not bloom for another three months! 

Photographic Equipment

The photographs in the article were taken with an eight megapixel Sony CyberShot DSC-F 828 equipped with achromatic close-up lenses (Nikon 5T, 6T, Sony VCL-M3358, and shorter focal length achromat) used singly or in combination. The lenses screw into the 58 mm filter threads of the camera lens.  (These produce a magnification of from 0.5X to 10X for a 4x6 inch image.)  Still higher magnifications were obtained by using a macro coupler (which has two male threads) to attach a reversed 50 mm focal length f 1.4 Olympus SLR lens to the F 828.  (The magnification here is about 14X for a 4x6 inch image.) The photomicrographs were taken with a Leitz SM-Pol microscope (using dark ground and phase-contrast condensers), and the Coolpix 4500.  

 All comments to the author Brian Johnston are welcomed.

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