|Abronia pogonantha, one of the sandiest plants I've seen. Photo: EL.|
We found support for the physical defense hypothesis (in two tests) and did not find any evidence that the camouflage protects the plant. You can read (Inkfish - one of the best science blogs) or hear (Quirks and Quarks) more about this project.
The best part of publishing this was hearing from a prominent researcher (who had noticed this phenomenon), that he tells his students: "if you don't believe that sand is defensive for the plant - try sandpaper instead of toilet paper!" Since publishing this, I've been able to continue this research and observe quite a few more cool sandy plants - some of which were new to me and some of which I had only heard of.
|The best sandy plant in the world. The common names for Pholisma arenarium include "scaly-stemmed sand plant", which is my personal favorite plant name ever. About an inch tall. Near Morro Bay, CA. Photo: EL|
|LOOK AT ALL THAT SAND! (I am pretty sure those purple things are flower buds - I didn't unfortunately get to see a flowering individual).|
|Abronia umbellata is not as sandy as some congeners, but it is pinker than most! (there is also a really, really, cool paper on floral evolution in this species - check it out). Photo: EL.|
|Abronia maritima. The yellow anthers are positioned right above the stigma and seem to drop pollen onto it (from my couple flower dissections). It has far smaller flowers than the other species. I'd bet quite a bit that it is selfing. Photo: EL.|
|Abronia latifolia, the common sand verbena for most of the California coast. Common doesn't mean boring though, its quite awesome. Photo: EL|
|Tiquilia has nice flowers, but you have to look really hard to find them (they are tiny). This was a tall individual growing in a less-sandy spot (hence the lack of sand on the leaves and stems in the photo - the bottom still had lots). Photo: EL.|
|It catches a lot of sand on its stems, but... (photo: EL)|
|It also does this! Dipsacus - teasel - often has these sorts of bracts that fill with water and mosquito larvae and stuff. I've never seen bracts full of sand before (and every plant had them!). Photo: EL.|
|This Abronia villosa is not as happy as I am about this big (3"+) final-instar caterpillar. Photo: EL.|
|A green-morph H. lineata on pogonantha. They come in lots of colors - black, green, yellow and all manner of in-betweens. They all seem to turn into identical moths. Photo: EL|
|An SEM micrograph of the right mandible of a Hyles lineata fed on nonsandy Abronia latifolia. Those "teeth" are for grinding up the plant before it enters the body. Photo: EL|
|Look at the "teeth" - or lack thereof - on this right mandible, from a caterpillar feeding on sandy A. latifolia. Photo: EL|
That's it for today: a description of a study, some weird sandy plants, and a teaser of a future paper...