Turtlehead

Question: what was the name of the woman who, according to Greek mythology, angered Zeus to the point that he then turned her into a tortoise? (Come to think of it, it didn’t take much to get the king of the gods pretty riled up.)

Answer: that unlucky lass was named Chelone. When she arrived late for Zeus’s marriage to Hera, her only excuse was, “There’s no place like home.” So Zeus condemned her to carrying her house on her back for the rest of her days.

Chelone is the Greek word for “Tortoise.” And our Chelone —  Chelone glabra, or turtlehead —  is blooming now around some of the lakes and streams on the Domain. It’s not common, and although it has been seen in several locations, it doesn’t seem to persist in the same place for more than a couple of years.

It’s easy to see how this plant got its name: the flower really does look like a turtle’s head. If you’re lucky enough to come upon one on a sunny day, you may get to see it visited by a favored pollinator, the bumblebee. That insect is big and strong enough to muscle its way into the turtlehead’s “mouth” and push past the stamens to collect the nectar located deep in the flower’s “throat.” In so doing, it creates the comical impression that the flower is actually chewing on the bumblebee!

Gently squeeze the sides of the flower, and you can get it to open its “mouth.” You can even practice your ventriloquy!  (Don’t try this if there’s a bumblebee inside.)

Turtlehead is the primary larval plant for the beautiful Baltimore checkerspot butterfly, which is rarely seen on the Domain. They say, though, that if you find a turtlehead, the checkerspot is bound to be nearby.

       

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