Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
from the the August 19, 2012 Newsletter issued from the
woods of the Loess
Hill Region a few miles east of Natchez, Mississippi, USA
LADY'S EARDROP VINES
Something fairly constant in the world of flowers and fruits is that the vast majority are symmetrical -- either radially symmetrical like acorns or bilaterally symmetrical like a maple or ash samara. Even with something like a pear with its top bulge veering off to one side, if you cut across its center perpendicularly to its axis, inside you'll find a radially symmetrical, star-shaped part where the seeds form. Therefore, in Nature unsymmetrical fruits catch your eye. The other day at the edge of a swamp in St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge just south of Natchez a soft-woody vine with grapevine-like tendrils was bearing hundreds of odd-shaped fruits, as shown above. A close-up of some curvy, 1¼-inch long (32mm) fruits can be seen below:
Technically these fruits are achenes -- they're dry, one-seeded and don't split open upon maturity. Sunflower "seeds" are achene fruits.
The vine is variously called Lady's Eardrops, Eardrop Vine, Buckwheat Vine, and Red Vine. It's BRUNNICHIA OVATA, a member of the Buckwheat Family, the Polygonaceae, and it's mainly a Southeastern US species, inland found as far north as southern Illinois.
Studies list Lady's Eardrops' fruits as a "duck food," and surely other critters eat them, too.