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Excerpts from Jim Conrad's
Naturalist Newsletter

Dayflower, COMMELINA ELEGANS

from the February 21,  2010 Newsletter issued from Hacienda Chichen Resort beside Chichén Itzá Ruins, central Yucatán, MÉXICO
DAYFLOWER

A pretty wildflower/weed flowering soon after any shower that might come along is the white-flowered one with parallel-veined leaves (it's a monocot) shown above. Northern wildflower lovers will quickly recognize this as a dayflower, or member of the genus Commelina, of the Spiderwort Family, the Commelinaceae. Weakley's Flora of the Carolinas describes seven dayflower species for the region covered by that flora, and those species are fairly similar to the one shown in the picture, which is COMMELINA ELEGANS.

Dayflowers as a group are pretty easy to recognize with their bilaterally symmetrical flowers with three petals, the lower petal being much reduced, as seen below:

Dayflower, COMMELINA ELEGANS, flower

Also distinct is how there are six stamens, but with only three being fertile -- their anthers producing pollen. The other three stamens are modified into the sterile, yellow-tipped objects shown in the photo. I'm guessing that the sterile stamens help attract pollinators and provide a hold for the pollinators when they land.

Characteristic of the dayflowers is how several blossoms are cradled within a modified leaf, or bract, folded upon itself at the middle. In the above picture the folded bract is the green, sharp-tipped item occupying the bottom third of the image. You can see a folded bract squeezed open by my fingers to reveal flower buds and an immature flower ready to emerge below:

Dayflower, COMMELINA ELEGANS, flower buds in bract

When you're identifying dayflowers to species level you must pay close attention to the bracts, for some species have the back margins of their bracts joined, forming a kind of cup, while other species are not joined. You can see that this species' rear bract margins are joined.

Another good field mark for this particular species is how the base of each leaf forms a pale, fuzzy cylinder (leaf sheath) around the stem, with a green, triangular pair of earlike "auricles" arising at the juncture of sheath and blade. This can be seen below:

Dayflower, COMMELINA ELEGANS, sheath

Las Plantas Medicinales de México,  which calls the plant Hierba del Pollo, or "Chicken Herb," praises all Commelinas as good for staunching blood, especially for deep wounds and amputations. Chop stems and leaves into a sticky pulp and apply the pulp mass as a compress directly to the wound.

What a pleasure to lie next to this little being, several of whose cousins in the North I've already met, thrusting my mind into these details of color, form, texture and function, remembering how those Northern cousins' details varied, just a little, from this ones', experiencing "variations on a dayflower theme."

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