Flowering phenology, fruiting success and progressive deterioration of pollination in an early-flowering geophyte

James D. Thomson

Abstract

Spatio-temporal patterns of snowmelt and flowering times affect fruiting success in Erythronium grandiflorum Pursh (Liliaceae) in subalpine western Colorado, USA. From 1990 to 1995, I measured the consistency across years of snowmelt patterns and flowering times along a permanent transect. In most years since 1993, I have monitored fruit set in temporal cohorts (early- to late-flowering groups of plants) at one site. To assess ‘pollination limitation’, I have also conducted supplemental hand-pollination experiments at various times through the blooming season. The onset of blooming is determined by snowmelt, with the earliest years starting a month before the latest years owing to variation in winter snowpack accumulation. Fruit set is diminished or prevented entirely by killing frosts in some years, most frequently but not exclusively for the earlier cohorts. When frosts do not limit fruit set, pollination limitation is frequent, especially in the earlier cohorts. Pollination limitation is strongest for middle cohorts: it tends to be negated by frost in early cohorts and ameliorated by continuing emergence of bumble-bee queens in later cohorts. This lily appears to be poorly synchronized with its pollinators. Across the years of the study, pollination limitation appears to be increasing, perhaps because the synchronization is getting worse.

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