The Moluccella Mystery

Bells of Ireland are not from Ireland, but from Turkey or Syria. Some say they were named for the exotic Maluku Islands, home of mega-bats like flying foxes, and nocturnal marsupials like cuscuses and sugar gliders.

moluccella morning sunEasily grown and self-seeding, the green bells might drift into the category of weeds, except for one thing: in my garden at least, they wear out a space in two years. The first year they are fresh and lush, the second, somewhat less so. The third year they disappear completely—having (I assume) poisoned the ground they grow in.

moluccella flower

Moluccella laevis flower

But, in other regions Moluccella laevis is labeled as invasive. Not hard-core invasive, like garlic mustard and purple loosestrife, but in spots such as western Utah, they have naturalized.

Many puzzling questions arise. First of all, why would a Syrian plant be named after an Indonesian group of islands, considering the distance that lies between.

And the bigger question: Who, or what, moves the seeds from place to place? The seeds are big enough that they don’t blow around; they don’t float; and animals in my yard don’t seem to bother with them.

It could very well be that a seed-eating bird in Syria performs this task (or could they in fact, have evolved with seed-eating marsupials?). But then how do we explain the Utah populations?

Bells-of-Ireland are perplexing in other ways as well. They are members of the mint family, which are renowned for attracting lots of bees. Yet I rarely see bees buzzing in my Moloccella patch. In fact, pollinators seem to have little interest in them in general, which might be reason enough to turn my environmentalistic heart against them.

But the funky twisting and turning of the stems is too entertaining; the way the morning sun transforms their modest green into luminous chartreuse is too alluring.

bumblebee in moluccella

It took some patience, but I finally spotted a pollinator!

After a considerable time spent stalking, I caught a bumblebee in the act.

And so, willfully and now guiltlessly, I will continue to be their dispersal partner, a role that is mysteriously unoccupied in my small nook of the world.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>