Why we are here:

Our signature Bible passage, the prologue to John's Gospel, tells us that Jesus (the Logos) is God and Creator and that He came in the flesh (sarx) to redeem His fallen, sin-cursed creation—and especially those He chose to believe in Him.

Here in Bios & Logos we have some fun examining small corners of the creation to show how great a Creator Jesus is—and our need for Him as Redeemer. Soli Deo Gloria.


Thursday, June 11, 2009

Dazzling bracts

When it comes to botanical structures, bracts are the ones we probably think of least often. In fact, I’ll venture a guess that the great bulk of humanity hasn’t given them even a single thought—or even knows what one is. Actually, until dogwood season this year, my bractish meditations had languished—ever since last year’s dogwood season.

Bract (n). a modified leaf associated with a flower or inflorescence of flowers.
Oh, that’s helpful—not! But a picture is always worth a thousand hackneyed expressions, so a glance at our dogwood photographs will give you the opportunity of seeing hundreds of colorful specimens.

Now tell me the truth. Aren’t you muttering, “You mean those pink things aren’t petals?” Don’t feel bad—we’re all guilty of falling into that botanical sin.

Going back to the definition, if the pink things are bracts, where are the “flowers or inflorescences of flowers”? Right in the middle, where, if the whole ensemble were a flower, we would expect to see stamens and pistils, the reproductive parts of a flower.

Now that we’re oriented, we see that each flower—whoops, inflorescence of a dozen or more flowers—is surrounded by four colorful bracts. The flowers themselves, as you can see, are greenish-yellowish and minimalist, each with four petals and in various stages of opening.

Why big, colorful bracts—or big colorful flower petals, for that matter? Billboards, of course, to attract pollinators. They must work. Otherwise, why would dogwoods go to the trouble of investing a tremendous amount of energy to construct them? Just imagine the number of energy-sapping mitotic cell divisions it takes to produce that display--and the biochemical pathways necessary to produce the red pigment molecules.

Actually, wild dogwood, Cornus florida, usually has white, non-pigmented bracts. But, according to my favorite botany teacher, there was a mutation to a tree near Valley Forge, Pennsylvania that somehow produced the pink color. And all pink dogwoods are offspring of that tree. I have often wondered how a mutation could produce a complex red pigment where there was none before, since mutations always destroy information rather than adding to it. But who am I to disagree with Dr. Kuhnen? Nobody messes with Dr. Kuhnen. But then again, maybe she has rethought the matter by now. And dogwoods do know how to make red pigments for their fruit. So I’ll just keep cogitating on the matter.

At any rate, breeders, since then, have produced nearly twenty different cultivars from the wild types. I’m guessing our pictured specimens are “Amerika Touch-o-Pink.” Some wise nurseryman will no doubt show me up.

Now we should deal seriously with stories you will find all around the internet (do a Google search and you will find them—look for “The Legend of the Dogwood” or such) about how the rough notches in the dogwood bracts, often tinged with brown, represent the nail holes in Christ’s cross—and that Jesus was crucified on a cross made from a dogwood—and that dogwood trees were once the size of oaks—and that since then, dogwoods, out of deference to Christ’s sacrifice, have become only small understory trees….

Now hold on there. I enjoy a fable or good story as much as anyone. They’ve been around almost forever. Old Aesop wrote a ton of enjoyable ones (although most of them seem to have been
real downers. )

But when it comes to the Cross of Christ, fables and legends are out. That Cross and the event that took place on it are real history—momentous history! The Cross, and the subsequent resurrection, represent the turning point of human history (look at the calendar). Any attempt to fictionalize the Crucifixion, during which the Sinless Son of God took upon Himself the sins of His elect people, is so horridly blasphemous as to be unthinkable. The Crucifixion was not a pretty event and should not be turned into a pretty story. But the good news of substitutionary atonement is pretty—very pretty!
(II Cor. 5:21).

Christ may not have died on a dogwood—but He did create the dogwood—bracts and all. Think about THAT!
(John 1:3)

Soli Deo Gloria