Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Most beautiful beings: sea-wind flower-animals

This is my favourite creature of the moment. It's a sand anemone and I’m afraid its picture doesn’t do it justice. They're hard to photograph -- you really have to be there to understand their unusual beauty.

Why is it my flavour of the month?

First, the word ‘anemone’. Isn’t that a tongue-tripper? Don’t you just want to say ‘anenome’?

Then, how’s this: the word ‘anemone’ comes from the Greek for ‘wind’. Doesn’t that just blow your mind? It’s a plant that grows in the sea, yet it comes from the air. You have to love it.

And it gets better. You know what its dry-land cousin is? The lovely little buttercup.

And you know what these sea flowers live on? Oh, animals. Yup, they’re predatory. In fact, in their juvenile state, they’re not even static. They swim about in the sea in larva form. Only when they’re ready to settle down and have babies do they attach themselves to a rock and turn into these fantastical beings.

Okay, I’m stretching this a bit, because the land anemone (the buttercup) is just a sweet meadow flower but the one I’m talking about – not, sadly, actually biologically related; only the words have similar roots – is the sea anemone.

Sand sea anemones, which grow in great clusters on the beach near my seaside flat, are intertidal – they gather together with black mussels on rocks – so only when we’re there at low water are we lucky enough to see them.

They’re extraordinarily beautiful, marvellously minute aliens. When they’re all closed up (when
the water isn’t over them, which is mainly when we see them, as in the pic), they usually cover themselves with miniscule particles of sand, hence
their name. But in our seaside town,
shells are more abundant than sand, so
you know what they glue all over themselves?

Yes. Tiny little shell fragments – mussel shells, cowrie shells, abalone shells; iridescent mother-of-pearl; pink, grey, blue, green...

So the closed-up anemones look like nothing less than miraculous miniature mosaics.

In their centres (they have little whorls there – they seldom close completely) are amazingly striking colours: Prussian blue, scarlet, grass green, Persian purple. It’s difficult to believe nature could make these jewel-like colours, because you’re so much more used to seeing them in stained-glass windows. But it does.

And when the tide turns and the sea starts flowing in, these sea-wind flower-animals unfurl and send out fleshy tentacles, turning the dense, dead black rocks into gracefully waving fields of technicolour submarine buttercups.

It’s enough to make you believe in God.

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1 comment:

meggie said...

The colours of nature are incredible. I can live without belief, however! Haha.