Archive for the 'Phenology' Category

Aug 23 2016

Balm For A Horse?

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Horse balm in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Horse balm in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a tall woodland plant that’s easy to overlook because its flowers aren’t big and beautiful.

Horse balm (Collinsonia canadensis) is a perennial mint that grows 1.75 to 5 feet tall in deep woods.  Even in the middle of its blooming cycle it looks ragged with flowers in every stage of development from bud to bloom, from fade to seed.

Closeup of horse balm flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

Closeup of horse balm flowers (photo by Kate St. John)

At very close range the flowers are fancy tubes with lips and protruding stamens (click here to see). You’ll also notice that the plant smells like cheap lemon scent, giving it the alternate name cintronella horse balm.

The name “balm” comes from its medicinal properties described at eNature: “Tea can be brewed from the leaves, and the rhizome was formerly used as a diuretic, tonic, and astringent.”

But why is it horse balm?

I haven’t found horses mentioned anywhere in the literature about this plant.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jul 31 2016

A Coralroot With Many Names

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Striped or summer coralroot (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Spotted coralroot blooming, July 2016 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Now blooming in western Pennsylvania, Corallrhiza maculata is an orchid with many common names:
Spotted coralroot, Speckled coral root, Summer coralroot, Large coralroot, Many-flowered coralroot, and Western coralroot.

The names describe the plant:

  • Its flower lip is spotted or speckled
  • It blooms in the summer, July and August
  • It’s large compared to other coralroots: 8-20 inches high with flowers 1/2 to 3/4 inches long
  • It has many flowers, up to 40 per plant, and …
  • It has a wide distribution that includes the U.S. West.

You’ll notice that none of the names include a color.  That’s because this leafless plant can be brown, purplish, reddish or yellow.  The flower lip is always white but the yellowish plants have no spots.

Wildflowers Of Pennsylvania by Mary Joy Haywood and Phyllis Testal Monk says, “This plant, which goes dormant for years, grows in shady deciduous or coniferous forests, and is found throughout Pennsylvania.”

But finding it is difficult. Like the other coralroots it matches its habitat and to find it you have to go out in July’s heat.

Dianne and Bob Machesney found this one on a very hot day in Butler County.

 

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Jul 24 2016

Bladder Campion

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Bladder campion, 17 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bladder campion, 17 Jul 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

This unusual flower with a swollen calyx is blooming now in western Pennsylvania.  Though the plant stands two feet tall its bladder-like flowers weigh down the branches when it’s in full bloom.

Bladder campion (Silene vulgaris) is a member of the Pink family (Caryophyllaceae) native to Eurasia.  It prefers to grow in waste places or sandy soil and is found as far north as Greenland and Alaska.  Some people call it a weed.

Why is it here?  Perhaps because its leaves and young shoots are eaten in some Mediterranean dishes.  Or because it’s pretty.

I found this one blooming by the side of the road at the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail.

 

p.s.  Sometimes the swollen calyx is pink as shown in this article from 2011 entitled Balloons.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jul 23 2016

Now Blooming: Water Willow

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Water willow, Ohiopyle, July 2016 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Water willow, Ohiopyle, July 2016 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Here’s a plant you might not notice unless you walk to the water’s edge. Even then, it’s unremarkable from a distance because it looks like a clump of tall grass –> like this.

American water willow (Justicia americana) is the hardiest member of the tropical Justicia genus and the only one found in Pennsylvania. It likes to keep its feet wet so it typically grows on muddy shores or islands in creeks and rivers.

It’s always associated with water and its leaves resemble willows and so it got its name.

Water willow’s iris-like flowers are 1.5 inches across so they’re hard to see on a distant island.  However, I’ve found them on shore at Duck Hollow, in Slippery Rock Creek at McConnell’s Mill State Park and in Chartiers Creek at Boyce-Mayview wetlands.

In this weekend’s hot weather, check out the water’s edge.  Dianne Machesney found this one blooming at the Youghiogheny River in Ohiopyle.

 

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Jul 16 2016

Striped Wintergreen in the Woods

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Striped wintergreen, 2 July 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Striped wintergreen, 2 July 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Striped wintergreen’s leaves can be found at any time of year but the plant only blooms from June to August.

The flowers hang like a chandelier from three branches on the main stem. Each flower resembles a lamp: five up swept white petals, paired anthers, and a bulbous green pistil (shown above).

You can tell the difference between striped wintergreen (Chimaphila maculata) and its close relative Pipsissewa because wintergreen leaves are pointed, whorled and distinctly striped on the midrib.

Striped wintergreen (photo by Kate St. John)

Striped wintergreen (photo by Kate St. John)

Striped wintergreen is endangered in Canada, Illinois and Maine and exploitably vulnerable in New York.  I found this one in Beaver County, Pennsylvania.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jun 28 2016

There’s A Lot Less Singing

Yellow warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

Yellow warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

It happens every year. By late June, birds are singing a lot less than they did a month ago. By mid July most birds are silent.

Find out why they stop singing in this article: Becoming Silent.

 

(photo by Chuck Tague)

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Apr 21 2016

Blooming This Week

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Early saxifrage, Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 17 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Early saxifrage, Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 17 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wildflowers are blooming throughout the Pittsburgh area.  This week I traveled southeast and west to record their progress.

At Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve on April 17 the earliest flower — skunk cabbage — had disappeared among the plant’s large leaves.  Toad trillium (Trillium sessile), wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) and early saxifrage (Micranthes virginiensis) were open. White large-flowered trillium was not.  I found an interesting sedge but I don’t know its name.

Braddock’s Trail Park in Westmoreland County has a south-facing slope so it’s flowers were much further along than Raccoon, even though I visited a day later.  Small-flower crowfoot (Ranunculus micranthus), Canada violets (Viola canadensis) and rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) were in full bloom while blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna) carpeted the forest floor.  Trillium were already at their peak.  Dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) had just begun.

Click here or on the photo above for a slideshow of the flowers.  (Unfortunately the sun was so bright that it washed out the details of white flowers … I tried anyway.)

Look for wildflowers this weekend before the trees leaf out. Go north to see early flowers. Go south to see late blooms.

When the woods are in shade the flower party will be over.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 16 2016

Buds Bursting

Horse chestnut bud bursting, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Horse chestnut bud bursting, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last week’s cold weather was deadly for flowering trees but good for those still in bud.

A hard freeze on April 5 —  23 o F — wiped out the early-blooming trees in Schenley Park.  Most of the eastern redbuds had already flowered so Schenley’s redbud display this year is anemic.

On the other hand, buds that were closed 10 days ago are in good shape now.  On Wednesday I found a horse chestnut bud about to burst (above) and one with leaves and flower stack already emerged (below).

Horse chestnut leaves and flowers stack emerged from bud, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Horse chestnut leaves and flowers stack emerged from bud, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Even the hickories are getting into the act.

Mockernut hickory bud opening, Schenley Park, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Mockernut hickory bud opening, Schenley Park, 13 April 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Check out your neighborhood for emerging leaves and flowers. Buds are opening fast in this weekend’s warm weather.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 10 2016

Blue-Eyed Mary in Bloom

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Blue-eyed Mary blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Blue-eyed Mary blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

It’s cold this morning — and snowy for some of you — but when the weather improves you’ll find …

Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna) usually blooms in southwestern Pennsylvania from mid April to early May but we found it at Cedar Creek Park on Wednesday April 6.

This annual drops its seeds in summer, germinates seedlings in the fall, and overwinters to bloom in the spring.  It spreads by reseeding so you usually find it in patches — that look more green than blue from a distance.

Blue-eyed Mary patch at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Blue-eyed Mary patch at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2016 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Collinsia verna grows in woodlands with light to dappled shade and moist to mesic rich loamy soil.  Though the plant can be locally abundant, its habitat can be hard to find.  Blue-eyed Mary is endangered in New York and Tennessee.

Here are three places in southwestern Pennsylvania to see Blue-eyed Mary this month:

 

(photos by Donna Foyle)

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Apr 05 2016

What’s Outdoors in Early April?

Published by under Phenology

Yellow-throated warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

Yellow-throated warbler (photo by Chuck Tague)

 

Spring started early but this week’s cold snap has put everything on “Pause.”  From 22 degrees above normal on March 31 to 7 degrees below normal on April 3, we’ve seen it all.

Despite that, this phenology of What to Look For in Early April should be a good one.

How much of the list did you see in March?

So much is yet to come!

 

p.s. Friends of mine saw yellow-throated warblers (pictured above) last weekend in Morrow-Pontefract Park, Edgeworth.

(photo of a yellow-throated warbler by Chuck Tague)

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