Archive for the 'Plants' Category

Jun 24 2017

Heal-All in Bloom

Published by under Plants

Heal all in bloom (photo from Flora Pittsburghensis, Creative Commons license)

Heal all in bloom (photo from Flora Pittsburghensis, Creative Commons license)

Mid to late June is not a good time for wildflowers.  The woodland flowers have gone to seed and most field flowers haven’t opened yet so it’s hard to find anything blooming.  Heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) obliges. It blooms from June to September.

Heal-all or Self-heal is a member of the mint (Lamiaceae) family native to Europe, Asia and North America.  It’s not picky about sun and soil and it survives mowing so you’ll find it in waste places, lawns and along woodland edges. This photo from the Netherlands shows a typical setting.

Heal-all plants in bloom, Netherlands (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Heal-all plants in bloom, Netherlands (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Though it’s mixed in with other plants heal-all’s flower head stands up like a knob studded with small tubular flowers that range in color from deep purple to pale lavender-white.

If heal-all is annoying in your lawn consider this:  You can eat it or apply it as a poultice on wounds or irritated skin.

For another look at the flower and some musing about its presence in North America, see this vintage article from 2010.

Heal-all

 

(photo credits, Creative Commons licenses: top photo from Flora Pittsburghensis, second photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

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Jun 22 2017

Poison Hemlock

Published by under Plants

Poison hemlock flowers (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Poison hemlock flowers (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Speaking of poisons as I did yesterday, here’s a poisonous plant that’s probably growing in your neighborhood.  In late June it’s five to eight feet tall.

Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum) is an invasive weed made famous for killing Socrates.  Arrested and condemned to death, Socrates had to drink hemlock infusion as the capital punishment of ancient Greece. If you’re curious about what happened next, click here.

How do you know if it’s in your neighborhood?  Look for a member of the carrot/parsley family that has purple splotches on its stems, as shown below.

Purple-splotched poison hemlock stem (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Poison hemlock stem (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Find out more in this vintage article from June 2011:

It’s Best to Know What You’re Dealing With

 

(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see the originals)

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Jun 14 2017

Nightshade in the Garden

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Bittersweet Nightshade (photo by Chuck Tague)

Bittersweet Nightshade (photo by Chuck Tague)

Last week Anne Marie Bosnyak sent me a photo, below, of a plant that popped up in her garden.

It has purple flowers and tomato-like fruit. It’s obviously growing in the wrong place.  Is it a weed?

Bittersweet nightshade out of place in the garden (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Bittersweet nightshade out of place in the garden (photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

Well, yes.

It’s bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara), a perennial from Eurasia that’s considered invasive in Pennsylvania.

Did you know it’s related to potatoes?  Don’t eat it!  Read on.

Not Tomatoes!

 

(flower photo by Chuck Tague, plant photo by Anne Marie Bosnyak)

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Jun 04 2017

Motherwort

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Motherwort blooming in Schenley Park, 30 May 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Motherwort blooming in Schenley Park, 30 May 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Instead of peregrines … a plant.

Take a walk and you’ll find motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) blooming now in western Pennsylvania.  Originally from Eurasia, this member of the Mint family is now at home on many continents because it’s useful as an herbal remedy for heart disease and childbirth.

Its flowers are furry dragon mouths arranged in whorls around the stem, similar in shape to purple deadnettle, a near relative.  Its square stem gives us the hint that it’s a mint.

In full sun motherwort is knee high or even taller so you won’t miss it.  Its opposite, toothed leaves look like paws but are sometimes confused with mugwort leaves.

Motherwort plant in Schenley Park, 30 May 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Motherwort plant in Schenley Park, 30 May 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

I prefer to identify motherwort when it’s in bloom.  😉

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 27 2017

Now Blooming: Pink Lady Slipper

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Pink lady slipper (photo by Paul Staniszewski)

Pink lady slipper (photo by Paul Staniszewski)

Paul Staniszewski reminded me this week that pink lady slippers (Cypripedium acaule) are blooming now in Pennsylvania’s woods.

Take some time to look for them this weekend.

Last year I found some in a deer exclosure at Ohiopyle State Park.

 

(photo by Paul Staniszewski)

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May 23 2017

Fluff In The Air

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Cottonwood fluff on the ground (photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org)

Cottonwood fluff on the ground (photo by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org)

In late May, you’ll see white fluff in the air as you search the sky for birds.  It’s not dandelion fluff.  This is cottonwood season.

The eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides) grows in open and riparian habitats from the Rockies to the southeastern coast. Western Pennsylvania is on the eastern edge of their range.

Range map of the eastern cottonwood (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Range map of the eastern cottonwood (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

Cottonwoods are one of the fastest growing and largest trees in North America.  Reaching up to 130 feet tall the trunk can be more than five feet across.  The trees require bare soil and full sun to germinate so you usually see them out in the open, sometimes alone.

Eastern cottonwood (photo by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

Eastern cottonwood (photo by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

 

Their species name, deltoides, describes the leaf shape that looks a lot like aspens. Both trees are in the willow family.

Cottonwood leaves (photo by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org)

Cottonwood leaves (photo by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org)

 

In early spring cottonwoods sprout male and female catkins. The females are fertilized by wind-blown pollen and become drooping strings of seed capsules.  In May the capsules burst open to release thousands of tiny seeds, each one attached to a bit of “cotton” that carries it on the wind.  (The brown spots in this photo are seed capsule covers, not the seeds.)

Eastern cottonwood seeds, still on the branch (photo by Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bugwood.org)

Eastern cottonwood seeds, still on the branch (photo by Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bugwood.org)

 

The fluff breaks off and blows away but each tree is so prolific that in windless conditions, when the fluff falls straight to the ground, it looks like snow.

Do you want to see a lot of cottonwood fluff?  Drive north on Route 528 from the bridge over Moraine State Park‘s Lake Arthur. Eventually cottonwoods are on both sides of the road.

There’s fluff in the air there!

 

(photo credits:
fluff on the ground by Chris Evans, University of Illinois, Bugwood.org
range map from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original
clump of cottonwood trees by Steven Katovich, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org
cottonwood leaves by T. Davis Sydnor, The Ohio State University, Bugwood.org
cottonwood seeds on the branch by Troy Evans, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Bugwood.org
)

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May 21 2017

Jack In The Pulpit

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Jack in the pulpit, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Jack in the pulpit, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) has been blooming for about two weeks in western Pennsylvania.  As the forest floor greens up you might not notice this unusual flower.

Here’s a whimsical look at Jack’s odd characteristics.  Sometimes he is “Jill.”

Jack Explains Himself

 

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May 19 2017

Apples in May

Mayapple flower turning into a May Apple (photo by Kate St. John)

Mayapple flower turning into an apple in May (photo by Kate St. John)

I’m taking a break from peregrines today.   Here’s a plant.    🙂

In Schenley Park, mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) bloom in April and fruit in May. The plants must have two leaves to produce a flower because the flower stalk grows from the Y between the leaves.

Here’s what they look like when they bloom.

Mayapple in flower with twin leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Mayapple in flower with twin leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The fertilized flower transitions from flower to apple in May, as shown in the photo at top.

You can eat a mayapple when it’s ripe but Be Careful!  The entire plant is poisonous and the apple is only edible when ripe!  Find out more and see a mayapple sliced open in this vintage article from 2011.

Eating Mayapples

 

 

(top photo by Kate St. John. Blooming photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original)

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May 13 2017

This Is Not Bamboo

Published by under Plants

Horsetail stems, Equisetum hyemale, Enlow Fork, 28 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Horsetail stems, Equisetum hyemale, Enlow Fork, 28 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

If you search Google using this image it returns photos of bamboo, but that’s not what it is.  This Pennsylvania native is one of the oldest species on earth.

Scouringrush horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) is one of 20 species of Equisetum, the only remaining genus in an ancient class of plants. According to Wikipedia, the plants of Equisetopsida were much more diverse during the Paleozoic era when they dominated the understory ranging from small plants to large trees.  Most went extinct during the Permian–Triassic extinction event that occurred long before the dinosaurs.  Through it all, Equisetum survived.

Equisetum hyemale‘s hollow evergreen stems grow three feet tall with longitudinal ridges that are high in silica.  This makes them useful for scouring and polishing pots and pans, giving the plant additional names such as rough horsetail, scouring rush, and pewterwort.

Horsetail tip, Equisetum hyemale, Enlow Fork, 28 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Horsetail, Equisetum hyemale, Enlow Fork, 28 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Believe it or not, the plant has tiny leaves at the joints (between the green sections) and reproduces from spores, not flowers.  It also spreads aggressively in dense stands via underground runners.  Above, you can see a stobilus that creates the spores.

Native to the northern hemisphere this useful plant was transported to South Africa and Australia to scour pots and pans.  Instead it became invasive.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 06 2017

Corn Salad

Published by under Plants

Two kinds of corn salad: Valerianella locusta and Corn with black beans (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Two kinds of corn salad: Valerianella locusta and Corn with black beans (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Late last month a group of us found corn salad at Enlow Fork (SGL 302) in Greene County, Pennsylvania.  Which one did we see?  The plant on the left, not the food on the right.

Ah, but the plant is food.

Corn salad (Valerianella locusta) is an edible annual, native to Europe, with a mild nutty flavor.  Its smooth-edged leaves form a basal rosette, then opposite pairs on the stem topped by tiny, white, tubular flowers.

Corn salad, Enlow Fork, 28 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Corn salad, Enlow Fork, 28 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Centuries ago corn salad graduated from a forage plant to cultivation, perhaps in France where it is grown primarily near Nantes today.

According to Wikipedia, it spread through the rest of Europe — and eventually here — after King Louis XIV’s gardener promoted it.  Along the way it acquired a lot of other names including mâche and rapunzel.  Corn salad wasn’t named for the maiden with long hair. The fairy tale Rapunzel was named for the plant.

Missouri Botanical Garden describes how to harvest it:  Before it flowers, pick the rosette. After it flowers harvest the entire plant.

We didn’t eat it, though.  It’s too pretty.

 

(Side by side photos from Wikimedia Commons: Valerianella locusta and corn+black bean salad. Flower closeup by Kate St.John)

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