Archive for the 'Plants' Category

Mar 11 2017

Coltsfoot Bloomed Last Wednesday

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

In another landmark of spring I found coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park last Wednesday, March 8.

Coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) is an early-blooming Eurasian plant whose flower resembles a dandelion except that it blooms when it has no leaves. The leaves, which are shaped like a colt’s footprint, come out after the flower is gone.

This morning it’s 14oF so the flowers are closed tight against the cold.  Coltsfoot will survive but I’m not so sure about my daffodils.

Looking back, I’m wistful.  It was only three days ago that the temperature was 60oF and these hazelnut catkins blew in the wind along Schenley Park’s Lower Trail.

Catkins blow in the wind along Schenley Park's Lower Trail, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

Catkins blow in the wind along Schenley Park’s Lower Trail, 8 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St.John)

(The logs in the photo are an old ash, killed by emerald ash borer.)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jan 22 2017

Coffee Beans in Schenley Park

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Kentucky coffeetree seed pod from Schenley Park (photo by Kate St.John)

Kentucky coffeetree seed pod with penny for size comparison (photo by Kate St.John)

Last week I found these large, dull gray seed pods beneath a tree in Schenley Park with “coffee” beans inside.

The Kentucky coffeetree (Gymnocladus dioicus) is a rare tree with a wide distribution from Oklahoma to Ohio.  It was planted in Schenley Park as an ornamental more than 100 years ago.

The tree earned its name because Native Americans used to grind the roasted beans to make a beverage like coffee.  When coffee and chicory weren’t available the settlers drank this beverage, too, but they didn’t like it as well.

The pods are very tough and hard to open.  I quickly learned that the flattest ones have no beans so I chose a broken one and pried it open with a knife.

Kentucky coffeetree seed pod opened, found in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Kentucky coffeetree seed pod opened, found in Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

The beans are dark brown, round, and hard to photograph.  I moved the biggest one so you can see it better.

Did a squirrel eat the other beans?  If so, I hope he’s immune to the cytisine alkaloid inside them.  When not fully roasted, these beans are poisonous to humans.

Want to try some Kentucky “coffee?”  No thanks. I’m sticking with Starbucks.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jan 11 2017

Introduced 204 Years Ago

Published by under Plants

Young pineapple on the stem (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Young pineapple on the stem (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On this date in 1813 the pineapple was introduced to Hawaii.  No, it’s not a native plant.

Pineapples (Ananas comosus) are bromeliads indigenous to South America from southern Brazil to Paraguay.  Because we like their fruit they’re now cultivated across the world in such far flung places as Costa Rica, the Philippines, Thailand and India.

We also grow pineapples for their beauty.  Here’s a plant with variegated leaves in Parque Nacional del Café in Quindio, Colombia.  It’s in the National Coffee Park.

Pineapple plant with inflorescence, varigated variety (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Variegated pineapple with inflorescence, Parque Nacional del Café, Quindio, Colombia (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ironically, this pineapple is growing on its native continent in a park dedicated to an imported crop.  Coffee is originally from Ethiopia.

 

(*) The Hawaiian introduction date may have been 1/21 instead of 1/11.  Perhaps poor handwriting in the historical record makes it hard to determine whether it’s “11” or “21.”

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

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Jan 08 2017

Frost Flowers

Published by under Plants

Frost flower in Sheperherdsville, Kentucky (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Frost flower in Sheperherdsville, Kentucky (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Here’s something I’ve never seen before because I live too far north.

Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) is a plant in the Aster family native to the southeastern U.S., the lower Mississippi valley, and Texas.  It’s closely related to our familiar wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) but it doesn’t grow here.  Alas.

Biota of North America Program (BONAP) map of Verbesina virginica, 2014 (linked from bonap.net)

I say “Alas” because, when conditions are right, its stems exude water and create stunning frost flowers when the temperature drops below freezing.

Meredith O’Reilly of Austin, Texas displays photos of these beautiful ice sculptures, here at her Great Stems blog.  And see more of them here at The Frost Below.

 

Thank you to Allen Janis for alerting me to these delicate winter structures.

(photo for frost flower from Wikimedia Commons; click on the image to see the original. Range map of frostweed liked from Biota of North America Program ( BONAP) map of Verbesina virginica)

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Dec 14 2016

Ginger Is Extinct In The Wild

Published by under Plants

Gingerbread men (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Gingerbread men (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

While you eat ginger treats this month you probably won’t think of the plant that flavors them, but it has an interesting story.

Ginger root (Zingiber officinale) is used all over the world to flavor meat, seafood, vegetables and sweets.  The plant is extinct in the wild yet millions of tons are cultivated each year.

Ginger root (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ginger root (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ginger is a flowering perennial that grows new stems from its rhizomes each spring. According to Wikipedia it probably originated in the tropical rainforest of the Indian subcontinent.

The plant is two to three feet tall with a pretty orchid-like flower.  Though most of us have never seen the plant it can be grown in the garden.  It takes 8-10 months for the rhizomes to mature.

Illustration of Zingiber officinale Roscoe (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Illustration of Zingiber officinale Roscoe (image from Wikimedia Commons)

 

The spice trade introduced ginger to the western world where it’s been popular since Roman times.  Eventually cultivation put it out of business in the wild but made ginger more successful than its cohorts in the rainforest.

Today most ginger is grown in India, China and Nigeria, 2.1 million tons per year.

Wildly successful ginger is extinct in the wild.

 

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

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Dec 12 2016

Fewer Deer, Less Garlic Mustard

Published by under Mammals,Plants

Deer and garlic mustard (deer photo from Wikimedia Commons, garlic mustard photo by Kate St.John)

Deer and garlic mustard (deer photo from Wikimedia Commons, garlic mustard photo by Kate St.John)

 

If you like native plants you’re probably dismayed by the increase of invasive garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in Pennsylvania’s woods.

Garlic mustard has become more abundant at the same time that Pennsylvania’s deer population has exploded.  Since deer don’t eat garlic mustard, observers assumed the plant’s increase was directly tied to the fact that deer eat natives and not this invasive alien.

But the relationship is more complicated than that.

At October’s meeting of the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania, Dr. J. Mason Heberling presented conclusions he’s drawn after studying the interaction of garlic mustard, native plants, and deer from a 13 year experiment at Fox Chapel’s Trillium Trail.

It turns out that garlic mustard likes more sun than it normally gets in Pennsylvania’s summer woods so when deer over browse native plants their shade goes away and garlic mustard thrives.

When deer are excluded native plants grow again, they shade the garlic mustard and it decreases.

Fewer deer?  Less garlic mustard!

Everything is connected, often in amazing ways.

 

For more information, read the study abstract here at Interactions of White-tailed Deer and Invasive Plants in Forests of Eastern North America presented at the Botany 2016 Conference.

(photo of garlic mustard by Kate St. John. photo of deer by josephamaker2018 via Wikimedia Commons; click on the original)

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Nov 26 2016

Tiny Lichens

Published by under Plants

Trumpet lichen, Moraine State Park, 11 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Cladonia lichen, Moraine State Park, 11 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Lichens are interesting shapes if you look closely enough.

Two weeks ago I found these tiny green trumpets in the pine woods at Moraine State Park in Butler County, PA.  I don’t know much about lichens but a Google search placed them in the Cladonia genus.  The best photo match was the trumpet lichen (Cladonia fimbriata).

Here’s a closer view.

Trumpet lichen close up, Moraine State Park, 11 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Cladonia lichen close up, Moraine State Park, 11 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

What are the cups for?  New Hampshire Garden Solutions explains them for  the Cladonia chlorophaea species:

Mealy Pixie Cup (Cladonia chlorophaea) lichen look like little trumpets from the side but from the top they look like tiny cups. The cups are where the spores form and this lichen relies on raindrops falling in them to disperse its spores. This lichen is called “mealy” because of the grainy reproductive structures (soredia) covering its outside surface.

Do you know the name of this lichen?

 

(photos by Kate St.John)

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Nov 23 2016

Cranberries In Unnatural Form

Published by under Plants

Canned cranberry sauce (photo from Flickr by busybeytheelder)

Canned cranberry sauce (photo from Flickr by busybeytheelder)

An early jump on Throw Back Thursday:

Tomorrow will be a big day for cranberries, but how did they they end up in this form?

Learn more in this 2013 article …

Unnatural Shape

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Nov 12 2016

November Primrose

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Evening primrose, 9 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

Evening primrose, 9 Nov 2016 (photo by Kate St.John)

This common evening primrose (Oenothera biennis) was blooming on Wednesday, November 9 along the Nine Mile Run Trail in Frick Park.

Last night’s low of 30oF produced a light frost.  I wonder if these flowers are still there.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Oct 30 2016

Roadside Fruits and Seeds

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Fruits of bittersweet nightshade (photo by Kate St.John)

Fruits of bittersweet nightshade (photo by Kate St.John)

Roadsides are waste places where the junk plants grow but even the weeds produce fruit and seeds.  Here’s what I found yesterday on a walk in my neighborhood.

The fruits of bittersweet nightshade (Solanum dulcamara) look like tiny tomatoes, above, or small jalapeño peppers … but don’t eat them!

Nightshade fruits (photo by Kate St.John)

Bittersweet nightshade fruits (photo by Kate St.John)

 

A close look at burdock reveals the tiny hooks that inspired velcro.

Burdock, Nature's velcro (photo by Kate St.John)

Burdock, Nature’s velcro (photo by Kate St.John)

 

Curly dock (Rumex crispus) shows off its spike of dark brown seeds encased in the calyx of the flowers that produced them.  Wikipedia says this flange allows the seeds to float.

Curly dock seeds (photo by Kate St.John)

Curly dock seeds (photo by Kate St.John)

 

And when the wind blows these white snakeroot seeds (Ageratina altissima) will leave the mother plant.

White snakeroot gone to seed (photo by Kate St. John)

White snakeroot gone to seed (photo by Kate St. John)

Take a walk around the edges to see roadside fruits and seeds.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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