Archive for the 'Plants' Category

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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Apr 22 2017

Tiny Hairs

Published by under Plants

Purple dead nettle (photo by Kate St. John)

Purple dead nettle (photo by Kate St. John)

Purple dead nettle (Lamium purpureum) has been blooming in southwestern Pennsylvania since early spring.

This Eurasian member of the Mint family attracts attention because it often grows in dense colonies where the plants stand together in reddish purple stacks of leaves and flowers. Some patches stand eight inches tall.

All the Mints have bilaterally symmetrical(*) flowers but the shape of this one makes the plant easy to identify — a pinkish purple hood with a unique two-lipped landing pad for bees.

Closeup of purple dead nettle flower (photo by Kate St. John)

Closeup of purple dead nettle flower (photo by Kate St. John)

Until I snapped a closeup in good light I had never seen the hairs that give it the nettle name.  Reminiscent of stinging nettle the hairs don’t sting; they’re “dead.”  Notice that the flowers have tiny hairs, too.

Purple dead nettle has a long blooming period so we’ll see it flowering until next winter.  Look for the plants now, though, because their best display occurs this month.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

(*) “Bilaterally symmetrical” means it matches side-to-side, like our faces. A harder word for the same concept among flowers is zygomorphic.

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Apr 07 2017

April Showers Bring …

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Yellow corydalis at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yellow corydalis at Cedar Creek Park, 6 April 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

The weather was beautiful on Wednesday when my friends and I found hopeful signs of spring at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County.  There were two Best Birds (yellow-throated warbler, Louisiana waterthrush) and many April flowers including hepatica, Virginia bluebells, twinleaf, bloodroot, harbinger of spring, and …

Yellow corydalis (Corydalis flavula) is a native annual in the Poppy family. Its small flower, 1/4″ long, has an unusual puckered shape.

The most common spring beauty in our area, Claytonia virginica, has thin grass-like leaves.  Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana) has oval leaves and deeper pink flowers.

Carolina spring beauty at Cedar Creek Park, 6 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Carolina spring beauty at Cedar Creek Park, 6 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) was on the verge of blooming last Wednesday.  Here’s one stunning flower.

Wild blue phlox at Cedar Creek Park, 6 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Wild blue phlox at Cedar Creek Park, 6 Apr 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

But this morning all is changed.  It rained all day yesterday and now we have gusty winds and snow flurries.  🙁

Thursday’s April showers closed the flowers.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Mar 28 2017

Now Blooming at Raccoon Creek

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Harbinger of spring, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)

Harbinger of spring, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)

Last Sunday, 26 March 2017, I visited Raccoon Creek State Park’s Wildflower Reserve to see the newest flowers.

The woods were brown and the sky was gray so I had to look closely to find small signs of spring.

Raccoon Creek at the Wildflower Reserve, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Raccoon Creek at the Wildflower Reserve, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

(Winter floods scraped the creekside vegetation. Click on the creek photo above to see.)

 

Harbinger of spring (Erigenia bulbosa) was opening its tiny salt-and-pepper flowers, shown at top and below.

Harbinger of spring, just opening, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Harbinger of spring, just opening, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

It was fun to find blue flowers in the grass:  corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis), a non-native.  Our earliest spring natives aren’t this bright.

Speedwell blooming in the grass, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Creek State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Speedwell blooming in the grass, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Creek State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Snow trillium (Trillium nivale) was past its prime.

Snow trillium past its prime, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St. John)

Snow trillium past its prime, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) was blooming everywhere.  This one is surrounded by garlic mustard. 🙁

Spring beauty, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring beauty, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Round-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis) bloomed among old oak leaves.

Round-lobed hepatica, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

Round-lobed hepatica, 26 Mar 2017 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

And cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) was in bud on the south facing Jennings Trail near Shafers Rock.  I’m sure it will bloom this week.

Cutleaf toothwort, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)

Cutleaf toothwort, 26 Mar 2017, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve (photo by Kate St.John)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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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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