Archive for the 'Plants' Category

Jan 02 2016

December Rose

Published by under Plants,Weather & Sky

A rose in Pittsburgh, 30 Dec 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Rose blooming in Pittsburgh, 30 Dec 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week I found several roses in bloom in my neighborhood.

Roses blooming at the end of December?  In Pittsburgh?

Last month there were only two nights below freezing at the airport (Dec 18-20, 29 to 30oF), but it probably didn’t drop below freezing in my city neighborhood.  This coming Monday night, January 4, the low is predicted to be 12oF.

That’s what a crazy winter it’s been!

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

8 responses so far

Dec 27 2015

Galling

Oak gall, Washington County, PA, November 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Oak gall, Washington County, PA, November 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Back in November I found these round hairy growths on the backs of many oak leaves at Hillman State Park in Washington County, PA.

From above they look furry but up close I can see that they’re fibrous.

Close-up of oak gall, Washington County, PA, November 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Close-up of oak gall, Washington County, PA, November 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

No doubt these are galls, structures grown by the tree itself in response to chemicals deposited by a tiny insect that laid eggs on the underside of the leaf.  The insects are usually gall wasps (Cynipidae) whose larvae are protected by the gall.

There are 750 species of Cynipidae in North America, best identified by the characteristics of the gall and the plant it’s growing on.  What does the gall look like?  What species is it growing on?  Where is the plant located (geographically)?  What part of the plant is the gall growing on?  If on a leaf, is it on the upper or under side?  Is it on a twig?  A bud?  Etc. etc.

Extensive searches of bugguide.net produced similar photos but no final identification.  The closest was this one:  A gall wasp (Cynipidae) in the genus Acraspis, photographed in Guelph, Ontario.

So I’m back where I started.  I know the name of the wasp (as far as I care to know) but what is the name of the gall?

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Dec 19 2015

Look Down, Look Up

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Oriental bittersweet hulls on the ground (photo by Kate St. John)

This month in Schenley Park I noticed lots of yellow hulls on the ground. Somewhat like pistachios, they were smaller and brighter with a ridge inside instead of on the edge.

Here’s what I saw when I looked down.

Oriental bittersweet hulls (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The hulls came from somewhere so I looked up to find the source:  Oriental bittersweet.

Oriential bittersweet fruits, Schenley Park, 7 Dec 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Oriential bittersweet fruits, Schenley Park, 7 Dec 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Each berry was encased in a three-part pod that burst open to reveal the fruit.  You can see three faint lines on the berries where the ridges made impressions.

And there above me, quietly eating the berries, was a big flock of robins knocking more yellow hulls to the ground.

Keep looking up.  :)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Dec 13 2015

Invasive?

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Unknown plant. Is it an invasive? (photo by Kate St. John)

What is this plant? (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a plant that’s quite visible in my neighborhood this month. I don’t know what it is but I suspect it’s an alien and possibly invasive because it shows off a number of imported/invasive features.

  • Imported: Its leaves are very green, suggesting it’s winter light trigger expects a more northern location.
  • Imported: It’s still producing flowers in December, another indication that it believes winter hasn’t arrived.
  • Invasive: It grows in waste places, especially in disturbed soil at the edge of sidewalks.
  • Invasive: It can become very dense and take over the area where it’s growing.

Here’s a look at the arrangement of the stems.  Notice that they’re hairy.

Unknown plant. A look at the stems (photo by Kate St. John)

Unknown plant: a look at the stems (photo by Kate St. John)

And here’s the flower.  I forced this one open.

Unknown flower. Is it an invasive? (photo by Kate St. John)

Unknown flower (photo by Kate St. John)

One more look at a dense mat of it.

Unknown plant. Is it an invasive? (photo by Kate St. John)

A dense mat of …  (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Do you know the name of this plant?  My guess is that it’s from Asia, perhaps Japan.

If you know the answer, please leave a comment!

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Wow! You’re quick!  Fran, Carolyn and Doris have already identified it as common mallow (Malva neglecta) or cheeseweed.  Read the comments to find out why it has this unusual name.

p.p.s. Here’s the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management recommendation for this plant.

9 responses so far

Nov 21 2015

Violets In November

Published by under Plants,Weather & Sky

Violets blooming on November 13 in Pittsburgh (photo by Fran Bungert)

Violets blooming on 13 November 2015 in Pittsburgh (photo by Fran Bungert)

Just over a week ago Fran Bungert was walking in South Park with her husband and dogs when she came upon some violets in bloom and sent me this picture from her cellphone.

November is a very odd time for violets (Viola sororia sororia).  They normally bloom from April to June.

Are they confused by our warm El Niño autumn?  Or have some violets always bloomed in November and I’ve just not paid attention?

What do you think?

 

(photo by Fran Bungert)

6 responses so far

Nov 15 2015

The Resurrection Plant

Published by under Plants

Unfolding of Selaginella lepidophylla when watered; time span 3 hours (image from Wikimedia Commons)

Unfolding of Selaginella lepidophylla when watered; time span 3 hours (image from Wikimedia Commons)

On the way to somewhere else I found …

A desert plant that curls into a ball and “hibernates” during dry weather, then revives at the touch of water.

You’ll never see this plant in Pennsylvania unless you buy one as a novelty item to wow your friends.

Selaginella lepidophylla is a spikemoss native to the Chihuahuan Desert of Mexico and the southwestern U.S. with many common names including false rose of Jericho, rose of Jericho, resurrection plant, resurrection moss, and doradilla.  Its resurrection ability is similar to the real Rose of Jericho, Anastatica, native to the Middle East and Sahara.

How long does it take this plant to revive?  The photos were snapped at five minute intervals over a period of three hours.

I stumbled upon this animation while searching for photos of Lycopodium because a second (synonymous) scientific name for the resurrection plant is Lycopodium lepidophyllum

Who knew!

 

(image from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

2 responses so far

Nov 01 2015

Now What?

Published by under Plants

Halloween pumpkins, uncarved (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Halloween pumpkins, uncarved (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Our Halloween pumpkins have reverted to vegetables.  Let me be the first to suggest what to do with them now that the holiday is over.

Did you carve the pumpkin?  It’ll rot soon.  You could throw it in a garbage bag for the landfill or …

Carved pumpkin, rotting (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

  • Compost it.
  • Cut it up and feed it to wildlife. (Don’t litter, though.)
  • Bury it in your garden to enrich the soil.

Is it uncarved?  Then it’ll last longer “as is” or you can open and eat it.

  • Continue to use the pumpkin as a decoration until it begins to decay.
  • Bake and puree the flesh to turn it into pumpkin pie, etc.
  • Toast and eat the seeds.

For a really good list, see Jessica’s 2014 post at BrightNest:  7 things to do with your old pumpkin

 

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

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Oct 28 2015

I Yam Not A Yam

Published by under Plants

Sweet potatoes or yams (photo by Jérôme Sautret via Wikimedia Commons)

Yams a.k.a. sweet potatoes (photo by Jérôme Sautret via Wikimedia Commons)

The other day I was eating a yam and wondered where the name “yam” came from.  The Oxford English Dictionary said the word is from West Africa and it’s not the name of the plant I was eating.

True yams are in the Dioscoreaceae family. Native to Africa and Asia, there are many cultivated varieties. Our yams were named by African slaves who saw the resemblance to their yams back home.  A true yam (African type) looks like this.

True yams in Brixton market (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

True yams in Brixton market (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

North America does have native members of the Dioscoreaceae family but we don’t eat them.  Have you ever seen these leaves in the woods, often in a whorl?  Wild yamroot (Dioscorea villosa) is common in western Pennsylvania.

Wild yam leaves (photo by Tim McCormack from Wikimedia Commons)

Wild yamroot leaves (photo by Tim McCormack from Wikimedia Commons)

The yams we eat are Ipomoea batatas.  They’re labeled Yams in the grocery store because of USDA rules.  White inside = “sweet potato.” Orange inside = “yam.”  They’re the same plant.

Should we call them sweet potatoes instead?  Well, that’s not accurate either.  They’re not in the same family as potatoes (Solanaceae family).

The Ipomoea batatas flower gives us a clue to its identity.  What family does this look like?

Ipomoea batatas flower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Ipomoea batatas flower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Yes, our sweet-potato-yam is a member of the morning glory family, Convolvulaceae.

Whatever.

I’ll call it a yam so I can find it in the grocery store.

 

Read more here at the Huffington Post: What’s the difference between sweet potatoes and yams?

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

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Oct 25 2015

Giant Puffball

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Giant puffball mushroom in Schenley Park, 18 Oct 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Giant puffball mushroom, 18 Oct 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

No, that’s not a soccer ball in the woods.  It’s a giant puffball mushroom.

Giant puffballs (Calvatia gigantea) grow within a few weeks to become 4″ to 28″ in diameter.  Really giant ones can be 59 inches across and weigh 44 pounds.

They’re edible while young (white inside), not edible when mature (anything but white inside; turns yellow then greenish-brown), and then they decompose. 

Don’t rush out there and eat one unless you know what you’re doing.  Here’s a video that describes how to identify and cook them.

Notice this mushroom’s size compared to the oak leaves.  I wonder how much larger it will grow.

Giant puffball mushroom in Schenley Park, 18 Oct 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Giant puffball mushroom, 18 Oct 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Close by was an open one, perhaps broken by an animal.  It was still white inside.

Giant puffball, broken open (photo by Kate St. John)

Giant puffball, broken open (photo by Kate St. John)

I’d never seen giant puffballs in the city before but spied these during a long walk in my neighborhood last Sunday.

I left them where I found them.  I’m not so fond of mushrooms that I’d pick and eat wild ones on my own.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

4 responses so far

Oct 21 2015

A Starburst Of …

Published by under Plants,Quiz

What is this?

What is this?

Today, a quiz!  What is this?

Hints:

  • Six of us found these unusual starbursts sticking out of the ground at Wolf Creek Narrows, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania on October 14.
  • The starburst measures 1.25 inches across.
  • The stalk stands a foot tall.
  • There are no leaves on the stalk nor at the base of the stalk.
  • Each tip ends in a shiny black bead. (Some of the beads fell off my specimen.)
  • A Google image search on this photo results in pictures of jewelry:-)

Bonus Question:  What U.S. city is named for this plant?

Leave a comment with your answer.  After you’ve had a chance to vote I’ll post the answer in the Comments.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

7 responses so far

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