Coltsfoot blooming in Schenley Park, 18 and 24 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Spring is early, as expected, so I wasn’t surprised to find leaves unfurling in Schenley Park last week. Here are a few highlights from my walks in the past nine days.
Above, coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara) began blooming on March 7 and was still flowering when I passed by on March 24.
Below, Ohio buckeyes (Aesculus glabra) are one of the first trees to leaf out in Schenley Park. These leaves picked up fluff from other trees whose flower parts had blown away, perhaps a wind dispersal strategy. The buckeye makes flowers that attract bees.
Ohio buckeye leaves unfurl, 24 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) began blooming March 10 and will continue for many weeks. Its flower has a spotted lip that says, “Land here, little insect.”
Purple deadnettle blooming, Schenley Park 18 and 24 March 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)
The weather’s been mild so get outdoors soon. Don’t miss our early Spring.
(photos by Kate St. John)
Shamrock (image from Wikimedia Commons)
We’re seeing a lot of shamrocks today because they’re a symbol of St. Patrick and the national emblem of Ireland.
The shamrock looks like a clover leaf and that got me wondering … Which clover is the real shamrock?
According to Wikipedia, the answer goes so far back in history that no one is sure. Some botanists claimed it was a clover species (Trifolium sp.), others said wood sorrel (Oxalis acetosella). The best answers came from the Irish themselves.
Two surveys were conducted in Ireland about 100 years apart, in 1893 and 1988, asking for the identity of the shamrock plant. About 50% of the respondents said it was lesser clover (Trifolium dubium), shown below. Imported to North America, we call it “least hop clover.”
Lesser (or Least Hop) Clover, Trifolium dubium (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
About 30% of respondents voted for white clover (Trifolium repens) as the true shamrock. This is the familiar clover found in traditional lawns (those not treated with broadleaf weed killer).
White clover, Trifolium repens (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Don’t be fooled by four-leaf clovers. They aren’t real shamrocks because …
St. Patrick used the shamrock’s 3 leaflets to illustrate the Trinity — Father, Son and Holy Ghost — and thus convert the Irish to Christianity.
So celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a three-leaf clover: least hop or white.
(photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)
Garlic mustard in winter (photo by Kate St. John)
I should be excited to see green leaves poking up in the woods but these are bad ones.
Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is a biennial alien invasive. It turns green early because it’s out of synch with our seasons — and that gives it a growing advantage over many native plants. Read more here about its invasive ways.
The only place I know of in western Pennsylvania that has no garlic mustard is Duff Park in Murrysville, thanks to the vigilance and activism of Pia van de Venne. Over the years she has pulled out tons of garlic mustard, trained countless volunteers in invasive plant eradication, and placed signs at every park entrance that describe garlic mustard and urge folks to pull it up.
Everywhere else, these leaves are our first sign of spring. 🙁
(photo by Kate St. John)
Comparing Palms: Scrub Palmetto, Saw Palmetto, Sabal Palm (illustration by Chuck Tague)
Until last Thursday I thought these palms were hard to identify. On our visit to Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge, Chuck Tague explained that if you look at the stem and arrangement of fronds it’s easy to tell the difference between these three Florida natives.
Scrub palmetto’s (Sabal etonia) fronds all grow from the tip of the stem in a palmate fan — the way your fingers branch out from your palm. It never stands up like a tree because its trunk usually remains underground. We saw a Florida scrub-jay perched on scrub palmetto at Scrub Ridge Trail.
Saw palmetto’s (Serenoa repens) fronds are also palmate but the stem is serrated, giving the “saw” in its name. This one doesn’t stand up either. Its trunk lies on the ground or just below the soil.
Sabal palm’s (Sabal palmetto) fronds are pinnate, sprouting on two sides of the stem instead of from the tip. These palms are upright and become trees up to 65 feet tall — the state trees of Florida and South Carolina.
Look closely at the fronds and stems and you can read the palms.
p.s. Did you know these fallen-off stems are called boots? People sometimes trim them off but they should be left on the trunk to support the tree.
“Boots” on a sabal palm (photo by Chuck Tague)
(photos by Chuck Tague)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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)
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)
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)
And here’s the flower. I forced this one open.
Unknown flower (photo by Kate St. John)
One more look at a dense mat of it.
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.
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)
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.
(image from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)