Archive for the 'Plants' Category

Jun 24 2016

Sneaky Orchids

Most flowers offer food to attract pollinators.  Trumpet vine, for instance, provides nectar for hummingbirds who incidentally pick up pollen and transport it to the next flower.

But some orchids have no food to offer.  Instead they look and smell like sexy female insects so the males will attempt to mate with them.  In doing so the orchids’ pollen clumps (pollinia) become stuck to the male insects and are taken to the next flower.

Watch the video above from BBCWorldwide to see how it’s done.

Sneaky orchids!

 

Thanks to Bonnie Isaac, President of the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania, for pointing out this cool video in the Society’s second quarter bulletin.

(video from BBCWorldwide on Youtube)

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Jun 22 2016

Spots Under The Leaf

Published by under Plants

Sporogenesis under the fern leaf (photo by Kate St. John)

Sporogenesis under the fern leaf (photo by Kate St. John)

Ferns look simple.  They don’t have flowers so they must be boring, right?  Not!

Look under the leaves(*) in June and you’ll see spots, called sporangia, that are creating spores for the next generation.  Here’s another example.

Sporangia under fern leaf (photo by Kate St. John)

Sporangia under the fern leaf (photo by Kate St. John)

The spores are single haploid cells with only one set of chromosomes, just like the sperm and eggs of mammals. But the spores don’t “mate” with anything.  Instead the next generation grows directly from the spore.  It’s a small heart-shaped green thing called a prothallus and it’s also haploid.  The prothallus eventually produces sperm and eggs that unite in water to become the next generation, the leafy fronds.

The frond phase is diploid with two sets of chromosomes.  In time, the plant produces sporangia and the process repeats.

Because of this fern “parents” and “kids” look nothing like each other: prothallia, leaves, prothallia, leaves … on and on and on.

Confused? Here’s a video that explains it better than I can.

 

(*) Some ferns, such as sensitive fern, produce spores on parts of the plant that have no leaves. Others, such as hay-scented fern, don’t display their sporangia as openly as those pictured above.  Read more about ferns here.

(photos by Kate St. John, video posted by Gabe Fierro on YouTube)

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May 30 2016

Poppy Day

Published by under Books & Events,Plants

Red poppies (photo from Lest We Forget via Wikimedia Commons)

Red poppies (photo from Lest We Forget via Wikimedia Commons)

It’s Poppy Day.

When I was a child, we wore a red paper flower on a wire stem on Memorial Day. They were offered by Veterans of Foreign Wars to passersby for a donation to help veterans. The paper flowers symbolize the Remembrance Poppy from World War I.

Poppies became a veterans’ symbol thanks to the tireless efforts of Moina Michael, “The Poppy Lady,” who was inspired by the poem In Flanders Fields by John McCrae.  McCrae wrote the poem for a friend who died at the Second Battle of Ypres in Flanders (Belgium) in 1915.  After the battles, poppies bloomed among the graves.

At first her idea did not catch on, but in 1922 the Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) adopted the poppy as their official memorial flower.  That year they distributed paper poppies made in France but in 1924 they brought the program stateside to the first Buddy Poppy factory, located in Pittsburgh and manned by disabled veterans.

Ninety years later the Buddy Poppies are still assembled by disabled and needy veterans at VA Hospitals across the country and Buddy Poppy fund drives focus on Memorial and Veterans Days.   (Watch a video about the VFW Buddy Poppy program here.)

That’s why I think of poppies today.

 

(photo from Lest We Forget via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

p.s. Did you know that growing poppies used to be illegal in the U.S.?  The Opium Poppy Control Act of 1942 was repealed in October 1970 but the law remains ambiguous.

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May 29 2016

A Closer Look At Yarrow

Published by under Plants

Yarrow in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Yarrow in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Clusters of white flowers are blooming in fields and open forests in western Pennsylvania.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a perennial in the Aster family, native to the northern hemisphere.  The genus name, Achillea, refers to the Greek hero who reportedly used yarrow to treat his soldiers’ wounds.  The species name, millefolium, means “a thousand leaves.” Look closely at the tiny feather-like leaves and you’ll see they’re arranged in a spiral on the stem.

Yarrow’s flowers deserve a closer look, too.  The central disk is a cluster of tiny flowers and the petals (rays) are individual flowers with nectar openings where the ray connects to the flower head.

In North America we have both native and introduced species and they hybridize so it’s hard to tell who’s who.

Watch for yarrow blooming this month and into June.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 22 2016

Lady Slippers In A Cage

Published by under Plants

Pink lady's slipper, Ohiopyle State Park, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Pink lady’s slipper, Ohiopyle State Park, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

This flower is in a cage at Ohiopyle State Park.

Pink lady’s slipper (Cypripedium acaule) orchids are found in Pennsylvania, but increasingly rare because deer like to eat them.  The deer bite off the flower, leaving the stem and leaves behind.

Here’s what the entire flower looks like.  Imagine it with a headless stem!

Pink lady's slipper, Ohiopyle State Park, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Pink lady’s slipper, Ohiopyle State Park, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

And here’s how these beautiful flowers are protected: a deer exclosure.  Notice the 10-foot high fence with the yellow X.  The sign explains why the exclosure is necessary.

Deer exclosure at Ohiopyle State Park containing pink lady's slippers, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Deer exclosure at Ohiopyle State Park containing pink lady’s slippers, 18 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Outside the fence I found five lady’s slippers with the chopped off heads.  🙁

We humans are the reason why there are too many deer in Pennsylvania and, so far, we haven’t the will to reduce their population to a sustainable level.

In the meantime we’re putting our most precious wildflowers in cages.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 21 2016

Why Wild Geranium is Called Cranesbill

Published by under Plants

Wild geranium -- a.k.a. cranesbill -- flower and seed pods (photo by Kate St. John)

Wild geranium — a.k.a. cranesbill — flower and seed pods (photo by Kate St. John)

North America’s wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) is also called cranesbill but you have to examine a seed pod to find out how it got the name.

Shown above is a wild geranium flower with some aging seed pods in the background.  Here’s a closeup.

Wild geranium seed pods -- like a crane's bill(photo by Kate St. John)

Wild geranium seed pods, like a crane’s bill(photo by Kate St. John)

Notice that the seed pods look like a crane’s bill. (Click here to see a crane with its bill up like this.)

Ta da!

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 19 2016

Now Blooming: Few-Flowered Valerian

Published by under Plants

Few-flowered valerian at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 17 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

Few-flowered Valerian at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, 17 May 2016 (photo by Kate St. John)

This is a stellar year for Valeriana pauciflora at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve in Beaver County, PA.  Its common name is “Large-flowered Valerian” but its scientific name means “Few-flowered.”  Confusing!

To find this 1.5-3-foot tall wildflower, walk the Jennings Trail between the two Beaver Trail intersections (along the cliff) or visit the spot where Jennings meets Meadow Trail and the creek.   Click here for a map.

Read more about its confusing name in the Throw Back Thursday article below.  Visit the Wildflower Reserve soon to see it.

What-Flowered Valerian

 

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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May 10 2016

A Smell That Reminds Me of Warblers

Published by under Plants

Cypress spurge (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Cypress spurge (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

The smell of this plant reminds me of warblers.

Cypress spurge (Euphorbia cyparissias) is a perennial, 4-31″ tall, with narrow small leaves and green-yellow flowers that bloom from March to September.  It was introduced to the U.S. as an ornamental in the 1860s and often planted in cemeteries where it earned the nickname “graveyard weed.”  Its introduction was a terrible idea for a number of reasons:

  • The entire plant contains a toxic latex that irritates skin and eyes and is poisonous to many animals.  It can be fatal to cattle, though sheep can eat it.
  • It spreads via roots and explosive seed pods. If a farmer plows a field containing a bit of cypress spurge, his equipment will carry cut rootlets to other fields where it will take hold.
  • The plant is very invasive, forming almost pure stands.  It has no enemies in the Western Hemisphere so scientists had to import a few insects that eat it.

Cypress spurge thrives in sandy soil so it’s no surprise that it grows at Presque Isle State Park, crowding out native lupine and puccoon.  During warbler migration its scent is on the wind.  I don’t like the smell but I’ve had so many great birding experiences at Presque Isle in May that my brain automatically thinks of warblers when I smell it.

Fortunately the sick-sweet scent brings back happy memories for me.  For those who mourn a loved one in the presence of graveyard weed, the smell probably makes them sad.

Is there a smell that reminds you of birding?  Here’s an article that explains why smells trigger memories and emotions.

 

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

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May 07 2016

Named For A Dolphin

Published by under Plants

Dwarf larkspur (photo by Kate St.John)

Dwarf larkspur (photo by Kate St.John)

This weekend is a good time to take a wildflower walk in western Pennsylvania.  When you do, you’ll find dwarf larkspur blooming.

I just learned on The Allegheny Front that its scientific name, Delphinium tricorne, comes from the word “dolphin.”

Click here to learn how it got this name and other cool facts on an audio wildflower walk on The Allegheny Front.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 01 2016

Let’s Get Outdoors in May

Golden ragwort (photo by Kate St. John)

Golden ragwort (photo by Kate St. John)

Oh my!  It’s May!

Last month I listed outings for the last week of April and included May 1.  Here’s a big list for the month of May.

Everyone is welcome to participate in these outings. Click on the links for directions, meeting places, what to bring, and phone numbers for the leaders.

2016: Date/Time Focus Location Leader & Link to more info
Sun. May 1, 8:00am All Day! Birds & Flowers Enlow Fork Extravaganza, Washington/Greene Counties Wheeling Creek Watershed Conservancy / BotSocWPA / Ralph Bell Bird Club
Wed. May 4, 8:00am Birds Linbrook Woodlands, Allegheny County Karyn Delaney & Bob Van Newkirk, 3RBC
Fri. May 6, 7:30am Birds Sewickley Park, Allegheny County Sheree Daugherty,  3RBC / Fern Hollow Nature Center
Sat. May 7, 10:00am Flowers Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve, Beaver County Dianne Machesney, BotSocWPA
Sat. May 14, 7:30am Birds Barking Slopes, Allegheny County Todd Hooe, 3RBC Outing is limited to 12 people. See 3RBC link to reserve.
Sat. May 14, 10:00am – 3:00pm Flowers Mountain Maryland Native Plant Festival, New Germany State Park, Garrett County, MD see BotSocWPA website for info
Sat. May 14, 1:00pm Flowers Oil Creek State Park, Venango County Robert Coxe, BotSocWPA
Sun. May 15, time to be announced Flowers Pittsburgh Botanic Garden, Allegheny County BotSocWPA
Sun. May 15, 8:00am Birds Barking Slopes, Allegheny County Todd Hooe, 3RBC Outing is limited to 12 people. See 3RBC link to reserve.
Sat. May 21, 8:00am Birds Harrison Hills, Allegheny County Jim Valimont, 3RBC
Sat. May 21, 8:00am Birds Presque Isle State Park, Erie County Bob Van Newkirk, 3RBC
Sat. May 21, 10:00am Flowers Moraine State Park, Butler County see BotSocWPA website
Sun. May 22, 8:00am Birds Frick Park, Pittsburgh Aidan Place, 3RBC
Sun. May 22, 8:30am Birds & Flowers Schenley Park, Pittsburgh Kate St. John, Outside My Window

 

Don’t miss May’s excitement.

Let’s get outdoors!

 

(photo of golden ragwort by Kate St. John)

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