In its first year of life, the plant is a basal rosette of velvety blue-green leaves, 4-16 inches long.
In its second year the rosette sprouts a flower spike, blooms in the summer, sets seed, and then dies.
Here it is in the spring of its second year. The basal rosette is beginning to flower.
And here's a closeup of the flowers:
Though common mullein only reproduces by seed it's very good at doing it. Each plant produces 100,000 to 180,000 seeds that are dispersed by wind or animals. If the seeds don't land in a hospitable place, no problem. They're viable for 100 years!
Because it only spreads by seed, this plant can be eradicated by hand pulling before the seed sets, then bagging it and disposing of it. Unfortunately, it's too late in the season to do that now and other methods, such as poison, will only spread its seeds when the plant falls.
We'll just have to enjoy its flowers and wait until next year.
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.
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.
Their species name, deltoides, describes the leaf shape that looks a lot like aspens. Both trees are in the willow family.
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.)
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!
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)
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.
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)
It's a busy week for trees in southwestern Pennsylvania as they open flowers and unfurl new leaves.
In Schenley Park the trees are flowering everywhere, from insect pollinated redbuds (pink above) to wind pollinated sugar maples (yellow at top) and hophornbeams (below).
Last weekend it was so dry that pollen coated my car and made my throat and eyes itch ... and this was before the oaks had bloomed! (Pollen note: Both oaks and pines are wind pollinated. Southwestern PA has an oak-hickory forest with few pines.)
Other busy trees include the bursting buds of hawthorns and hickories. ...
... and new leaves on Ohio buckeyes.
The city is a heat island so Schenley Park's trees are ahead of the surrounding area. Our red oak buds burst yesterday so you can expect several busy weeks ahead for trees in southwestern Pennsylvania.
The ground has thawed, the shad are running, and across the hillsides there's white lace among bare trees.
Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is one of the first wild trees to bloom in eastern North America. At 30 feet tall with smooth gray bark, it opens its curly white flowers in early spring. The tree stands out against the gray backdrop of the hills in April but we don't notice it in summer. The birds do, though, because its reddish-purple berries are a favorite food.
Serviceberries have a wealth of common names. On the eastern seaboard they bloom when a special fish, the American shad (Alosa sapidissima), swims upstream to spawn. In that region it's called a shadbush.
In Appalachia the serviceberries bloom when the ground has thawed enough to bury the dead and hold a funeral service. Where the word service is pronounced "sarvis," it's called a sarvisberry.
Though they're members of the Rose family and have perfect flowers (containing both male and female parts) serviceberries can reproduce asexually and they hybridize freely, crossing and back crossing until it takes an expert to identify them. Even then there are disagreements. David Sibley's Guide to Trees points out that the number of species has ranged from 3 to 25; pegged at 16 when the book was published. Downy serviceberry is one of them.
In Schenley Park I was able to reach a low branch and photograph the flowers. This specimen is a cultivated variety, recently planted, so I can't identify it for sure.
But it can show you why one species has the downy name.
Downy serviceberry refers to the soft hairs on the back of its young leaves. The hairs disappear as the leaves get older.