Fleabane has a daily exercise regimen that responds to light.
At sunset Philadelphia fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) and daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) close their ray petals and bow their heads. In the morning they raise their heads and open their petals, ready for insect pollination.
The process is called nyctinasty and is controlled by their circadian clocks.
Learn more about their exercise program and how to identify daisy and Philadelphia fleabane in this vintage article: The Bane of Fleas.
Indian tobacco is a poisonous plant unrelated to cultivated tobacco yet it has the same name. What’s the difference?
Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata) is native to eastern North America with tiny blue flowers on a plant six inches to three feet tall. The flowers are so small you might not notice them among the plant’s rumpled leaves. The one pictured above is blooming this week in Moraine State Park.
The plant’s alternate name is “puke weed” for good reason.
This acrid poisonous annual is found in a variety of sites, often in poor soil. The American Indians were said to have smoked and chewed its leaves; hence the common name. Though once used as an emetic, the root should not be eaten, for if taken in quantity it can be fatal.
Both tobaccos are poisonous but in different ways.
Indian tobacco contains multiple alkaloid compounds that are poisonous if ingested. A member of the family Campanulaceae, it is related to bellflowers, not related to real tobacco. You can be poisoned by Indian tobacco if you swallow it.
Cultivated tobacco (Nicotiana tabacum) is a hybrid of two or three wild tobaccos native to the Andes Mountains of Bolivia and Argentina. It’s in Family Solanaceae and related to tomatoes, potatoes, and some very poisonous plants including Datura. You can see that the tobacco flower is quite different from the Indian tobacco flower.
Tobacco is poisonous because it contains nicotine which can hurt you in a number of ways. Did you know it be absorbed through the skin? Tobacco workers must wear gloves, long sleeve shirts, long pants and water-resistant clothing to prevent nicotine poisoning that causes nausea and vomiting and can lead to heat stroke.
In a choice between the two tobaccos I’d rather deal with the Lobelia.
(photos by Kate St. John and from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)
In late July field flowers bloom while others develop seeds.
The photo at top of oxeye or false sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides) was supposed to be a documentation photo so I could study the leaves. Can you find the milkweed bug on one of the flowers?
Blue vervain (Verbena hastata) is blooming at Presque Isle State Park where I took this photo on Wednesday. Vervain flowers are so small that the plant looks boring from afar. It is well worth a closer look.
On Thursday Charity Kheshgi and I explored the grassland top of the slag heap at Nine Mile Run. In one area the slag is so porous that rainwater percolates straight though it, creating a desert habitat. Nonetheless we found a vibrant orange butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) in bloom.
Namesake plant: Dwarf St. John’s wort (Hypericum mutilum) is native to North America.
Seeds! Redbud trees (Cercis canadensis) in the city parks have a bumper crop of seed pods this year.
The weather came out of the northwest bringing cooler temperatures on Tuesday and Wednesday and smoke from the Canadian wildfires more than 1,000 miles away. Even when the air quality was bad this week I went outdoors. Perhaps I was fooled that it was OK since it didn’t have that sulfur smell typical of Pittsburgh pollution.
This week I went further afield than Schenley Park. Here are highlights from Frick, Schenley, Aspinwall Riverfront Park and Moraine State Park. The captions tell the story.
Common mullein (Verbascum thapsus) has small flowers that we rarely see up close because they bloom on a six foot spike.
We definitely notice the spike. And then the rest of the plant.
Meanwhile, my namesake plant is still blooming. This one was at Moraine State Park.
Pittsburgh’s weather fluctuated this week from pleasant to oppressively humid. Always late to get outdoors, I missed the best part of each day. The flowers were open but the birds were hiding at:
Duck Hollow and Lower Nine Mile Run on 3 July. 73 degrees, a pleasant day!
Montour Trail on 5 July. 85 degrees in the shade, cooler in Enlow Tunnel.
Three Rivers Heritage Trail on the South Side on 6 July. Almost 90 degrees and very sunny.
I was dripping with sweat on 6 July when I found this namesake plant, St. John’s wort (Hypericum prolificum), pushing up from a crack in the sidewalk. What a hardy plant standing tall on a hot day. I wilted after 30 minutes in the sun.
As June turned into July I found yarrow (Achillea millefolium) blooming an unusual pink in Schenley Park.
Daisy fleabane (Erigeron annuus) flowers close at night and reopen in the morning. I caught these petals in the act at Frick Park on the last day of June.
Sulphur cinquefoil (Potentilla recta) turned its face to the sun at Piney Tract on 23 June.
Blooming now in Schenley Park, bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) opens its flowers from the bottom up.
The word bladder has unpleasant connotations but also describes anything both inflated and hollow. The bladdernut tree (Staphylea trifolia) has inflated and hollow seed pods, seen yesterday at Frick Park.
And on the subject of bladders, bladder campion’s (Silene vulgaris) pink, inflated flowers drew our attention at Piney Tract on 23 June. Thanks to Barb Griffith for the photo.
Two species in this list are not native to North America. Can you name which ones?
July is the month for bugs and field flowers and late nesting birds — for milkweed and scissor-grinder cicadas.
Among the milkweeds my favorite is swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) for its vibrant pink color and more delicate leaves. Insects like it, too.
July is also when the first scissor-grinder cicadas (Neotibicen pruinosus) appear (in my neighborhood, first heard on 3 July 2021). Their whirring drone is said to resemble the sound of scissors being ground or sharpened, but who among us has heard that manufacturing sound? Scissor-grinders are more common than the sound they were named for.
Below, this sprig of bedstraw (Galium sp) has almost finished blooming with just one flower and many seeds. The plant feels sticky because its stems, leaves, and seed pods are all covered in tiny hooked bristles that act like Velcro.
In Schenley Park the tulip trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) have finished blooming, the “tulips” are fading and dropping their petals.
As birdsong wanes the bugs are taking over the soundscape. I’ve already heard the first crickets and an unknown-to-me insect that buzzes at 5,000 hertz in Schenley Park.
And who is this? None of us could name him yesterday at Moraine State Park. Can you identify this hunched insect with bright orange antenna tips? If so, please leave a comment.