Category Archives: Plants & Fungi

plants & fungi

Seen This Week

Turtleheads blooming in Schenley Park, 3 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

9 September 2023

Seen this week:

Turtleheads and late boneset flowers at Schenley Park. Do you see the honeybee?

Honeybee flies to late boneset, Schenley Park, 4 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

A rainbow with crows over Oakland.

Rainbow over Shadyside on 7 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Fiery sunset on 7 September.

Fiery sunset on 7 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Six deer in Schenley Park — only 5 made it into the photo.

Five of six does in Schenley Park along the Bridle Trail, 4 Sept 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

But there’s a photo of deer I wish I’d been able to take: Friday morning 8 September along 5th Ave between the Cathedral of Learning and Clapp Hall I saw 3 deer — 2 does and 1 fawn — standing on the pavement at Clapp Hall. They were close to the curb of 5th Ave at Tennyson as they tried to figure out how to cross 5th Ave during rush hour.

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Right now there are 2 flamingos in PA in Franklin County east of Chambersburg.

Invasive Beefsteak

Beefsteak plant, Lancaster County, September 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Here’s a pretty plant, an invasive alien, that I’ve not seen in Pittsburgh but is easy to find in Lancaster County, PA where I took this picture.

Beefsteak plant (Perilla frutescens) is a member of the mint family native to Southeast Asia and the Indian highlands and is grown as a crop for Japanese, Korean and Chinese cuisine. Its common names include shiso and Korean perilla. The “beefsteak” name was coined because the darkest varieties have leaves as red as meat. The wild plants I saw in Lancaster County had green leaves and dark red stems.

Perilla frutescens is widely cultivated in Asia as an edible plant but it has downsides including contact dermatitis from touching the leaves and anaphylaxis after consuming a large amount of seeds. Those who cultivate it know what to do but the rest of us should be cautious.

Brought to the U.S. as an ornamental beefsteak plant escaped to the wild and is now invasive in six states from Pennsylvania to Tennessee. The plant is always toxic to cattle, horses and other ruminants including white-tailed deer.

States listing Perilla frutescens as invasive (map from

Since deer don’t eat it, it may have been touted as a “deer resistant” plant at the nursery but don’t buy it! This plant spreads way too easily.

(credits are in the captions with links where applicable)

Yesterday at Schenley Park on 8/27

Schenley Park outing, 27 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

28 August 2023

Yesterday turned into a nice day, but when eight of us met at Schenley Park at 8:30am the temperature was cool with low clouds and the sky was blank gray. Normally the birds would have slept in but the migrants were hungry. We found 22 species.

Best Bird is hard to choose. Was it the belted kingfisher that hunted over Panther Hollow Lake? The ruby-throated hummingbirds that floated among the trees? Or the warblers — Blackburnian, magnolia and chestnut-sided?

Between birds the bugs took center stage. Milkweed bugs swarmed on swamp milkweed pods …

Milkweed bugs on swamp milkweed seed pods, Schenley, 27 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

… and spotted lanternflies sipped on the Ailanthus trees that inspired my blog about sooty mold on honeydew. I was curious: Did the rain wash away the sooty mold? No.

Spotted lanternfly honeydew below an Ailanthus tree is black with sooty mold, Schenley Park, 27 Aug 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Fourteen Canada geese flew over to join the 70 already grazing on Flagstaff Hill. Geese were absent from Flagstaff Hill this summer while they molted their wings feathers and did not return in large numbers until early August.

Here’s our eBird checklist: Schenley Park, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Aug 27, 2022 8:30A – 10:30A

Canada Goose (Branta canadensis) 14
Rock Pigeon (Feral Pigeon) (Columba livia (Feral Pigeon)) 2
Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 9
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) 2
Belted Kingfisher (Megaceryle alcyon) 1
Red-bellied Woodpecker (Melanerpes carolinus) 2
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 5
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 2
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 5
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) 8
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) 7
White-breasted Nuthatch (Sitta carolinensis) 2
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 3
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) 1
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 4
House Finch (Haemorhous mexicanus) 3
Chipping Sparrow (Spizella passerina) 15
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 1
Magnolia Warbler (Setophaga magnolia) 3
Blackburnian Warbler (Setophaga fusca) 2
Chestnut-sided Warbler (Setophaga pensylvanica) 2
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 6

The next outing will be 24 September at 8:30a in Schenley Park at Bartlett Playground.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Seen This Week

Orange jewelweed, Beechwood Nature Center, 16 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

26 August 2023

Well, mostly “this week.” Two photos are older but I didn’t have room for them last time. Here’s a selection spanning 12 days.

  • Orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), above, does well at ASWP’s Beechwood Nature Center but is nearly extirpated from Schenley Park by deer overbrowse.
  • Tiny pink and white flowers of willow-herb (Epilobium sp) at West Penn Park on Polish Hill.
  • Sneezeweed at ASWP’s Beechwood Nature Center. They’ve cultivated many native flowers in the meadows.
  • Porcelain berry leaves have many shapes, even on the same plant. A photo of four shapes.
  • Great lobelia at ASWP’s Beechwood Nature Center.
  • Pink-orange sunrise on 24 August.
Willow-herb, West Penn Park, Polish Hill, 20 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Common sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale), Beechwood Nature Center, 24 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
4 shapes of porcelain berry leaves, Nine Mile Run Trail, Lower Frick, 13 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Great lobelia, Beechwood Nature Center, 24 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Sunrise in Pittsburgh, 24 August 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Shades of Yellow and a Purple Host

Common sunflower closeup, 14 Aug 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

20 August 2023

Someone in my neighborhood planted common sunflower (Helianthus annuus) on the strip of land between the sidewalk and the street. This month it droops over the sidewalk, so tall that I barely have to duck to take this closeup of yellow with a golden cast. Did you know this food plant is native to the Americas?

This woodland sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus), in a sunnier shade of yellow, was identified on the Botanical Society walk last Sunday at the Nine Mile Run Trail. The side of the flower is displayed because the bracts on the back and the bud are important. Click on the image to see a front view of the flower.

Woodland sunflower, Nine Mile Run Trail, 14 Aug 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

This very yellow “pale jewelweed” (Impatiens pallida) is a rarity in Schenley Park. Deer have eaten all the other jewelweed yet this patch thrives. Why? The clue is in middle of this ugly photo.

Do you see the prickly branch of wineberry draped over the jewelweed plant? The entire patch is protected by this invasive thorny plant. The deer cannot approach. (Wineberry stems are circled in purple below.)

Wineberry (circled) drapes over yellow jewelweed in Schenley Park, protecting it from deer, Aug 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

And a Purple Host:

I don’t remember the exact species of tick trefoil seen on the Botanical Society walk but a butterfly confirmed the plant is thriving.

Tick trefoil is the host plant for the silver spotted skipper. This one was sipping on an wet abandoned shirt nearby its host.

Silver spotted skipper sipping on a wet cloth, NMR Trail, 14 Aug 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Horsenettle and Cuckoos: Yesterday at Frick Park

Horse nettle at Frick Park, 30 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

31 July 2023

Yesterday morning’s walk at Frick Park had great weather, lots of participants and good birds.

Members of the Frick Park outing on 30 July 2023 (photo by Joe Fedor who held my phone-camera)

Early in the walk we encountered horsenettle (Solanum carolinense), pictured above, whose flowers are similar to those of its relatives in the Solanaceae or Nightshade family including tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant (called aubergine in the UK). Though it’s not a nettle, its common name refers to the thorns on its leaves. Did you know the leaves smell like potatoes when crushed? Thorns prevent me from trying this. (NOTE: This just in! An article about the edible Nightshades in The Guardian

Best Birds were a very cooperative yellow billed cuckoo and an elusive green heron. The cuckoo posed for us, the green heron zoomed away. Later the heron zoomed in and landed above us near a second green heron. Two!

In the Nine Mile Run valley I marveled at this confluence of a muddy tributary with the main stem of Nine Mile Run. This, in microcosm, is like the confluence of the clear-running Allegheny with the muddy Monongahela River at The Point.

Main stem of Nine Mile Run (clear) is joined by a tributary, 30 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Our eBird checklist is here and shown below.

Frick Park–Nine Mile Run, Allegheny, Pennsylvania, Jul 30, 2023 8:30 AM – 10:30 AM
1.75 miles, 24 species, 17 participants

Mourning Dove (Zenaida macroura) 2
Yellow-billed Cuckoo (Coccyzus americanus) 2 Good looks at one of them
Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica) 2
Ruby-throated Hummingbird (Archilochus colubris) 1
Green Heron (Butorides virescens) 2
Red-tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis) 3
Downy Woodpecker (Dryobates pubescens) 5
Northern Flicker (Colaptes auratus) 1
Red-eyed Vireo (Vireo olivaceus) 3
Blue Jay (Cyanocitta cristata) 5
Carolina Chickadee (Poecile carolinensis) 3
Tufted Titmouse (Baeolophus bicolor) 2 Youngster chasing an adult for food
Carolina Wren (Thryothorus ludovicianus) 3
European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris) 5
Gray Catbird (Dumetella carolinensis) 5
American Robin (Turdus migratorius) 12
American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) 3
Field Sparrow (Spizella pusilla) 1
Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) 7
Baltimore Oriole (Icterus galbula) 4
Common Grackle (Quiscalus quiscula) 2
Scarlet Tanager (Piranga olivacea) 1 Female seen briefly
Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalis) 7
Indigo Bunting (Passerina cyanea) 3

(photos by/for Kate St. John)

Seen at Jennings Last Week

Shrubby St. Johnswort at Jennings, 21 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

29 July 2023

Just over a week ago the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania and Wissahickon Nature Club made their annual visit to Jennings Prairie for late July wildflowers. All of these species and more were seen on Friday 21 July. Shown here are:

This thimbleweed still has petals, Jennings, 21 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Dense blazing star, Jennings, 21 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Yarrow, Jennings, 21 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

This photo of rattlesnake plantain shows the flower buds. Click here or on the photo to see the entire plant with basal leaves.

Rattlesnake plantain in bud, Jennings, 21 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Culver’s root was in bloom at Jennings but too far from the trail for a cellphone photo. I found this one blooming on Thursday in a garden near Dippy the Dinosaur at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. Do you see the bumblebee?

Culver’s root near Dippy statue, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, 27 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

See more photos at the Wissahickon Trip Report and click here for the complete list of species.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Flowers, Trees and Signs This Week

Water beads on wax begonia, 17 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

22 July 2023

Other than a few thunderstorms it’s been a quiet week in Pittsburgh.

At the Cathedral of Learning the garden beds are beautiful with begonias while the peregrines, Carla and Ecco, hang out and finish molting. The pair is no longer courting but sometimes bow together — less than once a day in late July.

Carla (on left) bows with Ecco at the Cathedral of Learning, 20 July 2023 (photo from the National Aviary snapshot camera at Univ of Pittsburgh)

On Thursday I was lucky to find the right mix of sun and shade to show off eastern enchanter’s nightshade’s (Circaea canadensis) bur-like fruits. They are notoriously difficult to photograph.

Enchanter’s nightshade near Herr’s Island, Pittsburgh, 20 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

On 13 July a brief storm blew through Pittsburgh and broke this more than 100 year old London plane tree near Carnegie Library.

London plane tree at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh broken by strong wind on 13 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile spotted lanternfly (SLF) red nymphs are everywhere, soon to become winged adults. I found thousands of them along the Allegheny River Trail near Herr’s Island plus three adults, the first I’ve seen this year. This winged adult probably just emerged from the crumpled exoskeleton above it. Eewwww!

Spotted lanternfly adult near red nymphs on the Three Rivers Rowing Association building, 20 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

A few people along the trail were stamping on the nymphs and might have been recording their victories in the Squishr app (described here by WHYY). However, as Howard Tobias remarked a few weeks ago, “Tramping on spotted lanternflies is like trying to empty the ocean with a spoon.”

Are you upset by the bugs? Go hit the Panic Button at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh in the Main branch Music Department, 2nd floor. This Panic Button, built into a bookcase, used to be part of the old security system but was disconnected decades ago. Press it to your heart’s content. Very satisfying.

The Panic Button at Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

And don’t forget to …

Confirm your paperwork? Or throw it in the bin? at Carnegie Museum, Pittsburgh, 19 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

On a Morning in July

Beaded water on a bug-eaten leaf, Frick Park, 4 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

8 July 2023

This week on Fourth of July morning, the birds were pretty good at Frick Park but the flowers, insects and an amazing mushroom were even better.

Humidity beaded the edge of a leaf while a great spangled fritillary* (Speyeria cybele) fed on butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa). (* see the comments. This might be a different fritillary than what I wrote.)

Great spangled fritillary, Frick Park, 4 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

A spider hid among the wingstem leaves.

Spider hiding on wingstem, Frick Park, 4 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

A Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense) had woven itself through a chainlink fence. Despite its invasive nature, American goldfinches love its seeds.

Canada thistle weaves through a chainlink fence, Frick Park, 4 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

This mushroom certainly caught our attention along the Nine Mile Run Trail. I think it’s a wood ear mushroom, Auricularia species, whose “ears” look like they are made of jelly.

Wood ear fungi, Auricularia species, Frick Park, 4 July 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)

If you know what mushroom this is — or if I’ve misidentified anything — please leave a comment with the answer.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Bees’ Hair Stands on End

Honeybee collecting pollen (a featured picture from Wikimedia Commons)

29 June 2023

When bees visit flowers they collect two kinds of food: nectar for energy and pollen for protein and nutrients. The pollen is food for their larvae in the hive so they carry it home in the pollen sacks on their legs.

Honeybee with full pollen sack (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Filling the pollen sacks requires static electricity, grooming and a bit of nectar to make the pollen clump.

When a bee lands on a flower, the hairs all over the bees’ body attract pollen grains through electrostatic forces. Stiff hairs on their legs enable them to groom the pollen into specialized brushes or pockets on their legs or body, and then carry it back to their nest. 

Michigan State University, MSU Extension: Pollination

Because bee’s hairs are oppositely charged from the flowers, their the hairs stand on end as they approach them …

Common eastern bumblebee, Wisconsin (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

… and this makes it easier to find the flowers in flight. Learn more in this 2016 article:

(photos from Wikimedia Commons; click on the captions to see the originals)