I found a ghost flower blooming in Schenley Park last Monday.
Indian pipe (Monotropa uniflora) looks ghostly because it has no chlorophyll. Instead it’s symbiotic or parasitic on fungi that have a symbiotic/parasitic relationship with tree roots. This makes Indian pipe a parasite on a parasite … sort of.
Though it’s a perennial member of the Heath family, Indian pipe only grows when conditions are perfect and these are so impossible to replicate that the plant isn’t cultivated.
Originally from Europe, Western Asia and North Africa the plant is hardy and sometimes invasive. It doesn’t mind growing next to salted roads so it has a lot of habitat in Pittsburgh. This one was growing in a crack in the sidewalk.
When I picked it I didn’t know that the plant is mildly toxic. For some people the leaves cause dermatitis. Fortunately they didn’t affect me.
Scarlet pimpernel is sometimes called poor man’s barometer because the flowers close at night and don’t bother to open on overcast days.
We haven’t had many clouds this summer so you should have no problem finding scarlet pimpernel blooming by a road near you.
Alaska Birding Tour with PIB: at Denali 15 June 2019
Forget-me-nots in Pennsylvania are the Eurasian species, Myosotis scorpiodes, but in Alaska they have a native one. Found in alpine regions of Europe, Asia and North America, the alpine forget-me-not (Myosotis alpestris) is the State Flower of Alaska.
According to Wikipedia, “it grows well throughout Alaska in open, rocky places high in the mountains, flowering in midsummer. It is also found throughout the Himalaya range at elevations of 9,800–14,100 ft.”
Its common English name, Forget-me-not, is a literal translation of its German name: Vergissmeinnicht.
It blooms at Denali in June.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons; click on the caption to see the original)
Even though I don’t grow tomatoes I know a gardening rule of thumb from 40 years ago: “Don’t plant tomatoes outdoors in Pittsburgh until Memorial Day.”
But times have changed. Our growing season is longer than it used to be. USDA’s 2012 Plant Hardiness Zone map has a warm stripe that follows the Monongahela and Ohio valleys.
Neighborhood gardening friends know it, too. They told me, “You can plant tomatoes in mid-May if you want.”
Well, believe it or not I’m not a gardener. When the growing season arrives I spend all my time birding. Around Memorial Day (today) I glance at the garden and think, “Something must be done!” I go out there with my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and identify what’s growing. I pull out only the noxious weeds and leave everything else in place. At least I know king devil when I see it.
Today isn’t tomato planting day at my house, but I might pull a weed or two.
(photo from Wikimedia Commons, map from USDA. Click on the captions to see the originals)
We often forget that garden flowers were originally wildflowers. This is easy to do with tulips because they look so perfect and don’t match any of our wildflowers.
Tulips (Tulipa sp.) are members of the Lily family (Liliaceae) originally from southern Europe and Central Asia. Their nearest relatives are three wildflower genera, shown in the slideshow below.
Erythronium: The leaves are the right shape but the flower faces down. This is the genus of our trout lilies.
Amana: The flower looks like a tiny white tulip but the leaves are too narrow.
Gagea: This mostly Asian genus has thin leaves and more open flowers, least like a tulip.
Erythronium caucasicum, native to central Caucasus and North Iran (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Amana edulis, native to China, Korea, Japan (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
Gagea lutea, native to Eurasia from Spain to Japan (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
None of the tulips’ wild relatives look exactly like a tulip because they’ve been cultivated and crossbred since the 10th century in Persia. In the 1500s, Europeans visiting the Ottoman Empire saw garden tulips and were so impressed that they brought them home. Everyone fell in love with them.
By the 1600s tulips were a luxury item, The Netherlands was the main tulip-producing nation, and the most prized tulips were those with a color “break” of two or more colors, often striped as shown below. (Ironically the “break” was caused by a virus that damaged the tulip.)
In the 1630s the Netherlands developed a futures market on tulip bulbs and set the stage for Tulip Mania, a period of wild speculation in 1636-1637. At the height of Tulip Mania the top price paid for a coveted tulip rose to 10 times the annual income of a skilled craftsman. It’s hard to translate that into today’s dollars, but my guess is $500,000 to $1 million for a single tulip bulb.
The mania ended abruptly when the market collapsed in February 1637.
Tulips went back to the garden and eventually escaped to the wild in western Europe. After all, they used to be wild flowers.
This 7-minute video is a good explanation of Tulip Mania.
(photos and chart from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the captions to see the originals)
In eastern North America, spiral stalks of pleated leaves are often found in wet places where skunk cabbage grows. These pretty leaves are sometimes mistaken for skunk cabbage or wild leeks but a word to the wise: leave them alone. This plant is false hellebore (Veratrum viride) and it is very poisonous.
False hellebore is a member of the lily family that grows in wet meadows, hillside seeps, and along stream banks. It blooms in big greenish-yellow clusters but I’ve never seen its flowers, probably because I only notice the plant in late April when it isn’t blooming.
In fact, lots of people in Appalachia notice false hellebore in the spring because they’re looking for ramps (wild leeks, Allium tricoccum) to eat at home. Those who mistakenly eat false hellebore are in for a very bad time:
Symptoms of false hellebore poisoning include burning sensation in the mouth and throat, excessive salivation, cold sweat, headache, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain and gastrointestinal distress (diarrhea, gas), slow respiration and breathing difficulty, slow and irregular heartbeat, low blood pressure, and spasms or convulsions. If not promptly and effectively treated, false hellebore poisoning can cause general paralysis and even death. It is also known to cause birth defects.
Stinging nettle looks innocent until you touch it.
The stems and leaves are coated with tiny hollow hairs that contain histamines and painful chemicals. When you touch the plant the hairs detach and become needles in your skin. Look closely to see them on the leaf edges and stems below.
Stinging nettle resembles a lot of other nettles so the best way to identify it is to look closely for those tiny hairs. Watch out! … Ow!