Category Archives: Phenology

Two Kinds of Bottlebrush

Eastern bottlebrush grass, Schenley Park, 8 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

11 July 2020

This week I found two bottlebrushes in Schenley Park.

Eastern bottlebrush grass (Elymus hystrix) is a native perennial bunchgrass that grows in partial shade, often at the edge of forests. This one was exactly where we should expect it, glowing in the sun by the Bridle Trail.

Meanwhile the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) by Panther Hollow Lake showed off in a last hurrah. They were spectacular from a distance on 9 July but up close the lowest flowers on each spike were faded and brown. Their show is about to end.

Bottlebrush buckeyes at their peak, Schenley Park, 9 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Seen This Week in Schenley Park

Cultivated St. Johnswort at Westinghouse Fountain, Schenley Park, 3 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

There was plenty to see this week in Schenley Park even though the weather was hot.

My best visit was on Thursday morning when my friend Andrea convinced me to come out at 7:30a. I’ve been missing a lot by sitting at my computer until 9am. Best Bird: Louisiana waterthrush! Waterthrushes don’t breed in the park but they stop by in transit before and after breeding.

Best flowers this week include the bright yellow flower (above) near the Westinghouse fountain, a cultivated variety of St. Johnswort (Hypericum).

Teasel (Dipsacus), an invasive alien, has not bloomed yet but the flower buds are visible between the spikes.

Teasel flower buds not yet open, Schenley Park, 2 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is in full bloom.

Yarrow in bloom, Schenley Park, 2 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

And finally the bottlebrush buckeyes (Aesculus parviflora) bloomed this week. On 30 June they were starting from the bottom.

By 3 July they had nearly made it to the top.

Stop by Panther Hollow Lake or the area across the road from the Westinghouse fountain to see the bottlebrush buckeyes.

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Happy Fourth of July!

This Week in Schenley Park

Spotted joe pye weed, flower buds in leaf axils, Schenley Park, 26 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

This week I found buds and bugs in Schenley Park.

Spotted joe pye weed (Eupatorium maculatum), above, has buds in the leaf axils but when it blooms the showy flowers at the top attract all our attention. This year I’ll have to watch for the side flowers as well.

Enchanters nightshade (Circaea canadensis), below, blooms from the bottom up and has plenty of buds yet to open. The lower buds in the photo are on a different branch.

Enchanters nightshade, Schenley Park 21 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Bugs are quite evident now but they are difficult to photograph because they move(!). Below, this silver-spotted skipper (Epargyreus clarus) appeared to be rubbing its abdomen on the bird dropping. Was it ovipositing?

Silver spotted skipper on a bird dropping, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

Aphids are not plentiful this year — yet — but it’s only a matter of time. There’s only one winged adult in this photo but the juveniles will grow up, sprout wings, and fly to other Helianthus plants to reproduce. It won’t be long before I think there are too many.

Aphids on Helianthus stem (photo by Kate St. John)

And finally, some bugs are never seen but we know they were there … as this leaf attests.

Insect damage on a leaf. No insect visible (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Reindeer Are Off The Clock

Reindeer at Svalbard (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

I don’t know about you, but I often check my watch or cellphone to find out what time it is. Do you ever wish that the time of day didn’t matter? It doesn’t matter to reindeer.

Reindeer live in daylight all summer and darkness all winter so they threw out their daily internal clocks a long time ago. Find out how they did it in this vintage article: They’re Off The Clock.

Flowers Last Week

Chickory, Schenley Park, 18 June 2020

21 June 2020

Plants are getting interesting as the next flower season begins in Pittsburgh.

Last week I found chickory (Cichorium intybus) and thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana) blooming in the city and a variety of flowers north of town.

Thimbleweed, Duck Hollow, 19 June 2020

On 17 June six friends and I gathered at Wolf Creek Narrows to bird watch and botanize.

I was hoping to find ramps (Allium tricoccum) in full bloom but we were too early to see the balls of flowers that become these unusual starburst seed pods. Note that the leaves in the background are a different plant. Ramps don’t have leaves when they bloom.

Ramps not yet in full bloom, Wolf Creek Narrows, 17 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

However, partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) and Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) were in full bloom.

Partridgeberry, Wolf Creek Narrows, 17 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Indian cucumber root, Wolf Creek Narrows, 17 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Meanwhile, as you examine the flowers, keep your eyes open for bugs. I found this one on golden alexanders in Schenley Park. Is he piercing that flower to suck the juice?

Insect on golden alexanders, Schenley Park, 13 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Spittlebug Season and Coming Attractions

Spittlebug foam, McConnell’s Mill State Park, 12 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

There are white foam patches on plant stems now in western Pennsylvania that indicate it’s spittlebug season.

Spittlebugs are nymphal froghoppers that suck the juice out of plants and excrete it as a sticky foam to protect themselves from temperature extremes, dessication and predators.

I’ve never seen a spittlebug but I haven’t looked closely. Fortunately Rod Innes’ 2011 video shows what these insects are up to. Way cool!

There are also some coming attractions outdoors.

Mulberries are bearing fruit in western Pennsylvania, attracting birds and smashing on the sidewalk. Read more about them in this vintage article: Mulberries Underfoot.

Mulberry tree in fruit, Magee Field, 18 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Mulberries smashed underfoot, Magee Field, 18 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Schenley Park’s bottlebrush buckeyes are almost ready to bloom as shown below on 11 June. Stop by the park in early July to see the flowers in full glory at two locations: South side of Panther Hollow Lake (left side of lake as seen from Panther Hollow Bridge) and across West Circuit Road from the Westinghouse Fountain.

Bottlebrush buckeye flower buds, Schenley Park, 11 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

When bottlebrush buckeyes bloom they look like this.

Bottlebrush buckeye flower spike, Schenley Park, 6 July 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bottlebrush buckeye flowers, Schenley Park, 6 July 2018 (photo by Kate St. John)
Bottlebrush buckeyes, Schenley Park, 9 July 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Seen This Week

Common cinquefoil, 8 June 2020, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)

13 June 2020

In the past week I’ve found flowers and insects in Schenley Park, on Laurel Mountain, and at McConnell’s Mill State Park. Here are the best of the lot.

Ohio spiderwort, Schenley Park, 11 Jun 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Common wood sorrel, 12 June 2020, McConnell’s Mill State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

At McConnell’s Mill, white baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) bloomed in May and is already forming berries that become dolls eyes in October. I used two photographic techniques on the same plant. The slideshow shows what a difference that makes.

  • Dolls eyes in portrait mode (photo by Kate St. John)

The mosquitoes are out on Laurel Mountain, especially at dusk, but so are the caterpillars. This oak-eating caterpillar took a chunk out of a leaf but will become a tasty snack for a baby bird if the parents find it.

Caterpillar eating oak leaf near Spruce Flats Bog, 8 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Leaves are also food for tiny gall-making insects as seen on this leaf in Schenley Park.

Galls on a leaf in Schenley Park, 5 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

As I said it’s bug season, so be prepared when you visit the woods.

(photos by Kate St. John)

White Flowers

Mock orange blooming, 1 June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Songbird migration is over so I’m paying more attention to flowers even though there aren’t very many in early June. April’s woodland flowers are long past and July’s field flowers aren’t here yet. Even so, I found a few blooms last week in Schenley and Frick Parks.

Above, an ornamental mock orange shrub bloomed along the Lower Panther Hollow Trail in Schenley Park. Below, daisies are blooming at the tiny meadow next to Bartlett Playground.

Daisy near Bartlett Playground, June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

In Frick Park I found cow parsnip (Heracleum maximum) along Lower Nine Mile Run Trail.

Cow parsnip at Frick Park, June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

This native plant can grow 7 feet tall. Here I stand by one at Mingo Creek in 2013.

Because their flowers and leaves are similar, some people mistake cow parsnip for giant hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), an invasive plant from Eurasia that’s so toxic it causes nasty skin rashes if you merely brush against it. Fortunately it’s easy to tell the difference by looking at the stems and leaf joints.

Cow parsnip is all green. (2 photos above)

Giant hogweed has purple blotches on its stem and leaf joints, just like poison hemlock. (2 photos below)

Giant hogweed plant and stem (photos from Wikimedia Commons)

Both plants are so big that you can identify them from afar before getting too close.

Green is good. Purple is bad. The flowers are white on both of them.

(photos by Kate St. John except where noted in the caption which is linked to the originals on Wikimedia Commons)

A Few Plants Seen This Week

Corn speedwell near the road (photo by Kate St. John)

Everything’s green and the leaves are big. Suddenly the woods feel closer, shadier and sometimes dark. This week a just few plants attracted my attention.

Above the alien “weed” corn speedwell (Veronica arvensis) has a delicate beauty when seen at close range. It blooms in fields and rocky places from spring through fall.

Below, a small tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) at Deer Lakes Park has leaves almost larger than the tree itself.

This tuliptree has leaves that seem larger than the tree itself, Deer Lakes Park, 27 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

Black locusts (Robinia pseudoacacia) bloomed in the City of Pittsburgh last week and some have already begun to drop their flowers. This bunch caught the early morning light on Tuesday in Greenfield.

Black locust flowers in Pittsburgh, 26 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Spring Wanes, Summer Begins

Golden alexanders, Schenley, 24 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

26 May 2020

Memorial Day was certainly the official start of summer with a high of 86 degrees F yesterday, 13 degrees above normal. The signs of spring are long gone, replaced by a lot of leaves.

With spring on the wane there are fewer plants to attract attention. Here’s what I’ve seen in Schenley Park, May 10 to 24.

  • Golden alexanders (Zizia aurea), a perennial in the carrot family.
  • Squaw root (Conopholis americana), a non-photosynthesizing parasite on oak roots. This is a banner year for squaw root in Schenley.
  • Columbine (Aquilegia sp.) is mildly toxic to animals, which explains why the deer haven’t eaten it.
  • Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) flowering on May 17. The pawpaws in Schenley grow in single-plant clumps so the flowers are not fertilized and rarely produce fruit.
  • Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) flowering on May 10, also toxic to deer.
Squaw root, Schenley Park, 10 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Columbine, Schenley Park, 24 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Pawpaw flower, Schenley Park, 17 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)
Mayapple flower, Schenley Park, 10 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

This beautiful flower hides under the mayapple’s leaves.

Mayapple blooming, Schenley Park, 10 May 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)