Category Archives: Phenology

Seen This Week

Honewort at Conemaugh Trail, Indiana County, 20 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

25 June 2022

This week was pleasant, then hot, and always buggy in the woods. A few flowers were blooming and berries are ripening.

  • Honewort’s (Cryptotaenia canadensis) tiny flowers are blooming in both Washington and Indiana Counties. The plant at top was along the Conemaugh Trail, site of the lone and rare Swainson’s warbler which was heard but not seen. More mosquitoes than flowers.
  • Forget-me-not (Myosotis sp.)
  • A rock made of sand and swamp lines. Since this is a landscaping rock I doubt it originated in Schenley Park where I found it.
  • Indian hemp / dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) is blooming in Frick Park.
  • White mulberries (Morus alba) are ripe and ready to eat.
Forget-me-not, Conemaugh Trail, 20 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Click on the image below to see a photo of the entire rock.

A rock made of sand and swamp lines, Schenley Park, 24 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Indian hemp in bloom, Frick Park, 23 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Click on the fruit photo below to see the branch where this mulberry came from in Frick Park.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Revisiting Cow Parsnip

Kate stands next to cow parsnip at Mingo Creek County Park, 1 June 2013 and 18 June 2022 (photos by Dianne Machesney)

23 June 2022

Last Saturday the Wissahickon Nature Club celebrated its 80th Anniversary with a picnic at Mingo Creek County Park. We always come early and take a hike before lunch, the same hike every time.

As we walked the trail we encountered cow parsnip whose identity I had forgotten yet again. When Dianne Machesney reminded me of its name I remembered blogging about it after another Wissahickon picnic. When was that? 2013!

In the two photos above I am standing next to cow parsnip at Mingo Creek on 1 June 2013 (left) and 18 June 2022 (right).

I have aged in nine years but some things are the same. I’m still using the same binoculars and walking stick and I’m wearing the same pants and shirt, unseen under the jackets. (My hiking clothes are rugged.)

This year’s cow parsnip is shorter than the one we found nine years ago and it has gone to seed, perhaps because we came 2.5 weeks later or because climate change has advanced it.

Learn about cow parsnip, including a lively discussion about its downsides. And no, cow parsnip is not the same at giant hogweed!

See more photos and our list of sightings at Wissahickon Nature Club: Trip Report Mingo Creek County Park June 18, 2022

(both photos by Dianne Machesney)

A Few Flowers Last Week

Chicory with fly, Schenley Park, 15 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

19 June 2022

Wildflowers bloom in two spurts in southwestern Pennsylvania: Woodland wildflowers in April before leaf out, “field” flowers in July-August after the solstice.

May and June are practically flowerless except for a few non-natives blooming in Schenley Park last week. Some are invasive. They thrive because deer don’t eat them.

Greater celandine already going to seed, 15 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Canada thistle going to seed, Schenley Park, 15 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Goutweed, Schenley Park, 15 June 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Blooming on Laurel Mountain

Buttercups on Laurel Mountain, 30 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

31 May 2022

Yesterday I went birding with friends on Laurel Mountain near Spruce Flats Bog. The top of the mountain is always colder than Pittsburgh so the wildflowers bloom later or are specialists for the mountain’s climate zone. Here’s what was blooming on Memorial Day.

A patch of buttercups glowed in the sun while dwarf ginseng (Panax trifolius) bloomed in the shade, viewed from above and side.

Dwarf ginseng, 30 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Dwarf ginseng, 30 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Canada may-lily (Maianthemum canadense) is a native plant just 2-6″ tall that resembles lily-of-the-valley. A tiny spider draped this one in sticky filaments.

Canada mayflower, 30 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Lycopodium or tree groundpine is another “living fossil” that does not bloom as a flower. Instead it reproduces asexually via spores from the strobilis (cone) or sexually via underground gametes. The strobilis on this one is past its prime.

Lycopodium is about 410 million years old and thrived with horsetails in the Carboniferous era.

Lycopodium, 30 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Seen This Week, May 14-20

Just banded: female red-winged blackbird in hand, Frick Park, 14 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

21 May 2022

Seen this week in Schenley and Frick Parks:

At top, bird bander David Yeany holds a recently banded female red-winged blackbird at Frick Park on Migratory Bird Day, 14 May 2022.

On 17 May we looked for warblers along Nine Mile Run’s boardwalk and found many black walnut flowers fallen on the railing.

Old flower from black walnut, 17 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

I would have brushed this one away until I saw an insect hiding on it. Do you see the juicy caterpillar, below? This is warbler food!

Warbler food! on an old black walnut flower, 17 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

In Schenley Park a carpenter ant examined fading pawpaw flowers that smell like rotten meat, if they smell at all. No rotting meat here. She left.

An ant leaves after exploring fading flowers on a pawpaw tree, 13 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Mystery flower of the week was a non-native with thin basal leaves found blooming in the woods in Frick Park. How did star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum sp.), a native of southern Europe and southern Africa, get into the woods? Is it invading?

Star of Bethlehem blooming in the woods at Frick Park, 14 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

What Tree Is This?

Hosechestnut in flower (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

19 May 2022

Trees with stacks of white flowers are drawing our attention this week in Pittsburgh. Perhaps you’re wondering “What tree is this? “

Horsechestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) originated in Greece but have been planted around the world for their beautiful flowers. When fertilized the flowers become the familiar shiny buckeyes I played with as a child.

Fruit of the horsechestnut (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

In Pittsburgh we call the tree a “buckeye” though it is just one of many buckeyes (Aesculus) in our area including natives of North America: yellow, Ohio, and bottlebrush.

A close look at horsechestnut flowers reveals that some have yellow centers, others red.

Closeup of horsechestnut flowers (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Bees see and are attracted to yellow, not red, so when a horsechestnut flower is fertilized it turns red. The flowers are …

Are there red flowers on the tree? Come back in early fall to collect the buckeyes.

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

Seen Last Week

An abundance of the plant formerly known as squaw root, Schenley Park, 5 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

8 May 2022

The first week of May was full of new flowers, leaves, birds and insects. Here are just a few of many sightings.

The ground in Schenley Park is dotted with abundant clusters of cream colored leafless flowers poking up like corn cobs beneath the oaks. Conopholis americana is a parasite on oak roots so we never see the plant itself, only the flowers. Fortunately it doesn’t harm the trees.

Formerly known as squaw root, Conopholis americana has many alternate common names. The accepted name now is “American cancer-root” but that sounds scary and can be misleading. I prefer “bear corn” because it looks like a corn cob and bears do eat it.

While the bear cone bloomed below them, the oaks flowered and leafed out above. This drew in migrating birds to eat the insects that hatch among the leaves.

Red oak flowers and new leaves, Schenley Park, 5 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

May’s tiny green caterpillars are too small for me to photograph but here’s what they look like in June, munching on an oak leaf. This is warbler food!

Caterpillar on oak leaf, June 2020 (photo by Kate St. John)

At mid level in Schenley Park the pawpaws (Asimina triloba) opened their bell-like flowers.

Pawpaw in bloom, Schenley Park, 5 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

And Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) bloomed in Frick Park.

Jack-in-the-pulpit, Frick Park, 2 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Some new leaves are not benign. Poison ivy is leafing out. Beware! Learn how to ID it at Poison-ivy.org.

Poison ivy leafing out, Frick Park, 2 May 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Now Blooming

Redbud blooming in Frick Park, 28 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

30 April 2022

Thursday morning’s freezing temperature did not affect the redbud trees in Frick Park. I hope it didn’t harm the wildflowers we saw on Wednesday at Enlow Fork in Greene County.

Check the captions for what’s blooming now.

Wild blue phlox, Enlow Fork, 27 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Squirrel corn, Enlow Fork, 27 April 2023 (photo by Kate St. John)
Dwarf larkspur, Enlow Fork, 27 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Corn salad, Enlow Fork, 27 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Blue-eyed Mary, Enlow Fork, 27 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

Now Blooming!

Trout lilies at Raccoon Creek State Park Wildflower Reserve, 22 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

23 April 2022

Woodland wildflowers are putting on a show right now in southwestern Pennsylvania. Here are just a few of the beauties we saw yesterday at Raccoon Creek State Park Wildflower Reserve.

Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum), above, are at their peak. Look closely and you’ll find a few of the less common white trout lily (Erythronium albidum), below.

See the captions for the rest of the flowers.

White trout lily, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 22 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Early saxifrage, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 22 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Mud splattered! Large-flower trillium, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 22 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Sessile trillium, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 22 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Smooth rock cress, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 22 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Wild geranium, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 22 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Blue violets, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 22 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

This weekend’s sunny hot weather will put these flowers past their prime soon. It’s time to get outdoors!

p.s. If you go to Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, wear boots! It is very, very muddy.

(photos by Kate St. John)

Blooming Right Now

Harbinger of spring, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 15 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

16 April 2022

Yesterday’s warm and sunny weather brought out woodland flowers that were waiting bloom. I found a good selection at Raccoon Creek State Park Wildflower Reserve in Beaver County, PA.

Four flowers were at their peak:

  • Harbinger of spring (Erigenia bulbosa), only 5-15 cm (2-6″) tall, is one of the first to bloom.
Spring beauty, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 15 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
  • Chickweed (Stellaria sp.) was a puzzle without my Newcomb’s Guide. Which one is this? To me the petals look too long for common chickweed, too short for great/star chickweed but the lower leaves have long stalks which says “common” to me.
Chickweed, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 15 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Trout lilies, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 15 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Other plants had one or two representatives while the rest waited to flower soon:

Cutleaf toothwort, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 15 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
  • Small-flowered crowfoot (Ranunculus micranthus), with leaves shaped like crows’ feet, is a member of the Buttercup family. Its small flower can be inconspicuous.
Small-flower crowfoot, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 15 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Dutchman’s breeches, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 15 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)
Virginia bluebells, Raccoon Wildflower Reserve, 15 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

Unfortunately yesterday’s gusty winds presaged today’s rain and colder temperatures for the week ahead. (Snow in the sky on Tuesday?!) The flowers at Raccoon may be delayed again.

Meanwhile weeds will not be phased by the change in weather. Look at the sidewalk’s edge to find bird’s-eye speedwell (Veronica persica), a native of Eurasia. I found this one near the feeders at Frick Park. Bird’s eye indeed!

Bird’s eye speedwell, Frick Park, 13 April 2022 (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)