Archive for the 'Phenology' Category

Aug 28 2014

TBT: What to Look for in Early September

Published by under Phenology

Turtleheads (photo by Tim Vechter)

Throw Back Thursday (TBT):

In a few days it will be September.  Plants and animals are changing as fall approaches.  What will we see outdoors in the month ahead?

Phenology is the study of the times when natural phenomena recur.  Back in 2008-2009 Chuck Tague and I collaborated on a year-long phenology series for western Pennsylvania.  His website held much more information than mine but, alas, it disappeared when Apple discontinued web.me.com.  My series remains as a collection at the Western PA Phenology tab at the top of this blog.

What can we expect in early September?  Click here for the phenology forecast.

 

(photo of turtleheads by Tim Vechter)

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Jun 30 2014

Green Flowers

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Flowers of Indian cucumber root, 22 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

It seems odd that a plant would have green flowers but a surprising number do including jack-in-the-pulpit, northern green orchid and ragweed.

In mid-June I found a blooming Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) that I nearly missed because the flowers didn’t stand out.  The top two had already gone to seed and those in bloom were camouflaged in a greenish yellow way.

The bottom whorl of leaves caught my attention.  It’s typically five to nine long leaves (this one had seven) suspended a foot or so above the ground.  Only the blooming plants have the smaller top whorl too.

I tried to take a picture of this arrangement but even my best photo is confusing.  The small flower whorl blends in with a second plant behind it even though the background is beyond the mossy log.

Indian cucumber root, Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, 22 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Having paused to take a photo I knelt down to see the flowers.  This perennial is pollinated by insects, probably flies.  The color green makes sense for flies as they don’t need fancy red, white, yellow or purple to be attracted to the plant.

Indian cucumber root earned its common name when Native Americans taught the settlers that the edible root smells and tastes like cucumber. People still dig and eat it today, thereby destroying the plant.  It’s endangered in Illinois and Florida.

Though not threatened in Pennsylvania, I won’t say the exact location of this flower.  Only that I found it in the Laurel Highlands, an area encompassing 3,000 square miles.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 30 2014

April Showers Bring…

Published by under Phenology,Plants,Trees

Great chickweed (photo by Kate St. John)

While it feels like it’s been raining forever, last weekend’s weather was sunny and so were the flowers. Here’s a selection I found at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve and Friendship Hill National Historic Site on Saturday and Sunday.

Above, a very close look at Great Chickweed (Stellaria pubera), also called Star Chickweed.  The flower is only 1/2″ across and it has only five petals but they’re so deeply cleft that they look like ten.

Below, inch-long Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) in bloom at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve.  I love how they change color as they open.

Virginia Bluebells (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Toad Trillium or Toadshade (Trillium sessile) is rarely seen from this angle because the plant is only four inches tall.  (I got muddy taking this picture.)  The dark, closed petals look boring from above but graceful from the side.  Perhaps they open like this so the pollen can disperse more easily.  It’s dusting the leaf at front left.
Sessile trillium (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Today’s April showers will bring May flowers. It’s hard to believe that May begins tomorrow.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 28 2014

The Trees Take On Color

Published by under Phenology,Trees

Redbuds in bud, 18 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Last week Pittsburgh’s trees took on color and shape after a long brown winter.

A week ago the redbud trees had closed pink buds that made their branches look magenta from a distance.

Now the flowers are open and the trees are lighter pink.
Redbud flowers open, late April 2013 (photo by Kate St.John)

 

Meanwhile the hillsides have changed from uniform winter brown to individual, spring-green trees as seen from Downtown on Saturday.
Spring green trees in Mt. Washington, Pittsburgh (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The earliest colors are usually pale green flowers.

If you haven’t been paying attention, your nose knows the trees are blooming.  Welcome to pollen season.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 13 2014

Flowering Trees

Published by under Phenology,Trees

Red maple flowers, 10 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is getting a boost on this warm and sunny weekend but we still don’t have blooming cherry trees, dogwoods or hawthorns.  If you look closely, though, you’ll see one native tree has small red flowers.

Shown above are the male flowers on a red maple.  The sepals and petals are only half as long as the stamens that stick out to catch the wind or tap the backs of bees. The flowers are a favorite with bees but red maples are so versatile they can be pollinated by both insects and wind.

Individual red maple trees can have all male, all female, or both sexes of flowers.  The female flowers have no “fuzz” because they have no stamens (of course).

Look closely to see the tiny flowers.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Mar 23 2014

A Brief Appearance

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Crocuses blooming at Phipps outdoor garden, 22 Mar2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

At last the crocuses are (or rather… were) blooming in Pittsburgh, though not in my yard.

Yesterday was a sunny and breezy day with a high of 50F.  I took a long walk in Schenley Park and found nothing blooming except a small selection of snowdrops and crocuses at Phipps Conservatory’s outdoor garden.

Today it has already snowed a little, tonight will be 15F and the cold will continue through Tuesday so these flowers won’t last.

If you want to see spring in all its glory visit the Spring Flower Show, indoors at Phipps Conservatory.  Theirs are the only flowers that have put in more than a brief appearance.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Mar 06 2014

Slow Spring …

Published by under Phenology

No crocuses yet (photo by Kate St. John)
At this point in March the crocuses should be sprouting leaves and about to bloom in Pittsburgh.

Crocuses in the city typically open around March 11, a date I’m aware of because I blog about them every year.  Here’s when they’ve bloomed in Schenley Park since 2009:

Do you think the crocuses will open by March 11 this year?  No.  :(

We aren’t alone in having a slow spring.  Watch the delayed wave of blooming tulips on Journey North’s Tulip tracking site.

 

(photo by Kate St.John)

p.s.  Found these tiny crocus leaves popping up at CMU this morning.  I don’t think they’ll have flowers in less than a week.

Crocus leaves at CMU, 6 Mar 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

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Feb 24 2014

Maples, Midges And Mammals

Icy trail in Schenley Park, 22 Feb 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Spring is coming, slowly but surely.  Last weekend I took a walk in Schenley Park to see what was up.

On Saturday morning the snow was gone from the sidewalks and woods but Schenley’s gravel trails were sheets of ice.  I wore my ice cleats so I was able enjoy the sights without having to focus on my feet.  Three signs of spring attracted my attention: maples, midges and mammals.

The red maple branches look thick now because their buds are swelling …
Red maple buds, swollen in spring (photo by Kate St. John)

… and the sap is running.  I found a big hackberry whose sap was running so fast that it poured out of a limb wound and ran down the trunk in a rippling stream.  Warm days and cold nights are maple sugaring time.

Small, brown flying insects caught my eye.  Like the “flies” fisherman use to lure trout to the hook they’re impossible to identify and photograph, so I call them midges.  Their hatch in February won’t be eaten by warblers.

The mammals were active too, especially Schenley’s growing herd of the deer.   Hidden in plain sight I saw four deer browsing on saplings they hadn’t been able to reach under snow cover.  I whistled to attract their attention and three perked up their ears.

Deer in Schenley park, 222 Feb 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

As usual I’m always surprised when my “Warm Day” February photographs look so brown.  The woods aren’t green yet but that’s just as well.  By mid-week the lows will be 8-10oF.

Maples, midges and mammals will wait a little longer for spring.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jan 22 2014

Turning Blue

Ruddy ducks at Conneaut Lake, PA in January (photo by Shawn Collins)

These ruddy ducks that Shawn Collins photographed last weekend look so brown and bland you might wonder why they’re called “ruddy.”

Right now they’re wearing their boring basic (winter) plumage but the bird at left shows a hint that spring is coming.  His bill is turning blue.

During the breeding season male ruddy ducks have sky blue bills, ruddy body feathers and very black heads.  They swim with their tails cocked and their head and neck feathers raised, the better to show off the bubbling display to the ladies … like this:

Male ruddy duck in breeding plumage (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

Watch for male ruddy ducks to complete this transformation.

You’ll know it’s spring when they have blue bills.

 

(photo of two ruddy ducks in basic plumage by Shawn Collins.  photo of single ruddy duck in breeding plumage from Wikimedia Commons — click on the image to see the original)

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Jan 02 2014

Beautiful Birds, 2013

What were your favorite birds of 2013?

If you’re from western Pennsylvania or northeastern Ohio, Steve Gosser’s six-minute video of favorites is likely to include a few of your own.

From the very public fight between a red-tailed hawk and a bald eagle to the elusive Virginia rail, Steve photographed all of them within a two-hour drive of Pittsburgh.

Beautiful!

(photos and video by Steve Gosser)

 

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