Archive for the 'Phenology' Category

Apr 24 2013

April or May Apples?

Maypple single leaf will not have a flower (photo by Kate St. John)

(While we wait for the peregrine eggs to hatch, let’s look at some plants.)

I used to say with confidence that mayapples bloom in May but I got worried last year when they came out in April.

This year I saw two plants blooming in Frick Park on April 17.  I started to worry again, but last weekend’s cold weather put the flowers on hold.  Just to be sure I went out and checked on them.

Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) are perennial plants that grow in colonies in open woods. When they first come up the colonies look like miniature forests of green umbrellas.

Each plant has one or two leaves but only the two-leaved plants have flowers because the flower stalk grows from the Y between the leaves.

Above are two mayapples with single leaves in Schenley Park.  Nice, but they won’t have flowers.

Below, a nascent double-leaf plant shows the flower bud between the leaves.
Mayapple bud and closed leaves (photo by Kate St. John)

 

As the plant grows the umbrellas unfurl with the flower bud between them.
Mayapple double leaves beginning to open (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Then the bud turns its head downward and the flower opens vertically or face down. The leaves are so big and shady that it’s hard to see the flower.

Schenley Park’s mayapples weren’t blooming yet (aha!) so I found a picture of a blooming plant on Wikimedia Commons.  It’s on a hill so the photographer can look up to see the flower.

Mayapple in flower with twin leaves (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

If you really want to see mayapple flowers up close you have to lie on your belly to do it.

I’m sure that’s what Chuck Tague did to get this photo.   I’m leaving the dirty work to him. ;)

Maypple flower closeup (photo by Chuck Tague)

 

A week from today will be May 1. Unless the weather heats up really fast, I think it’s safe to say these will be “May” apples this year.

(leaf and bud photos by Kate St. John. complete flowering plant from Wikimedia Commons. Flower closeup by Chuck Tague.)

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Apr 18 2013

Putting On The Green

Ohio buckeye leafing out (photo by Kate St. John)
This week the trees in Pittsburgh are putting on the green.

The flank of Mt. Washington is my favorite place to see it.  All winter the hillside is a flat brown color without the look of individual trees but now each leafing tree shows up as a pale green crown.  Some are white with flowers.

This appearance is ephemeral.  Soon the leaves will be large and shady and the hillside will look uniformly green.  So now while the trees are changing so fast here’s a close look at what they’ve been up to.

Above, in Schenley Park an Ohio buckeye leafs out.  Below at a later stage the flower buds emerge. (*see the Comments for discussion on this tree)
Ohio buckeye flower buds (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The bitternut hickory is not so quick but its mustard yellow bud has begun a leaf.

Bitternut hickory bud opening (photo by Kate St. John)

 

The pignut hickory’s end bud is furry, shiny and enormous.
Pignut hickory bud (photo by Kate St. John)

 

These catkins look like caterpillars.
(Dark bark, perhaps a sweet birch. Do you know what tree this is?)
Catkins that look like caterpillars (photo by Kate St. John)

 

And the crown jewels are the magnolias, native to Asia.  This is a star magnolia.  Wow!
Star magnolia blooming (photo by Kate St. John)

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Apr 14 2013

Hairy Bittercress

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Hairy bittercress (photo by Kate St. John)

Every spring I’m stumped by this small flower that blooms in lawns, fallow gardens and waste places.  With four petals and alternate “divided” leaves I could tell it’s in the Mustard family.  When I keyed it out in Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide I arrived at Pennsylvania bittercress (Cardamine pensylvanica*).

But that’s not what it is.   It grows too well in poor soil to be a plant known for preferring wet habitats, swamps and stream banks.  I began to suspect it’s an alien.

Based on that hunch I sent photos to friends.  Mark Bowers answered that this is hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), native to Europe and Asia.

Like Pennsylvania bittercress, its young leaves can be used in salads and are said to taste like radishes.

Click here for a video describing what to look for if you’d like to eat it.  Notice the dog at the end.  ;)

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

* Not a typo, the person who classified Cardamine pensylvanica omitted the second ‘n’ in our state’s name.

9 responses so far

Apr 07 2013

First Native Flower

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Snow Trillium at Cedar Creek Park (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Yesterday I wrote about coltsfoot but it’s not the first native wildflower to bloom in western Pennsylvania.  That honor goes to snow trillium (Trillium nivale).

I looked for snow trillium last weekend at Raccoon Creek Wildflower Reserve and found the leaves but the deer had eaten all the flowers.    :(

Dianne and Bob Machesney found these blooming at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County.

Thankfully there are fewer deer at Cedar Creek.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Apr 06 2013

At Last!

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Coltsfoot blooming (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

At last I’ve found coltsfoot blooming.  Spring is officially here.

Coltsfoot is an introduced plant that blooms earlier than most of our native wildflowers.  It’s not picky about habitat so you’ll find these dandelion-like flowers by the side of the road and in waste places.

When you see the flower you won’t see the leaves.  They’re hidden at the base of the plant right now but will grow into large colts’- foot-shaped leaves after the flowers are gone.

Coltsfoot blooming, from the side (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

 

Normally I find coltsfoot blooming around March 25.  In last year’s hot weather it appeared on March 14.  You can see why I’m impatient.

At last!

(photos by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Mar 31 2013

Easter Flowers

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Crocus with honey bee (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

Easter is early, winter is late. Few flowers are blooming in western Pennsylvania.

This weekend my surviving crocuses opened fully to receive a visit from a honeybee. He emerged with pollen pantaloons just like this bee in Marcy Cunkelman’s garden.

The bees are happy to find flowers this Easter Day.

 

(photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

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Mar 25 2013

Spring Moves North 13 Miles A Day

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Tulips blooming in Moscow (photo rom Wikimedia Commons)

Snow again!  We are so ready for spring here in Pittsburgh.

The crocuses bloomed early last week but were slammed shut on Wednesday by a low of 200F.  Daffodil leaves emerged and paused.  Don’t even ask about tulips.

But Spring is south of us and it’s on its way.  There’s a rule of thumb that says Spring moves north 13 miles a day.

Here’s an easy way to watch its progress.

Journey North has a Tulip Test Garden website where observers report when leaves emerge and flowers bloom from the tulip bulbs they planted last fall. Many of the tulip gardens are student projects at elementary schools such as Della Kurtzhals’ class at Clarion Area Elementary School in Clarion, PA.

So how far away is spring?   At Providence Day School in Charlotte, NC the first tulip bloomed on March 18.   Using the rule of thumb, here’s my guess at blooming times in Pittsburgh and Clarion:

  • Pittsburgh is 372 air miles north of Charlotte so I estimate our first tulip will bloom on April 15.
  • Clarion is about 430 miles north of Charlotte so their tulips will probably bloom on April 20.

This is just an estimate. Actual blooming times may vary.  I won’t be charged like Punxsutawney Phil was for “misrepresenting spring.”  (Click here to read about the charges made against him in Hamilton, Ohio.  The comments are hilarious.)

So while your garden is covered in snow, rest assured that spring is moving north.  You can see it approaching on the Tulip Test Garden map.

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons.  Click on the image to see the original)

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Mar 16 2013

Greening Up

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Honeysuckle leaves, 15 Mar 2013 (photo by Kate St. John)

Just in time for St. Patrick’s Day…

The first plant to open leaves in my neighborhood is always the invasive bush honeysuckle across the street.  Though I’m not fond of the species I’m always happy to see these particular bushes green up.  They’re one of my signs of Spring.

Yesterday, March 15, was the first time the leaves were green enough to see at a distance.

A year ago the hot weather put us well beyond honeysuckle leaves and into magnolia flowers by this date.

Here’s a picture from March 16,2012.

Magnolia flower opening, 16 March 2012 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Frankly, I’m quite happy we’re having a normal spring.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Feb 20 2013

Morning Song

Mourning Dove in Urbana, IL (photo by Dori on Wikimedia Commons)

On February mornings, the mourning doves sing songs of love.

The males perch high and puff their throats when they sing.  Though they are slender, they resemble pigeons when they do this.

Coo-OOOO Cooo Cooo Cooo.

Some say they sound like owls but those who think the sound is mournful named this dove.

Click here to hear their mourning morning song.

 

AND A QUIZ!    Identify the other bird singing in the recording.  His song is not normally heard in southwestern PA in the summer.  The mourning dove lives year-round from Maine to Mexico, from Canada to Cuba.  The other bird will give you a hint on the location of the recording.

 

(photo by Dori on Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

6 responses so far

Jan 01 2013

2012: The Year In Review

Nature was busy and interesting in 2012.  The weather was hot, stormy, dry, and sometimes wet. This brought exciting developments in the natural world.

Here’s a month-to-month roundup of my favorite high points with each photo linked to an article about the event.  Some link to my blog, others link to information on the web that I didn’t point out at the time.

 

  • January: Snowy owls were abundant in the northern U.S. into March. (photo by Shawn Collins)
  • February: The warm winter prompted a massive Canada goose migration on February 27 in eastern Pennsylvania, New York State and Ontario. (photo by Chuck Tague)
  • March:  Pittsburgh’s temperatures averaged 11.9 degrees above normal with some days 20 degrees above normal. Spring wildflowers bloomed 4-6 weeks early. (photo by Kate St. John)
  • April: There was a mass migration of Red Admiral butterflies in mid-April. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
  • May: Birds who wintered in the U.S. migrated early but the warblers were right on time. (photo by Bobby Greene)
  • June: A new peregrine family was confirmed at Tarentum, PA when their nestlings appeared on the bridge. (photo by Steve Gosser)
  • July: Drought! (photo from NOAA NWS)
  • August: Every year I count nighthawks passing my home during their August migration.  Every year there are fewer.  Sadly, 2012 was no exception. (photo from Wikimedia Commons)
  • September: Arctic sea ice at its lowest extent ever. (photo from NOAA)
  • October: Hurricane Sandy brings unusual birds to western Pennsylvania. (photo by Jeff McDonald)

  • November: A surprising number of western hummingbirds visit Pennsylvania: rufous, calliope, Allen’s (photo by Scott Kinsey)
  • December: Evening grosbeaks visit Pennsylvania after decades of absence (photo by Marcy Cunkelman)

 

Happy New Year!

 

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