Archive for the 'Plants' Category

Nov 28 2014

Why They’re Here

Published by under Plants

Honesty pods, Chinese lanterns and Oriental bittersweet (photo by Kate St. John)

Though this arrangement reminds us of autumn’s beauty, none of the plants are from North America.

  • The translucent Silver Dollars are the seed pod remnants of Lunaria annua, a flower native to the Balkans and southwest Asia.
  • The orange Chinese Lanterns are the papery fruit containers of Physalis alkekengi, a plant native to southern Europe, southern Asia and Japan.
  • The woody branches with orange berries are Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) originally from Asia, invasive in North America.

These plants are here because they’re pretty.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

3 responses so far

Oct 22 2014

An 80,000-Year-Old Tree

Published by under Plants

The world's oldest organism, Pando aspen (photo by USDA via Wikimedia Commons)

This may look like an aspen forest but it’s a single tree, 80,000 years old.

Last week at the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania we were wowed by the news that this stand of quaking aspen, covering 106 acres near Utah’s Fish Lake, is a single “tree.”  All the trunks are shoots from a single clonal root.

We learned this during Wil Taylor’s lecture on Jennings Prairie when he explained that aspen is threatening to take over Jennings.  DCNR burns or cuts the prairie to keep it open but aspen love that treatment.  They come back even stronger the next year with more shoots from the same root.  In fact, fire and low rainfall are probably the reason why this huge aspen is doing so well in Utah.

Discovered by Burton V. Barnes in 1968 and nicknamed The Trembling Giant, Barnes used morphological clues to determine this Populus tremuloides was from one clonal root.  In the 1990s Michael Grant studied it further and named it Pando.  DNA proves it to be one plant hosting 40,000 stems and weighing 13 million pounds.

Pando’s given age is 80,000 years but that’s the conservative estimate.  It may be as much as 1 million years old.  No one knows for sure.

 

(photo in the public domain via Wikimedia Commons. Click on the image to see the original)

3 responses so far

Oct 19 2014

A Stellar Year For…

Published by under Plants

Honeysuckle fruits, October 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

It’s a stellar year for bush honeysuckle berries.  The stems above were just a small part of the huge display at Wingfield Pines last week.

Can you count the berries?

Honeysuckle berries, October 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Birds like to eat honeysuckle fruit so these berries will disappear over the winter.

Too bad this plant is invasive.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Oct 12 2014

Not A Rose

Goldenrod gall (photo by Kate St. John)

Though shaped like a green rose this knob is not a flower. It’s a goldenrod bunch gall.

A search at BugGuide.net(*) indicates:

The gall was made by a midge, Rhopalomyia solidaginis, that lays its egg at the tip of the goldenrod stem.  “Its larva secretes a chemical that prevents the goldenrod stem from growing although it continues to produce leaves, thus a shortened bunch of leaves is formed.”(*)

The resulting rosette provides shelter for many insects as well as the midge.

This fall I’ve seen many bunch galls in goldenrod fields.  This one was at Wingfield Pines in southern Allegheny County.

Click here to read more about the midge at BugGuide.net.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

 

2 responses so far

Sep 27 2014

Beech Drops Up Close

Published by under Plants

Close-up of beech drops' flower (photo by  Kate St. John)

From a normal distance beech drops (Epifagus americana) look brown and dry.  (Click here to see.)

I didn’t know its tiny flowers are purple and white with yellow pistils … until I took this photograph.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Sep 17 2014

Lasting Impression

Published by under Plants

Stinging nettle closeup (photo by Kate St. John)

Stinging nettle captured my imagination at the age of seven.

In Now We Are Six, Christopher Robin offers the Little Black Hen three things if she’ll lay him an egg for Easter Day.  Of the three, the only thing she cares to see is the nettle-place on his leg which she touches gently with her wing. “Nettles don’t hurt if you count to ten.”  This left a lasting impression on me.

For decades I thought stinging nettles were foreign, exotic and only grew in England so I was awed when shown a huge patch of them in Pennsylvania.  It was spring.  They smelled like cat pee.  I kept a wide berth and vowed to always wear long pants while hiking (which I do to this day).

Stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) is native to Europe, Asia, northern Africa and North America. The nominate subspecies dioica that Christopher Robin encountered is introduced.  Three to seven feet tall, stinging nettle is coated with hollow stinging hairs loaded with histamines and painful chemicals.  A gentle brush against the plant causes the hairs to detach and become needles in your skin.  The sting is memorable. For those desperate to hold the plant a firm grasp flattens the hairs so that fewer penetrate.   This is counter-intuitive and not for the faint of heart.

At very close quarters the plant looks bristly.  The close-up above is of the crown at the top of the plant.
Stinging nettle crown (photo by Kate St. John)

Even the tiny leaf-like structures have stinging hairs.
Closeup of stinging nettle crown (photo by Kate St. John)

Because of my cautionary introduction to nettles, it took me a long time to believe the plant is good to eat and has a wide variety of medicinal uses.  I was skeptical about the Nettle Soup recipe in my Joy of Cooking cookbook.  “Using rubber gloves to protect you from the stinging nettles, remove the central stem from 1 Quart young nettle tops.”  (Sure!  I’m going to eat that??)  But it’s true.  Nettles are eaten around the world.  Young leaves are best. Click these links for food and medicinal uses.

Some people take nettle eating to an extreme.  There’s an annual World Nettle Eating Championship in Dorset England which began on a dare in 1986. Beer is involved.

In September stinging nettles still have a frizz of whitish flowers dangling from their stems — or perhaps seeds, I did not get close! — as seen in the whole-plant photo below.  I’ve circled the crown area of the close-ups in red.
Stinging nettle with crown circled in red (photo by Kate St. John)

 

So now you know what it looks like … in case you want to try.  ;)

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

One response so far

Sep 07 2014

New England. Aster

Published by under Plants

Aster in New England (photo by Kate St. John)

When I snapped this photo I was so intent on the flower that I forgot to examine the leaves.

New England (Aster novae angliae) and New York (Aster novi belgii) asters are so similar that the deciding field mark is their hairy or smooth clasping leaves.  My photo doesn’t show that.

However, the flower is in Maine at Acadia National Park (and so am I) so it’s safe to say, “In New England. An aster.”

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

2 responses so far

Sep 06 2014

Unusual Color

Published by under Plants

Late Coralroot in pink (photo by Dianne Machesney)

It sounds really exotic to say that there are orchids at Moraine State Park, but yes there are.  Last weekend Dianne and Bob Machesney found late coralroot (Corallorhiza odontorhiza) including this very unusual pink one.

Late coralroot’s 1/4 inch flowers bloom from August to October so now’s the time to look for them.  Unfortunately the plant is often hard to see because it’s only 4-7 inches tall and a brownish-purple color that matches the forest floor.  But not this one.  I have no idea why it’s pink but it’s certainly pretty.  Click here to see what it looks like when it blooms in normal color.

Coralroots are very picky about habitat because they’re twice-dependent.  They are saprophytes that get their nutrients from fungi which are getting their nutrients from dead and decomposing plant material.  Coralroots are particular about the species of fungi they parasitize so you can’t find these orchids just anywhere.  Your best bet may be to look where there are pine needles on the ground.

Thanks to Dianne for this unusual photo and her description of the plant.  Now I know what to look for.

 

p.s. It should go without saying that you should not collect these plants.  They are endangered in many northeastern states and in Florida.

(photo of unusual Late Coralroot by Dianne Machesney)

No responses yet

Aug 30 2014

The Good Thistle

Published by under Plants

Swamp thistle in bloom (photo by Kate St. John)

Can a thistle be good?  This one is.

Swamp thistle (Cirsium muticum) is practically smooth.  Its hollow 6-foot stem has no spines and its deeply cut leaves look pointy but aren’t very sharp.  It is very beautiful with big purple flowers that attract bees, butterflies and hummingbird clearwing moths.

Compare this native biennial to other big thistles and this is the one you’ll prefer to touch.  Pasture thistle (Cirsium pumilum) is more prickly though it smells very sweet.  Field thistle (Cirsium discolor) and non-native Bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) are so spiny they’re absolutely scary. Wear stout gloves!

The easiest way to identify Swamp thistle is by its bud which looks cob-webby with fine white hairs.  Here’s a closeup.

Swamp Thistle bud (photo by Kate St. John)

Swamp thistle is native to eastern North America from Labrador to Louisiana (and Texas) where it grows in swamps, wet woods and thickets.

I photographed these two at Jennings Prairie in Butler County, Pennsylvania earlier this month.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

No responses yet

Aug 17 2014

Yo, Joe!

Published by under Plants

Joe-Pye Weed closeup, Jennings Prairie (photo by Kate St. John)

These are the tiny flowers of a very large plant.

Joe-Pye Weed is huge — 10 feet tall! — and stands out in any setting.  Its small flowers are arranged in large dome-shaped clusters, 6 to 9 inches across, that give dramatic tops to these perennials.

Their size is amazing considering they achieve it in only four months.  Click here for a view of the entire plant.

Two common species in our area, Sweet Joe-Pye (Eutrochium purpureum) and Spotted Joe-Pye (Eutrochium maculatum), are distinguished by the colors on their stems but they hybridize and mix it up.

So big and beautiful, I don’t care which one it is.

Yo, Joe!

 

(photo by Kate St. John, taken at Jennings Prairie, Butler County, Pennsylvania)

p.s.  Read Marcia Bonta’s blog to find out why it’s called “Joe-Pye.”
p.p.s. The genus name only recently changed from Eupatorium to Eutrochium, another case where I prefer the old name.

2 responses so far

Next »

Bird Stories from OnQ