Archive for the 'Plants' Category

Jun 07 2015

Color With Thorns

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Nodding thistle flower head (photo by Kate St. John)

Nodding thistle flower head (photo by Kate St. John)

Lots of big thistles are blooming now by the road to Duck Hollow in Pittsburgh.  At first I couldn’t identify them but my guess was that anything growing so well by the road was probably alien and invasive.  I was right.

Nodding thistle or musk thistle (Carduus nutans) is a biennial from Africa and Eurasia that came to this continent by accident, perhaps in ballast water.  It thrives in disturbed soil at roadsides and landslides and in heavily grazed pastures.  It’s a thorn in the side for cattle farmers and an alien invasive.

A view of the entire plant shows many thorns and the reason why its called “nodding.”

Nodding thistle nods (photo by Kate St. John)

Nodding thistle by Old Browns Hill Road (photo by Kate St. John)

Despite its mean reputation, I think it’s beautiful. The buds look like reddish-purple star bursts as they open.

Nodding thistle bud opening (photo by Kate St. John)

Nodding thistle bud opening (photo by Kate St. John)

And the color of the flower is outstanding. My favorite view is too wide for this blog’s narrow format so click here for a closeup of color without thorns.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 31 2015

Named For A Dogs’ Body Part

Published by under Plants

Houndstongue, Ohio's Lake Erie shore, 16 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Cynoglossum officinale, Ohio’s Lake Erie shore, 16 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

And now for something completely different.  This morning I’m taking a break from peregrines to tell you about an unusual name.

I found this plant blooming on Lake Erie’s sandy shore at Magee Marsh, Ohio this month.  It took me a while to identify it because it’s non-native.

Houndstongue (Cynoglossum officinale) is native to Eurasia but was accidentally introduced to North America where it happily grows in waste places.  It’s been spreading for so long that Michigan declared it one of the worst weeds in the state more than 100 years ago.  This one was growing just across the lake from Michigan.  Perhaps it migrated to Ohio.

The plant is twice-named for a dog’s tongue: “houndstongue” and cyno (dog) glossum (tongue).  Theoretically, if you put a houndstongue leaf in your shoe no dogs will bite you, but that outcome is statistically likely even without the leaf.

If I’d crushed a leaf I would have noticed the plant smells bad — like “rats and mice” — which is one of its nicknames.  Nonetheless people have used it as a cure for baldness, hemorrhoids, respiratory problems, and madness.   There’s no proof that it heals but it will make you sick.  Houndstongue contains cancer-causing pyrrolizidine alkaloids, toxic to the liver and to livestock.

Be careful when you put that leaf in your shoe.

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

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May 24 2015

Field Of Dreams

Published by under Plants

Dandelions gone to seed (photo by Kate St. John)

Make a wish and blow on the dandelion fluff.

Click on the photo to see a dandelion Field of Dreams.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 05 2015

Leaf Out!

Red oak leaves, 1 May 2015 (photo by Kate St.John)

Last weekend’s new leaves in Schenley Park demonstrated that the city is warmer than the suburbs.  Schenley’s leaves unfurled on May 1 while the suburbs were still brown.

Above, new red oak leaves. Below, sugar maple.

Sugar mapleleaf-out, 1 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

This white ash sapling opened its leaves like a crown.  Tiny ash saplings aren’t eaten by emerald ash borer because their stems are too narrow for the bug to use.
White ash leaf-out, 1 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

For dramatic leaf-out, you can’t beat a shagbark hickory.  This bud was just about to unfurl …
Shagbark hickory, leaves about to open, 1 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

And … Boom!
Leaf out! Shagbark hickory (photo by Kate St. John)

Three days later the leaves now produce shade.
Shagbark hickory leaves, 4 May 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Take a look at tree covered hillsides as you drive north or south and you’ll notice leaf-out moving north 13 miles a day — except in the city.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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May 01 2015

False Miterwort

Published by under Plants,Schenley Park

Foamflower blooming (photo by Kate St. John)

Foamflower blooming, photo by Kate St. John

Foamflower is one plant, Miterwort’s another, but I called a patch of Foamflower “Miterwort” during last Sunday’s outing in Schenley Park.

Perhaps that’s because one of Foamflower’s alternate names is “False Miterwort.”  I must have had that in mind when called it Miterwort. (Sure!)

The position of their leaves is the easiest way to tell the difference.  Though the leaves are the same shape, Foamflower has basal leaves, Miterwort has two leaves opposite each other in the middle of the stem.

Miterwort blooming (photo by Kate St. John)

Miterwort blooming (The plant is usually erect), photo by Kate St. John

A close look at the flowers also tells them apart. Foamflowers (Tiarella cordifolia) look fluffy or foamy (first photo).  Miterwort (Mitella diphylla) flowers have intricate lace edges like tiny bishops’ caps — or miters (second photo).

I know the difference but I persistently say the wrong name.

Maybe I’ll do better now that I’ve publicly embarrassed myself.  😉

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. Since last Sunday the deer have eaten the tops off half of those Foamflower plants.  Grrrr!

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Apr 27 2015

Winter Leaves Its Mark On Spring

Published by under Plants,Weather & Sky

Forsythia is only blooming near the ground in Du Bois, PA, 23 April 2015 (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Forsythia is blooming only near the ground in Du Bois, PA, 23 April 2015 (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

What a slow spring!  Last week it snowed in western Pennsylvania.  With an inch on the ground in Du Bois, Marianne Atkinson noticed that the forsythia blossoms stood out but they looked very odd.

In her own yard the forsythia had flowered near the ground but the top looked dead. Did other shrubs have this problem?  As she traveled around town she took photos of other forsythia bushes and discovered that all of them looked like this.  The buds on top were winter-killed.

Tops of forsythia are dead in Du Bois PA, Spring 2015 (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Winter-killed forsythia in Du Bois, 23 April 2015 (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Why were the bottoms of the bushes OK?  With a little research Marianne found:

We had a second very cold winter in a row, with occasional temperatures in the well below 0 range.  We also had about 18 inches of snow cover for about 2 ½ months this winter. I thought that the snow cover may have acted as insulation for the lower forsythia flower buds and it is true! You can read about this phenomenon in the links below:

Cold Damage to Forsythia Flower Buds at Arnold Arboretum
Why are trees and shrubs so slow to leaf out this spring?

How cold was it?  Here’s a photo of last winter’s record in Marianne’s backyard.  -19 degrees Fahrenheit!

Record low at Marianne's home near Du Bois, PA, 16 Feb 2015, 7:18am (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Record low at Marianne Atkinson’s home near Du Bois, PA, 16 Feb 2015, 7:18am (photo by Marianne Atkinson)

Last winter left its mark this spring.

 

(photos by Marianne Atkinson)

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Apr 19 2015

Now Blooming

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Sessile trillium, Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Toadshade (Trillium sessile), Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

As I mentioned yesterday, spring wildflowers are now blooming in southwestern Pennsylvania.  Here’s a sample of what Dianne Machesney, Donna Foyle, and I found in our outdoor travels last week.  Check the captions for the flower names, locations and dates.

  • Toadshade or Sessile trillium (Trillium sessile) is found in rich woods.  The dark red flower holds the petals shut.  In my photo there are two Virginia spring beauties that hadn’t opened on that cloudy day.
  • Virginia spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) is also found in rich woods.  The flowers are small with faint pink details.  They don’t open until the sun comes out.
  • Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) is an invasive import that does well in rich damp woods.  I’ve seen it in Schenley and Boyce-Mayview Parks. Dianne saw it at Enlow Fork.
  • Siberian squill (Scilla siberica) is another import, a non-invasive garden plant that’s escaped to the wild.  I’ve seen it planted in Schenley Park.  Dianne photographed it at Enlow Fork.
  • Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum) is an import that doesn’t care where it grows.  You’ll find it everywhere once you start to look.  Up close its flowers are intricate.  From a distance the leaves have a purplish cast.
  • Horsetail (Equisetum) is a “living fossil” plant, the last species of a class of plants that dominated the dinosaurs’ forest.  Some were as big as trees. Today they are coal.  Visit the dinosaur exhibits at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History to see what they looked like.

 

Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Virginia Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria), Boyce-Mayview Park, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Siberian squill (Scilla siberica), Enlow Fork, Washington-Greene county line, 12 April 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), everywhere in Pittsburgh, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Purple deadnettle (Lamium purpureum), everywhere in Pittsburgh, 15 April 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

Horsetail (Equisetum), Youghiogheny Rail Trail near Buena Vista, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Donna Foyle)

Horsetail flower spikes (Equisetum), Youghiogheny Rail Trail, Buena Vista, Allegheny County, 15 April 2015 (photo by Donna Foyle)

 

(photos by Kate St. John, Dianne Machesney, and Donna Foyle)

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Mar 30 2015

Early Flowering Signs of Spring

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Harbinger of Spring, Cedar Creek, 29 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Despite this month’s cold weather yesterday’s outing* to Cedar Creek found two early-spring wildflowers.

Bright afternoon sunshine encouraged the wildflowers to bloom but it washed out the colors on the forest floor.  We all searched hard to find this Harbinger of Spring (Erigenia bulbosa).  Here’s a poor photo of the entire plant with an oak leaf for scale. It’s tiny! One leaf is sufficient to hide it.

Harbinger of Spring (photo by Kate St. John)

 

We also found a lot of Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale) in bloom but I had to be shown each flower because I couldn’t see them in the glare.   My best photo is of the one I stepped on.  Oh how embarrassing!

Snow trillium, 29 March 2015, Cedar Creek (photo by Kate St. John)

 

* This was a joint outing of the Wissahickon Nature Club and the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania.  Feel free to join us as we explore the flora and fauna in western Pennsylvania.  Click here for Wissahickon’s 2015 outing schedule (page 3 of the pdf) and here for the Botanical Society’s calendar.

 

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Mar 29 2015

Let The Leaves Begin

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Incipient forsythia leaves, 25 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Closeup of bush honeysuckle leaves about to open, 25 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

In my neighborhood bush honeysuckle is the first to show leaves in the spring.  Last Wednesday these tiny leaves broke the bud.  I was excited!  Spring was here!

Not today. This morning it’s 17F degrees and it was so cold yesterday that it set a new record.

The wind will swing from the south today and warmer weather is coming this week.  Let the leaves begin.  (Please!)

 

(photo by Kate St. John)

p.s. Bush honeysuckle is an alien invasive from Asia so its internal clock is out of synch with our seasons.

p.p.s  This morning’s walk in Schenley Park will be brief so we don’t freeze.

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Mar 26 2015

Spring Moves North …

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Red tulip near Burlington, ON, 21 May 2014 (photo by Laslovarga via Wikimedia Commons)

The first crocuses bloomed in Pittsburgh last week but the rest of spring is taking its time.  Until today the month of March averaged 3F degrees below normal.  (Yesterday’s brought it up to -2.6.)  With that kind of track record, when will Spring get here?

Two years ago I wrote about the rule of thumb that “Spring moves north 13 miles a day“and showed how to watch it online at Journey North’s Tulip Test Garden.  I even used the rule of thumb to predict that the tulips would bloom at Clarion Area Elementary School’s Test Garden in Clarion, PA on April 20, 2013.

Was I right?  I looked up Clarion’s 2013 Tulip Test Garden results which said the tulips bloomed on April 22.  But … April 22 but was a Monday that year.  Maybe the tulips bloomed on Saturday, April 20 while the children weren’t at school to see them!  (The vagaries of data collection…)

Let’s try it this year.  Click here to read about the Rule of Thumb so you know how I’m doing this.  Then I’ll estimate …

On the 2015 Tulip Test Garden Map Durham, NC’s first tulip bloomed on March 20.  That’s 362 miles or about 28 days south of Clarion Area Elementary School (they’re participating again this year), so Clarion should bloom on April 17.

April 17 feels too early but we’ll see.  By the end of April we’ll know if “Spring moved north 13 miles a day” in 2015.

 

p.s. A big flock of American robins sang in the dark this morning in my neighborhood.  One more Sign of Spring!

 

(photo from Wikimedia Commons.  This tulip was photographed by Laslovarga on May 21, 2014 near Burlington, Ontario.)

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