Archive for the 'Plants' Category

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)

5 responses so far

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)

No responses yet

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.

No responses yet

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.)

No responses yet

Mar 19 2015

The Crocus Report

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Crocuses at Phipps, 18 March 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

Ta dah!  We’ve reached a milestone in The Signs of Spring.  It’s time for the crocus report.

Yesterday morning the crocuses at Phipps Conservatory’s outdoor garden were just about to pop open.  The bright sun warmed the mulch and after another hour they had opened halfway.  I can say with confidence that they bloomed on March 18.

Crocuses opening at Phipps (photo by Kate St. John)

Is this late for crocuses?   I checked back through my blog posts, linked below, to collect their blooming history in Pittsburgh’s East End:

So … though this winter has seemed very cold the crocuses are not delayed too, too long.


(photos by Kate St. John)

p.s. They may have bloomed during Monday’s heat but I didn’t walk over to Phipps until yesterday.

7 responses so far

Mar 17 2015

Looking For Luck on St. Patrick’s Day

Published by under Plants

A selection of four-leaf clovers (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On the day that shows off the three-leafed clover — the St. Patrick’s Day’s shamrock — what are the odds of finding a lucky four-leafed one?  It’s harder than you think.

First of all you have to find clover.  Clover used to be common in every lawn because it was mixed with grass seed to provide natural fertilizer for the grass.  But now clover is absent because lawn care products poison all broad-leafed plants.  Clover is broad-leafed so it dies, too.  No luck for the folks with “perfect” lawns!

Then you have to find the odd ball four-leafed mutation among a sea of three-leafed plants.  On white clover (Trifolium repens) there are usually three leaflets per leaf.  (That’s one leaf on the stem).  But sometimes there’s a mutation and a recessive gene expresses into four.  What luck!  Even rarer and luckier, five leaflets.

On your first hunt through the clover patch, you have a 1 in 10,000 chance of finding a four-leafed clover and a 1 in a million chance of finding the five-leafed variety, according the Minitab statistics blog.   In other words, you’re lucky to find one.  If you do, mark the spot because more lucky leaves are likely to appear on that plant.

Looking for four-leafed clovers today in March’s still-brown grass may be a challenge but here are some tips to help you search.

And save yourself some time.  Don’t look for luck in a perfect lawn.


(photo from Wikimedia Commons, CC by SA 3.0.  Click on the image to see the original)

2 responses so far

Mar 01 2015

Poised To Drop

Published by under Plants

Wingstem seeds poised to drop, Feb 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

In two months of freezing weather the wingstem’s papery seed pods have worn away.  The seeds are exposed and the heads are bowed, poised to drop.

I know they’ve changed because the pods stood straight up on January 1.

Wingstem seeds, North Park, 1 Jan 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

The seeds are ready for Spring … when it arrives.


(photos by Kate St. John)

No responses yet

Feb 21 2015

Face On A Tree

Published by under Plants

Shelf mushrooms make a face on this tree (photo by Kate St. John)

Shelf mushrooms frown on a dead ash tree.

Is this a comment on the weather?


(photo by Kate St. John, taken at at Raccoon Creek State Park)

One response so far

Jan 02 2015

First Day Findings

Published by under Hiking,Mammals,Plants

Wingstem seeds, North Park, 1 Jan 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

What can you find outdoors on January 1 in Pittsburgh?  Nine intrepid naturalists from the Botanical Society of Western Pennsylvania and Wissahickon Nature Club hiked at North Park to find out.

Though yesterday was quite sunny the temperature hovered just below freezing and the wind was strong.  We bundled up to look at seeds, trees, dry weeds, and birds.

Above, a wingstem seed pod looks just like a dried version of the flower’s central disk.  Below, in the thicket we found juncoes, titmice and chickadees … and then changed our focus to identify the trees.
Participants on the New Year's Day hike at Irwin Rd (photo by Kate St. John)

Dianne Machesney found this still-red scarlet oak leaf.  I held it to take its picture.
Scarlet oak leaf, 1 Jan 2015 (photo by Kate St. John)

The ground wasn’t frozen but the creek had glimmering white ice.

Ice on Irwin Run, 1 Jan 2015 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

After the hike, some of the party drove up Pearce Mill Road to check on the beaver dams on the North Fork of Pine Creek.

The beavers were snug in their beds while we braved the cold.

Beaver dam on the North Fork of Pine Creek (photo by Dianne Machesney)

(photo by Dianne Machesney)


(photo credits: wingstem, hikers and oak leaf photos by Kate St. John.
Creek ice and beaver dam photos by Dianne Machesney

One response so far

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

« Prev - Next »

Bird Stories from OnQ