Archive for the 'Plants' Category

Apr 27 2014

Leaves In The Shape Of…

Published by under Plants

Halberd Leaved Violet (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Dianne Machesney found this Halberd-leaved Violet blooming at the Cucumber Falls Trail in Ohiopyle State Park last week.

A halberd is a long pole with a battle ax; the ax always has a hook on the back end.  It was a popular weapon in the 14th and 15th centuries.

What do you think?  Is this a “halberd” leaf?

 

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

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Apr 19 2014

Natives Bounce Back

Published by under Plants

Star magnolia flower mildly damaged by freeze, April 2014, Schenley Park (photo by Kate St. John)
The mid-week freeze damaged flowers on our northern magnolia trees. Above, a bruised Star magnolia, below, a very brown Saucer magnolia, both in Oakland.

Northern magnolia turned brown by late freeze, 16 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Northern magnolias are non-native trees from Asia, specially cultivated for their early blooms, so their timing isn’t right for our mid-April cold snaps.

Our native plants had no problem because the freeze occurred within the normal span of our last killing frost.

Yesterday Dianne Machesney found beautiful flowers blooming at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County, some of them new since I was there last weekend.

Harbinger-of-spring’s tiny flowers are quite hardy.  This plant is often the first to bloom.
Harbinger of spring, 18 April 2014 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

 

Twinleaf is new this week because its internal clock told it to wait.  The flower resembles bloodroot but the leaves are quite different. (Click here for a view of its twin leaves.)
Twinleaf in bloom, 18 April 2014 (photo by Dianne Machesney)

The natives bounce back fast.

 

(northern magnolia photos by Kate St. John. Flower photos by Dianne Machesney)

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Apr 15 2014

It Was Fun While It Lasted

Published by under Plants,Weather & Sky

Bloodroot blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 12 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

During the past three days we had a burst of blooms in Pittsburgh.  Between Saturday morning’s foggy low and Sunday’s high of 82F the landscape transformed from incipient buds to gorgeous flowers.  (Today will be different, but more on that later.)

On Saturday I found bloodroot at its peak at Cedar Creek Park in Westmoreland County (above) as well as spring beauties…
Spring beauties (photo by Kate St. John)

trout lilies…
Trout Lily at Cedar Creek Park, 12 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

and hepatica.
Hepatica blooming at Cedar Creek Park, 12 April 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

 

This morning the temperature is dropping fast.  It was 65oF at 5:00am and has already fallen to 47oF as I write.

Tomorrow’s prediction: 21oF at dawn. This will surely ruin the flowers.

It was fun while it lasted.

 

(photos 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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Jan 16 2014

The Largest Living Organism

Published by under Plants,Trees

Armillaria ostoyae (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

On my way to somewhere else I found…

It’s hard to believe these mushrooms represent the largest living organism but they’re the outward and visible sign of a subterranean and sub-bark network.

The network can be quite large, as described here on Wikipedia:  “The largest living fungus may be a honey fungus of the species Armillaria ostoyae [now called Armillaria solidipes].  A mushroom of this type in the Malheur National Forest in the Blue Mountains of eastern Oregon was found to be the largest fungal colony in the world, spanning 8.9 km² (2,200 acres) [and] estimated to be 2,400 years old.  … If this colony is considered a single organism, then it is the largest known organism in the world by area.”

And so it was named the “Humongous Fungus.

There are many species of Armillaria, all with dark shoestring-like rhizomorphs that grow through the soil or under bark and white mycelial fans which spread under bark via root contacts and root grafts.  Here’s what they look like: rhizomorphs on the left, mycelia on the right.  (For a sense of scale, these are tree trunks)

Armillaria rhizomorphs and mycelia (photos from Bugewood.org)

Sometimes the mycelia are luminescent and cause foxfire!

Armillaria spreads widely. Click on the image below to see an animation from an article on Armillaria root rot by J. Worrall at APSnet.org.

Animated disease cycle of Armillaria infection. (Courtesy J. Worrall, copyright-free)

 

Fascinating as their huge size may be, Armillaria infects trees and can either kill them outright or be a contributing factor to their demise.  I have seen Armillaria in Schenley Park without realizing what it was: rhizomorphs, mycelia and mushrooms.

So now I understand how a live tree can just fall over…

Bur oak toppled by armillaria root rot (Joseph O'Brien, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

… when infected by Armillaria root rot.

 

(photo credits:  mushrooms by Walter J. Pilsak via Wikimedia Commons (click on the image to see the original).  Rhizomorphs and dead tree on grass by Joseph O’Brien, USDA Forest Service via Bugwood.org.  White mycelial fan by Borys M. Tkacz, USDA Forest Service via Bugwood.org)

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Dec 26 2013

Tiny Mistletoe

Published by under Plants,Trees

Dwarf mistletoe, Arceuthobium americanum, female plant (photo by John W. Schwandt, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

‘Tis the season for kissing under the mistletoe but this genus is too small for the purpose.

Mistletoes are parasitic plants in the sandalwood family.  The ones we associate with kissing, Phoradendron leucarpum and Viscum album, are evergreen plants that parasitize oak and apple trees.  In winter they look like green balls in the bare trees.  Click here for a photo and description.

Dwarf mistletoe, on the other hand, is amazingly small.  Arceuthobium’s 42 dioecious species parasitize only conifers.  The female plant of American dwarf mistletoe (Arceuthobium americanum) is shown above, the male below. Notice the tiny size of the plant relative to the pine needles.

Dwarf mistletoe, Arceuthobium americanum, male plant (photo by Brytten Steed, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

Dwarf mistletoe begins its life as a seed that lands on a tree branch, then germinates and grows beneath the bark, sucking water and minerals.  It rarely kills the tree but the tree fights back by developing witches’ brooms or losing branches as shown on this lodgepole pine.  Foresters hate dwarf misletoe.

Dwarf mistletoe, Arceuthobium americanum, damage to lodgepole pine (photo by Mike Schomaker, Colorado State Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

 

Many mistletoes depend on birds to spread their seeds, but dwarf mistletoe takes matters into its own hands.  During the 18 months of seed maturation, water pressure builds up in the seed capsule until it finally bursts out, traveling at almost 50 mph … like this!

Dwarf mistletoe, Arceuthobium americanum, shoots a seed (photo by Frank Hawksworth, USDA Forest Service, Bugwood.org)

Pow!  The size of a grain of rice, it can travel 65 feet!

Tiny but powerful.  Watch out below!

 

(all photos are American dwarf mistletoe, Arceuthobium americanum, from Bugwood.org: 1241494 by John W. Schwandt USDA Forest Service, 2141082 by Brytten Steed USDA Forest Service, 2250003 by Frank Hawksworth USDA Forest Service, 5367211 by Mike Schomaker Colorado State Forest Service)

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Dec 25 2013

Merry Christmas

Snow on Pyracantha (photo by Bob Muller, Creative Commons license via Flickr)

The colors of a Merry Christmas…

Pyracantha after a rare snowfall in Nags Head, North Carolina, February 2006 by Bob Muller.

 

(photo by Bob Muller (bobxnc), Creative Commons license via Flickr)

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Dec 22 2013

Deck The Halls

Published by under Books & Events,Plants

Bromeliad Christmas wreath at Phipps Conservatory (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Though Christmas wreaths are a northern tradition this one at Phipps Conservatory is made of bromeliads from the American tropics.

After the weather turns cold tomorrow you might be wishing you were somewhere warm.  If you’re in Pittsburgh you can warm up at the Winter Flower Show at Phipps Conservatory.  They’re all decked out for the holidays through January 12.

I love to bask in the humid warmth with tropical plants when its cold outside.  I can almost believe I’m on vacation.

 

(bromeliad Christmas wreath at Phipps Conservatory. photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Dec 08 2013

Bitter And Sweet

Published by under Plants

Oriental Bittersweet fruit (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Poisonous to us but popular with birds, Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) stands out in the landscape now that the leaves are off the trees.

This closeup of the berries shows why we like to use it in floral arrangements.  Very beautiful.

But it’s aggressive.  Imported in 1879 it grows more easily than American bittersweet (Celastrus scandens) with which it hybridizes.  It occurs in nearly every state east of the Mississippi and is listed as invasive from Maine to North Carolina, from Wisconsin to Tennessee.

Watch for small flocks of birds feeding in the woods and you’ll find this vine.  Click here to see what it looks like from a distance.

Bitter and sweet: an unruly competitor that’s food for birds.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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Nov 27 2013

Unnatural Shape

Published by under Plants

Canned cranberry sauce (photo from Flickr by busybeytheelder)

I happen to like jellied cranberry sauce with Thanksgiving turkey.  How does a native North American fruit end up like this?

It begins with this flower, the Large Cranberry (Vaccinium macrocarpon).
Large Cranberry (photo by Dianne Machesney)

The plants are grown commercially in bogs completely surrounded by dikes.  When the flower becomes a ripened fruit…

fruit_cranberry_plant_rsz2_wikiRipened cranberries on the plant (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

…the field is flooded for harvesting.  Harvesting machines, nicknamed “eggbeaters,” knock the berries off the plants. The floating berries are corralled to a conveyor belt.  (This Good Morning, America video shows the cranberry harvest on Cape Cod.)

Cranberry harvest in New Jersey (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

 

After the harvest the berries look like this…

Cranberries (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

They have enough natural pectin that their juice jells on its own if it’s boiled with sugar.

So you could boil them in sugar, strain out the solids, pour the juice in a mold, chill it and voilà.  You have the same jellied cranberry sauce but it doesn’t look like a can.

But really.  I like the magic of a jiggling food shaped exactly like the can it slid from.

A natural fruit in an unnatural shape.

 

(photo of canned cranberry sauce by busbeytheelder, Creative Commons license. photo of cranberry flower by Dianne Machesney. All other photos from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the images to see their originals)

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