Archive for the 'Plants' Category

Jul 05 2014

What The Bee Sees

Pale touch-me-not (photo by Kate St. John)

Blooming now in southwestern Pennsylvania, Pale Touch-me-not (Impatiens pallida) beacons to bees with its yellow landing pad.

(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jun 30 2014

Green Flowers

Published by under Phenology,Plants

Flowers of Indian cucumber root, 22 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

It seems odd that a plant would have green flowers but a surprising number do including jack-in-the-pulpit, northern green orchid and ragweed.

In mid-June I found a blooming Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana) that I nearly missed because the flowers didn’t stand out.  The top two had already gone to seed and those in bloom were camouflaged in a greenish yellow way.

The bottom whorl of leaves caught my attention.  It’s typically five to nine long leaves (this one had seven) suspended a foot or so above the ground.  Only the blooming plants have the smaller top whorl too.

I tried to take a picture of this arrangement but even my best photo is confusing.  The small flower whorl blends in with a second plant behind it even though the background is beyond the mossy log.

Indian cucumber root, Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, 22 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Having paused to take a photo I knelt down to see the flowers.  This perennial is pollinated by insects, probably flies.  The color green makes sense for flies as they don’t need fancy red, white, yellow or purple to be attracted to the plant.

Indian cucumber root earned its common name when Native Americans taught the settlers that the edible root smells and tastes like cucumber. People still dig and eat it today, thereby destroying the plant.  It’s endangered in Illinois and Florida.

Though not threatened in Pennsylvania, I won’t say the exact location of this flower.  Only that I found it in the Laurel Highlands, an area encompassing 3,000 square miles.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jun 28 2014

A Native Portulaca

Published by under Plants

Round-leaved Fameflower (photo by Dianne Machesney)

This Pennsylvania threatened plant is in the Portulacaceae family, related to our garden variety Portulaca.  Look closely at its thin, round, succulent leaves and you’ll see the family resemblance.

Round-leaved fameflower  (Talinum teretifolium), also called Quill fameflower and (Phemeranthus teretifolius), is found in rocky or sandy soil from Pennsylvania southward to Georgia and Alabama.

Dianne Machesney found this one last week at serpentine barrens in Chester County.

It was a Life Flower(*) for her. It would be one for me, too.


(photos by Dianne Machesney)

(*) Life Flower: Borrowing a term from birding, this means the first time one has ever seen this species.

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Jun 26 2014

TBT: From the Hummingbird’s Point of View

Published by under Plants

Close-up of a nasturtium (photo from Wikimedia Commons)

… Throw-Back-Thursday: What does a hummingbird see in here? …

Facebook has Throw Back Thursdays (TBT *) and now, so do I.

I’ve been writing Outside My Window since November 2007 and accumulated more than 2,320 articles.  Many of them are great information that I’ve almost forgotten, so today I’m starting my own Throw Back Thursdays to reprise some really cool stuff.

Let’s re-explore the inside of a nasturtium.  Did you know it has a special structure just for hummingbirds?

Click on the photo to go back in time to 2011 and read “From the Hummingbird’s Point of View.”


(photo from Wikimedia Commons. Click on the photo to read more about it)

(*) If you aren’t on Facebook… Throw Back Thursday (TBT) is the day each week when Facebook users post an old photo from their past.

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Jun 24 2014

Ohio Spiderwort

Published by under Plants

Ohio Spiderwort, 14 June 2014 (photo by )

On June 14 Karen Lang and I looked for fledglings at two peregrine nest sites along the Ohio River.  When we got to Monaca Karen pulled into an open area between a house and an old industrial site on the upriver side of the Monaca-East Rochester Bridge.  All around us the edges were blooming with bright blue flowers.

Ohio spiderwort, Tradescantia ohiensis or bluejacket, is a native perennial that’s often cultivated.  It’s tall and showy but each flower lasts only a day.  According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, “When touched in the heat of the day, the flowers shrivel to a fluid jelly.”  (Click here for another view.)

The flowers were also blooming in the homeowner’s garden so my hunch is they spread on their own to the river’s edge.

It’s fitting that Ohio spiderwort grows next to The Ohio.


(photo by Kate St. John)

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Jun 19 2014

A Plant With Four Names

Published by under Plants

Bowman's root, Gillenia trifoliata (photo by Tom Potterfield, Creative Commons license on Flickr)

On the day we saw the upland sandpipers Carole Winslow showed me a “Life Flower”(*) growing by the road.

The delicate flowers of Bowman’s Root (Gillenia trifoliata) have five petals, but they’re arranged irregularly as you can see in Tom Potterfield’s photo above. When the flower fades each petal falls alone leaving three and four-petaled flowers to confuse us amateur botanists.

I took a (poor) photo of the profuse flowers and drooping stems.  They look as if the rain beat them down but this perennial just won’t stand upright.
Bowman's root, Clarion County, 14 June 2014 (photo by Kate St. John)

Gillenia trifoliata has two scientific names because there was a big disagreement about its first one.  Conrad Moench named it Gillenia in honor of German botanist Arnoldus Gillenius, but another of Gillenius’ fans later named a completely different plant Gillena in his honor. Professor Britton decided that the single letter “i” was not enough to distinguish the two names so he renamed Bowman’s Root Porteranthus trifoliatus in honor of his friend, Thomas C. Porter.

Which name is right?  In scientific naming there’s a rule that the first name takes precedence unless, of course, the organism is reclassed.  As we have seen with warblers, the Dendroica genus name completely disappeared when American Redstarts, Setophaga ruticilla, were reclassed into the Dendroica genus.  Because Setophaga is an older name the American Ornithologists’ Union declared that Setophaga replaced Dendroica. (Don’t get me going on how much I hate this!)  Apparently botanists made no such pronouncement on Gillenia so both names continue.

Bowman’s Root has another common name, Indian Physic, because Native Americans used the powdered root for an emetic (bleah!) and other medicinal uses.

Four names are a heavy load for these ethereal flowers.  I like to call them Bowman’s Root.


(Top photo taken at Longwood Gardens by Tom Potterfield. Click on the image to see the original.  Bottom photo by Kate St.John)

(*) Life Flower: I’m borrowing a term from birding to describe the first time I’ve ever seen this species.

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Jun 15 2014

King Devil

Published by under Plants

King Devil at Raccoon Creek State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

My neighbors will tell you I am not a gardener.  When the growing season arrives I spend all my time birding.  Around Memorial Day I glance at the garden and think, “Something must be done!”  I go out there with my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and identify what’s growing.  I pull out the noxious weeds and leave everything else in place.

That’s how I got King Devil.

Also called Field Hawkweed (Hieracium pratense), it’s a perennial creeping plant whose yellow flowers cluster at the top of a tall, hairy stem.  The leaves are basal, thin, hairy, untoothed and hardly noticeable compared to the flowers.

I find the flowers interesting in all their phases.

King Devil at Raccoon Creek State Park (photo by Kate St. John)

I left the King Devil where it sprouted.

Wikipedia says, “This species finds its habitat where the soil has been neglected.”  That’s a pretty good description of my gardening efforts.  The birds are luring me away from home.


(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jun 08 2014

A Goat’s Beard

Published by under Plants

Yellow Goat's Beard (photo by Kate St. John)

Yesterday morning I helped count birds at the Emerald View BioBlitz with David and Colleen Yeany and Eva Simms.   Eva showed us the new trails in Olympia and Mt. Washington Parks.  What a lot of work they were, but well worth it!  Check them out on this map.

Above Route 51 in Mt. Washington Park we found unusual flowers three feet tall with daisy-like heads, thin leaves, and long puckered buds.  I used my photos to identify them when I got home.

Yellow Goat's Beard, Emerald View, Pittsburgh, PA (photo by Kate St. John)

Yellow Goat’s Beard (Tragopogon dubius) is an introduced annual from Europe so I’m not surprised we found it growing in a sunny area reseeded by PennDOT several years ago.  It’s distinguished by the green bracts that show around the edge of the flower.  Fortunately we were there in the morning.  This flower closes in late afternoon.

None of the flowers had gone to seed yet so we didn’t see the reason this plant is called Goat’s Beard:  its huge seed head.  Click here for a look at it.

This is not the only “Goat’s Beard” and for a moment I was excited by the thought of another one, Aruncus dioicus, which hosts the rare Dusky Azure butterfly (Celastrina nigra).  Though similarly named they are unrelated and don’t even resemble each other.  Aruncus dioicus is a native in the Rose family and grows in shady and moist deciduous woods.

One of many goats’ beards, this one is yellow.

(photos by Kate St. John)

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Jun 07 2014

What-Flowered? Valerian

Published by under Plants

Few flowered Valerian (photo by Dianne Machesney)

If you have Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, I can tell you this flower is not in the 1977 edition.

Back in the late 1990’s I bought a Newcomb’s Guide and learned how to key out wildflowers in Esther Allen’s class at the Rachel Carson Institute.  Pretty soon I thought I could key out almost anything.

Hah!  I found this flower blooming at Raccoon Creek State Park Wildflower Reserve in early June of 1997.  I couldn’t figure it out.  Is it keyed as an irregular flower with opposite, divided leaves?   Or a 5-petaled flower?  No matter where I looked it wasn’t there.

Eventually at a Wisshickon Nature Club meeting I asked Esther about this mystery.  She immediately knew what I was describing.  “That isn’t in the book,” she said. “It’s Few-flowered Valerian, Valeriana pauciflora.”

I learned its common name from Esther’s translation of its scientific name — pauciflora means “few-flowered” — but on most plant databases it’s called Large-flowered Valerian.

Whatever the “flowered,” I drew it on page 286 of Newcomb’s in the section for 5-petaled flowers with opposite, divided leaves.

Look for it at Raccoon Wildflower Reserve in early June.


(photo by Dianme Machesney)

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May 31 2014


Published by under Plants

Starflower (photo by Dianne Machesney)

Here’s a flower that’s amazingly difficult to photograph.

Last weekend at Cape Cod I found many starflowers blooming in the woods.  They ought to be easy to photograph, right?  Wrong!  The flower’s whiteness engulfs its depth.  My photos made them look like two-dimensional blobs.  Thanks to Dianne Machesney we can see the details.

Starflower (Trientalis borealis) is a northeastern plant that ranges from Labrador to North Carolina. It prefers cooler climates so you’ll find it at higher elevations the further south you go.

It blooms at the end of May along the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail in Pennsylvania … and at Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

(photo by Dianne Machesney)

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