Tuesday, January 26, 2010

January Botany + Plant Quiz

Of course, working on tree bud and bark identification this time of year is fun and all, but it still makes me want a little green. So I decided to see what was green and herbaceous at my local (Central Indiana) woods. Here is a selection of eight that I found. Some of these plants I am pretty sure of, some I think I know, and some I have no clue and would appreciate any help. (Although time should tell.)


Monday, January 25, 2010

Name That Plant - An Answer

I recently posted the following photograph as a plant quiz...

Here is the uncropped image of this plant...

This is Solidago uliginosa (Bog Goldenrod), growing amongst Equisetum arvense, Aster umbellatus, Calamagrostis canadensis, Rubus pubescens, Polygonum sagittatum, and others. Justin suggested the possibility of Solidago speciosa, which as he noted grows in drier conditions. Solidago uliginosa has thicker textured leaves that have a longer length to width ratio than those of S. speciosa. The lower leaves of S. uliginosa are somewhat clasping the stem, but this character isn't obvious in the quiz photo.

Solidago uliginosa is a polymorphic species of eastern North America, where it grows in bogs, marshes, and wet woods (Semple & Cook 2006). These photographs were taken on August 18, 2009 in Superior, Wisconsin. Plants of this species that we saw in Wisconsin look somewhat different from those that I typically see in Indiana. In fact, the first time I saw it, I had to ask our local expert which Solidago it was. Individuals of this species that I see in northern Indiana have fewer stem leaves and inflorescences that are less dense.

Solidago is from the Latin solido, meaning “to make whole or heal,” a reference to the medicinal qualities of the genus; the specific epithet uliginosa means “of marshes (Wisplants 2010).

Semple, J.C. & R.E. Cook. 2006. Solidago. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 15+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 20.

Wisplants (http://wisplants.uwsp.edu/scripts/detail.asp?SpCode=SOLULI), accessed 25 January 2010.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker

Several years ago in early spring a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker showed up on the Austrian Pine outside our kitchen window. It stayed about two weeks and spent most of each day on that one tree. Occasionally it would visit White Pines in the yard, but after only a few minutes, it was back to the Austrian Pine. This woodpecker really does eat tree sap, and it makes little holes arrayed in rows and columns. Sometimes the holes are circular, sometimes elliptical, and sometimes rectangular with rounded corners.

Amazingly, for three or four years in a row, a Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker visited for about two weeks in early spring, showing a strong preference for the same tree. I have no idea whether it was the same bird each year, and only managed to get two photos through the window glass. The tree now exudes large amounts of sap from the holes but still seems healthy and fast-growing.

Tulip Trees (Liriodendron tulipifera) almost always have horizontal rings of holes. Are they from this bird? I don’t know, but I don’t recall ever seeing this bird on a Tulip Tree. And I happen to enjoy looking at the trunks of Tulip Trees!

When I was a kid there was an episode of the comedy show “Honeymooners” in which Norton got a pair of binoculars. In one scene he looked through them and called out, “Yella-Bellied Sapsucka!” Of course, I understood that to be a made-up name, just for comedy. Years later, avid birder Tim Goff and I were birding and botanizing when Tim called out, "Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker!" so I said something like, “Yeah, right,” knowing it was a joke, but he showed me the crazy thing in his bird book. Huh. It’s actually a real bird!

More recently, a guy told me he had White Pines on his property with little holes in perfect rows and columns on the trunks. He had called his county agent, who informed him (without seeing the trees) that it was a disease and the trees should be destroyed, so he destroyed them! He said the trees were a foot in diameter! Incredible. Granted, there are probably a dozen insects / pathogens that make holes in pine bark, but in perfect rows and columns? Come on.

One final story. I cut some lower limbs off a White Pine in my yard and sap exuded from the scars all summer. Ruby-Throated Hummingbirds visited those scars regularly, hovering at each one, making a full circle around the trunk. As far as I could tell they were eating sap. It seems like it would stick the two halves of their beaks together.

Sorry to ramble, but half the fun of exploring and observing is the subsequent telling of stories (even if they are sappy!)

Monday, January 18, 2010

Gooseberry Morning!

On rare occasions we get thick fog while the temperature is below freezing. Moisture crystallizes on everything (an occurrence known as “hoarfrost”) and is profoundly beautiful on trees. A close look reveals acicular crystals in varying lengths, strongly resembling the prickles of Gooseberry (Ribes).

Back in the 1970’s, my good friend Tom Hontz and I used to go winter camping at the Indiana Dunes, and several times we woke to a magical world of ice stickers on every tree. It was especially attractive in front of a clear blue sky, and I’ll never forget the faint tinkling sound of tiny ice needles falling as we hiked. Tom coined the phrase “gooseberry morning,” and this phenomenon always brings fond memories of my old friend, who lost a dreadful battle with diabetes.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Plant Quiz... Solved: Tilia americana, American Basswood

This is a tree seedling. The mature leaves look nothing like this. It puzzled me for years, and while I believe I know what it is, I'm still not sure. The expertise on this blog should provide a solid answer!

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Sarracenia purpurea L.

I found this while rooting around in my desk recently. Apparently the people of Canada really love their Pitcher Plants!


You can even buy a modern gold piece with Sarracenia purpurea on it: http://www.talismancoins.com/servlet/Detail?no=804

The finest photograph I have ever seen of this plant was created by Lee Casebere of the Indiana DNR. It is a work of art, and it was done before the ease of digital photography came along.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

To Honor A Rock Star

On this day 232 years ago, botany, and science in general, lost a real rock star. Carl von Linné (aka Carl Linnaeus or Carolus Linnaeus), the father of modern taxonomy, passed away at the age of 71 on 10 January 1778. The painting below (from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Carolus_Linnaeus_by_Hendrik_Hollander_1853.jpg) depicts a young Linnaeus on a collecting trip.

So what is that in Linnaeus' right hand? If you guessed a plant with a genus that bears his name, you are correct.

This is Linnaea borealis, Twinflower. In 1732, Linnaeus explored Lapland, a northern province of Sweeden, and collected 537 specimens during a season that he described as one of the most fruitful of his life. Over 100 of the plants that he collected on this trip were new to science. One of the specimens that he collected was a plant known as Campanula serpyllifolia. Thought to be rare before the Lapland excursion, Linnaeus found an abundance of this species on the foray. About this discovery, he wrote: "I tied my horse to an ancient Runic monumental stone, and, accompanied by a guide, climbed the mountain on the left side. Here were many uncommon plants, as Fumaria bulbosa minima, Campanula serpyllifolia, Adoxa moschatellina, &c., all in greater perfection than ever I saw them before." Campanula serpyllifolia was said to be Linnaeus' favorite plant. The Dutch botanist J.F. Gronovius later renamed the genus of this plant Linnaea in honor of Linnaeus. About this honor, Linnaeus self-mockingly wrote: "Linnaea was named by the celebrated Gronovius and is a plant of Lapland, lowly, insignificant and disregarded, flowering but for a brief space - from Linnaeus who resembles it." Linnaeus gave Twinflower the specific epithet borealis, meaning "of northern regions." Many paintings of Linnaeus, including his wedding picture, portray him holding a specimen of Twinflower. (http://www.plantbiology.siu.edu/PLB304/Lecture03HistTax/HistoryTaxon.html; http://www.linnean.org/index.php?id=381; http://www.linnaeus.uu.se/online/animal/1_16.html)

For more information on Linnaea borealis, see my recent post at Through Handlens and Binoculars.

Incidentally, some people say that Linnaeus has come back to life and is masquerading as a Japanese hibachi chef...

... but those claims are just "wild."

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Fairy Slipper

Calypso bulbosa (Fairy Slipper) was one of my target plants (and finding it was consequently one of the highlights) during our trip to Colorado in July 2009.

For more information and photos on this alluring orchid, see my recent post at Through Handlens and Binoculars.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lake Michigan Transmogrified

This is what Lake Michigan looks like when cold air picks it up and drops it on evergreens (if you don’t live near the U.S. Great Lakes, Google “lake effect”). It’s always fun to wake up to the beauty of new snow flocking everything. Here are some of the evergreens in my yard.
Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)
Austrian Pine (Pinus nigra) with the interesting results of Yellow-Bellied Sapsucker visits

Douglas Fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii)

Balsam Fir (Abies balsamea)

White Spruce (Picea glauca)

Blue Spruce (Picea pungens)

Norway Spruce (Picea abies)

Arbor Vitae (Thuja occidentalis)

White Pine (Pinus strobus)

Holly (Ilex sp.)

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Marginal Fern (Dryopteris marginalis)
Amazingly, these trees were purchased as seedlings for about one dollar apiece from the St. Joseph County Soil and Water Conservation District in northern Indiana.
“Let a slight snow come over the earth, and the tracks of men
will show how little the woods and fields are frequented.”
Henry David Thoreau Journal, February 3, 1857.