Tuesday, July 27, 2010

River Scenes and Plant Quiz

Some of you know that I spend a lot of time on beautiful rivers in “the land of sky blue water,” northern Wisconsin.
When I see a river purling beside me I always wonder where it’s going, and where it comes from.
I wonder what kinds of fish live in it, and what wonderful plants grow on its islands and forested slopes.

I wonder what it looked like when the early Frenchmen plied its waters. Did the Indians travel this water? Did they fish here and leave arrowheads and spearpoints on the bottom?

Now I must admit that I’ve been misleading. While the statements are true, the photos are not from the northwoods at all (I never said they were!). You may have noticed the absence of birch, white pine, balsam fir and other favorites of the north country. The photos were taken within the city limits of South Bend, Indiana, along the St. Joseph River. No kidding. They’re just snapshots from a point and shoot camera which rarely records the color of the sky correctly.

The city recently completed a multi-use path that follows the west side of the river from Darden Road all the way to Angela Drive. The opposite shoreline is mostly undeveloped – part of it is an Izaac Walton preserve, and most belongs to St. Mary’s College. The city plans to extend the path soon and connect with Mishawaka’s Riverwalk.

Projects like this enhance the quality of life for city dwellers and anyone who visits. Many people use the path for walking, jogging and biking, and it’s common to see canoes, kayaks, and fishing boats going about their merry way on the river. Occasional fishermen (and women) try their luck along the shore. Admittedly, the river is not pristine and pure along this stretch after passing through Elkhart and Mishawaka, and carrying away their (treated) effluent. Even so, the city officials of South Bend and Mishawaka are to be commended for making an effort to improve the quality of life for everyone by making it easier to get outside and get active in a scenic place. The views of the river are surprisingly nice, and they make one wonder if it looked much different in the days of LaSalle, Coquillard, and Navarre.

Finally, since this is a botany blog, here’s a grass that was growing along the path. It has a distinctive look, even before flowering. Can you name it?

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Flowers? Heck, where have all the BOTANISTS gone?

Professional botanists and ecologist throughout the United States were sent a questionnaire last year regarding the state of botanical study and practice at the academic and applied levels. Having all but forgotten the survey, I was surprised to find a synopsis of the report in the most recent issue of the Missouri Natural Areas Newsletter. The article directs readers to the full report at the following web address:

I thought this might be an interesting forum (via comments) to discuss the results. So, what do you think? And, more importantly, what does it all mean?

Monday, July 19, 2010

It's A Purple Platanthera Party...

... and you're all invited!

On Thursday morning, on a tip from Derek Nimetz of Indiana Department of Natural Resources - Division of Nature Preserves, Tony and I swung by a site in Lake County, Indiana to find Platanthera psycodes, Small Purple Fringed-Orchid, in bloom. We certainly were not disappointed!

Then, on Saturday afternoon at the Goose Pond Biodiversity Survey in Greene County, Indiana, on a tip from Kirk Roth, I had the opportunity to see the other purple Platanthera in Indiana, Platanthera peramoena, Purple Fringeless-Orchid. (For more information on the results of the Goose Pond Biodiversity Survey, visit my blog entry at Through Handlens and Binoculars.)

It is difficult to argue the attractiveness of either of these purple beauties. Although both are found in Indiana, Platanthera psycodes is found primarily in the northern tier of counties, whereas Platanthera peramoena primarily inhabits counties in the southern half of the state. The habitat in which these two similar looking species grow is also quite different. As Keith pointed out in his post about a year ago, P. psycodes is found in forested seep wetlands, along springy streams, in wet prairies, and in bogs; in Indiana, it nearly always is associated with groundwater-fed wetlands. Conversely, P. peramoena grows most commonly in floodplains and uplands, though it can sometimes be found along ditches, ponds, or lakes. When found in forested areas, as it sometimes is, the plants are spindly and the flowers are a paler color. However, it is often found looking very healthy in open areas that have resulted from disturbance.

These two purple Platanthera are sometimes confused for one another, but if habitat and location weren't enough, taking a close look at the flowers can quickly provide a correct identification.

The photograph above shows the flower of Small Purple Fringed-Orchid; by looking at the lip, you can see where it gets its name. In addition, psycodes means "butterfly," apparently a reference to the shape of the flowers.

The photograph above shows the flower of Purple Fringeless-Orchid. It kind of looks like some loving Saturday morning cartoon character, doesn't it? Although the lip can be erose in this species, it is not fringed as in Platanthera psycodes. Coincidentally, peramoena means "very loving," referring to the beautiful inflorescense.

I hope you've enjoyed this brief Purple Platanthera Party. If you haven't had enough, get out there and find them for yourself! Photographs do not do justice to the elegance of these species.

Homoya, M. (1993). Orchids of Indiana. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana Academy of Science.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Plant Quiz=Panicum flexile

A plant quiz is far from overdue.

The ability to identify grasses without fertile material is not for the faint of heart and is one of the most challenging (and ignored) aspects of floristic botany. Most species can readily be identified by their leaves, sheaths, ligules, stems, pubescence, habit and habitat. Familiarity is the key.

Since this is especially challenging, I'll add a new clue each day until someone gets it right. Good luck!