Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Great Basin Plants part 1

I have had the opportunity to spend some time out in eastern Nevada this spring. It was quite a crash course in new plants, but I wanted to share some. On new plants, I at least tried to keep their genus in my memory.

Scarlet Gilia was a car-stopper kind of flower. Driving across the valley towards the cedar swamps, we spotted this flower growing in the playa/wetlands. I think I took a picture of every clump I came across. Now it is considered to be Ipomopsis aggregata instead of Gilia.

Here is our target plant in all of its glory, Phacelia parishii. This annual grows in dry, crumbly-soil lake beds. We got to see it at two sites. Where the conditions were right, it was abundant this year. Some years it never comes up.

A view of a playa covered with the phacelia. A very tall plant might have been 3" tall.

Allenrolfea occidentalis is a shrub from the Chenopodiaceae family. Named Iodine Bush, it grows in saline playas. We found this shrub everywhere we found Parish's Phacelia. I was curious about the genus, apparently it was named for an English botanist by the name of Robert Allen Rolfe.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Arethusa Bulbosa

Having photographed all but one of Indiana's 41 native orchid taxa with known populations I have moved on to locating and photographing six others thought to be extirpated from the state, but still present in surrounding states.

Arethusa bulbosa
has been high on my list of most wanted species. The last known plant in Indiana was photographed in a bog in Kosciusko County in 1983, and was not found subsequently. Prior to that it had been 50 years since the last sighting. (Homoya 1993).

I recently learned of a sphagnum bog less than a three hour drive into Michigan where this species can still be located, and on short notice, following a tip that it was in bloom, my wife, Nila, and I headed there early one morning a few days ago.

We found five plants along a short stretch of boardwalk leading out into the bog. One stem was bent at the base and was resting on the ground, and one had a drooping sepal hanging askew. Another was growing directly beneath a very small tamarack tree (Larix laricina) and offered no place to position a tripod. From the remaining two I chose the one that was about five feet from the boardwalk and pretty much in an open setting.

I was surprised at how small the orchids were--no more than six inches tall. This meant that my camera needed to be very close to the ground and about 12 inches away from the flower. I carefully stepped off the boardwalk onto the sphagnum moss hoping not to leave indelible footprints in this very fragile habitat, and wondering with each advancing step, against all reason, if I was going to break through the sphagnum mat into deep water.

Luckily I had purchased a right angle finder the week before which, when attached to the camera's viewfinder allowed me to focus and frame the orchid without having to lie flat on the ground. Even so, the footing was very tenuous and I ended up with far fewer photos than I normally take.

Surprisingly, the sphagnum moss recovered quickly. There was no sign of my footprints when I left, although my boots had been submerged in about four inches of water while I was working.

The photo below shows the dragon's mouth (Arethusa bulbosa) with its bog associates, sphagnum moss (Sphagnum spp.), the insectivorous pitcher plant ( Sarracenia purpurea ssp.purpurea), and large cranberry ( Vaccinium macrocarpon).

Homoya, Michael A. 1993, Orchids of Indiana. Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Friday, June 10, 2011

South Carolina Highlights, Part 3

The final day of our trip to the Palmetto State started out with a trip to Shealy's Pond Heritage Preserve in the sandhills province. The plant communities that we hoped to see at this preserve were Atlantic White Cedar Bog and the seepy margin around the edge of the mill pond formed by the dammed Scouter Creek.

The seepage zone surrounding the mill pond is home to three species of Sarracenia, as well as several hybrids between them. The most conspicuous of the three species that we saw was Sarracenia flava var. maxima (below). Unfortunately, the flowers of this species (which McPherson (2007)) describes as some of the largest and most spectacular in the entire genus) had all dropped their petals before we arrived on 3 May, but the nearly three foot tall yellow-green pitchers helped to make up for this deficiency. Yellow Pitcher Plant grows throughout a narrow band in the coastal plain and piedmont of eastern North America and into the panhandle of Florida and southeastern Alabama in a variety of wet acidic habitats.

In the Great Lakes and New England states, as well as in Canada, Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea can regularly be seen growing in bogs and fens. That's why I was very excited to see Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa (below), the more southern subspecies. There are disjunct populations of Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea in the southern Appalachian Mountains as well, but generally the two subspecies are geographically separated around northern Virginia. The Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa plants that we saw at Shealy's Pond were much taller than any Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea that I've seen in northern Indiana.

This subspecies is named for its veiny leaves. A major difference between this and Sarracenia purpurea ssp. purpurea is that the leaves of Sarracenia purpurea ssp. venosa are too heavy for the plant to support their weight, and the pitchers therefore fall over and appear to be prostrate in growth form, curving upwards at the pitcher opening (see photograph below). Frog's Breeches, as it is known, is a federal species of concern that grows in wet, acidic habitats primarily in the Atlantic coastal plain of the southeastern United States. In South Carolina, this carnivorous plant species is rare but grows in the mountains, sandhills, and coastal plain.

The third species of pitcher plant at Shealy's Pond was Sarracenia rubra (below). This species has its greatest distribution in South Carolina, but its overall range includes several small isolated populations throughout the southeastern United States. Sarracenia jonesii, which I mentioned in Part 1 of my recap, was once thought to be a subspecies of Sarracenia rubra, but the two are now thought by most to be distinct species, with the former restricted to the mountains and the latter found in the coastal plain and sandhills.

The leaves of Sarracenia rubra (shown below) are on average a bit smaller (with smaller openings) than those of Sarracenia jonesii, but there is some overlap. Sarracenia rubra supposedly preys mostly on ants, as the opening in the pitcher is said to be too small for many other insects.

After Shealy's Pond, we started our trip back through the piedmont and stopped at Savannah River Bluffs Heritage Preserve, located along the scenic Savannah River just northeast of Augusta, Georgia. Taxodium distichum, Platanus occidentalis, and Betula nigra were dominant in the floodplain forest, in places covered with Tillandsia usneoides. In addition to the floodplain, the basic-mesic forest at Savannah River Bluffs was our targeted plant community.

At this preserve, we were excited to see another sedge in section Phyllostachyae (the section in which Carex jamesii, Carex latebracteata, Carex wildenowii, and Carex basiantha are placed), Carex superata (shown below). This interesting sedge, with tallest flower stalks less than half the height of the plant, is known from moist to dry forests and openings in the southeastern United States.

Our primary target at Savannah River Bluffs, however, was Trillium reliquum, shown below. Unfortunately, we were a bit late to see this federally endangered trillium in flower, but I still couldn't resist taking numerous photos of this amazing rarity that is known from widely separated populations in just five counties in three states (Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina). Relict Trillium, as it is known, can be identified by the s-shaped stem and silvery stripe along the leaf midveins; it grows in rich basic-mesic forests and floodplains.

After getting our fill of past-flowering Trillium reliquum, we hurried to Stevens Creek Heritage Preserve to end our trip in what some claim to be the best basic-mesic forest in the piedmont of the eastern United States. It didn't take long for us to find another of our targets, the federally threatened Ribes echinellum (shown below, in fruit). Although it can be abundant where found, the global distribution of Miccosukee Gooseberry includes just four sites in three counties: Gadsden and Jefferson Counties, Florida and McCormick County, South Carolina.

A trillium common at Stevens Creek that was still in flower when we were there on 3 May was Trillium discolor, shown below. Like so many of the other trillies, Pale Yellow Trillium has a narrow distribution, being restricted to the mountains and piedmont in the upper drainage of the Savanna River. Trillium discolor grows in deciduous forest and is known from just a handful of counties in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

To wrap up our excursion, we found one last "must see," Trillium lancifolium (below). Although it was past flowering, we couldn't resist numerous photos of this unique trillium that bares a similar appearance to the common Trillium recurvatum that grows here in northern Indiana. Lanceleaf Trillium grows in floodplains and mesic forests in widely separated populations throughout Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, the panhandle of Florida, southern Tennessee, and eastern Mississippi.

It has been fun reliving our whirlwind trip through the mountain, piedmont, and coastal plain provinces of South Carolina. As you can see, South Carolina has a lot to offer to the botanically inclined, and we had a terrific time touring the state.

McPherson, S. Pitcher Plants of the Americas. Blacksburg, Virginia: The McDonald & Woodward Publishing Company, 2007.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

South Carolina Highlights, Part 2

Although Day 1 of our trip was excellent, Day 2 was even better. We only visited two sites on the second day of our excursion, but the first site that day was so interesting that it was the highlight of our trip for me. This site is known as Forty Acre Rock and Flat Creek Heritage Preserve, and it is considered by some to be the most diverse protected area in the piedmont province. We spent most of our time in the granite flatrock area of the site, pictured below.

In the photograph above, you can see numerous colors and textures indicative of a diverse array of plant species. In a few spots, including on the left side of the photo, you can see a bit of red coloration, which is a result of one of many dense colonies of Diamorpha smallii on the site. Elf Orpine, as it is known, has fleshy red leaves, a red stem, and pinkish-red fruit, and it grows in dense colonies. This tiny plant (only growing up to four inches tall) is only known from six states in the southeastern United States, where it grows in gravelly and sandy vernal pools in granite and sandstone outcrops and sandy flats.

The very similar Sedum pusillum, pictured below, also grows at this site, in populations that are geographically in close proximity to Diamorpha smallii but that are ecologically quite different. Whereas Diamorpha smallii grows in vernal pools, Sedum pusillum can be found in slightly drier parts of granite flatrocks under shade, often in association with Juniperus virginiana. Puck's Orpine, as this species is known, is only found in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Georgia, and is a Federal Species of Concern. It flowers a bit earlier than Diamorpha smallii, and as a result many of the plants of this species that we saw had already matured to fruit.

In my previous post, I discussed Minuartia glabra. At Forty Acre Rock, the similar Minuartia uniflora was found on granite flatrocks. This tiny member of the family Caryophyllaceae, known as Piedmont Sandwort, is only known from North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama, where it grows in sandy or granite outcrops. As with nearly all of the other species growing on the outcrops at this site, Minuartia glabra is an annual.

Take a look at the shot below. What could Justin possibly be doing? Isn't he going to soil his Sunday best by tinkering on his tummy in that little puddle? Even if he did, it would be well worth it for the reward of the plant in the small vernal pool that is the object of his attention.

Probably the highlight plant of the trip for me was the tiny Pool Sprite that grows in these vernal pools at this preserve. Below is Amphianthus pusillus. It simply doesn't get much better than this, folks. The leaves of this plant are less than a half inch long, so you can get a feel for how small the flower is. This federally threatened species is endemic to the vernal pools in granite flatrocks in the piedmont of South Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama. Because these vernal pools are prone to rapid drying, this only member of the genus Amphianthus, an annual plant, conducts its entire life cycle in just three to four weeks. The other plant in the photograph below, by the way, is a quillwort, possibly (Isoetes melanospora).

After spending a good chunk of the day at this site, we drove to the coastal plain and botanized at Cartwheel Bay Heritage Preserve. Most of our time here was spent in the Longleaf Pine flatwoods, but we did venture into a couple of pocasins as well.

One of our highlights at this preserve was Carolina Ipecac, Euphorbia ipecacuanhae, shown below. This mat-forming euphorb is known primarily from the sandhills and coastal plain of several states along the east coast of the United States. The specific epithet gives you an idea of what would happen if you ate this plant... not only does it induce vomiting, but it also acts as a laxative. Don't try this at home... well, that may actually be the best place to try it, if you are so inclined.

Also at Cartwheel Bay, we saw the plant below.  We originally identified this as Iris tridentata, but thanks to the keen eye of one of our readers we've learned that this identification was incorrect. Instead, we now believe that this is likely Iris virginica.  However, there are two known varieties of this species present in South Carolina: I. virginica var. virginica and I. virginica var. shrevei.  The former is said to get up to 6 dm tall and to not be very branched, whereas the latter is said to get up to 1 m tall and to be more branched.  The plant that we saw with deep violet petals and sepals was at least 1m tall and was branched, indicating that it would be I. virginica var. shrevei.  However, that variety is not known from the coastal plain of South Carolina or from Horry County, where we found this specimen.

As it began to get dark, a Barred Owl called, signaling the end to day two of our short three day sprint through South Carolina. After such a great day two, what would day three bring?

Sunday, June 5, 2011

South Carolina Highlights, Part 1

Many of you know that Justin Thomas and I went to South Carolina on our annual botany excursion this spring. I will try to do justice to some of our trip highlights in this and my next two posts. I will also be including additional photos at some point on Through Handlens and Binoculars.

On our first day in South Carolina we visited three sites in the Blue Ridge Mountain province of the state. The first stop on our trip was at Table Rock State Park. Our hike at this National Natural Landmark site took us through montane deciduous forest communities and along a spray cliff. Here we saw the interesting shrub Pyrularia pubera (Santalaceae), shown below. This hemiparasite, known as buffalo-nut or oil nut, should not be eaten as it contains toxic oils. It is known from mountainous regions of the eastern United States.

As we walked along we continued to see an odd Thalictrum with showy white sepals. Justin finally commented on this plant that I had been watching as well, so we looked it up and found that it was Thalictrum clavatum, shown below. Mountain Meadow Rue, as it is known, is found in mountainous regions of eight eastern states and grows in moist forests and near streams.

Our next stop was at Eva Russell Chandler Heritage Preserve. This site boasts quality cataract bogs and granite domes as its highlight plant communities.

Cataract bogs (shown above) are interesting communties that are not bogs in the true sense of the word but that instead receive water from seepages. These communities occur along the margins of small streams that sheet flow over smooth rock surfaces.

One of the seemingly early successional plant species on the granite domes at this preserve was Kinky-hair Spikemoss, Selaginella tortipila (below). This primitive spore-bearing plant forms carpets on granite domes, cliffs, and ledges, and is endemic to Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Georgia.

Another common plant on the granite domes was Minuartia glabra, shown below. Appalachian Sandwort, as it is commonly known, grows on rock outcrops including granite domes.

The third site that we botanized on our first day was recommended to us by a member of the South Carolina Native Plant Society who we bumped into at Table Rock State Park. This preserve, known as Ashmore Heritage Preserve, has a dammed reservoir but also contains natural bog communities.

Our target at this site was not difficult to find and can be seen in the photograph above as well as that below. This is Sarracenia jonesii, Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant. This extremely rare pitcher plant is known only from 10 populations in five counties in mountain seepage bogs in North and South Carolina. As a result of its population numbers and distribution, Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant is Federally Endangered. This beautiful carnivorous species was named in honor of the man who studied insect associates of pitcher plants, Dr. F. M. Jones.

An unexpected bonus at Ashmore Heritage Preserve was Calopogon tuberosus, a species of eastern North America. It is a rare occasion when the flamboyant Tuberous Grasspink, as this orchid is known, is overshadowed and nearly ignored, but such was the case at this site with the occurrence of an exceedingly rare carnivorous plant in great abundance.

This ended our first day, as dusk approached while we continued to photograph orchids, pitcher plants, sundews, bladderworts, ferns, and sedges. We saw many, many more great plants on this first day, but there are not enough hours in the day to go through each of these here. Hopefully this brief summary excites you enough to stay tuned for part 2.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Sedum ternatum, Woodland Stonecrop

This native of damp rock cliffs, damp woods, and steep river banks is a member of the Crassulaceae, or Orpine family. It's related to the many species of "Live Forever" used in landscaping. Photographed in a dripping wet rock canyon along Ross Run, a tributary of the Wabash River in central Indiana.