Monday, December 8, 2014

A YouTube Slide Show of Spring Wildflowers

It's not too early to be thinking ahead to spring. Some of these ephemerals were photographed on March 11.

A special thanks to fellow blogger Keith Board, botanist, photographer, cabinet maker, carpenter, educator, friend, and field companion, who has been, and continues to be, a rich source of inspiration in my photographic and botanical pursuits.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Flax-leaved Aster

Flax-leaved Aster starts to flower pretty early for an aster, usually in late August. The leaves are very narrow and have scratchy-scabrous hairs, giving them an interesting feel. Look for this beautiful native in sandy black oak savannas in northern Indiana. Photographed on September 2, 2014 in Starke County, Indiana.  

Friday, November 14, 2014

A YouTube Video

Depicting all of Indiana's native orchids as accounted for in Orchids of Indiana by Mike Homoya

This video represents more than eight years of orchid hunting and photography of Indiana's native orchids. It includes six species now considered to be extirpated from the state. Three of those were photographed by me in Michigan, Ohio, and Washington. The remaining three by friends in Michigan and Ohio, Aaron Strouse, and Andrew Lane Gibson. Derek Luchik contributed the photo of Spiranthes ochroleuca.



Monday, November 3, 2014

With Botanical Royalty

On Friday before the Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society (INPAWS) Annual Conference in Bloomington, Indiana, I made a stop at the Indiana University Herbarium.  I knew that Paul Rothrock and Jerry Wilhelm would be there, and I'd planned on going through some specimens with them for a few hours on Friday afternoon.  That great opportunity was made even better when I arrived and found that Roger Hedge and Lee Casebere were also spending the afternoon in the herbarium!  A bit later, Michael Huft and Charlotte Gyllenhaal showed up.  What a day!
At Indiana University Herbarium. Back row from left: Paul Rothrock, Jerry Wilhelm, Roger Hedge, Scott Namestnik; front row from left: Lee Casebere, Michael Huft.  Photo by Charlotte Gyllenhaal.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Cyperus odoratus

I recently published a post discussing the differences between two commonly confused species in the genus Cyperus, C. esculentus and C. strigosus.  In that post, I mentioned a third species that can be confused with these, C. odoratus.  After seeing C. odoratus today, I thought it would be useful to include some photos of this species for comparison with the previous two.

Cyperus odoratus inflorescence
The spikelets of C. odoratus are similar in color to those of C. esculentus, often having an orangeish hue, turning brown upon maturation.  The spikelets are often more dense in the inflorescence than in C. esculentus, but not as densely packed as those in C. strigosus.

Three Cyperus odoratus spikelets
As in C. esculentus and C. strigosus, the spikelets of C. odoratus consist of several flowers, each of which is subtended by a scale.  Each scale is similar in length to those of C. esculentus, ranging from approximately 2-3 mm (the scales of C. strigosus are 3-4 mm long).

The spikelets of Cyperus odoratus disarticulate below the scales of individual flowers (Steve Sass hand model)
One of the main morphological differences between C. odoratus and C. esculentus is that, when mature, the spikelets of the former disarticulate below each scale, whereas those of the latter disarticulate at the base of the lowest flower only.  To see this, pull on the end of the spikelet and see if it breaks off somewhere along the spikelet (C. odoratus) or if the entire spikelet breaks off as a unit (C. esculentus).  Be sure to try this with numerous spikelets, not just one.

Base of Cyperus odoratus
Yet another way to distinguish between C. odoratus and C. esculentus is to look at the base of the plant.  In the former, there aren't many leaves coming from the base of the plant, whereas the leaves in the latter are heavily basally disposed.  In addition, C. odoratus does not produce the tubers often produced by C. esculentus.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Two Common (and Commonly Confused) Cyperus

The graminoids (mostly the grasses, sedges, and rushes) have a reputation for being difficult to identify to species, but it really just takes some time and understanding of the parts that the keys are describing.  The families should be easy to distinguish.  Rushes (Juncaceae) have sepals and petals (or collectively tepals) surrounding the pistil and stamens, giving them, on a minute scale, the look of a "typical" regular flower such as a lily.  Grasses (Poaceae) and sedges (Cyperaceae) have flowers that are evolutionarily advanced and consist of just the most important parts for reproduction, the pistil and the stamens; the perianth is highly modified in these families and doesn't look like what you would think of as petals and sepals.  In the grasses, the flower is usually subtended by two bracts, known as the lemma and palea, and each floret (as these structures are known collectively) or group of florets is subtended by additional bracts known as glumes (usually two, sometimes one or absent).  In the sedges, the flower is subtended by a single bract, called a scale.  Grasses (nearly all of them, at least) have hollow stems with solid nodes.  Most sedges have solid or pith-filled stems without swollen nodes.  Most grasses have overlapping sheaths; sedges have fused sheaths.  Grass leaves are typically flat or rolled; sedge leaves are usually V- or W-shaped in cross-section.  There are other differences, but understanding these basic differences should at least get you in the right family.

As far as sedges go, Carex is the most diverse genus.  Being able to recognize groups or sections of the genus that have similar characteristics is often a very helpful tool because it allows you to narrow down your species options substantially.  Some of the other more species rich genera in the family Cyperaceae include Scirpus, Eleocharis, and Cyperus.  In the genus Cyperus, the flowers are perfect and there are no perigynia (paper-like sacs surrounding the female flowers) as there are in the genus Carex.  The scales subtending the flowers in Cyperus are folded in half, not flat or rounded as they are in many other genera.  Morphologically, the genus that looks most similar to Cyperus in the United States is Dulichium.  The flowers on plants in the genus Cyperus lack the long persistent styles (the tubercles) that are present in flowers on plants in the genus Dulichium, and Dulichium has axillary inflorescences whereas Cyperus has terminal inflorescences.

Within the genus Cyperus, as within the genus Carex, the species can be organized into several natural groups (subgenera) that share morphological characteristics.  Within subgenus Cyperus, which has flowers with three stigmas (as opposed to two), spikelets along a conspicuous rachis (as opposed to being in digitate or glomerulate heads), and rachilla (the axis to which the flowers are attached) that disconnect from the rachis (the axis to which the spikelets attach) only at the base (as opposed to having rachilla that disconnect beneath each scale), two of the most commonly confused species in the Great Lakes region are Cyperus esculentus and Cyperus strigosusCyperus odoratus is also often confused with these two species, but it is taxonomically placed into subgenus Diclidium because the rachilla disconnect beneath each scale, not at the base of the spikelet.  If you pull on a spikelet of a species in subgenus Diclidium from the end of the spikelet, the spikelet will break somewhere in the middle; pulling on a spikelet of a species in subgenus Cyperus from the end of the spikelet will result in the entire spikelet being removed from the rachis in an intact unit.

Cyperus esculentus inflorescence and leaves
With all of that background information, now we can look at Cyperus esculentus versus Cyperus strigosus to see the differences between these commonly confused sedges.  First take a look at the inflorescences.  Usually, Cyperus esculentus has spikelets that are orangish in color (see photo above), as compared to the yellowish or straw-colored spikelets of Cyperus strigosus (see photo below).  In addition, the spikelets of Cyperus esculentus aren't usually packed into the inflorescence as tightly as those of Cyperus strigosus.

Cyperus strigosus inflorescence
Next, let's look at the scales subtending each flower in the spikelets.  In the two photographs below, the structure in my hand is a  single spikelet, made up of several flowers, each subtended by a scale.

Cyperus esculentus spikelet
Without a ruler for scale, it's a bit difficult to see the difference in the length of the floral scales.  However, you should be able to tell that in the Cyperus esculentus spikelet photo (above), the scales are shorter (approximately 2-3 mm long) than those in Cyperus strigosus (3-4 mm long).  Although this difference isn't much, with some experience, you can begin to notice the short scales of Cyperus esculentus and the "long" scales of Cyperus strigosus on a quick inspection with a hand lens.

Cyperus strigosus spikelet
Yet another difference in the two species can be seen by looking at the base of the plants.

Base and roots of Cyperus esculentus
In Cyperus esculentus, the base of the plant (where the stem meets the roots) is soft and lacks a bulb (see photo above).  Often, at least later in the season, you can find tubers at the ends of some of the roots.  In contrast, Cyperus strigosus has a distinctly bulbous base (see photo below) and lacks any tuberous protrusions on the roots.

Base and roots of Cyperus strigosus
Another difference between the two species that can somewhat be seen in the first set of photos is that Cyperus esculentus is leafy at the base, whereas Cyperus strigosus is not leafy at the base.  In the first two photos, you can see a lot of leaves in the Cyperus esculentus photo, but the leaves are mostly absent in the Cyperus strigosus photo.  The foliage of Cyperus esculentus is also usually shiny and yellow-green, whereas that of Cyperus strigosus are not as shiny.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Plant Quiz - Answer

I recently posted the following plant quiz...
Anyone able to ID this plant from what is shown in this photograph? 


There were several good guesses, and BOUCUR got the genus correct (Valeriana), but no one figured out the species.  Here is what it would have looked like in flower...

This is Valeriana uliginosa (Marsh Valerian), a species of fens primarily in the Great Lakes region. Because of its rarity, V. uliginosa is a species of conservation concern in most of the states in which it occurs.  In the quiz photo, the "plumose pappus-like" structures are actually the calyx lobes, which are inrolled when the plant is in flower and expanded when it goes to fruit. 

Asclepias exaltata

When most people think of milkweed habitat, they think of prairie or old field areas.  Asclepias exaltata defies that logic, growing in woodlands and forests. 

Asclepias exaltata, June 8, 2014, Starved Rock State Park, LaSalle County, Illinois

Friday, June 20, 2014

Grass Identification and Ecology Workshop to be Offered at The Morton Arboretum


Tired of seeing "unknown grass" and "Dichanthelium sp." on your vegetation sampling datasheets?  Need to know what species that Elymus is to figure out if you're in a wetland or an upland?  Interested in learning vegetative characteristics for some of our more common grasses?  Just want to know more about grass identification and ecology in general?  If the answer to any of these questions is "yes," then the workshop discussed below being held on August 21-22, 2014 at The Morton Arboretum in Lisle, Illinois may be for you.  If you have any questions about the workshop, email Scott Namestnik at

Learn to identify the grasses that add beauty and interest to the summer and fall landscape. Grasses allow us to read the landscape: from soils, habitat, disturbance and past land uses. They form a critical component of the biodiversity and with nearly 11,000 species, this is the fourth largest plant family. This workshop consists of an intensive, hands-on approach incorporating both classroom work and field study.  Identify warm season grasses in the field and lab, learn the specialized terminology and distinguishing features, discuss their ecology, and practice identifying species from keys.

Instructor: Scott Namestnik, senior botanist, Orbis Environmental Consulting
Notes: Held both indoors and outdoors. Please dress for the weather each day. Limit 20
Supplies: Please bring a water bottle, a hand lens, and wear sturdy, closed-toed shoes for walking over uneven terrain. Fee includes all workshop handouts, morning refreshments and a box lunch.
Intended audience: Advanced students and professionals.
Certificate information: Can be used as a Naturalist Certificate, WSP elective (14 hours)
Prerequisites: Prior experience with plant identification required
Course number: S318

Thursday, August 21 and Friday, August 22, 9:00 a.m.-4:00 p.m.
Botany Lab, Research Center, The Morton Arboretum

Nonmembers: Fees include admission to the Arboretum.
$150.00 members
$176.00 nonmembers
$50.00 students; call 630-719-2468 or email for student rate


CALL: 630-719-2468
IN PERSON: Stop by the Visitor Center during open hours.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Plant Quiz - Answered

I recently posted the following plant quiz...
Hopefully you haven't forgotten about us here at Get Your Botany On!  Sorry for the long delay between posts.  Here's a quick plant quiz to hold you over until our next more lengthy post.  Good luck!


The Phytophactor answered correctly that this plant is Geocaulon lividum of the family Santalaceae.  Like other members of this family, False Toadflax, as this species is known, is a hemiparasite that produces haustoria that attach to roots of host plants to obtain a portion of its nutrients. 

Geocaulon lividum
Geocaulon lividum is a northern species found throughout much of Canada and Alaska, barely reaching into the contiguous United States.  Because of this geographical distribution, it is a species of conservation concern in several states.  It grows in wet to moist conditions, such as in bogs, fens, and coniferous or deciduous forests, but also on sandy or rocky ridges or dunes near the Great Lakes.  The genus name Geocaulon means "earth" (Geo-) and "stem of the plant" (-caulon), which is a reference to the long slightly subterranean stems (rhizomes).  The specific epithet lividum means "lead-colored," which could be a reference to the flowers, which range from green to purple in color.

Geocaulon lividum
Geocaulon lividum has been treated as a member of the genus Comandra (Comandra lividum), and anyone familiar with the genus Comandra can easily see why.  It differs from Comandra in having green to purple flowers (versus white in Comandra), axillary inflorescences (versus terminal in Comandra), and orange-red fruit more than 7 mm in diameter (versus green to yellowish fruit up to 6 mm in diameter in Comandra).  In each cymule on a Geocaulon lividum plant, the central flower is perfect, whereas the other one to two flowers are staminate; Comandra has all flowers perfect in each cymule.  For comparison, Comandra umbellata is pictured below.  Vegetatively, Geocaulon lividum may be confused with a member of the genus Vaccinium, which would have woody stems and leaves with different venation and texture.

Comandra umbellata
The photographs of Geocaulon lividum above were taken on June 22, 2013 in Copper Harbor, Michigan.  Nice call, Phytophactor!