Plant ID

Jul. 5th, 2015 08:50 pm
urbpan: (dandelion)
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As Alexis and I were walking the dogs through the Lost Pond Reservation last week, she stopped and said, hey, what are these flowers? I looked and said that they're kind of wintergreen. Then somewhere in the back of my brain the word "pipsissewa" spoke up. That turns out to be true, but since I didn't have conscious access to the process, I'm not sure I can use it to my future advantage with plant identification.

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Pipsissewa is the name given by the Cree, indigenous people of what is now Canada. The plant, Chimaphila umbellata*, has a number of uses including treating urinary disorders and fever and to flavor root beer. Despite having chlorophyll in its leaves to photosynthesize, this plant derives some of its nutrients by parasitizing mycorrhizae, in the same way as strictly parasitic plants like monotrope.

* "Umbellate** winter-lover"

** Umbellate refers to a type of flower growth, ie: in umbels. Umbels are a type of flower wherein a number of flower stalks radiate from a common origin. The most familiar umbellate wildflower is Queen Anne's Lace Dauca carota***.

*** "carrot carrot"
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This little black-eyed Susan grew on it own, at the base of our steps.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Blue wood aster (Heart-leaf aster) Symphyotrichum cordifolium

In late September my deliberate neglect of the yard bears fruit. Tall rangy weeds in the shady corners and other places finally burst forth with bluish daisy-like flowers. This year one plant came up right in front of a frequently used gate--it took all of our collective patience not to pull the darned thing, but now it's made the transformation from weed to wildflower.

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The side of the yard under the white pines is especially thick with blue wood asters.

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Insects have eaten the foliage so thoroughly that it took me a while to find a heart-shaped leaf that was intact.

This species appeared on this blog as 365 urban species #269: Heart-leaf Aster.
urbpan: (dandelion)
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Tomato Lycopersicon esculentum

I am resistant to including garden plants in this project, but this tomato plant insisted. We have tomato plants growing in planters, in a raised garden bed, and in a place in the yard where they must have grown from chicken droppings. The plant in this photo is growing from our compost. There are a series of half inch ventilation holes in the sides of the compost container and this tomato vine emerged from one. At first I was mildly amused: plants frequently sprout in our compost (I guess we don't turn it often enough) but they eventually die and become more compost. We left this to its own devices and soon enough it flowered. I told myself, if it bears fruit it becomes part of the project. Here we are.

Tomatoes are native to South America. They made their way north with human help, then were brought to Europe, where many were under the misapprehension that the fruit was toxic. Easy mistake--many plant in the nightshade family are. Eventually the truth came out that love apples were perfectly edible, and well-suited to be made into sauces. Imagine Italian food before the tomato. The plant is so easily grown in North America that even I can do it, ours are annuals, but in warmer places it can be perennial. I have taken to deliberately feeding the chickens certain fruits (tomatoes and wine berries) in order to draft them into gardening. I'll let you know how that goes.

A wild tomato I encountered behind Brookline Ice and Coal was featured in the 365 Urban Species Project.

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urbpan: (dandelion)
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Most of these Brooklyn Nature post pics are going to from Prospect Park, a nearly 600 acre Olmsted landscape, of which I explored a few hundred square feet. Alexis and I first looked at very early on Sunday morning, before the wreckage of Saturday night festivities had been cleared away. Here's the base of a planter, delightfully overgrown with moss and weeds.

Read more... )
urbpan: (dandelion)
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This past Sunday we had an Urban Nature Walk in the Bussey Brook Meadow Urban Wild. This little chunk of land connects the Forest Hills rapid transit stop to the Arnold Arboretum, making it very easy for any car-free Bostonian to get there. As it happens, two of us came by car, two by bicycle. This photo is from the end of the walk, when we emerged from an Arboretum gate to find an abundance of black raspberries!

eleven more )
See other pics from the walk from [ profile] lizziebelle here:
And from Ajay here:
urbpan: (dandelion)
Ground Ivy (Also Creeping Charlie, Gill-Over-the-Ground) Glechoma hederacea

"You know that viney weed with the scalloped-edged leaves that takes over your yard? That one that you can tell is a long, climbing thing, but when you try to rip it out of your flower beds, just the part in your hands breaks off instead of pulling up the whole thing? The one that gets those pretty little purple flowers in the spring? Turns out Europeans brought it here on purpose, just like garlic mustard. It's a salad green. You can use it in soups. You can make tea out of it. The Saxons used to use it like hops in beer. It has medicinal properties. A 1986 study found it inhibits EBV and skin tumors. It's part of the mint family, and mints were traditionally used as all-purpose antibiotics." - [ profile] gigglingwizard

I don't have much to add, except that it smells really nice when you mow it. It's a common urban and suburban plant, and first joined us as 365 urban species number 118.

But what the hell is growing on it?! I was just sitting in my yard when I saw this thing. I assumed it was a small lawnmower's mushroom and went to pluck it--to my surprise I pulled out a plant with a foreign growth.

I knew that it had to be a gall, but had no idea that any creature made use of ground ivy for this purpose!

Ground Ivy Gall Wasp Liposthenes glechomae

I cut it open to see a single wormlike larva inside, very much like an oak apple gall. Wormlike larvae are usually the babies of wasps or flies, two groups known to produce galls. At least mites and pathogens were eliminated as the causal agent. I searched the index of my copy of Tracks and Sign of Insects and Other Invertebrates but ground ivy was not in the index, nor its scientific name. I posted pics here, on facebook, and on bugguide. One of the authors of the above book chimed in to identify the gall as belonging to Lisposthenes glechomae, a tiny wasp in the same family as the one that causes oak apples. He also pointed out that this gall appears in his book (p. 395--it's in the index under galls, ground ivy).

The gall protects the developing larva from predation while providing a food source for it. The insect causes little to no damage to the plant. This wasp is native to Europe, and was translocated inadvertently with its host.
urbpan: (dandelion)
Oh god this is a huge pile of photos. Don't worry, after this is the snapshots, then the rest were taken when my camera was acting weird so only a few of them are any good. Enjoy a wide range of pics of Antigua!

There are several kinds of dove and pigeon in Antigua, this one is the white-crowned pigeon Patagioenas leucocephala. These birds are suffering from the disappearance of their breeding habitat, mangrove swamps.

Read more... )
urbpan: (dandelion)
This month I want to make up for missing an Urban Nature Walk in February by having an extra one in March. That extra one is today, an easy stroll through the Arnold Arboretum, our local tree museum. The next one is March 31st at Quincy Quarry.

A friend asked me beforehand, what's in bloom at the Arboretum? Well, it's very early in the year still, but the skunk cabbage is blooming!
more arboretum )
urbpan: (dandelion)

Some bamboo under a drainspout.


A water feature in the Australian swan exhibit.
urbpan: (dandelion)
Back in April of 2010 I went to Fannie Stebbins Wildlife Refuge. My post from that trip included the following photograph, of an unidentified plant that I thought might be related to lady's thumb.

"If you haven't already ID'd that as Polygonum virginianum -- Jumpseed, then I am pointing you to look there. I regularly encounter this plant in the shady, wooded areas of the park near my house here in Baltimore City. See: - Tom of Baltimore"

That message was in my email this morning. Thanks Tom!

I like the fact that LiveJournal posts are up forever. I celebrate my 10th anniversary here this year--someone suggested that I duplicate the journal somehow, in case the KGB or whoever knock it offline entirely some day. Anyone else done this, or know how it might be done?
urbpan: (dandelion)

Eastern white pine Pinus strobus

I call this group the three sisters--don't know how appropriate that is, since they all bear male and female cones. They are by far the biggest trees in our yard, and among the biggest trees in the neighborhood. In fact, this species is the tallest tree species in New England. At the time time of colonization forests of them would grow to nearly three hundred feet. The tallest alive today are only about half that tall, the majority much shorter. In dense forests they grow tall and straight, and were highly prized as ships masts by the British navy.

In the suburbs they sprawl somewhat, and frequently drop branches in storms. Weighted by snow and blown by strong winds the two sisters on the right dropped huge branches that caused a lot of damage in our first year. I have used most of the fallen wood up in our outdoor fire--I like the flavor of pine roasted sausages. Charlie lays in the thick bed of pine needles and spots of pine sap drop on him, making nice smelling but itchy scabs of pitch on his fur.

This summer one of the pines held a mourning dove nest, and right now a squirrel is attempting a messy shelter in the branch crotch of sister 3. We are torn between disliking these trees for the labor they generate and appreciating them for their habitat value. Eastern white pine was entry number 049 in the 365 urban species project.

urbpan: (dandelion)

Dwarf Alberta spruce Picea glauca variety albertianica Conica

The dwarf Alberta spruce is a cultivar of the white spruce, a massive tree of the North American boreal forest. Mature white spruces are a hundred feet tall or more, while a typical dwarf Alberta is a four to six foot pipsqueak. Cultivation has chosen individuals that grow very slowly, never get very tall, and maintain the thin soft needles of a sapling. It's as if we kept little orcas in our koi pond or tiny house giraffes. The little trees are hardy and long-lived. They don't seem to be crucial participants in the suburban ecology, but they probably provide cover and shelter for small animals, and add color and geometry to the winter landscape.

The thin soft needles of the perennially infant dwarf Alberta spruce--the perfect little living xmas tree.
urbpan: (dandelion)

The Children's Zoo staff on their way to a visit to the giraffe barn. The ostrich walks along with anyone who passes by.

Anyone know what shrub bears this fruit? Never seen it before, but it's lovely.
urbpan: (Default)

Virginia creeper Parthenocissus quinquefolia

People with tidy property will not tolerate Virginia creeper. It climbs up fences and walls and even spreads across insufficiently mowed lawns. But it's a good native New England plant that provides berries for birds to eat in the winter, and a dazzling fall display for humans in the fall. I've been carefully tolerating it in various locations of the yard in order to ensure its survival, while diligently removing oriental bittersweet and poison ivy. Virginia creeper appeared in the fall of 2006 as 365 urban species #264.

This vine is crawling up the fence between our little side yard and the front yard.
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Butterfly bush Buddleja davidii

Butterfly bush is a widely cultivated flowering shrub native to central China. Its growth form tends to be rangy, growing quickly in spring and summer, but often dying back considerably in cold climates like New England. It escapes cultivation in certain climates, being considered invasive in Europe, New Zealand, and in the states of Washington and Oregon. Ours were purchased at a deep discount because they were nearly dead little twigs, but Alexis coaxed them into massive growth. The purple or white flowers are very attractive to various butterfly and moth species, as well as to hummingbirds.

Open wide!

Sep. 2nd, 2012 04:10 pm
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Our pitcher plant's "lid" opened up further, and Alexis dropped a dead moth into the plant's mouth.
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My friends Siobhan and Gabe gave us this pitcher plant last year. It's produced three pitchers, but this is the first one to open normally!
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Pumpkin Cucurbita sp. Probably C. pepo but possibly C. pepo x maxima

Last fall, shortly after Halloween had passed, some farm donated a huge amount of pumpkins to the zoo. Pumpkins are fun novelty enrichment items for the zoo but they have to be judiciously used because they are relatively high in calories and sugar. There were so many donated that before they could be all used, they began to decompose and create a mess (to say nothing of the potential pest problem) in the area where they were stored. I took home a few, to use as fun novelty enrichment items for our home animal collection.

The dogs ripped them apart and carried them around and had a grand old time with them. Visiting wildlife foraged on the seeds, scattering them about. This sprout underneath our picnic table was a complete surprise. It's nice to see a native cultivated food plant volunteering in the yard.

The pumpkins we used were squat dense things that would require the skills of a stonemason to make into jack-o-lanterns. Smooth-skinned sugary pumpkins for carving and pie making are cultivated from a wild squash Cucurbita pepo. Massive, bumpy, state fair, Cinderella's carriage pumpkins are cultivated from a relative, Cucurbita maxima. Pumpkin cultivation, like all plant cultivation, involves selecting strains and hybrids with desired traits. The pumpkins growing in my yard were almost certainly chosen for decorative traits--unusual skin color and texture--but the flesh and seeds are still edible (we roasted up some of the seeds).

While researching this I discovered that there was a recent kerfuffle regarding warty pumpkins. One seed producer developed a strain of consistently and copiously warted pumpkins and applied to patent it. (This strain was named "Super Freak" by the seed company.) Rival seed producers came out of the woodwork with their catalogs and documentation to protect their own specialized lines of bumpy gourds. The trait of warts on a Cucurbit was thought to indicate a distinct strain dating back to the 18th century. The patent was rejected in 2009 so if our yard pumpkins turn out to be warty we won't be risking a lawsuit.
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Evening primrose Oenothera biennis

At the back of our yard, we allow the weeds to grow. In one corner they grow very tall indeed. When I featured this plant as 365 urban species #233 I said that it might grow as tall as five feet. The row in the back of our yard includes specimens that are easily seven feet tall.

Evening primrose blooms in the evening, and stays open until late the next morning. This allows it to be pollinated by day-flying and nocturnal insects both.


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