Flora and fauna of the Athens County area, and occasionally habitats outside Ohio. Subject matter will consist of both interpretive material and taxonomic issues in plant and animal identification.
Saturday, February 26, 2011
Early Spring Wildflowers
Yes I know it's still February, but after a couple of warm days last week, I'm getting cabin fever. Here's a few shots of some of the first wildflowers to come out in the spring. Each month I will post another batch.
Pretty soon the roadsides will be covered with Coltsfoot. Notice the difference between the orange center portion and the thin yellow rays. The distinction on Dandelion is not this obvious. Dandelion also has clean stems. Coltsfoot has brown-green leaf like bracts along the stem. The leaves don't appear until after the flower has bloomed.
One mans weed is another mans wildflower. Popping up in open fields and waste places are the Bittercress species. They all have four white petals and highly divided leaves. Many of them look alike. Some of the common ones in our area include, Pennsylvania, Rock, and Small-flowered Bittercress.
The five petaled flowers are dissected and 'appear' to have ten petals. This is typical of the Chickweeds. Common Chickweed is smaller than this and is abundant in lawns. This is the Great or Star Chickweed with red stamens.
Looking like chickweeds, but consisting of only four split petals is Whitlow Grass, a member of the mustard family. Leaves are all basal, and the plant rarely reaches more than 3-4 inches in height.
Sticking with the mustards, this is Spring Cress. A tall white flowered species of wet soils. A close relative also common here is the Purple Cress. It's a smaller plant whose flowers will be tinged in lavender, and the leaf undersides may sometimes be purple as well.
Another very small plant is Early Saxifrage. The leaves are basal and the stems are very hairy. It produces terminal clusters of many flowers. Start looking in the woods for this one.
Purple Dead Nettle, a member of the mint family is another one of those commonly found in open lawns. Most of the leaves are arranged in bunches at the top of the plant. Pink-purple flowers protrude from between these leaves. Mints have irregular shaped flowers, which means the top and bottom petals do not match.
Often growing right alongside Dead Nettle is another mint, Gill-over-the-Ground, Ground Ivy, or Creeping Charlie. It's flowers are blue, more tubular shaped, and will send its flowers out all along the stem in the axils.
The Speedwells are a complicated group of blue flowering plants. I have found one in Michigan, the Brooklime, that reaches 2 foot tall and occurs in freshwater seeps, but most are small and creep along the ground. Speedwells have 4 petals, 3 of equal length, and one smaller. Many types in this group have been introduced into our lawns, so using just a field guide will probably not allow you to get the exact species. In this case the top one is Common Speedwell, and the other is Corn Speedwell.
Another very early bloomer is the Hepatica. The colors vary from blue, purple, or all white. They have 7 or more petals, if you're a Newcomb key user. The leaves are often absent during bloom, but if you brush the forest floor, you'll see them underneath. The leaves are in threes, with either sharp or rounded lobes. From my understanding, what were once two different species based on the leaves, are now lumped together as one.
Without a doubt, the most abundant flower in any setting is the Spring Beauty. The leaves are long and grass like, and the petals may be all white, or like these, striped in pink.
Growing only a few inches tall, the four pale blue petals with a yellow center tells us Bluets. They are tolerant of many soil types, and can be found from wet rock faces to dry hillsides.
Now for one of the showy species. This is Bloodroot. The large white petals radiate outward, but often only last for one day. One of the ways to recognize this plant is the leaf often looks like it wants to wrap itself around the flower. If you cut the stem or dig the root, it will bleed a bright red-orange juice.
If you want a real challenge in keying down to species, try the Buttercups. They have divided leaves, and 5 yellow petals covered in a shiny waxy coating. Some of the common species in our area include the Hispid, Early, and Tall.
This delicate beauty is the Rue Anemone. They are usually white, but some will have a blue-purple tinge. The stems may have a few small leaves, but most of the leaves are clustered at the top right under the flowers. The latin genus has gone through a recent name change from Anemone to Thalictrum.
Speaking of delicate little flowers, this is the Miterwort. The leaves are opposite and stalkless. The flowers occur in long spikes. The petals are in 5's and end in fringes. Looking at the shape in profile lends to the other common name, the Bishop's Cap.
This is the Perfoliate Bellwort. Look how the stem perforates the base of the leaves. We have other species of Bellworts around here that do not show this. Bellworts have yellow petals that droop down. They do not open any further, this is in full bloom.
Showy and easy to recognize are the Virginia Bluebells. The flower petals are fused together and form long tubes.
Again for those who like to use Newcomb's Wildflower Guide, although you can count 4 petals, because the color is different, it keys as an irregular flower. The half and half color makes the Blue-eyed Mary very easy to recognize. These can form huge expansive mats along the forest floor.
A pair of heart shaped leaves is the first thing you'll notice, the actual flower is below and on the ground. Three petaled, and purple-maroon is the Wild Ginger. Pioneers and Native American Indians did use the dried roots to flavor foods and candies, but this in no way is related to the ginger you buy in stores. It does have medicinal value, as it contains antibacterial compounds.
Where you find one of these you usually find the other. Both have very fine, fern-like leaves that look like they've been cut with scissors. The first is the Dutchman's Breeches, named after the fact they resemble a pair of pants hanging on the clothesline. The second looks like a corn kernel, and is called Squirrel Corn.These are closely related to the Bleeding Hearts commonly planted in flower gardens.
Trout Lily, Adders Tongue, Dog-tooth Violet. Oh those common names. How about Erythronium instead. Trout Lilies like to keep their feet wet and are common, especially along river floodplains. There are both white and yellow species here. The six petals are usually recurved like this. The mottled leaves is a diagnostic character.
While most of the Sunflower family blooms in the summer, the Golden Ragwort is a common spring bloomer here. The upper leaves are divided and the basal leaves often are not. There are several other Ragworts whose flowers look identical. You must check out the leaf type to see if it's another species.
If I had to make a list of the top five showiest and most abundant flowers, the Wild Blue Phlox would be one of those. The color ranges from blue to purple. The five petals look like fan blades, and are fused at the base, forming a long tube to the stem.
Not nearly as common in our area is one of my favorites, the Creeping Phlox. The pink-red petals are wider than the above species, and the yellow stamens really stand out. Look for this species more frequently around the Hocking Hills, and particularly in sandy soils.
I hope to do a post on just the Cinquefoils at some point, since we have a number of species. This is the most uncommon around here, the Dwarf Cinquefoil. It stands only a couple inches tall, and is the preferred food plant of the endangered Grizzled Skipper Butterfly.
While thinking of the Hocking Hills, I wanted to include this beauty as well. The Wild Columbine is not very common. I see it along rocky outcrops and in sandy soils.
I could go on and on with this post, but I'll save some for next month. Here is a species sought after by many. The Goldenseal, in flower and fruit. The white stamens are what makes it noticeable, not the petals. It is said to contain alkaloids that serve as an antibiotic. Studies show that it's primary function is to increase the mucous flow from the sinuses, which in turn tends to smother bacteria, fungi, and Protista. Regardless of the mixed research results, like Ginseng, it is being over-harvested. Although I am a big collector of things in nature, and I know of large patches of this plant, in this case I rarely tell anyone their location.