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.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Woody Plant Blooms, spring & summer

I spend a lot of time posting wildflower pictures, but I think the trees, shrubs, and vines deserve a little time of their own. There are a lot of Heath family or Ericaceae members locally. This is Low Blueberry, Vaccinium pallidum (vacillans). Blueberry flowers are most often found in these urn shapes. Low Blueberry is a small ground cover plant reaching 1-3 feet in height. Look for it on acidic soils.

Looking similar to blueberries, and growing in the same locations, is the Black Huckleberry, Gaylussacia baccata. These 1-2 foot plants produce a dark fruit, but it's usually more bitter tasting than a blueberry. Huckleberries are different than Vaccinium due to gold resin dots which cover the back of the leaves. In our area Black Huckleberry is an indicator species of dry ridgetops.

Another blueberry species is the Deerberry, Vaccinium stamineum. It differs from others in having open petals that are bell shaped rather than urn shaped. If not in flower, look for a pale white, or glaucous coating on the back of the leaves.  This and pallidum are the only two blueberries in our immediate area. Just west a couple counties is the larger High-bush Blueberry, V. corymbosum.

As with all of our wild blueberries, the fruit is quite edible.

Our one tree member of the family is Sourwood, Oxydendrum arboreum. Look for these white "wispy" branches during the summer.

Examining the flower shape up close, you can see why Sourwood is a member of this family.

Larger, more open flowers can be found in a different part of the family. This is Great Rhododendron, Rhododendron maximum. Azalea bushes are also species of Rhododendrons.

Even more showy than a Rhododendron (in my opinion), is the Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia. Notice how the stamens stay locked downward, each in their own little hole. When a bee lands in the flower, the stamens shoot forward and cover the insect with a dusting of pollen.

While the blueberry family is dominated by shrubs, the Magnolia trees have very large and showy flowers. This is Chinese or Saucer Magnolia. Although exotic, it is not invasive. It is one of the early spring bloomers commonly planted in lawns.


There is one place in Ohio, Lake Katherine State Nature Preserve, where these two native species can be observed. Umbrella Magnolia, Magnolia tripetala (above) and Big-leaf Magnolia, M. macropylla (below). The flowers can sometimes reach a foot in diameter, and the leaves extend out 2-3 feet in length.

M. acuminata, the Cucumber-tree (not pictured), has the widest range of the true magnolias, but by far the most abundant member of the family in the Eastern Deciduous Forest is the Tulip-tree, Liriodendron tulipifera. Look for these fallen flowers in late spring, especially after a heavy rain. The flower petals stay upright, like that of common tulips. Upright petals in the Magnolia family make it easier for clumsy flying beetles to land and pollinate these. The flowers of this family grow spirally, and the fruits are cone shaped, like that of conifers. They are considered some of the earliest trees to have produced flowering structures.

Another group with showy flowers are the Buckeyes. This is Yellow Buckeye, Aesculus flava. Restricted to southern Ohio, the blooms are yellow with orange in the lips. Notice that the stamens are hidden INSIDE.

Ohio Buckeye, A. glabra, is similar, but this closeup shows that the stamens protrude in this species.

Of course the easiest way to tell them apart is in fruit. Ohio Buckeye has these spiny husks covering the nuts. On Yellow Buckeye the husks are smooth.

The flowers and fruits of Aspens (and Willows) produce cottony seeds on catkins. Here the entire structure fell onto a Musclewood tree. In large numbers these seeds will blow down individually and cover the ground like snow.


Blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium, produce flat-topped clusters of flowers. They are showy and are excellent for landscaping with native plants. The fruits are tasty and have a raisin flavor.

Pea shaped flowers are typical of the legumes and the families Fabaceae and Caesalpiniaceae. This is Black Locust, Robinia pseudoacacia. If you should walk past this plant and not see it in bloom, your nose will make you stop and take notice. The plant is very aromatic and sweet smelling.

Speaking of aromatic, a very agreeable odor protrudes from Autumn Olive, Elaeagnus umbellata. The smell, edible fruit, and nitrogen fixing roots are all positive aspects of this plant. Too bad is has become one of the ten worst invasive species in Ohio.

Another four petaled plant commonly used in landscaping is the exotic Winged Wahoo, Euonymus alatus. It has escaped and become what some may call 'slightly invasive'. Hmmm, is that anything like - somewhat pregnant?  I included it even though my attention was originally drawn to the Assassin Bug hiding behind the flower.

Our native Wahoo, E. atropurpureus, has 4 white lines around the twig. In Winged Wahoo, those lines have corky or wing-like outward growths.

Most of our maples have rather drab flowers, but the Mountain Maple, Acer spicatum, has these "spike-like" yellow candles for flowers. Uncommon in Ohio, look for it in the upper north east portion of the state.

Look in our wetlands for a shrub with these white golf balls this summer. The 'buttons', or green fruit heads will turn brown come fall. This is Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis.

Another exotic that should be removed at all costs is Japanese Honeysuckle, Lonicera japonica. This is a choking and sun blocking vine with yellow and white flowers.

Bush Honeysuckles are invasive shrubs, and Japanese Honeysuckle is an invasive vine. We do have some native honeysuckle vines, one being the Trumpet Honeysuckle, Lonicera sempervirens. Look for long trumpet shaped flowers. To be honest, this picture is actually a hybrid variety used in gardens that looks nearly identical.

Talking about trumpet shaped flowers, one of our largest and showiest is the Trumpet Creeper vine, Campsis radicans. While it does have a habit of spreading rapidly, who can argue with such brilliant flowers, and it's good for hummingbirds too.

Cherries produce their flowers in rounded umbels, or narrow racemes like this on Wild Black Cherry, Prunus serotina. The fruits can be bitter, but are used in jellies and jams.

While the Rose family is well known for Strawberries, Cherry, Apple, Peach, Plum, and other common fruit trees, lesser known is the Thimbleberry, Rubus parviflorus. Being a Rubus, it is a true Raspberry. Where I photographed this, upper Michigan, it is quite abundant, and used as an edible. It is different than it's relatives in that the plant has no thorns (or prickles).

Also not as well known as our common Raspberry, Dewberry, or Blackberry, is this large leaved shrub called Flowering Raspberry, Rubus odoratus. The fruit are flatter, more dome shaped, drier, yet edible. Look for it in the Hocking Hills region.

Another Rose family member is the pink flowering Steeplebush, Spirea tomentosa. Like Meadowsweet and Japanese Spirea, this group of shrubs is commonly used in landscaping. Look for our native Steeplebush in open fields or wet soils.

Blooming throughout the summer, especially in wet ditches, is this plant with large bowl to pancake shaped flower heads, Common Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis.

After the blooms are gone, Elderberry produces these small but very juicy fruits. They can be eaten right off the plant (though they will stain your hands), or used in pies and jams. Elton John sings about this in his song Elderberry Wine.

And what a nice lead in. To end this post, I must mention perhaps the best use of all for many of these plants. Need I say more, nyuk nyuk.

3 comments:

  1. Interesting post, Dennis! Very nice photos!

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  2. Thank you for this post, I was looking for one plant i.d., and found a treasure trove!

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  3. Exactly what anonymous above said! I was trying to find a match to a new flowering plant I'd found in our woods. I finally found my match, here on this post! Who knew that we had a line of deerberry bushes at the edge of our woods! :)

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