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.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Mystery Plant Quiz

I suddenly found some time to post topics I wanted up long ago.  It's January, but why not wallow away the winter weather with a thought of warmer times. The Get Your Botany On blog does this all the time, so why not a little plant quiz...

The red fruit may remind you of something, and it's in the name, but this is a much larger shrub species.

Hints? Well it's not Blackberry, Cannabis, or Virginia Creeper, but it is a vine.

If you are a spring wildflower person, this one is easy.

This one maybe not as easy, a summer bloomer.

Upper and lower leaf variation. This one had me for the LONGEST time. I now find it easier by the leaves than by flower.

Here's the flower.

I was once told this and its relative were exotic. I now understand they are native. ah-choo!!

This one I still don't know. I've sent it out to several people, all thought something different. It's 3 inches tall, no leaves on the thin stem. No basal leaves that I could see, perhaps if anything, a small basal rosette of entire elongate leaves.

Highbush Cranberry= Viburnum opulus
Hops= Humulus lupulus
False Solomon's Seal= Smilacina racemosa
Horse-balm= Collinsonia canadensis
Small-flowered Leafcup= Polymnia canadensis
Giant Ragweed= Ambrosia trifida
unknown= Krigia maybe?


Aphids are small insects that suck liquid nutrients from plants. Most are colonial. Many greenhouse and nursery growers label them as pest insects. I'm not an expert on aphid species, but this is likely the Brown Ambrosia Aphid.

This yellow and black critter is Aphis nerii, the Oleander Aphid. Originally restricted to the tropics and its preferred foodplant Oleander, it has since spread across the country feeding on Milkweed. The white guys are simply molted skins from an earlier instar (growth stage).

Near their backend you will notice two black tubes. These are known as cornicles. These emit defensive chemicals. When in danger that chemical stimulates the others to move, sometimes just dropping off the plant to avoid predators.

On their rear is a smaller black tube. This is where they excrete excess sugar water, sometimes called honeydew. Bees, Ants, and Wasps love the sweet taste and will seek out aphids and feed on this liquid. Ants will actually take the time to protect them from predators in order to keep getting that 'sugar high'.  In the animated movies Ants and A Bugs Life, the main characters are always shown drinking from aphid butts at the bar. This explains the joke so many didn't get watching those films.

Please visit Lisa Sells at her blog Zen Through A Lens to see a detailed post on this aphid species.

Aphids are Homoptera, or in a broader sense, part of the order Hemiptera. Like all True Bugs, they have piercing sucking mouthparts. Here's a closeup of one getting ready to drill a plant stem.

Aphids have many predators. Here a larva of a Syrphid Fly is busy munching down. With exotic invasive species, we often import their natural enemy to control them. This works in many areas of pest control, but in regards to aphids, one such import has now itself become a problem, the Asian Ladybug.

Wooly Aphids comprise an entirely different group of aphids. Many are host specific feeding on alder, members of the Rose family, etc. This is the Beech Wooly Aphid, Grylloprociphilis imbricator.

The sugar water produced by these aphids falls on Beech leaves. These black blotches are a fungus that grows on the honeydew. It rarely does any actual harm to the tree.

Even the twigs can be covered by large clumps of this fungus known as Black Sooty Mold. They are hard and crusty, but feel like a sponge when wet. This mold will also accumulate at the base of Beech trees. It will look like a pile of gray black dust, as if someone emptied their barbecue grill.

The brown spot is the head region. Most of these aphids feeding are immatures. The winged reproductives can be seen in the left corner. Many aphids practice parthenogenesis, essentially reproduction without sex (asexual). Throughout the summer each generation is all females, and you might say they are 'born pregnant'. A form of cloning. As the days get shorter in late summer, a hormonal change occurs, and both male and female are born. This last generation mates sexually, and produces eggs for next year.

The thin smooth bark of White Pine Pinus strobus, makes it susceptible to yet another pest people often just call 'pine wooly aphids'. To be accurate, it is the Pine Bark Adelgid, Pineus strobi. Adelgids superficially resemble aphids, and are related, but belong to a different family. Adult adelgids resemble miniature Cicadas. This is another non native introduced species. Bigger pines can withstand any serious damage, but saplings can have their growth stunted by a large infestation.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Some Ohio Goldenrods

I tried Asters, why not try Goldenrods. Our bright yellow flowers of fields and forests dominate the landscape in late summer and fall. They provide nectar and pollen late in the season for a vast array of insects, especially bees. Depending on whether you are a lumper or splitter, there are about 22 species of Goldenrods in Ohio. The hay fever culprit is Ragweed, but Goldenrods still get much of the blame. Goldenrod pollen is too heavy to be carried by the wind, and is not the cause of your sneezing.

Many people initially separate the Goldenrods by whether or not they have small compact flower heads, or widely branching flowers like these above. I don't start that way, but prefer to use habitat. Rather than open fields, we'll look at the Goldenrods that tend to occupy forest areas first.

Like Asters, you need to look at all parts of the plant. Are the flowers concentrated at the top of the plant, or maybe spread along the entire stem? Do the flowers look compact or crowded together, or reaching out in a secund form like these.

Are the leaves all the same size, or do they change shape and size on various parts of the plant?

Finally, are the stems smooth or hairy?

A very common and easy species to identify is the Flat-topped Goldenrod, Euthamia graminifolia. Not considered a Solidago like most other Goldenrods, it is closely related. The flowers are found strictly at the top of the plant. The leaves are long and narrow, and is sometimes called Grass-leaved Goldenrod. Look for it on forest edges as well as open fields.

While this plant can be found in fields, I tend to see it more in dry open woods. It is the Slender Goldenrod Solidago erecta. This is one of those Goldenrods I call wand like or club like. The flowers hug the twig up and down the stem and never spread outward. The stems are smooth, and the leaves are widely scattered along the main stem. The flowers tend to be a more pale yellow rather than a deep yellow.

Another wand like species found deep in dry woods is the Silver-rod, Solidago bicolor. It blooms later than most species. The stems are hairy, but the real key to identification is the color. This is the one white  goldenrod. Older flowers will fade, while others begin to peak, showing two forms, which is what the word bicolor means.

Moving into moister woods, this very showy Goldenrod will attract your attention even from a distance. Notice how the flowers will bloom from top to the bottom of the stem.

It will grow erect when in the woods, and sideways when along a forest edge. This is the Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, Solidago caesia.

The flowers will grow upward, regardless of which direction the stem points. The leaves will grow straight out from the plant, or droop downward. They rarely grow or point upward.

The hairless stems are red, often with a purple-blue tinge.

As we hike further into moist or wet woods, we come across this sharp toothed, broad leaved species known as Zig-Zag Goldenrod, Solidago flexicaulis.

Up close this flower reminds me of the Lysimachia plant Swamp Candles.

Zig-Zag Goldenrod is so named because of the crooked stem growth. This is a very shade tolerant species.

A Goldenrod next to railroad tracks, what's unusual about that?  Sometimes nothing, but this is a prairie species I found outside of Marion Ohio. There are remnant prairies in this region, and this is the Stiff Goldenrod, Oligoneuron rigidum. Like a few other prairie species, they have been placed in a different genus.

Besides the habitat, Stiff Goldenrod is recognized by the compact flower heads that do not radiate out.

Looking up close, this species has short round leaves covered in dense white hairs. The stem will have these same white hairs. Similar flowering prairie species such as Riddell's and Ohio Goldenrod have longer skinnier leaves. The leafhopper here was being bashful.

Now we start getting into the open area species with wide spreading flower heads. This is Rough-leaf Goldenrod, Solidago patula. Before starting to think these are the ones that all look alike, remember, this one is found in wetlands, and is often called Swamp Goldenrod.

The stem on this is angled, not round. The middle and upper leaves are serrate and have no stem (sessile). They are light green. The lower leaves will be round to egg shaped and form a long winged petiole.

Speaking of wide spreading species, this profile is so typical of many goldenrods. Larger plants of this one may have many spreading plumes. You have to check the leaves.

Smaller plants may have only a single panicle of flowers. So what is this diverse looking species? It's called Wrinkle-leaved Goldenrod, Solidago rugosa. These are found in open fields with rather wet soils.

Separating Wrinkle-leaved from Rough-leaf in a wetland is easy. The leaves are short and the stem is covered in dense hairs. The leaf veins are very prominent.

The leaf veins are so deeply impressed, it gives the surface the appearance of wrinkled skin. The leaves feel raised, as if covered in little bubbles.

Moving to drier habitats, this is a common species of poor soils. The Gray Goldenrod, Solidao nemoralis. Gray Goldenrod is one of the smaller species reaching only 1-3 feet.

Key features include the leaves and stem being covered with very fine hairs. This often gives the plant a grayish-blue look. Leaves are widest near the tip and taper down at the base. On most plants I've seen, the leaves also get smaller as you go up the plant. Gray also has a habit of sending out little leafy shoots between the main leaves. Some say they also recognize it by how the top of the flower head doesn't stay erect, but bends over slightly.

Okay NOW you can say these are the ones that all look the same. These species of open fields with wide spreading plumes are tough.

First thing to do is look at the leaf veins. Several species will show 3 distinct veins in the majority of the leaves. Using the leaf veins, and the hairy stem, the flowering picture above is Canada Goldenrod, Solidago canadensis.

Another clue is this insect created bunch gall. They are almost exclusively on this species. Canada Goldenrod is one of the most common species in our area. Some authors split the Tall Goldenrod, while many others lump Solidago altissima as just a variety of Canada. I have found nothing consistent that separates them.

Another common 3-veined species is the Giant or Late Goldenrod, Solidago gigantea. This plant can reach 7 foot in height. All of these wide plumed goldenrods will show hair on the stem up at the flower heads. You have to look further down to see if the stem stays hairy or not.

The determining factor on Giant Goldenrod is the smooth stem. The stem will turn from green to red-purple. It will often have a white glaucous coating as well. The leaves are smooth and sharply serrate.

Looking at just the flowers won't help on these. Look at the leaf veins, notice they are 1-veined only. This makes it either Early or Sweet Goldenrod.

Those two species are similar. On Early Goldenrod, Solidago juncea, look for stipule like baby leaves growing among the larger leaves. During the flowering period, look at the bottom of the plant. It should have very long leaves and a basal rosette that persist during blooming. Early Goldenrod is so named because it blooms before the others. Don't let the name fool you though, It will continue to flower well into the summer.

If it's Sweet Goldenrod Solidago odora, the lower leaves will have shriveled up and turned brown, or disappeared completely. Of course there is one easier way to tell. If you crush the leaves and get a pleasant anise or licorice odor, you have Sweet Goldenrod.

Well that's only half the species in the state. Perhaps I can find many of the others next year. Of course being in the field with an expert might help!