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, April 27, 2012

A Few Smartweeds

I'd rather be a smart-weed than a dumb-flower. I really didn't just say that did I? Smartweeds are mostly aquatic plants preferring wet or at least  moist soils. Flowers are small and five petaled, but without a hand lens appear non-descript. They range from white to red, with many being pink. They are members of the Buckwheat family. Most are in the genus Polygonum. The genus can be recognized by the swollen joints or nodes. The joints are surrounded by clear or opaque sheaths known as ocrea. Examining these is often necessary for correct species identification.

Creeping along wet fields is the Arrow-leaved Tearthumb, Polygonum sagittatum. Although low growing, it will attach itself to other plants in order to climb. It has sharp hooks on the stem that allow it to grasp on to plant stems. If you make the mistake of wearing short pants, it will "tear" into your skin. The other part of the name comes from the arrowhead shaped leaves which clasp the stem.

This Smartweed does not have elongated flowers like the others, but can be recognized by the compact rounded heads. The flowers will be either white or pinkish red.

Swamp Smartweed, Polygonum amphibium, is one of the showier pink species in the group. Look for it growing in ponds and marshes. The leaves are broad, large, and leathery in appearance. Leaves often have a glossy look. This and many other smartweeds are important foods for waterfowl. Both of these were shot in the same place, but the second picture was a plant growing on the edge, not in the water. Though variable, edge plants often show a more elongated flower head, and less shiny leaves than those directly in the water.

These dark egg-shaped leaves belong to Virginia Knotweed, Polygonum virginianum. It's also known as Jumpseed or Tovara. The leaves may or may not show dark spots on the surface. This plant does quite well in forest understories with just moist soils. Petals and sepals are fused into very small 4 part tepals. Flowers are on extremely long and thin stems.

Here is the more typical look of Smartweeds, or at least the more difficult ones. This is Ladysthumb, Polygonum persicaria. Flowers can be light or dark pink, and tightly clustered in terminal heads. This is a non-native invasive species. It's sometimes listed as Persicaria maculosa.

Many field guides discuss the thumb print feature as a key character to look for. Unfortunately, the more Smartweeds you look at, the more you realize the dark marks are not unique to any one species.

One of those "look-a-likes" is the Waterpepper or Pennsylvania Smartweed, Polygonum pensylvanicum. You could argue that the leaves of this species are more elongate, and that when and if it has a thumb print, that the mark is broken up and less uniform than Ladysthumb. Because there are several varieties of this species, I wouldn't waste my time. The important difference is in the sheath. Ladysthumb sheaths are tipped with hairs or cilia. Waterpepper sheaths lack these hairs. Stems are also gland tipped and appear hairy.

Oriental Ladysthumb, Polygonum cespitosum (Persicaria longiseta), is another introduced species. What usually catches my eye is the bright pinkish red color. Flowers may look full and compact, or small and loosely spreading. It's sometimes called Tufted Smartweed, but I prefer the common name Long-bristled Smartweed.

This is another species that can show dark spots on the leaves. One of the things I look for are the very very thin terminal stems that hold the flowers.

Most important again is the sheath. The hairs on this are longer than any of the Smartweeds I've come across. Being an exotic, it has no problem colonizing any disturbed ground capable of holding water.

Forming large mats in wet bottomlands is the Mild Waterpepper, Polygonum hydropiperoides. These can dominate in mudflats or ponds with low water levels.

I usually see this species blooming white, but it can occur in pinkish forms. We all have little things we notice, and while not exclusive, I tend to see Black Willow like leaves on this species. This is another one whose flowers are tepals. This plant grows erect, but weakly. The blooms appear loose or with spaces between the flowers, as if interrupted. The sheath does contain small thin hairs.

The last species (for now) is a large or rather robust plant reaching several feet in height. The flowers are heavily compacted and apparently never fully open. They are white to pale pink and tend to droop. This is Nodding Smartweed, Polygonum lapathifolium. It's widespread and perhaps the most common one I come across.

Above the swollen white node, the sheath will look brown to red. It is striated, but ends abruptly, and will not show any hairs, cilia, or bristles. The stems are smooth. The leaves may be solid green, or like others, show a dark V in the middle.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Cinquefoils are members of the Rosaceae family. They contain both herbaceous and woody shrub species. Flower parts are in fives, and leaves are divided into leaflets numbering 3-7, though a few have many more. Some grow upright, while others creep along the ground. Here are a few of them, and some closely related members of the family as well.

This small species creeps along the ground. It's known as the Dwarf Cinquefoil, Potentilla canadensis. The flowers are small, and the sepals sometimes extend past the petals. This plant may be overlooked and mistaken for Common Cinquefoil.

Leaflets number five, and the serrated margin is usually restricted to the upper half of the leaf. I've mentioned in previous posts that this is the likely food plant in Ohio for the endangered Grizzled Skipper butterfly. This is a spring bloomer.

Contrary to the previous species, this one grows erect, reaching a couple feet in height. Look for it on disturbed ground, waste places, and open fields. It's called Rough-fruited or Sulphur Cinquefoil, Potentilla recta. This is a non-native species.

The flowers are larger than other Cinquefoils, and much paler yellow. Like most Potentilla, the stems are quite hairy.

Leaflets are palmate, numbering 5-7, giving it that 'marijuana' type look. Another pale blooming species is the Tall Cinquefoil, Potentilla arguta. On Tall, the flowers may be almost white, and the leaflets are divided into pairs. I've found Tall Cinquefoil on prairies.

Found statewide, our most common species is called Common Cinquefoil, Potentilla simplex. Flowers are a rich yellow, and the leaflets are in fives. Some confuse this with Dwarf Cinquefoil, but I find the differences easy. These leaflets are much more elongate and serrated nearly to the base.

The singular flowers grow out on very long stalks. The stems are creeping, so this plant spreads horizontally and does not grow more than a foot high. Stems turn from green to red.

Common Cinquefoil can form large mats in open areas. The plants send out new roots as they creep along. Its even been known to reproduce vegetatively by sending out clones from the ends of the plant, known as tip-rooting.

Going back and forth in growth habits, here is another erect species. This is the Rough Cinquefoil, Potentilla norvegica, a circumpolar species. When comparing to other similar looking plants, I look for two things. The sepals on this extend well past the petals.

The other character to pay attention to are the leaflets, they occur in threes. So more often they may be confused with Strawberries.

Here's strawberry in the early morning. Wild Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana, has more evenly serrated leaves. Cinquefoil leaf margins are more coarsely toothed.

The Cinquefoils in our area are yellow. Wild Strawberry has white flowers. Of course once in fruit, the mystery is over.

Yes it's a strawberry, but different. It's called Indian or Mock-Strawberry. I have found it in Athens County, and other places, but it is a non native species. The leaves come to a finer point than virginiana. The flowers are yellow not white.

The fruit is edible, but virtually tasteless. I've always noticed the seeds on Indian Strawberry stick out further than Wild Strawberry. In fact it looks more like a mini Koosh Ball than a strawberry.

I could have put these in my Michigan post, but I saved them for here. This pinnately divided plant is called Silverweed, Potentilla anserina. Be careful with the common name, this is not the same as Silvery Cinquefoil P. argentia. Silverweed can be recognized by the silver gloss on the leaf undersides. This is due to the many fine hairs that cover the leaf. Also notice the small leafy shoots between the larger leaflets. Silverweed grows along the shorelines of the Great Lakes. This is sometimes put in the genus Argentina.

You could never confuse this with any other species in the group. These purple maroon flowers belong to the wetland species Marsh Cinquefoil, Potentilla palustris. Sometimes appearing palmate, the 5 leaflets are divided into three and two. Flies pollinate this species. Many dark purple flowering plants produce a rancid smell for attracting flies.

All the previous species are herbaceous. There is one woody species in Ohio called Shrubby Cinquefoil, Potentilla fruticosa. It grows 3-4 feet in height, and is found in bogs and fens.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Michigan Wildflowers

It's wildflower season again, so I thought I'd put up a few pictures of species we don't see much of in Ohio, and some of these never occur this far south. Most were taken on Beaver Island where I spent several summers teaching for CMU. I haven't been up there in years, so maybe this summer I'll need a road trip. These were taken with a Nikon Coolpix, long before I had the 'good' camera.

Being an island, Beaver offers up a lot of interesting sand dune species. This is Beach Pea, Lathyrus japonicus. It's found worldwide on shorelines, and is common in Michigan.

Unlike the previous common plant, this species is considered state threatened. This is Beach or Huron Tansy, Tanacetum huronense. A member of the Aster family, it's highly divided leaves remind one more of Yarrow, Queen Anne's Lace, or some other Apiaceae. The flower heads are large, but the light yellow rays are so reduced in size to be almost non-existant. It has a wide range in Canada and the U.S., but is restricted in Michigan to the extreme northern counties.

Another threatened species in the state is Cirsium pitcheri, Pitcher's Thistle. The blue gray leaves are covered in soft wooly hairs. The flower is white or cream colored. It is restricted to the shoreline of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Another common dune plant is often called the Hoary Puccoon, but that plant is found more commonly inland. The shoreline species found in sand is actually the Hairy Puccoon, Lithospermum caroliniense.

This attractive bell shaped flower is the Harebell. Another dune plant, it has very small stems. So thin in fact, the plant commonly leans or falls over in the sand. It's easy enough to identify, but breaking the stems will result in the dripping of a milky sap.

Here's an interesting variation. Normally five petaled, this one is doubled, and instead of one style, there are two in the center. Polyploid??

Blue and attractive like Harebell, but this is a non native plant. Called Blueweed or Viper's Bugloss, Echium vulgare, it reaches 3 feet in height, and can be found in any disturbed or empty field.

Red stamens protrude out far from the petals, but don't try and grab this plant. The stem is covered in stiff stinging hairs. So much for another invasive. I have found this spreading in Ohio.

This looks like a dwarf Flowering Dogwood. Well you're close. It is in the Dogwood family, but unlike the woody tree and shrub members, this is herbaceous. It's known as Bunchberry, Cornus canadensis. The leaves are deeply veined like other Cornus members. The four white petals are actually bracts. The small flowers are in the center, and are barely over one or two millimeters in length.

Bunchberry prefers moist to wet soils and is boreal in nature. It grows under trees and forms clonal colonies.

Common in conifer forests and acid soils is Twinflower, Linnaea borealis. It has pink bell shaped flowers. The plant is small and often overlooked. The leaves are round, opposite, and evergreen. It's a member of the Honeysuckle family. Like Bunchberry, it forms mats and spreads with creeping stems. Native American Indians once derived a tea from the plant.

Speaking of using plants for tea, this is Oswego Tea, Monarda didyma. Sometimes called Bee-balm, it's related to the more common purple flowered Wild Bergamot. Native Americans and pioneers both used this plant to brew a tea. It also has antiseptic qualities. This is commonly planted in gardens, but it is native in Michigan.

Common throughout the state is Anemone canadensis, the Canada Anemone. It looks similar to a species we see a lot around Ohio known as Thimbleweed A. virginiana. The fruit of Thimbleweed forms a club like head, but on Canada Anemone, the fruit looks like a spiked ball. The broad divided leaves resemble that of Wild Geraniums, yet Anemones are in the Buttercup family.

Bottle Gentian, Gentiana andrewsii. Sometimes called Closed Gentian because the petals on this group do not open. No problem for bumblebees, they can get inside and help in pollination. Leaves are stalkless and crowed up against the flowers.

Here is one I took a long time ago. It's a Fringed Gentian. These are Gentians whose petals do open up and look frayed on the edges. Not having seen a lot of these species, I wasn't sure which it might be. With the fringes not very prominent, and the smaller leaves, I was told this is Gentian procera, the Lesser or Small Fringed Gentian.  I'll take comments and opinions.

Pyrolas are small plants of forest understories. Most have white flowers and go by the name of Shinleaf. This is the Pink Pyrola, Pyrola asarifolia. It is common in the northern parts of the lower peninsula. Pyrolas have been classified in their own family, and sometimes as part of the Ericaceae (blueberry family).

Growing in swamps and wetlands, some people refer to this as Bog Loosestrife. The species is better known as Swamp Candles, Lysimachia terrestris. Yellow star shaped flowers grow in an elongated raceme. The petal bases are dotted and form a red circle in the center.

Another favorite of mine is the Wood Lily, Lilium philadelphicum. This is an upright flowering species, as many other orange-red lilies have the flowers pointed downward. Just under the flowers are long whorled leaves. The six petals are narrowed at the base and dark spotted. Actually there are 3 petals and 3 identical sepals. Put together, these are usually referred to as tepals. Wood Lily is only scattered among counties in lower Michigan, but more common in the northern regions.

We can't do a post on Michigan flowers without including a few orchids. This is a white flowering species whose lower lip points straight down. This is the Large Round-leaved Orchid. Platanthera macrophylla or P. orbiculata, depending on if you lump or spilt. It was identified for me as the Large. If that is the case, it is extremely rare in Michigan, being found in only a few counties.  Two of those counties surround the area this was photographed. The length of the spur is used to separate the two, but many botanists find that arbitrary. Sphinx moths and Noctuid moths are the primary pollinators.

On a side note, there is another white flowered orchid in Michigan known as the Broad-leaved Orchid, Epipactis helleborine. It is non native and considered invasive. An exotic invasive orchid?  What has the world come to.

Wish I had a better photo of this. Hidden along some of the woodland seeps is one of my favorites, the Purple Fringed Orchid. It has been so long since I've seen this in bloom, I can't be sure if it is psycodes or grandiflora, though I lean to the latter.

The bogs are full of orchid species. This is the Dragon's Mouth, Arethusa bulbosa. The sepals and hood are solid pink. The lower lip is spotted with purple, white, and yellow.

Rose Pogonia, Pogonia ophioglossoides, is a wide ranging species, occurring throughout the eastern half of North America. It looks similar to the Dragon's Mouth, but is much lighter pink or 'rose' in color. The lower lip is darker, fringed, and has a deep yellow throat.

One of the most abundant orchids on Beaver Island bogs is the Grass Pink, Calopogon tuberosus. The color is much deeper and richer than the previous two. Red and purple pigments really make this plant stand out from the rest.

Think of this as the upside down orchid. The center lip is inverted in this species. Look for long protruding white or yellowish hairs on the lips beard. This lip bends down and touches the back of bumblebees to insure pollination.

Ah, saving the best for last. While I've seen plenty of Yellow and Pink Lady's Slipper, with a few exceptions, you need to be in the Lake Erie counties to find this in Ohio. This is Showy Lady's Slipper, Cypripedium reginae. The large broad leaves make this easy to spot, even when not in bloom.  Don't restrict yourself to looking in bogs, Showy prefers a higher pH soil. On Beaver Island we find it common in any wet ditch.