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, June 30, 2012

Roadside Plants, that translates to MORE EXOTICS!

Weeds man, plain and simple, WEEDS! Well that's a matter of opinion. You know what they say, "One man's weed is another man's wildflower." Traveling along roadsides, walkways, or any disturbed ground will produce a variety of plant species. Unfortunately many are non native invasives. In fact I'd say the vast majority of roadside plants are alien, like this one above, the Canada Thistle, Cirsium arvense.

Canada Thistle spreads in large stands by underground rhizomes. It has a light purple flower, smaller than any of the other thistles, native or exotic. The stem has no spines, but watch out for the leaves, they certainly do. Each head can produce up to 80 seeds, adding to the spread. The species is dioecious, meaning there are separate male and female plants, but bees help with cross pollination. Introduced biological controls have proven ineffective. The Painted Lady butterfly caterpillar will feed on the leaves and provide a small amount of control.

Who hasn't seen the Sweet Clovers, both White and this Yellow, Melilotus officinalis. Sweet Clover has been in this country for hundreds of years. It's been used as a soil enricher, forage crop, and a wildlife cover plant. Today solid fields may still be planted for Honeybees. Of course it easily escapes and can dominate roadsides and open fields.

Oh nice, a Buttercup. While most buttercups grow in woodland situations, this one, the Tall Buttercup, Ranunculus acris, tends to prefer open areas. As the name implies, it grows taller than most species, up to 3 feet. Like other buttercups, the leaves are very serrate, and this species is divided into 5-7 major lobes, almost palmate in shape. Unlike most of our other buttercups, this species is alien. While they don't spread with rhizomes, a solid field of this can prevent native plants from getting a foot hold.

Another clover that has been around for a long time is Red Clover, Trifolium pratense. Used as a nitrogen fixer for soil and an important plant for honey production, it even has some medicinal value. Most people tend to weed it out of their vegetable and flower gardens. With the exception of the Buffalo Clovers, all of the Trifolium clovers in Ohio (red, white, crimson, alsike, etc.) are introduced species.

Here are three more very common plants found in any disturbed soils. The yellow one is Birds-foot Trefoil, Lotus corniculatus. The purple one is Cow Vetch, Vicia cracca, and the pink and white species is Crown Vetch, Coronilla varia. All three are introduced legumes that, because of their creeping ability, have been used in landscaping for greening bare ground, soil enrichers, hay production, and erosion control.

Birds-foot Trefoil is often mistaken for Pencil Flower, Stylosanthes. You have to look at the leaf arrangement to be sure. Cow Vetch is often mistaken for Alfalfa. Cow Vetch flowers grow in long, one sided racemes, and the flowers are elongated and hang down. Alfalfa flowers are shorter and occur in round heads at the top of the plant.

Now that's a funny looking weed right there, I don't care where you're from. Yep, can't argue that. It's called Lambsquarter, Chenopodium album. A European weedy species common in agricultural fields and pastures. It's often called Goosefoot because of the leaf shape. The flowers are greenish white and not showy at all. Lambsquarter is edible, the leaves are often prepared like turnip greens or spinach. But if you are in a rich nitrogen soil, or a field that has been fertilized, I suggest you don't eat it. A high nitrate content will cause severe headaches.

English Plantain Plantago lanceolata, is, you guessed it, from England. Another overlooked weed of lawns, they actually have an interesting bloom when you really look at them. The green heads produce little stalked white flowers. The heads turn brown as they get old. The stems are leafless. Leaves are more basal, long and thin. It does provide a nectar source for some butterflies, and is eaten by several small mammals.

Abandoned railroad tracks, growing up that's where I always found this plant. Of course now I know it will grow in any fallowed field. It's Common Mullen, Verbascum thapsus, another Eurasian introduction. The broad leaves are velvety soft to the touch. A basal rosette of leaves grow the first year, and a flower stalk in the second year. It will reach 4-6 feet in height, and the central taproot will grow down almost as far. Smoking parts of this plant will cure coughing. Funny, I always thought it was the other way around.

An oversized Ragwort? Pretty much so. This is Butterweed, Packera (Senecio) glabella. Considered native to parts of the country, in recent years it has spread through our state like wildfire. It has a preference for moist to wet soil, and farm fields are particularly susceptible. It is only an annual, but produces so many seeds, it's been highly successful. 25 years ago it was hardly seen anywhere in Ohio, now it's everywhere.

Oh ya, now there's a native plant I recognize. Sorry, this is also introduced. The Ox-eye Daisy was brought in as a flower garden plant, and varieties of it are still sold for such purposes. It easily escaped into our landscape, but many people still consider it okay because it's showy. Some folks prefer to call it "naturalized" rather than alien. The latin name is Leucanthemum vulgare. It was formerly known as Chrysanthemum leucanthemum.

Why cattails here? We have two species, one considered native, the other we are not too sure about. Plus the two now hybridize. The Common or Broad-leaved Cattail, Typha latifolia, is native. The Narrow-leaved Cattail, Typha angustifolia, is native according to some books, but others believe it was introduced from Europe. Native or not, the concern is that the Narrow-leaved species has become quite invasive. Cattails actually decrease diversity in wetlands when they form solid stands, and need to be controlled.

If you peel back the green leaves, you can eat the white center. Just remember that cattails are natural filters and absorb any pollutants in the water. Think about the water quality before eating. Cattails are used to filter out heavy minerals in reclamation sites.

How do you tell them apart? Broad-leaved and Narrow-leaved refers to leaf width, but that's a matter of perspective. Look at the fruit. Broad-leaved has very fat fruit, more like a Bratwurst. Narrow-leaved fruit is more like a Cigar. There's still a better way. Broad-leaved species have the male and female flower parts touching each other. Narrow-leaved has a distinct space between them. The above plant has very fat fruit, but yet has a small space between the top and bottom. Click on the photo. Perhaps this is Typha x glauca, the hybrid between both. I've never had anyone point it out, so I can't be sure.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Plants And Insects During June

The Dogbane Tiger Moth Cycnia tenera, is a commonly seen species. Not only abundant, but I say commonly seen because it flies during the day. Many Tiger Moths are diurnal because they contain chemicals predators find distasteful. There are many similar white moths out there, but the Dogbane Tiger is recognized by the yellow head and a thin yellow line on the outside edge of the wings.

The very same plant the caterpillar feeds on, Dogbane, Apocynum, we also see the adult nectaring on the flowers.

Many of us have probably seen Bagworms hanging from conifer trees and shrubs, but how often do you see this little guy? This is one of the small Bagworms known as Psyche casta. After feeding it will close its bag and pupate, either on a plant or the side of a building.

Sneaking up on Hairstreak butterflies is not easy. Their flight is erratic and very rapid. Although they don't fly far, it is very easy to lose sight of them. This is the Banded Hairstreak, Satyrium calanus. The butterfly is dark gray, and the spots in the middle of the top wing form a solid band, bordered by white on ONE side.

Edward's Hairstreak (which I hoped this might be), is similar, but light gray, and the spots are oval and separated from each other. Plus they are bordered by white on BOTH sides. With the exception of a few central Ohio counties, Edwards is rare and restricted to prairie areas in southern Ohio, especially around Adams and Scioto counties, and the Oak Openings near Toledo.

Last year I posted pictures of Black Locust trees whose leaves were all chewed up. Recently I was able to get one shot of the guilty party before it flew. This is the Locust Leaf Miner, Odontota dorsalis. It's a rather flat orange beetle, with a large black streak down the back. It may not be noticeable yet, but come July and August, don't be surprised to see Black Locust trees all turning brown due to the feeding habits of this beetle.

Always a pleasant sight in late spring and early summer is the Blue-eyed Grass. There are several species common in open fields.

Growing in our prairie is the Small Sundrops, Oenothera perennis. It's a member of the Evening Primrose family. One thing I often notice with this family, the lower leaves often turn red. Small Sundrops have very pubescent flower stalks and seed capsules. The flowers tend to bloom in a narrow spike.

Looking very similar is the Large or Southern Sundrops, Oenothera fruticosa. The plant grows at least a foot higher than the previous, and the petals are 2-3 times wider. Small Sundrops tend to flower one bloom at a time along a raceme or spike. Large Sundrops usually blooms with its flowers all located terminally.

When managing prairies, you usually have to wait till mid July or August to see most species in bloom. If you diversify your site, you can see late spring, early summer species like Blue and White False Indigo, and these beauties, the Spiderworts or Tradescantia. The sepals and flower stalks on this were hairless, so rather than Virginia Spiderwort, it's most likely Ohio Spiderwort.

Blooming throughout June is the native Carolina or Wild Rose, Rosa carolina. It can be separated from our other native pink roses by its small size (1-3 feet), needle like thorns, and the dry habitat it requires.

This odd looking fly is related to something that may surprise you. The markings in the wings may give you a hint. It's Goniops chrysocoma, a Tabanid Fly. That includes the annoying Deer and Horse Flies. This guy tends to hang around forests and forest edges rather than flying in the open. I have never had this species buzz my head, let alone bite. In my experience, it's a rather docile and slow flying species.

Growing along the edges of dry woods is the Whorled Loosestrife, Lysimachia quadrifolia. Easy to recognize by the whorled leaves and long stalked flowers. The petals are yellow with a red circle down in the center.

The single 5-petaled flowers, even in full bloom, are not very uniform. They remind me of Serviceberry. That's not a far reach since both are in the same family, Roseaceae. This is American Ipecac, Gillenia stipulata. The divided leaves are heavily serrate and clasp the stem. I find this plant in dry woodlands. The Wild Ipecac has a long history of medicinal value among Native Americans.

Typocerus velutinus. Similar to T. deceptus, but with an unbroken yellow collar.

Strangalia luteicornis

Here are a couple of Long-horned Beetles. They differ from most members of the family in being smaller and skinnier, having shorter antennae, and occur during the day. These beetles spend their time feeding on flower heads rather than boring into wood.

The Gomphidae family are the toughest dragonflies for me to figure out because not all Clubtails actually have an expanded club tail. I found this in Mahoning County, and it was a new species for me. Although it's been found in the county before, there are only two known records, and one of those is 55 years old. This is the Unicorn Clubtail, Arigomphus villosipes. The striped thorax, yellow abdominal tip, and the 'bomb' shapes along the body are what I used. Thanks to Bob Glotzhober for verifying my I.D. and letting me know about the records.

There was a time I used to "stun" dragonflies and pose them to photograph. I don't need to do that anymore. I simply use my inner chi and Kung-Fu training to sneak up on them. Ya, I am so sure. Seriously though, the secret is simple, patience. It's not that tough. Just stretch and loosen up first before going to the field. At my age, freezing in one position for very long is a workout!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Just A Few Arachnids

In my last couple of hikes I've tried to photograph some spiders and relatives. Not being a spider man, I have to search a lot harder to try and find names for these. This is a Green Crab Spider, and a very small one at that. Crab Spiders usually hold their front two pair of legs outstretched the way a crab holds its pinchers. Most of the time you can find Crab Spiders hidden in various flower heads. This one was sitting in the woods on an oak leaf. I believe this species is Misumessus oblongus.

Jumping Spiders are so named because they will hop short distances when disturbed or when pouncing on prey. Many are small and have some of the most intricate mating behaviors of all spiders. While many spiders tend to move away when provoked, Jumping Spiders often turn to face their adversary. The markings on the abdomen tells me this is the Golden or Emerald Jumping Spider, Paraphidippus aurantius. They are common in Ohio.

Those bristly pedipalps around the mouth are typical of Jumping Spiders. They make up one of the largest of all spider families with maybe 5,000 species worldwide. The arrangement of the eyes, and the rectangular head are also characteristic of this family.

Whenever I see spiders like this, I immediately think Wolf Spider. In this case, I don't think so. I believe this is another Nursery Wed Spider, Pisaurina mira. Nursery Web and Wolf Spiders are easily mixed up. This spider usually makes small webs under curled leaves.

This leaf has not been chewed by a spider or insect, but instead marked up by the Beech Mite, Acalithus fagerinea. Mites are 8-legged spider relatives. Some are microscopic in size. Many are responsible for galls on leaves.

I've posted a few Harvestmen before, the Daddy-longleg relatives of spiders. Many look alike, but I still try to get them to the species level. This one looks like Leiobunum ventricosum.

The white ringed coxa and orange mouthparts are what I use to narrow it down to this species. If you enlarge the picture and look at those mouthparts, it reminds me exactly of the alien in the movie Predator.  "Run, get to the chopa"!!!

Here is another orange bodied, black legged species. Same one? I can't be sure, but the pedipalps on this one are black. There is a species that matches, with a name that reflects that character, Leiobunum nigropalpi. Most daddy-longlegs don't have common names.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Forest Entomology & Plant Pathology

Whoa, with a title like that, this sounds like it's going to be technical. C'mon, you know me better than that. I took the students in my class to the home of Pete Woyar, a former Forestry instructor. We were very rewarded with a variety of things we found throughout the property. This is a follow-up from a post I did in May 2011 called "what's in a log".
We were looking for both insects and fungi that have an effect on plant growth and health. For those who don't recognize this, it's American Chestnut, Castanea dentata. Over a century ago the Chestnut Blight fungus, Cryphonectria parasitica, was introduced to this country. Within 50 years our chestnut trees were virtually wiped out, not extinct, but nearly so. Root sprouts of chestnut still survive today, and will reach tree size. Eventually though, the blight will kill them. With the demise of chestnuts, the blight found refuge in the roots of oak trees, especially Scarlet Oak.

Like most fungi, the blight encircles the cambium layer and chokes the plant. Chestnut Blight goes a step further and causes the bark to crack and explode, thereby releasing its spores. Think of the scene from the movie Alien, and you'll get the picture. There are a few chestnuts that have been found that are quite resistant to the fungus, and they have been propagated in hopes of saving the species.

Chestnut Blight occurs in two forms. One that weakens the tree, another that kills it. You won't get both to occupy the same tree at the same time. Inoculating chestnuts with the weakening form is another method of saving it. In other words, sometimes you have to make the tree sick to keep it alive.

Chinese Chestnut, Castanea mollissima, has been planted in place of our native species. The fruit is just as edible. Ironically, it was the introduction of the Chinese Chestnut that brought the blight here to begin with! Creating hybrids between the two species is another way of preserving our chestnuts.

People who have chestnut trees often ask how to tell them apart. There are about a dozen ways, but the simplest way is to look at the vegetation. The above pic is American. Feel the underside of the leaves. Then look at the leaf petiole, buds, and new growth twigs. If it's American Chestnut, all parts will feel or look SMOOTH. If it's Chinese, all parts will be FUZZY.

Bustling among a wood pile was the Six-spotted Tiger Beetle, Cicindela sexguttata. This springtime beetle is one of the most common in the family. There are three white spots on each elytra or wing, giving it its common name. Photographing this guy was easy, but it led me to find something else on this batch of wood.

In this group of old logs I noticed piles of fresh sawdust. Turning the above logs over led to the culprit.

This is damage from the Carpenter Bee, Xylocopa virginica. Carpenter Bees chew a hole up into the wood to create living quarters.

After heading up, they turn sideways and create a gallery to raise the young. Nobody might care they infested these logs, but when they start boring through your roof eaves, all kinds of problems may result. Other than creating a series of holes in your house, when woodpeckers find them, they will tear your roof up even more trying to get to them.

Carpenter Bees look like Bumble Bees. The difference is in the abdomen. Bumble Bees have very hairy yellow and black abdomens. The Carpenter Bee has a shiny, mostly hairless abdomen.

This piece of cherry looks like is has old petrified mud dauber wasp nests on it. In actuality, when you put all the chopped pieces of wood back together, you can clearly see the tunnel galleries that were formed. This is damage from Carpenter Ants.

A student sent me this photo a while back. It shows the Cedar-Apple Rust in the reproductive stage. Rusts are fungi, most of which have to live their life cycle on two different host plants. In the case of Cedar-Apple Rust, Gymnisporangium juniperi-virginianae, the fungi starts an asexual stage on members of the Rosaceae, apple, cherry, plum crabapple, hawthorn, etc. It then spreads and matures on Cedars and Junipers where it produces these tumor like balls with orange octopus tentacles for spore production. It may not hurt the apple members, but cedars can be defoliated by this fungus. When landscaping, don't plant the two groups of trees together.

Another rust called the White Pine Blister Rust affects White Pine and Gooseberry shrubs (Ribes). It was devastating to the White Pine industry in the Great Lakes, especially in Michigan. People simply went out and cut all the Gooseberry to save the White Pines.

Rusts get their name due to the fact many of them are orange in color. This one is Arthuriomyces peckianus, the Rubus Rust. This species forms on the back of Blackberry and Raspberry leaves. Unlike most rusts, it lives its entire life cycle on a single species of plant. This fungi can reduce the fruit output on commercially grown plants.

Another fungus of Cherry and Plum trees is the Black Knot, Apiosporina morbosa. It can encircle a branch, or like this, completely cover the trunk. This Black Cherry, Prunus serotina, was killed by the fungus. Domestic orchards are vulnerable to this, as it can kill branches and lower fruit production.

This is what it looks like when it grows around a branch instead of the trunk.

Sticking with fungi, this is called Pine Needle Rust, Coleosporium sp. This rust lives its life cycle on members of the Asteraceae, most of which include sunflowers, asters, and goldenrods. Since these plants are found in open fields, forest growing pines are less susceptible. Christmas tree farms will most often show this rust. It's not fatal to the trees. The fruiting bodies are in white. The orange color is the spores themselves.

Here is an old USDA photo showing dead needles covered in mushroom sacs from this rust.

Not much of a picture, but when you're out looking for damaging agents, it's pretty obvious something is rotting away this tree. This is White Walnut Juglans cinerea. Nationwide the numbers of this tree have dwindled. What's killing our trees is the Butternut Canker, Sirococcus clavigignenti-juglandacearum (now there's a mouthful). Authorities aren't 100% certain, but it's believed this is an introduced fungus from outside the U.S. The fungus enters through small wounds on branches and spreads to the trunk where it is fatal. White Walnut is a shade intolerant tree. So those struggling to grow in a forested situation are more vulnerable than trees growing in the open.

In my previous post I discussed the Tuliptree Scale. Here is another attacking scale insect called the Pine Needle Scale. Because of its shape, it is often called the Oystershell Scale, Chionaspis pinifolia. These are also plant juice suckers, and heavy infestations will turn needles orange and kill entire branches.

Large outbreaks like this will make your pine trees look silvery-white. Chemical sprays, oil sprays, or Ladybugs can be used to control them.

Most scale insects are quite shy and bashful. They keep their head and appendages hidden underneath their waxy back. So I couldn't resist this mug shot of a photogenic cottony scale looking for a few minutes of fame! Thanks to Tony Champagne and the Times-Picayune for the use of this illustration.

Very abundant in the spring are these black flies with the yellow thorax. These are Snipe Flies of the family Rhagionidae. In particular Chrysopilus thoracicus. An appropriate latin name for something called the Golden-backed Snipe Fly. They are harmless to vegetation. Adults and larvae are predators and blood suckers on other insects. The larger female is on the right.

Those flies led me to another common sight on maple trees. Spider Mites, or in this case, the Sugar Maple Spindle Gall, Vasates aceriscrumena, are more unsightly than damaging. It's a matter of aesthetics, so you can pull off individual leaves, but no serious problems to tree health will result from their presence.

We have all seen bits of 'spit' on flowers, grasses and trees. These are from Spittlebugs, many of which are species specific to certain plants. This is the Pine Spittlebug, Aphrophora parallela. Immature bugs emit this as both a temperature and moisture control for the insect, as well as a protective shield from predators. Just like you would not want to grab peoples spit, neither do predators. Upon reaching maturity, adults can both jump and fly to avoid being eaten, so the bubbly froth is no longer needed. Large numbers of these insects can cause browning of pine branches.

This was found on root sprouts of that canker covered cherry tree I showed earlier. The V shape is distinctive of Malacosma americanum, the Eastern Tent Caterpillar. The web is empty and browning now. The larvae have long since left the feeding area and pupated into moths.

Deodar Weevils, Pales Weevils, and White Pine Weevils are beetles that can cause mortality in the terminal growth shoots of pine trees. They have chewing mouthparts and will eat a circle around the twigs and kill them. Most of these beetles come out at night, so it's hard to observe them doing the damage. The result is a bushy growth rather than a straight tree. Small one foot seedlings can be killed in a single nights feeding. A serious problem if you are raising Christmas trees.

This Plum fruit has a ball of sticky sap on the outside because the Plum Curculio has been here. This is a native Weevil that chews and eats small portions of the plum in spring. Later it will come back and cut a crescent shaped opening in the fruit where it lays eggs. Like finding a worm in an apple, the burrowing of the grubs will make most of this fruit fall prematurely. A student captured an adult, but silly me forgot to bring any containers. I should have photographed it while I had the chance.

When trees are invaded by fungi, they section off the wound. The tree emits defensive chemicals (sort of like white blood cells in us),  and builds these dark barrier zones. It's referred to as CODIT, or Compartmentalization Of Decay In Trees. Unlike animals, this area doesn't heal, but isolates the fungi so it won't spread. It's effective, but not 100% of the time.

New wood has completely grown over these old Sugar Maple taps. Trees have rays that transport nutrients up and down, like elevators in a skyscraper. If one elevator doesn't work, you don't shut down the whole building, just use another elevator. This is how trees work. 90% of a tree can be non-functioning, yet it can survive just fine. This is why you see old pictures of cars driving through hollowed out Redwoods and Sequoias. It's the outside of a tree that matters, not the center wood. Dutch Elm Disease and Chestnut Blight are stronger than the tree defenses. To use an old movie analogy again, if every elevator and exit is broken in a building, you get the Towering Inferno. So goes it with trees.

CODIT sometimes results in what is known as Ringshakes. This is when the barrier zone causes the later tree rings to actually separate from each other. While this is an old rotten log, imagine you invested in a timber sale, only to find the wood is not worth what was estimated due to this, not good!

Compartmentalization works on new wood being laid down. CODIT does nothing to prevent beetles from eating the heartwood. This is from the Hickory Borer, a long-horned beetle. Another example of how insects can affect the value of wood products.

We traversed a lot of acreage that day. You'd think with Pete being a forest management specialist, he wouldn't have all these problems. But I always make it clear  to students, as frustrating as it may be, there is no easy practical control for these pests on a forest wide basis. Besides, getting out and finding these things all in one day is something no inside classroom could ever duplicate.

Here are a couple of the many Long-horned Beetles that create galleries in the heartwood. This is the Red Oak Borer, Enaphalodes rufulus.

Red-headed Ash Borer, Neoclytus acuminatus.

Finally, I have been getting reports of people finding Periodical Cicadas the last few weeks. According to the brood times for this, the 17 year cicada should not be here right now. These orange winged, red eyed guys, are part of the 13 year group known as 'stragglers'. Some populations come out 4 years early. There are 3 common species of 17 year cicadas in Ohio. Should these straggler populations remain genetically isolated long enough, we may have a new species evolve. Of course we won't live long enough to see it.

Growers of small trees may be concerned over the damage they do, but overall, every 17 years the forest can handle a bit of natural pruning. Twigs are killed by cicadas when they drill and tear up the bark to deposit their eggs.

Part 2 on this subject can be found here, under what's in a log