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, October 31, 2014

Sure Signs of the Fall Season

Summers gone, it's getting dark earlier, time to set the clocks back, there is frost on the ground, and it is Buck Moth season. The progression of leaves and fruit changing color is the best part of fall. Winter is only six weeks away, yuck.

The barrel shaped fruit of the SpicebushLindera benzoin, mature into their bright red color mid to late September. Just one of the many signs that autumn has arrived.

The yellow spider like petals of Witch-hazel, Hamamelis viriginiana, bloom in October. While all other plants are going dormant for the winter, Witch-hazel is flowering all by its lonesome. That's because it has a spell on it. A witch cursed it you see. Of course if you sit under a Witch-hazel, you will be safe from witches. If you break off a Y shaped branch, it will chase evil witches away. That same Y shaped branch will not only locate water for you, but gold, silver, and every other precious metal. Yes, and I'm really Brad Pitt. Don't you just love folklore.

Coralberry, Symphoricarpos orbiculatus. A native shrub with bright magenta fruit. Where you find one, you may find others. They form thickets by sending up root sprouts. Coralberry is often used in landscaping.

Speaking of landscaping, I often advocate "plant native species". Viburnums are an excellent choice. Not only do many of them have showy flowers, great for attracting butterflies, but the fruit provides an important food source for winter birds. This one is Maple-leaf Viburnum, Viburnum acerifolium. The leaves turn a brilliant pink in October.

What about more caterpillars? I'm afraid they are finding cover on the ground for the winter. Others have pupated or spun silken cocoons like this Tulip-tree Silk Moth, Callosamia angulifera.

What about wildflowers? There may be a few more still in open fields, but in the forest they are few and far between. Barely hanging on in mid October was this Blue-stemmed Goldenrod, Solidago caesia.

If you find anything this late, it is probably the asters. I posted on a bunch of them a couple years ago, right here, but I like to keep in practice. I'm still hoping an expert will go over my collection of species. This medium sized flower belongs to the Crooked-stem Aster, Symphyotrichum prenanthoides.

It can be identified by the long clasping leaves. Wherever the leaves clasp, the stem grows crooked. It's one of our most common species in moist woodlands.

Panicled Aster, Symphyotrichum lanceolatum, is a white flowering species that can be showy when first blooming. Flowers are few and scattered late in October. Panicled Aster can be recognized by the long willow like leaves interspersed among bunches of shorter leafy shoots.

One that remains tough for me to figure out for sure is the White Wood Aster, Eurybia divaricata. The flowers are smaller than the previous two, and with a slight lavender tinge. Except for the few most upper leaves, which are winged, the majority of the leaves are long stalked. The teeth are large but remain close to the leaf margin. If this is all you examine, it does look a bit like Heart-leaved Aster.

Take a closer look at the lower leaves. Here the teeth appear sharper and spread outward. In profile, it almost has the look of certain grape leaves.

This light blue species is rather attractive, and the flower clusters are more elongated than flat topped. Don't forget to check the leaves for identification.

The upper leaves are knife shaped, and clasp the stem.

Further down, the leaves start to narrow out and form a winged petiole.

Near the bottom, the leaves may be larger, but still show a narrow petiole, then widening into a wing at the stem. The variability of these leaves make identification tougher, not easier in my opinion. This is Wavy-leaved Aster, Symphyotrichum undulatum. A species of dry upland woods that still blooms into late October.

On a side note, I went out with the forest soils class back in September. Jerry and Dave from OSU Extension joined us to examine bottomland forests. I have spent many years in Zaleski, including right around the corner from here. Who would have thought, just a stones throw away was this woods full of monsters. Many large Swamp White Oaks Quercus bicolor, and Pin Oaks, Quercus palustris dotted the area. No big deal in northern Ohio, but down here it's exceptional. We cored and measured some. This Pin Oak is over 100 years old, has a 45 inch DBH, and is 120 feet tall. I can't wait to explore this area for potential vernal pools come spring.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

A Fall Insect Walk (and more caterpillars!)

"Is this guy going to drive me buggy with another insect talk"? Yeeesssss!

"What's with all this in-your-face stuff"? This is one of our native brown stinks known as the Rough Stink Bug, Brochymena or Parabrochymena arborea.

Unlike the smooth Green Stink Bugs, the body of this one is bumpy. The ends of the wings have bleeding black veins. Check out the armor on the thorax and head region. While some Stink Bugs stick to feeding on plant juices, this one is a predator, seeking out other tasty insects. It's most commonly found camouflaged on trees with brownish bark and twigs.

Sticking with 'the bugs', I usually don't mess with immatures. They are often tough to figure out, and completely change as adults. This one can be identified by the black and red pattern of the abdomen, along with the yellow spots on the head and thorax. It is known as Podisus maculiventris.

A mature female of the Northern Walking Stick, Diapheromera femorata. They can be dark brown, tan, green, or a mixture of colors.

The smaller and skinnier male waiting on a female.

Somebody got lucky. There is more than Red Maple in the picture. Look for a mated pair.

A female Scorpionfly basks in the sun. These woodland insects are still flying in September and October. I once thought about taking all the Scorpionflies to species, until I read the keys. It is mostly based on genitalia dissection. People have tried to use the wing patterns for determination as well. The latest I read on this, the whole group needs revision, including using the mottled wings. So much for that task.

The appearance of comb like teeth on the front of the mouth are just the arrangement of the palps.

This pale looking Orthoptera is one of the Tree Crickets. I have been trying to gather a list of how many are in Ohio. I'm up to a dozen, but I don't have much in the way of references to go by. There are people in Ohio who study the sounds of this group, and I probably need to get with them. Like Field Crickets and Katydids, they are best identified by their calls.

There are some morphological characters you can look for. This is the Narrow-winged Tree Cricket, Oecanthus niveus. In this species there is an orange mark on the top of the head. It sometimes may bleed into the thorax. MOST importantly when figuring these to the species level, you have to see the black marks on the base of the antennae.

I really had to crop this picture in order to see that feature. On the first antennal segment, the mark is J shaped. I examined the specimen under a scope to be sure. This species is common state wide. Many Tree Crickets have very fast songs, some are long trills, and quite different than our more familiar black cricket calls.

Phosphila turbulenta. Turn that around and you have the common name, the Turbulent Phosphila. These caterpillars appear to have two heads. The rear end is black and white spotted. The actual head end has a Batman silhouette on the thorax. These striped caterpillars usually feed in groups, skeletonizing and defoliating types of Greenbriers (Smilax). The adult moth is rather dull in comparison.

Crowned Slug, Isa textula. This cat is usually much more green and red. I had never seen one so pale. The dark patches make it appear to be decomposing. Sure enough, upon probing it, it was dead. It's sitting on one of its major food plants, oak, so maybe it was parasitized.

A FAT caterpillar. So fat in fact, the legs and prolegs remain hidden far underneath. The red stripe on the back is sometimes only pale yellow. At first sight it appeared to have a single tail or horn, and with those yellow streaks on the side, I thought, maybe a Sphinx Moth. It happens to be the Mottled Prominent, Macrurocampa marthesia, a Notodontidae.

First, look at the head. A yellow-red knob is evident above a mottled pink face.

As it began moving around, I could see it didn't have a low riding horn, but two separate long tails instead.

A small unknown caterpillar is busy spinning silk between two sides of a leaf. As the silk tightens, the leaf will fold over, close, and form a little tunnel for the larva.

Here is one in hand. An orange head and collar, pin prick spots down the back, and small hairs out the side. Are they both the same species? It would appear so, but you have to rear them out to be sure. One was on Elderberry (Sambucus), the other on Raspberry (Rubus). These are Leaf-roller Moths in the family Tortricidae.

There are a lot of interesting things in the field of natural history. Some are down right amazing or awesome, and I don't use those words very often. Certain things catch my eye more than others, this is one of them. It's an egg cluster from one of the Green Lacewings (Neuroptera). The individual eggs are white, and suspended on long silken threads to keep them away from predators.

Lacewing eggs are usually laid in close proximity to Aphid populations, their favorite food. Many larvae will take pieces of lichen and moss and attach them to the hairs of the body, thus remaining hidden. For some excellent closeups of these critters, check out the recent post by Jim McCormac right here.

Diane Brooks and I came across this insect while at a workshop in September. It's not a good photo, but I stuck it in so you could see the outline. When Richard Bradley is pointing out spiders on a walk, you don't want to miss anything, so I was in a hurry. It looks a bit like a Rove Beetle, Stonefly, or even an oversized Thrips. This is another immature Lacewing, one which hunts openly, without any camouflage. It may be a Hemerobid family member, the Brown Lacewings. When practicing Integrated Pest Management, Lacewings are an excellent natural or Biological Control for gardeners and nursery growers.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Maples of Ohio

With the historical demise of the American & Red Elm due to Dutch Elm Disease, and the recent decline of Ash in Ohio, Maples remain some of the most commonly used shade trees in ornamental landscaping. Both native and introduced species are planted. With few exceptions, maples are simple leaved, and have this general shape.

The fruit we often call helicopters or twirlybirds, are known as samaras, a dry winged seed. Single samaras are the fruit type of Tulip, Elm, and Ash. Some botanists think they should be called something else in the maples, because they are in pairs.

Maples flower in a couple of different ways, the most common is this umbel form. The stamens being much larger than the petals beneath. This is Red Maple.

Red Maple, Acer rubrum, is one of our most common species, occurring in any habitat type. After a disturbance, Red Maple can quickly dominate an area. The leaf margins are heavily toothed or serrated. The sinuses are shallow to medium in depth. The main sinus in the middle bottoms out in a sharp V shape, and there are teeth all the way down that sinus.

Red Maples have a pale white look to their undersides.

They turn a brilliant array of colors, and definitely add to our fall landscape.

Red Maple twigs and buds also turn red for the fall and winter.

Silver Maple, Acer saccharinum, is very similar to Red. In the case of the leaf, there are also many teeth on the margin. The main sinus on Silver is VERY deep when compared to Red. It tends to be more rounded or U shaped, and there are very few to no teeth in the sinus bottom.

Think of the lobes and sinuses this way; you don't have to cut your finger very deep to draw Red blood, but you have to 'mine deep' into the earth to find Silver.

Silver Maple leaves are not pale white below, but bright white or silvery. I mentioned Red could be found anywhere, from swamps to hill tops. Silver on the other hand HAS to keep its feet wet. It is found in bottomland forests and floodplains. Silver was once popular in landscaping, until home owners found out the roots will break your water lines. When planted in yards, Silver has the habit of multi-trunking, and eventually falling on your house.

Silver and Red have nearly identical bark. Both start out looking smooth and gray, but with age will furrow and flake like the one on the left.

Like Red, Silver buds and twigs also turn reddish for the winter. The bud scales on Red end in a sharp point. On Silver, those bud scales appear to have an EXTRA point, or mucronate tip, making them look even sharper. You can't see this character without a hand lens, so sometimes the best way to tell which you have in a bottomland (during winter) is to look for old leaves.

Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum. Sugar is by far one of the most dominant trees of forests in the eastern U.S. and Canada. It is an important species, both economically and ecologically. Look at the leaf margins. There are less teeth than Silver and Red. As the old saying goes, if you eat too much sugar, you lose your teeth. The shape is the symbol on the Canadian flag.

Sugar maple buds have more scales than Red or Silver, and are much more spear like. The new growth twigs and buds are both brown, (think brown sugar).

Similar to Sugar Maple is the Black Maple, Acer nigrum. At first glance they may look identical. Some botanists have now lumped Black as simply a variety of Sugar. Not all biologists have bought into this yet, but I will discuss more on that at the end of this post.

Sugar and Black lack any white under the leaves, so they can't be confused with Red and Silver. Black may sometimes have a slight peach-fuzz texture to the undersides.

Here are some of the old and unreliable methods of identifying Black Maple. On some leaves, the petiole appears to be popping out from inside the leaf. This is an optical illusion.

Others will tell you that Black Maple lobes droop over, while Sugar grows more erect.

Another thing you could say about Black is that it has less lobes and teeth when compared to Sugar. Remember, if you eat too much Sugar, you lose your teeth. If you KEEP eating sugar, your teeth turn Black, and you lose even more. All of these methods work, sometimes. So what makes Black Maple distinct?

Look where the leaf attaches to the twig. Black Maple, and ONLY Black, shows leaf like stipules growing out of the petiole base.

They may be large, like the previous picture, or very small, sometimes only visible when the leaf is detached from the twig.

In winter, the buds are dark brown to black, and the new growth twig is light gray.

The bark of Sugar and Black is also gray, but covered with bumps, and NOT smooth like young Silver and Red.

Box-elder Maple, Acer negundo, is the odd member of the group. Not only is it compound leaved, but the species is dioecious, meaning the trees are either a male or female only. Leaflets are commonly five, sometimes even seven. New growth twigs may only have three, and resemble Poison Ivy. Because of the opposite compound arrangement, an old name was Ash-leaf Maple.

Box-elder fruit is not clustered, but hangs down and has a more raceme like look. In a natural setting, all our maples produce fruit in the spring. Most species drop their fruit early, but Box-elder will retain its fruit well through winter.

Winter ID is easy. The twigs are smooth and bright green. The buds are few scaled with a pink base color. White silky hairs protrude from each scale. The buds are also much more blunt than other maples. Lets compare the winter twigs. Red and Silver are red, Sugar is brown, Black is gray, and Box-elder is green.

Box-elder bark is gray to light brown. It furrows much earlier than other species. Branch sprouts occur much more often than other maples.

Striped Maple, Acer pensylvanicum, is a rare species in Ohio. Its broad leaves have three shallow lobes, and the margin contains LOTS of small teeth, many more than any of our others.

If you're not sure about the leaves, check the bark, it is unmistakable. The green and white stripes are very striking. This is a small understory tree, never getting any bigger than a Redbud or Flowering Dogwood. As far as I know, it is restricted to the N.E. corner of the state, around Ashtabula.

Another uncommon species is the Mountain Maple, Acer spicatum. The leaf shape is more like that of Red, but the teeth are all about the same size throughout the margin, and are course. It is found primarily in the N.E. portion of the state, but there are scattered records through other unglaciated portions of the state.

One of the easiest ways to recognize it is during blooming time. Mountain has erect yellow flowers often called candles. Like Striped, this is a small growing species.

One of the introduced species used in landscaping is the Japanese Star Maple, Acer palmatum. The latin name comes from the outward radiating leaf lobes. A lot of these are small trees or even shrubs. These are just two of the many varieties of this species. Some turn a bright red in the fall.

In every landscape, there is always one tree that stands out, either for its growth form or color. This is another introduced species commonly planted in city parks and cemeteries. One of the varieties is known as 'Crimson King'.

This is Norway Maple, Acer platanoides. The leaves can be black, purple, maroon, or green. Many trees have a combination of all those colors. The leaves are very wide, and have long pointed teeth on their lobes. The latin essentially translates to "the maple with the Sycamore like leaves".

The samaras do not droop down, but grow straight out in a horizontal pattern.

Norway buds are round to egg shaped, and much larger than any of our native species. If you break a twig, or pull a leaf off the branch, a white milky sap will exude. I don't know of any other maple that does this. Introduced maples are popular as ornamentals. They tend to stay where you put them, and don't become an invasive problem.

Maples can be susceptible to certain types of pests. Red bulls-eyes on a leaf is the Leaf Spot Gall, created by a midge, which is a fly. (USDA photo)

Spots and raised spindle galls are caused by small Arachnids known as Mites.

Most of these agents don't do any real serious damage to the tree overall. I will mention that if your light colored spots like this turn solid black, you have what is known as Maple Tar Spot. This is a fungus that can cause early leaf drop.

Maples are also important in the timber industry. Hard maples like Sugar and Black are economically much more desirable than the Soft maples like Red and Silver. Besides interior woodwork, the list of uses is almost endless. These above photos are of Birds-eye Maple, a highly sought after variety for many things.

Wood grains like this are often referred to as Curly Maple, (but don't confuse Curly maple with Larry or Moe maple). Because of the striped appearance, it's often called Tiger Maple. Birds-eye, Tiger, and Curly Maple are not species of trees, but simply names applied to Sugar and Black Maples. You don't know you have these streaks and spots until the wood is milled. String instruments, gun stocks, and bedroom furniture are just some of the many uses for these, and they can be quite expensive.

Right here in Ohio we have the Longaberger Company. They use thin strips of maple wood to make baskets. These are not your run-of-the-mill cheap picnic baskets. They are highly collectible, and I've seen them sell for hundreds of dollars.

What would this group be without mentioning the Maple Syrup business. Many people make their own locally, and it's a major industry in the New England states. Sugar Maple is still the best species to tap, but you can derive syrup from any of our native species, it just takes a LOT more sap to do so.

In regards to the name changes mentioned earlier. There are botanists who still feel Black and Sugar Maple are distinct species. Geneticists, with the push of a button have eliminated the maple family as a separate entity, and have moved them (along with the Buckeye family), into the Sapindaceae. If you're going to test chloroplast DNA, then also look at nucleic and mitochondrial DNA as well, THEN tell us the names are not valid.

The analogy a botanist friend of mine uses says it all. According to some of these people, if you have 5 basketballs, each with black stoppers (to pump air), and you have 5 footballs, 4 with purple stoppers, and one that is black, that football is now a basketball, morphological characters be damned. Sorry for the rant. Don't get me wrong, if all the evidence says to change what we know about the world, we change. That's the beauty of science.