Archive for the 'Flora' Category

Endangered Green Pitcher Plant

Monday, May 1st, 2017

This last week we travelled to the pine bogs of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama to photograph pitcher plants. The first bogs we visited had trails and boardwalks so our beach rolly hauled our camera gear and tripods in the 80 to 90 degree weather. The rolly was one of our best purchases as our gear seems to get heavier and heavier.

The last bog we visited is in a national forest with no organized trails so we had to bush-bash through a tangle of plants and over downed trees to get to the patch of endangered Green Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia oreophila) among a larger group of White-topped Pitcher Plants. We could see the bright green pitchers reflecting in the somewhat harsh sunlight. There were no clouds and our umbrellas could not shelter the backgrounds of these tall plants. Our surprise and delight in finding these very rare pitchers meant photographing in full sun.

There were only a few blossoms in the patch and this one was near two pitchers (front and back views) and an unopened pitcher. The flower stems are usually over 2 feet tall. The pitchers even taller.

There was a hot humid wind blowing so we had to increase the ISOs and reduce to apertures to get enough shutter speed. The weather was so hot that we did not stay as long as we would have preferred. While the pitchers stood tall and rigid, we wilted.

Most of the tall species of Sarracenia have a similar juvenile pitcher. They sprout with the leaf closed along its center seam. The leaf converts itself into a pitcher when it opens along the seam. The top of the leaf turns into a roof over the pitcher to protect it from the rain. which could dilute the enzymes which digest any insect that falls into the pitcher.

The Green Pitcher Plant has been on the national Endangered Species List since 1979 wherever it is found in very few locations in the Southeast. Residential and agricultural development are its greatest threat. Like many pitcher plants, they are fire dependent in the wet pine woods where they may be found. They are more likely to spread by rhizomes than by seed and young plants need wet areas.

We saw a few orchids at this location but they were too difficult to photograph in the tangle. We had photographed Spreading Pogonia, Grass Pink and Calypso orchids at several other bogs.

The last night (Saturday) we camped in Southeast Missouri at Trail of Tears State Park. The ranger had us move to a camp site on a hill because the Mississippi River was expected to flood the road to the lower campground. Just before the rain stated we heard several treefrogs in the tree next to our site. Planned to search for them in the morning. The storm let loose while we were eating dinner in our pop-up pickup camper. It continued all night and then dissipated and followed us most of the way home.

Yellow Bells

Thursday, April 13th, 2017

Bellworts (Uvularia grandiflora) are adding to the pleasure of the early ephemeral native flowers appearing in our backyard. This specimen has a cluster of 4 blossoms protruding from a clasping leaf.  It is as graceful as a time-lapse photograph of a dancer making a bow. The petals peaking out are twisted and seem to move even when there is no breeze.

Because the blossoms hang down, their scientific name is derived from the Latin meaning “little grape” and is reminiscent of the uvula which hangs down at the back of a human throat. As one would expect, grandifloria means having large blossoms.

There are several Uvularia species including U. sessilifolia (Merrybells), U. perfoliata (Perfoliate Bellwort)  and U. puberula (Mountain Bellwort). These three  species’ blossoms are more bell-like, similar to Solomon’s Seal bells, but longer. Their petals are not twisted. Merrybells is native to the eastern North America and the other two more southeastern in the United States.

The patch of Yellow Wake-robin (Trillium luteum) should be the next to add color to the yard,  if the Trout Lilies and Wild Ginger  do not beat them. The Yellow Wake-robins’ twisted blossoms point up, instead of down.

More Signs of Spring

Friday, April 7th, 2017

More signs of Spring. This morning a Hermit Thrush visited the backyard. One usually stops by at the end of the first week of April most years. It flicked its tail and turned over many leaves while it hopped about.

That prompted a visit to edge of the yard near the back fence to see if the Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was peeking through last year’s fallen leaves. There was one bud poking out having escaped its wrapping leaf. This afternoon it (above) had opened. When the tree  leaves were removed around the first blossom, a second (below) was found along with another bud. Several more buds were found several feet away.

Bloodroot blossoms are very fragile. Even light wind can make the petals to shatter and fall within two days of opening. The plant has a reddish sap (especially in the roots), hence its common name. It was used in dyes and native medicine. The roots are poisonous as are many parts of plants in the poppy family.

We found some Spring Beauty several days ago. The Trout Lily leaves are growing. Soon the Spring ephemerals will be in their full glory.


Snow Trilliums

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Spring arrives when the Snow Trilliums (Trillium nivale) are in bloom here in eastern Iowa. We looked for them on Sunday and found none. On Monday a friend said he found several hundred in his favorite spot. We went back on Monday to the spot where we had looked and only found only a few. After getting directions to our friend’s spot further along the ravines we found hundreds yesterday.

The top and  sides of the small area were very dry and crumbly. Snow Trilliums are said to prefer moist woods. These were popping out of the gravelly dry ground in singles and small groups. Most were less than two inches tall.

The bud to the right is only about 1 1/2 inches tall. Its stem is barely out of the ground and it is already unfurling its leaves, sepals and blossom. There were many other nubs poking above the dry, mostly bare, ground. Snow Trilliums usually bloom for about two weeks.

The Snow Trillium’s sepals are pewter color and like most flowers are meant to protect the bud. The blooms open quickly on warm days.  The tips of the petals are often rippled. Yesterday was not warm but the sun sifting through the shrubs and trees had encouraged many to open.

We found several unusual blossoms of a very soft, shell pink. Our camera sensors could not really capture the delicacy of the color. Four were buds about half open and this fully open  one was about 3 feet (1 meter) away from the opening buds. Color is always dependent on the technology (whether film or digital) that is trying to replicate it.

Sometimes white flowers turn a pale magenta pink when they are crumbling and drying out at the end of their bloom time. These were fresh with lots of pollen on their stamens so we think they were really a very pale pink. There are always things to learn in nature.

Larkspurs in November

Wednesday, November 16th, 2016

Last Saturday at the Port Louisa National Wildlife Refuge along the Mississippi River we were surprised to find several larkspur (Delphinium sp.) plants among a dense stand of dried goldenrods. They were in the open woodland near the new visitors’ center on the bluff looking down into the flood plain.

Native larkspurs are mostly known to bloom in May, June and July. We are not certain of the species because the plants were 3 to 3 1/2 feet (a meter and a bit) tall. The Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) that we see in the spring are about 1/3 that tall.

To find several healthy green plants with gorgeous blooms on November 12 is very unusual. Climate changes that have led to such a warm autumn are confusing other plants. We found some Common Fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) still blooming in our yard yesterday. Its normal bloom time is April into July.

Yesterday the Astronomy Picture of the Day site hosted by NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) had a picture showing the Temperature Departure From Average for much of the Northern Hemisphere for November 14, 2016. Here in Iowa the temperature looked like it was 10 to 18 degrees F. above normal. Over the North Pole it was 36 degrees F. above normal for this time of year. Some areas of the map were cooler than normal but great swaths were much warmer than they typically are.

As much as we enjoy beautiful flowers, their blooms at the wrong time of year will mean they bloom in vain. Ruby-throated Hummingbirds headed south in September. The long-tongued bees and butterflies that also pollinate larkspurs may no be longer around so they may not set seeds.

Sand Lily

Monday, September 26th, 2016

Sand Lilies (Mentzelia nuda) have been growing on a sandy location in the county for many years. They are a western native flower that must have been accidently introduced this far east.  Other common names are Bractless Mentzelia, Upright Mentzelia, Bractless Blazingstar and Bractless Stickleaf.

We used to think they were Ten-petal Mentzelia (Mentzelia decapetala) because they were identified as such in widely used book of Midwestern prairie flowers. One of the differences is that Sand Lily petals do not overlap and Ten-petal Mentzelia petals touch or overlap. Both the Sand Lily petals and stamens are white or pale cream, while the Ten-petal Mentzelia’s stamens are yellow and the blossoms wider across – up to 6 inches (15 cm). Their leaves differ also. These are just two of the many Mentzelia species found in arid areas of the Americas.

Good sites to see the differences between these two are on the following links. Ten-petal Mentzelia is found here at Montana Plant Life. And information on Sand Lily is here at Kansas Wildflowers and Grasses. There is another unrelated white flower whose common name is Sand Lily found in the Pacific Northwest.

We were late going to visit the sand patch this year. Most of the blossoms had gone to seed. There still were some buds so a few images were made as this one opened late one recent afternoon. This one was especially pretty.

Signs of Autumn

Tuesday, September 13th, 2016

Gentians are one of the signs of the coming autumn. When we visited Becky’s Fen, a private preserve, last week, our favorite gentian species (Fringed Gentian) were mostly setting seeds but the Bottle Gentians (Gentiana andrewsii) were fresh and lovely. Though not as extravagantly fringed at the Fringed Gentian, the Bottle Gentian has tiny fringes at the end of corolla that hold the blossom together. Bumblebees have to work to get in to pollinate the blossoms.

There are over 400 species of gentian worldwide. They live in all sorts of habitats. Many are found in alpine regions. The species here in the Upper Midwest often like wet prairies and woodlands, fens. floodplains and marshes. Bottle Gentians have no scent while many other species do.

One species that likes rich prairie soil is the Cream Gentian (Gentiana alba). We have some in our yard. This lovely example was entangled by a slender vine. When Linda was trying to remove the vine, the stem snapped off. It became a tabletop subject and then the bouquet on the dining table where it still is slowly drying in its original size and shape. The leaves are now a darker green and the blossoms a soft tan – still lovely.

Bumble Bee Tongue

Sunday, July 17th, 2016

There is a bumble bee whose common name is the Confusing Bumble Bee (Bombus plexipus). Sometimes, even when using  a graphic guide to Bombus species, they are often confusing. That is what we found while trying to determine the bumble bee above. We think it is either an American Bumble Bee (B. pensylvanicus) or a Yellow-banded Bumble Bee (B. terricola). Or one of the species similar to these two.

Both of these important pollinators are thought to becoming much less common in recent years. Pesticides and habitat loss are probable reasons for their decline. In fact the Yellow-banded Bumble Bee is under consideration for protection.

We were photographing large bumble bees foraging on Bee Balm or Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa). Though there were many Bee Balm plants at two locations, there were very few insects collecting nectar and pollen on a sunny day.

The bumble bees we saw  were moving very fast around the flower clusters and between stems that we thought that nectar was in short supply. While reviewing images this morning we saw that that this bee had its long tongue sheath in one of the individual flowers in a cluster.

Here is a crop to see the tongue and its sheath in the corolla of a single blossom on a Bee Balm cluster. This long corolla suggests that it is a long-tongued bumble bee, probably the American Bumble Bee.

Even at 1/1250 second shutter speed, the wings are blurred. The rest of the bee is in sharp focus with individual hairs discernible. To stop the motion of its wings, Bob would have needed to use flash even at this high shutter speed.

Home Coming

Sunday, July 3rd, 2016

We returned home from a 3 week trip to photograph several bird species in eastern Canada and New England to find a wonderful surprise in our back garden – a Queen-of-the-Prairie in bloom.

The Queen-of-the-Prairie (Filipendula rubra) is a tall plant preferring wet prairies. The pink buds and flowers are lacey and fluffy. It is considered threatened here in Iowa.

It is a delight and we hope multiplies. It appeared in the area we call “The Swamp.” Many years ago we buried a child’s large wading pool in which we put a mixture of sand and soil. There are irises and sometimes cardinal flowers and other plants that move about the yard at their own volition.

Like the Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganese) that surprised us several years ago and now has four long stems each fitted with a candelabra of lovely orange blossoms, it is in our small urban garden because Linda sprinkles seeds from the packets offered by seed  nurseries at prairie and environmental meetings. She also collects seeds in prairies where we photograph but has never knowingly seen the Queen-of-the-Prairie in the wild. Sometimes we purchase mixed seed packets from reputable native plant nurseries and sprinkle them about and hope for the best. The only seeds that became a problem are the Groundnuts that tangle in all the plants in our front yard. Neither of us has a particularly green thumb and take a casual approach to gardening.

Bob spent time with the Michigan Lilies yesterday while Linda unpacked the pickup camper. When he came in, he asked if she knew the name of a new flower in The Swamp. Early this morning, when the soft light was just over the trees, the edges of the yard were still in shade. The Queen-of-the-Prairie was lit by the sky reflecting down into the area. This separated the blossom from the dark background along with using a fairly shallow depth of field. This is one of Linda’s favorite light conditions for photographing native flowers.

We will be posting about some of the birds we saw – a pair of nesting Piping Plovers in Ontario, over 100,000 Northern Gannets on Quebec’s Bonaventure Island, Harlequin Ducks in Perce, Quebec, Atlantic Puffins and Razorbills and Murres in Maine, and Eider Duck females teaching their ducklings in the surf in Massachusetts. And there was the thrush that sang to us along Lake Michigan at the beginning of the trip.

And then we came home to find the Queen-of-the-Prairie. And there is a bird “soap opera” going on the Althea R. Sherman Chimney Swifts’ Tower that we must follow.


Monday, May 30th, 2016

Yesterday we visited our favorite road ditch where Small Yellow (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin) and Small White Lady’s-slippers (Cypripedium candidum) grow with some of their children – what we call Small Cream Lady’s-slippers. There are also Greater Yellow Lady’s-slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens). The Cypripedium are our favorite genus of wild orchids.

The top image is of a Greater Yellow Lady’s-slipper. The one just below is of two Small Yellow Lady’s-slippers. Among their differences is the shape of the slipper. The Greater are taller with longer stems.

The yellow ones are easy to spot in the tangle of vegetation in the ditch. These Small Yellows are only about 8 inches tall.

Nearby the Small Whites are a similar height and, like the Small Yellows, have rounded pouch-like slippers.

Orchids are among the plants that hybridize in the wild as well as with horticulturists help. That may be why there are estimated to be over 20,000 orchid species world-wide.  There are several clumps of cream colored Lady’s-slippers as well as individual plants interspersed in this colony of Small Yellow and Small White ones.

This tiny White Lady’s-slipper was snuggled down with another. The slipper was only about 3/4 inch long and the plant about 5 inches tall. It is the smallest white one we have encountered.

It seemed as if the yellow, white and cream lady’s-slippers were all it peak condition this holiday weekend. The sky was darkening as we finished and the storm did not begin until we were headed home.