Sunday, August 29, 2010

Zizania Aquatica, Wild Rice

This morning, I joined a group of esteemed Botanists- Dan Boone, Jim Decker, Brian Riley and Jim McCormac on an exciting expedition near Bellfountaine, Ohio.  Along the way, we stopped to see a Zizania aquatica population discovered by my botanical sensei, Rick Gardner, a few years ago.  This state threatened grass grows right in the clear water of the silt bottomed Little Darby Creek.  I've looked for this plant along the Lake Erie coast for quite some time, but I've never found it.  It was once common along the coast, but now it's mostly gone due to anthropogenic changes in the Lake Erie ecosystem.  I'm glad that I got to see and photograph it today near Plain City.

A quick note- Clicking on each picture will link you to a much SHARPER image!


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Small, Flat, and Featureless- Notothylas orbicularis -An Unusual Hornwort

Please welcome Dr. Bob Klips to Ohio Flora.  Bob writes "Dirty Trees- Bob's Brain on Botany"- without a doubt one of the most interesting sites focusing on plants in the blogsposphere.  Bob has that unusual ability, through his photos and words, to make a tiny plant that he describes as "small, flat, and featureless" incredibly interesting.  

 An Unusual Hornwort
Notothylas orbicularis

by Dr. Bob Klips 

This promised to be great fun, and it was. A few weeks ago Erik Rothacker, a scientist who studies orchids, invited OSU graduate student Jeff Rose and me to accompany him to see “three birds” orchid at one of his study sites at Dawes Arboretum in Licking County. Seeing the orchid growing right alongside the trail was great, even if it is a mere orchid.

Afterwards we continued hiking through the woods, and saw that the path continued along the edge of the woods bordering a soybean field. Back story: The previous weekend, Jeff and I participated in a bio-blitz where, as usual, that young wippersnapper kept scooping me by spotting cool plants that I had just walked past or even stepped on. Eager to regain a little bot-cred (that’s like “street-cred,” but for bot), I was thrilled to see a wee little moss on the path just where it exited the woods.  Hands-and-knees scrutiny revealed the moss to be one of the exciting short-lived annual mosses generally called “fall ephemerals.” This one, Aphanorrhegma serratum (Funariaceae) turned out not to be a county record, but it is nonetheless fairly uncommon, or at least infrequently noticed. I was pumped! 

Yes, pumped was I, for about two entire minutes. Jeff’s “plant-dar” was set to “high.” He wandered off toward the soybeans and immediately came back holding a little green-topped dirt ball, innocently asking “Can this be this one of those non-Phaeoceros, non-Anthoceros hornworts that have a tiny sideways sporophyte instead of an upright horn-like one?” The answer, which was “yes,” raised another question: How does he do that? The answer to that latter question might involve comparing the visual acuity of someone born during, say, the Reagan Administration compared with someone born during the Truman one. Thank goodness for hand-lenses!

This is a picture of Jeff’s great find, a hornwort called Notothylas orbicularis. Hornworts comprise one of the three plant divisions that are collectively, but informally, referred to as “bryophytes.” The “bryophyte” designation is informal because it is now generally accepted that they do not have an common ancestor that is not also shared with another plant group. The other “bryophyte” divisions are the mosses (Division Bryophyta with just over 400 species in Ohio), and the liverworts (Division Marchantiophyta with approximately 125 species in Ohio.) Hornworts, Division Anthocerotophyta, are a relatively small group that is mainly tropical. Ohio is home to just three hornwort species.

In the photo below, labels have been added, using the font “Comic Sans” that everybody seems to find annoying. They denote the short spindle-shaped sporophytes, laying sideways in characteristic Notothylas fashion. Actually, what we see here are the cylindrical “involucres,” collar-like tubes on the gametophyte within which the sporophytes are developing, and from which they will soon project, but just a bit. See also two mosses: (1) a “fruiting” (sporophyte-producing) individual of the fall ephemeral Aphanorrhegma serratum (big whoop!) and (2) some species of Amblystegiumn

Hornworts are awesome. Like all “bryophytes,” (and unlike all other plants) the egg and sperm-producing “gametophyte” stage of the life cycle is the more conspicuous and long-lived of the two life cycle stages. The other stage, the spore-producing “sporophyte,” while genetically distinct from the maternal gametophyte, is permanently attached to the maternal gametophyte that produced it. Hornworts are small, flat, relatively featureless plants that, when lacking sporophytes, are readily mistaken for liverworts. Our hornworts, while infrequently observed, are sometimes abundant and may indeed not be especially rare, but just overlooked. Hornwort habitats are nothing special. Ours are all found on moist disturbed open soil, where they can be almost weedy. They engage in an interesting mutualism, harboring colonies of nitrogen-fixing bacteria within special cavities in their body. 

A hornwort more deserving of the name, and the species that is much more frequently encountered in our region, is Phaeoceros laevis. Here’s a picture of Phaeoceros taken in October a few years ago in Hocking County. Note the spike-like capsules that elongate from the base (a very unusual manner of growth for a plant, as plants usually lengthen only by adding cells at the tip) and split at the end, releasing yellow spores.

Sometimes Phaeoceros grows so densely that it looks like a patch of grass. This specimen was photographed last September in Meigs County.

Bob- Wow, I learned so much.  Thank you for introducing us to the hornworts!
Don't forget to visit "Dirty Trees: Bob's Brain on Botany" for more fantastic botany articles from Bob. 


Featured Comment by Dr. Klips-
Late summer and fall are great times to look for hornworts and other "bryophytes." Anyone interested in learning about these plants and meeting a bunch of enthusiastic friendly people eager to share their knowledge about them (and lichens, too!) should look into the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association (OMLA). Information about OMLA, including details of the upcoming Fall Foray to Muskingum County are at

Saturday, August 21, 2010

White Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum

White Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum  April 16, 2008, Franklin County

As you have certainly seen by now, Steve Willson of Blue Jay Barrens has joined me in this Ohio Flora venture, and so has Rick G., who many of you know and love.  If you would like to contribute photographs, articles or both to "Ohio Flora", please let us know!

I think many naturalists believe that white trout lily, a spring bloomer typically found along floodplains here in Columbus, is just simply a white morph of the yellow trout lily.  But nope, it's an entirely different species.  Unfortunately, this population along the Olentangy River at Kenney Park has been decimated only two years after I took these photographs.  Lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)- a non-native invasive species with yellow flowers that can be seen in some of these photographs, has out-competed this population.


Thursday, August 19, 2010

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper, Cypripedium calceolus var. pubescens

LARGE YELLOW LADY’S SLIPPER – Cypripedium calceolus var. pubescens

Photo taken May 7, 2008 in Adams County, Ohio.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Pasture Thistle, Cirsium pumilum

PASTURE THISTLE – Cirsium pumilum

Photo taken June 9, 2007 in Adams County, Ohio.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Obedient Plant, Physostegia virginiana

OBEDIENT PLANT – Physostegia virginiana

Photo taken September 12, 2009 in Adams County, Ohio.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Angle-pod, Matelea obliqua

ANGLE-POD - Matelea obliqua

Photo taken June 2, 2007 in Adams County, Ohio.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Elephant's Foot, Elephantopus carolinianus

ELEPHANT’S FOOT - Elephantopus carolinianus

Photo taken August 14, 2010 in Adams County, Ohio.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Basics of Botanizing

Do you want to learn about native plants?  This article should help.  I wrote this for the 2007 summer issue of the now defunct Natural Ohio, the newsletter of the ODNR Division of Natural Areas & Preserves.

The Basics of Botanizing

Have you ever walked through a local nature preserve or park and wanted to know more about the plants growing there? Have wildflowers sparked your interest but the number of different plants seems overwhelming? Knowing native plants and wildflowers by name will help you become a better naturalist, as well as give you insight into Ohio’s biodiversity. Ohio has more than 2,500 native and naturalized species and learning to recognize them can be a rewarding and fun experience. Identifying all those plants may seem daunting, but with a little persistence, you can become an expert at identification as well as impress friends and family on your next nature hike.

Start with a good book

A good field guide, such as the classic Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, is a must. This book uses simple plant characteristics, such as leaf type and flower color, to provide quick identification of wildflowers. Field guides focusing on other roups of plants including trees and shrubs are available at your local library
or bookstore. If you are hoping to identify species not included in a field guide, or want specific information about a species’ plant ecology, scientific classification or geographic distribution, you’ll need to turn to a flora.
Used by professional botanists and amateurs alike, a flora is a comprehensive guide to all plants known to grow in a particular area. Floras typically include dichotomous keys which ask simple questions about a plant’s flowers, fruits or leaves. The answer key eventually narrows an unknown plant down to family, genus,
and finally species. The Ohio Academy of Science’s Ohio Flora Project is especially useful in Ohio—several
volumes have been published. If you frequently stray out of state, you’ll want to pick up a copy of Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual of Vascular Plants, which covers all plant species in the northeastern United States.

Document your observations

Write down and draw what you see. Even if you don’t know the name of a plant, describing and sketching the plant in a field notebook will help increase your botanical knowledge. Be sure to note the color and shape of flowers, fruits and the presence of hair, prickles or thorns. Another important tool is a hand lens, which looks like a hand-held magnifying lens. Similar to a jeweler’s loupe, the hand lens lets you identify small features of a plant, such as the number of reproductive parts or the size and shape of leaf hairs. Digital cameras make it easy to take close-up pictures of plants and their flowers. Be sure to turn on your camera’s
macro mode, usually denoted by a flower icon. As you begin to identify more plants, keeping their names in your notebook will help. Sooner than later, you’ll begin to recognize each species like an old friend. Although common names will suffice, all plants have scientific names. Learn those in addition to the common names, and you’re on your way to being an expert.

Don’t go it alone

Learning to identify Ohio’s native plants in the field is a definite challenge, but joining others in the field is a great way to share knowledge and learn more plant names. Attending a Natural Areas Discovery Series event is a great way to meet preserve managers and other botanical staff who are happy to identify plants for visitors. With a little help, you’d be amazed how many plants you can identify in one day.

Know where to go and when to go

Certain habitats and landscapes feature more species than others and they can be spectacular sights when in full bloom. Mature forests are alive with colorful woodland wildflowers in April. The Oak Openings region, west of Toledo, is especially colorful in May. Wetland habitats, such as bogs and fens, are at their botanical peak in June and July. Prairies reach peak bloom in mid-July and early August. Old fields blaze with colorful late wildflowers in September.

Become an expert

Pick a small place—a backyard or local park—and learn the names of all the plants growing there. Start in the spring and document different species as they flower throughout the growing season. If you know the plants in your yard or neighboring park, you’ll quickly learn to spot those in new locations as you explore Ohio. Or, you might consider picking a specific sub-set of plants to study, such as trees. They grow throughout the state in a variety of habitats, and can be identified all year long. Spring wildflowers may
be another excellent choice. Sedges and grasses, often shunned by the beginning botanist, are a fascinating group of plants to study because of their presence in all types of habitats throughout Ohio. Knowing your native plants is a great way to better understand our natural world. It’s a fun and rewarding experience…

now go out and botanize!

-Tom Arbour
Natural Ohio, Summer 2007

Fire Pink, Silene virginica

Fire Pink, Silene virginica- Look for this one next April and May- look for it woods in the hill country of Southeast Ohio.

Cardinal Flower

Blooming in a wet woods or shore near you! 

Welcome to Ohio Flora

Let's face it- Plants are important- and I don't think there is anybody in this world who could really argue with me on that one.  And native plants critical to animal biodiversity- more so than many of us think.  But why do so many people have an aversion to botany?  Why did my fellow biology students scoff at learning plants?

I have a theory- it comes down to plants are just darn hard to master.  Learning the names of native plants and the habitats they frequent is a life time journey.  Many people today are looking for the 5 second answer.  If you study plants, it's a life time commitment, but the journey is quite a ride, one that I'll hope you consider taking.

Join us here at Ohio Flora, where we'll delve into Ohio's native and naturalized plants.  Photographs- writings- trip reports- news- upcoming field trips- I want to feature all this and more.  And this blog isn't just for me, it's for anyone interested in Ohio's native and naturalized flora.  Do you want in?  Would you like to help or contribute?  Just drop me a quick e-mail: hiramtom (at) yahoo dot com !