Early Skunk Cabbage Doesn’t Disappoint

Saw a fly buzz around the other day, so I went looking for a patch of stinkin’ Skunk Cabbage. Actually, it was February 28th, after some record-breaking warm weather for a couple of days here in Central Pennsylvania, on Feb 23 and 24. (Photos taken Feb 28, 2017).

It was probably the earliest in a year that I’ve seen their mottled spathes sticking out among the weeds.

Skunk cabbage spathes emerge from the ground among last year’s weed stems, berry canes and brown oak leaves.

Skunk Cabbage Spathes Hiding
Skunk cabbage hiding among the leaves and weeds near a stream.

They’re easy to miss in the woods as they hide under the brown oak leaves. You may have to get right up on them to discover them, so watch where you place your feet!

Cryptic Skunk Cabbage in the Woods
Cryptic Skunk Cabbage in the Woods

Move aside a few leaves and you’ll see the spathes have fully developed flowers on the spherical spadix inside.

Skunk Cabbage Revealed Under Leaf Litter
Moving a few leaves to the side reveals Skunk Cabbage plants
In this pair of skunk cabbages the leaves are just pointing up out of the ground.

Skunk cabbages likes to grow near water so much you can find it them in the middle of a creek. It’s a mountain stream where I spotted several of those yellow-green and maroon protective flower hoods growing right in the flow of water. Plenty others were in the flat areas adjacent to the stream.

At least six other skunk cabbages are hiding adjacent to this stream. Can you find them all? (Click on any image to see a larger view.)

Streamside Skunk Cabbage
Half a dozen or more skunk cabbage plants are in this stream or next to it.

Here, the mountain stream winds into a culvert that passes under the country road.

Mountain Stream Winds Down to the Country Road
A mountain stream winds into a culvert that passes under the country road.

The mottled spathes protect the flowers from rain and snow and extremely low temperatures while keeping them hidden from casual passersby.

Flowers grow in colonial fashion upon a sphere inside the spathe, which is called a spadix. The spadix and flowers are pastel, creamy white to yellow.

Skunk Cabbage Flowers on Spherical Spadix
Close up view of several flowers inside the protective hood of a skunk cabbage plant.

Flies are known to pollinate Skunk Cabbage, and I did see a single fly on this day. Refer to Peterson’s field guide, Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America, for more details on this interesting earliest of Spring flowers. Or should I say, Winter Flowers?!

If you’re out and about scouting out your own patch of Skunk Cabbage, take caution. It’s known that black bears like to eat the stuff. They won’t appear for a little while since it’s so cold, but once the leaves appear keep your eyes and ears tuned. If you’re lucky enough to see a bear, make some noise to let them know you’re there. Whatever you do, don’t run!

Check out my other posts about Skunk Cabbage for some great pics!

Forest Flowers Disappear in Summertime

Summertime flowers generally won’t be found in the forests. They just don’t get enough sunlight among the trees.

Trail Wanders Through the Forest
Trail Wanders Through the Forest

It was a cloudy day when I took a walk at one of my favorite haunts and it seemed pretty dark on the parts of the trail that meandered through the forest. Cooler, but dark. Surprisingly dark when looking through the camera lens!

It’s technically the third week of Summer now and the heat and humidity will have you feeling every sticky note of it.

I did find one new plant flowering in several places at Little Buffalo State Park along the Mill Race Trail and around the Day Use Area. It was a tall plant reaching over 6 feet in a couple of spots.

Places where it was seen flowering profusely were areas receiving lots of light from above, not among the trees in the forest. If the canopy was thick, there were no flowers that I could see.

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Bloodroot Blooms Pretty in Early Spring

Bloodroot is one of the prettiest flowers you’ll find in the woodlands come Spring. Some may think it’s too simple or plain having only eight or so petals of white, but inspect it a little closer and you may come to think differently.

Bloodroot Patch Flowering in the Sunlight
Bloodroot Patch Flowering in the Sunlight

In this photo I liked how the sunlight shined through the petals. Note water reflecting the sun’s ray on the upper right. This bloodroot patch grows adjacent to Little Buffalo Creek.

In the month of May Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, may be hard to find blooming as it usually flowers by the middle of April, at least in Central Pennsylvania. Areas to our south will see it bloom in very early Spring.

Flower photos taken 17 April 2016. (Click on any small image to see a larger view.)

Side View of Bloodroot Flowers Opening in the Sunshine
Side View of Bloodroot Flowers Opening in the Sunshine

In side view the small bloodroot flowers look like little tulips before they fully open their petals to the sunshine.

Paddle-Shaped Yellow Stamens of Bloodroot
Paddle-Shaped Yellow Stamens of Bloodroot

When the flowers open their blossoms to the sun the many paddle-like yellow stamens can be seen. Note the filament of spider silk attached to the flower bud covering.

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Cut-Leaf Toothwort Making Seeds

An early Spring-blooming plant is well into its seed-making time. Most trees are still growing out their leaves now in the middle of May, but the canopy is filling in fast.

The Spring Ephemeral we’re talking about is Cut-Leaved Toothwort, or Cutleaf Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, which Peterson’s Wildflower Guide calls Dentaria laciniata – it’s an older name than the Cardamine moniker.

Note: DNA testing has revealed what scientists believe is the true lineage of plants, so older field guides may specify names for plants that may no longer apply. A great place to learn of multiple names for the same plant is the USDA Plants site. Just look under the synonyms tab for your particular flower. In this instance we see four names for our toothwort friend, excluding varieties that is.

(Photos start 24 March 2016 from Central Pennsylvania. Click on any small image to see a larger view.)

Cut-Leaved Toothwort First Flower
Cut-Leaved Toothwort First Flower

First flower of cut-leaved toothwort appeared on March 24. Note the plant on the right – you can see a single thick stem rising up from under the brown oak leaves, a layer of “cut leaves” and a topping of a dangling cluster of flowers. The plant on the left has no flowers and just one set of leaves.

Cutleaf toothwort is identified by a whorl of three leaves each with three narrow segments having distinct teeth. At 8-15 inches tall it’s found growing in rich woods and bottom lands.

As the days went on more plants arose from the leaf litter for a total of six plants, four of them flowering. The flower buds first show a light pink color before opening into a white four-parted blossom.

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Royal Botanic Gardens Reports on Plant Diversity & Global Risks

So, they say variety is the spice of life. That’s a mantra I try to live by…why settle for mediocrity?

Plants do make the news once in a while, but after you read the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew report on the state of the world’s plants, you might wonder why we don’t hear about plant news every day.

State of the World's Plants 2016
State of the World’s Plants 2016

A cover story by the BBC specifies that, “Scientists have estimated that there are 390,900 plants known to science.” An amazing 369,000 of that total are flowering plants!

Wow! 391K is a LOT of vascular plants. Roughly 2,000 new plants are described each and every year, so the tally will climb up from there. The number of plants and their identities were gleaned from several different databases which are specified in the report.

A very interesting and thought-provoking part of the 84-page report is the information highlighting the uses to which humans put about 10% of the known plants.

Plant uses were categorized and the number of plants in each category as follows:

  • human food – 5,538
  • medicines – 17,810
  • fuels – 1,621
  • materials – 11,365
  • animal food – 3,649
  • poisons – 2,503
  • social uses – 1,382
  • gene sources – 5,338
  • environmental uses – 8,140
  • invertebrate food – 683

Medicines, materials and food sources top the list with the most plants in service. Many of the plants highlighted here on wildeherb.com could fit into multiple categories, especially environmental uses, medicines, invertebrate food and social uses.

Climate change, habitat loss and invasive plants are discussed in the report as are plant diseases, extinction risks and the global trade in plants.

Visit State of the World’s Plants to read more and download your copy of this informative report.

Blooming Sassafras in Male and Female Flowers

Have you ever smelled a sassafras flower? They have the yummiest lemony-citrus scent. You might have to wait until next year by now, so put it on your list of things to do next April or whenever the trees are starting to grow their new leaves in your area.

Sassafras, Sassafras albidum, trees live in the Eastern United States. The trees are either male or female, so their flowers have different purposes and therefore different looks. It seems that the male trees out number the females because it took me a while to locate a female tree. It’s been a couple of years since I’ve even seen one.

(Photos taken 22 & 30 April 2016. Click on any image for a larger view.)

Male Flowers of the Sassafras Tree
Male Flowers of the Sassafras Tree

The female flowers seem simple compared to the male flowers which look rather bushy due to their nine stamens.

Female flowers appeared more symmetrical having six sterile stamens, which are short and fat compared to the male stamens but of the same golden yellow-orange color. Each stamen lies at the base of a pale yellow petal and they form a circle around the central pistil.

Female Flowers of the Sassafras Tree
Female Flowers of the Sassafras Tree

The pistil reminds me of a flower bud vase being bulbous at the base and having a tube that extends upward ending in a circular shape. The tip of the pistil appears white in this photo.

Flowers are held on long stalks that are retained during fruit formation so the fruits are borne on these stalks that measure an inch and a half long.

The flowers themselves are small and measure less than a half inch across.

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Susquehanna Trillium Show at Shenk’s Ferry

In mid-to-late April trillium flowers bloom all over the place at Shenk’s Ferry Wildflower Preserve in Lancaster County, PA.

When approaching the trail and as you drive on the dirt road look to either side and you’ll likely notice the trillium plants by their huge three leaves. The flowers are usually in a dangling way so that you might only see the side or top view of the mostly white flowers.

Near the beginning of the trail look up the slope to the left and you’ll see lots of bluebells and among them the white trilliums. So many flowers in one spot!

Trillium & Bluebells On The Hillside
Trillium & Bluebells On The Hillside

Susquehanna Trillium were especially thick on the upper slope about halfway down the trail.

White and Red Trillium Flowers
White and Red Trillium Flowers

Their red centers weren’t always visible so I’m left wondering were the all-white ones different varieties? They seemed to have a smaller stature, too.

Small White Trillium
Small White Trillium

Dangling head of the trillium flower. Three light green sepals situated in between the curled back petals.

Trillium Flower Dangles Its Head
Trillium Flower Dangles Its Head

A helping hand shows the red interior of the bloom.

Inside A Trillium Flower
Inside A Trillium Flower

The predominant trillium at Shenk’s Ferry is known as the Susquehanna Trillium, Trillium flexipes, which according to Peterson’s Wildflower Guide is also known as Drooping Trillium.

A distinctive feature are its creamy white anthers which differentiates it from a similar species called Nodding Trillium, T. cernuum, which has pink anthers.

Large Leaves and White Anthers of Drooping Trillium
Large Leaves and White Anthers of Drooping Trillium
Several Susquehanna or Drooping Trillium in Bloom
Several Susquehanna or Drooping Trillium in Bloom

Red trilliums, T. erectum, are rare at this location – at least in their red variety – the smaller all-white one above is probably the white variety, but this one was blooming when this photo was taken, 20 April 2016. A fellow photographer indicated where he saw it so I was on the lookout on my return walk down the trail. It was a happy thing to see the single one blooming – even if it was in the shade!

Single Red Trillium Near Spent White Trilliums
Single Red Trillium Near Spent White Trilliums

If you’re interested in learning all about Trilliums, including how to garden with trilliums, the book you want is on Amazon: Trilliums.

Saxifrage and Wild Columbine Grow On The Rocks

Trillium, wild phlox and bluebells show off in great numbers at Shenk’s Ferry in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania during early Spring. These plants are quite noticeable due to their pretty blooms and their size. Each one reaches at least a foot tall and their flowers are held high for all to appreciate.

Some other spring-flowering plants aren’t as showy as they’re smaller or they just blend in better with their habitats. They shouldn’t be missed though as they have their own sort of beauty. The violets are low-growing, as are the wild ginger, Dutchman’s breeches and squirrel corn, and some of the “weeds” have tiny flowers that are easy to pass by.

Red Columbine and Saxifrage Flowering On the Hillside
Red Columbine and Saxifrage Flowering On the Hillside

A couple of plants were growing specifically near the rocky areas and they’re easy to miss if you don’t look up. As you drive down the dirt road to the Wildflower Preserve entrance take a few moments to inspect the rocky outcrops and higher rock ledges where you’re likely to see Early Saxifrage and Wild Columbine.

Wild Red Columbine Blooming On A Rock
Wild Red Columbine Blooming On A Rock

Red Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, was just beginning to flower when we were at Shenk’s Ferry in late April. There were many more buds to open yet. Just look among the rock faces at either end of the glen. Apparently, the wild red columbine likes to be in the damp or among the minerals as might be associated with rocky areas.

Wild columbine was growing near bluebells and early saxifrage on the road-facing slope near the trail-head. Look for the red and yellow flowers.

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