Downy Rattlesnake Plantain in the Woods of Pennsylvania

July is a quiet time in the mixed hardwoods forest of Northeastern United States, at least with respect to wildflowers. The hungry bears wander around this time of year seeking berries and other goodies, so I can’t say it’s completely still out there. We’ve been seeing a few deer wandering around during the day and near the house somebody had an encounter with a skunk. P U!

My walking stick gave me a sense of courage on my flower walk this morning and would come in handy if I had to get around some brambles. I was searching for three things and was very glad to find them all.

First, I was curious about the foliage of the Round-Lobed Hepatica. Having spotted a set of new leaves this Spring on one plant (see April archives), I wondered if they were now much larger and at ground level with the other older leaves. To my disappointment I found that some critter had eaten them.

Leaves of two hepatica plants spread out in a circle and rest on the forest floor.
Leaves of two hepatica plants spread out in a circle and rest on the forest floor.

Second, I sought the colony of Small Whorled Pogonia, Isotria medeoloides, on the north side of the ridge. For three years now I have been watching and waiting to see if these plants will bloom. Field guides state that the plant doesn’t come up for years at a time, perhaps even resting for ten years between appearances. Each year I have seen the plants, but no blossoms – yet. Maybe next year these members of the Orchis family will have gained enough energy to treat us to their fleeting display.

The summer heat and lack of rainfall seems to have wilted the small whorled pogonia.
The summer heat and lack of rainfall seems to have wilted the small whorled pogonia.
Small whorled pogonia typically holds its parallel-veined leaves horizontally.
Small whorled pogonia typically holds its parallel-veined leaves horizontally.

At first glance one might confuse gaywing’s, Polygala paucifolia, leaves with pogonia’s leaves. However, the pogonia leaves are on a taller stem, have parallel veins, and are larger than those of fringed polygala.

Fringed polygala leaves look similar to pogonia leaves, but are smaller, lay closer to the ground, and have branched veins.
Fringed polygala leaves look similar to pogonia leaves, but are smaller, lay closer to the ground, and have branched veins.

Number three on my list, Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, flowers in mid-summer, so I searched for a blooming plant on my wildflower walk this morning. A dozen or so small colonies of this member of the Orchis family, Goodyera pubescens, were spotted. Only two individuals sent up their flower stalk and are almost ready to bloom.

The dark, distinctive foliage of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain contrasts nicely with the tan and brown leaves on the forest floor.
The dark, distinctive foliage of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain contrasts nicely with the tan and brown leaves on the forest floor.
The taller flower stalk measures about six inches now and will double in height as the young orchids mature.
The taller flower stalk measures about six inches now and will double in height as the young orchids mature.

Somehow it is so satisfying knowing that three wild orchid species presently share our piece of the woods with us. The three Orchis family members include the Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, the Small Whorled Pogonia and the Pink Lady’s Slipper. None are flowering at this moment, but stay tuned for more news from the woods of Pennsylvania. Later this month I hope to catch the flowers of Downy Rattlesnake Plantain.

Tall Anemone, a.k.a Thimbleweed, Blooming in Pennsylvania

A couple weeks have passed since we first saw this family of ducks. So far, only one of the ducklings has disappeared, but we’re hoping the rest will make it through the summer.

Family of ducks taking a rest in a field of clover.

Family of ducks taking a rest in a field of clover.

Reading about the varieties of wood sorrel in my field guides I came across a picture of a tall yellow-flowering kind that I had not seen before, so I made a mental note of it. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to see a Great Wood Sorrel plant on my berry walk this morning down the lane. Growing in the shade next to the lane, this Oxalis grandis specimen is about 16 inches tall.

Small clusters of flowers arise from the leaf axils and the leaves are held out quite straight and horizontally.

Small clusters of flowers arise from the leaf axils and the leaves are held out quite straight and horizontally.

With the number of times we’ve walked up and down the lane we don’t expect to find any new plants. We were quite surprised to see this pretty flower – a weed, really, hiding in the shade of the oak trees.

The light green to cream colored flower of thimbleweed has five sepals and numerous stamens.

The light green to cream colored flower of thimbleweed has five sepals and numerous stamens.

The central leaflet is wedge-shaped and has curved sides, a feature that distinguishes the plant from other anemone species.

The central leaflet is wedge-shaped and has curved sides, a feature that distinguishes the plant from other anemone species.

Thimbleweed flowerbuds, blossoms and fruit rise above the three- or five-parted leaves.

Thimbleweed flowerbuds, blossoms and fruit rise above the three- or five-parted leaves.

This member of the buttercup family, Anemone virginiana, has an interesting fruit which obviously lent the plant its name – Thimbleweed, also known as Tall Anemone.

Is This a Black Raspberry or a Blackberry?

Up and down the lane and along the edges of the farmer’s field there are lots of berries. Most are not quite ripe for picking yet, but it won’t be long before we have stained hands from collecting them.

There appears to be two varieties growing here and in several areas they are adjacent to each other. Looking up Rubus spp. in Gleason and Cronquist’s Manual of Vascular Plants, I see there are well over 200 species and hybrids. No wonder the wildflower field guides state that identification is best left to experts!

At the risk of being labeled an amateur I won’t be identifying the berry plants to species. What I do think we have are blackberry and black raspberry plants.

One of the berry plants has lighter foliage with elongated leaves. The berries are more rounded than those on the other type of berry plant – I think these are the black raspberry plants. The berries held in a cluster at the end of the stems are ripening one at a time. Delicious, they are!

Blackberry fruit ripening on the vine.
Black raspberry fruit ripening on the vine.
Get in my belly!
Get in my belly!

The second type of berry plant is more plentiful and has more berries which are of an elongated shape. These are blackberry plants. The green fruit will get bigger before ripening.

Some of the black raspberries arise singly in the leaf axils.
Some of the blackberries arise singly in the leaf axils.
Black raspberries more often occur in clusters along the main stem.
Blackberries more often occur in clusters along the main stem.
Clusters of the black raspberries are plentiful this year.
Clusters of the blackberries are plentiful this year.

It’s like a dream come true to have wild raspberries and blackberries growing on our property. I have fond memories of collecting them at camp as a child. Knowing that berries are a great health food makes me enjoy them even more as an adult.

Native Plants and Asiatic Dayflower Blooming in the Woods of Central Pennsylvania

Native plants blooming along our lane include pokeweed, spotted touch-me-not, enchanter’s nightshade and elderberry.

Even though its an alien plant or a garden escape the Asiatic Dayflower is one of my favorites. Too bad its flowers last for only one day.

Looking down on the flower of an asiatic dayflower.
Looking down on the flower of an Asiatic Dayflower.
Notice the stemless leaves that clasp the main stem and the
Notice the stemless leaves that clasp the main stem and the “pouch” from which the flower erupts (on the right).
A hover fly visits the dayflower for a little sip of nectar.
A hover fly visits the dayflower for a little sip of nectar.
A third lower petal is barely visible here as a white patch behind the two blue petals.
A third lower petal is barely visible here as a white patch behind the two blue petals.

Summer Arrives in Pennsylvania with a Blast of Hot Air

The first week of summer is proving to be a hot one here in central Pennsylvania. Temperatures in the 90s and bright all-day long sun is making for some limp plants by the end of the day. Late afternoon shade from the nearby trees starts their recovery, but a few need the cool of the night to fully be rejuvenated.

In early spring I transplanted a grouping of Rudbeckia from a bed next to the house to an open area in the front yard next to the lane. The root ball was huge and too heavy to carry on my shovel. I pulled on the old tops from last year’s growth to drag the plant onto a large plastic bag and then dragged the bag and plant over to the new area.

Rudbeckia doing well in full sun.
Rudbeckia doing well in full sun.
The centers of this Rudbeckia sp. are yellow and not chocolate-brown.
The centers of this Rudbeckia sp. are yellow and not chocolate-brown.

The reason I even mention this flower garden plant in this wildflower and wild herb blog is that earlier I reported it to be a black-eyed susan, which was obviously wrong.

The black-eyed susans are blooming though – I saw a bunch yesterday while out driving.

What else is blooming now?

Many of the summertime garden flowers are blooming – lilies, foxglove, dahlia, marigolds, larkspur, cactus – to our delight the list goes on and on!

Caterpillar Evidence Falls From the Trees

Now I know that all those big-sounding rain drops that I hear the day after a storm, well, they aren’t always water. And those falling leaves aren’t always from the activity of mischeivious squirrels, either!

I made a strange discovery today when surveying the land for damage from the storm last night. We did lose at least three good sized trees due to lightning. We’re thankful to have such nice neighbors with chainsaws, but that wasn’t the strange part.

Feces of striking similarity to that of tomato hornworms, which is found on and around tomato plants in the summertime, littered the tops of everything under these oak trees! The red surface of the farm truck hood made these “caterpillar berries” stand out – otherwise, I’m not sure I would have seen them at all.

Caterpillar dung fallen from the oak trees.

Caterpillar dung fallen from the oak trees.

The old farm truck caught a lot of these caterpillar berries.

The old farm truck caught a lot of these caterpillar berries.

Nature intertwines us all. Indirectly, these oak trees are fertilizing themselves in the midst of being eaten by insects. Voracious insects were helping to spread nutrients to the grass and herbs that lie in the understory and eventually to the tree itself. One doesn’t need to go to the Amazon Rain Forest to find examples of organisms being dependent on one another for survival.

Leaf damage as evidence of caterpillar occupation.

Leaf damage as evidence of caterpillar occupation.

Now, my curiosity needs fed…is it a certain type of caterpillar that leaves such symmetrical, tell-tale poop? Or is it that all caterpillars are so geometrically inclined?

Spiderwort Blooming in the Morning and Black-Eyed Susan and Purple Cone Flower Just Starting to Bloom

Late Spring flowers made an appearance this past week in between the rains. Yarrow and foxglove are blooming and the orange day lilies first bloomed three days ago.

The bright purple triangles of spiderwort have been beautiful and blooming for a week now. Not that each individual flower has been blooming that long – on the contrary, both the day lily and spiderwort flowers last only for a day.

Spiderwort flowers really don’t even last the whole day. You have to see them before noontime, or you will find them with their petals curling up, their flower heads drooping, and finally all of it wilting into a mass of gelly.

Purple petals and stamens of spiderwort contrast with the yellow anthers and green foliage.
Purple petals and stamens of spiderwort contrast with the yellow anthers and green foliage.
Spiderwort flowers droop in the afternoon after showing off their purple and yellow beauty.
Spiderwort flowers droop in the afternoon after showing off their purple and yellow beauty.

This morning the first Rudbeckia flowers to show any signs of yellow pointed straight up as if to thank the heavens for last night’s rain. In the heat of midday the new growth of these black-eyed susans gets a bit droopy. The coolness of the night seems to revive them for another day in the sun.

Black-eyed Susan just starting to open its bright yellow flowers.
Black-eyed Susan just starting to open its bright yellow flowers.
Rudbeckia flower opening itself to the sunshine.
Rudbeckia flower opening itself to the sunshine.

Echinacea flower structures are assembled although they are still green. They will have to put on some size before they turn out their purple-pink blossoms to be recognized as Purple Cone Flowers.

Green flower starts of echinacea.
Green flower starts of echinacea.
Purple cone flower leaves, stems and sepals feel sticky due to the fine, stiff hairs that cover the plant.
Purple cone flower leaves, stems and sepals feel sticky due to the fine, stiff hairs that cover the plant.

Partridgeberry, a.k.a. Squaw Vine, Beautifies Our Pennsylvanian Woodland Paths

Partridgeberry, Mitchella repens, blooming along woodland paths in central Pennsylvania lends a bit of color to the brown forest floor. Dark green foliage, accented here and there with white or light-colored veins, still bears crimson berries left over from last year.

Partridgeberry gives an evergreen feel to the mixed hardwood forests of Pennsylvania.
Partridgeberry gives an evergreen feel to the mixed hardwood forests of Pennsylvania.

The white, tubular-shaped flowers come in pairs at the ends of creeping branches along the ground. The fringy blooms coalesce to create a single, edible fruit in the fall, which can last the whole year long.

The trumpet-shaped flowers may be pinkish to white and usually have four petals.
The trumpet-shaped flowers may be pinkish to white and usually have four petals.

Nature guide books indicate that Partridgeberry, also known as Squaw Vine, has 4 regular parts, and so, most of us would look for flowers having 4 petals, 4 stamens, and so on, if we were looking for a specimen. Indeed, a majority of the partridgeberry flowers do have four petals, but I found quite a few examples having five petals.

The more common four-petaled variety of Squaw Vine.
The more common four-petaled variety of Squaw Vine.
A few examples of the five-petaled variety of Squaw Vine.
A few examples of the five-petaled variety of Squaw Vine.

Growing along the same path, but not on the same plant, and separated by some 50 feet or more, this large grouping of five-petaled partridgeberry illustrates one of the tenets of nature that states diversity rules. Perhaps this small freak of nature will some day benefit the species to it’s continued survival.

At the least our five-petaled partridgeberry is a curiosity!
At the least our five-petaled partridgeberry is a curiosity!