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Welcome to bobklips.com, the website of Bob Klips, a plant enthusiast living in Columbus, Ohio.

May 29 and 30, 2008. Claridon Railroad Prairie:
A Tale of Two Umbellifers

 Meadow parsnip, Thaspium trifoliatum, is a challenging species to identify. It's remarkably similar to another, more common, prairie plant that also is a medium-sized, yellow-flowered, spring-flowering member of the carrot family (Apiaceae), the lovely golden Alexanders, Zizia aurea.  

The Apiaceae is a very distinctive plant family.
It is named after the genus Apium, which includes celery, A. graveolens. The Apiaceae used to be called the "Umbelliferae," meaning umbel-bearing," because the flowers are usually borne in distinctive radiating clusters called umbels within which the flowers are individually stalked and attached all at the same point on the flowering stem. Queen-Anne's lace and poison hemlock are familiar wild examples, while dillweed, carrot and parsely are in the garden. Other distinguishing traits are compound leaves with a base that sheathes the stem, and tiny flowers that have an inferior ovary that develops into a unique fruit type called a "schizocarp" that separates into two individual one-seeded units. Some familiar spices --dill "seed," and caraway "seed" --are from this family. (Being a portion of fruit containing a seed, these spices technically are not seeds, although in nature they function as such.)

[Nowadays, all plant families
name start with the prominent genus in that family and end in "-aceae" (pronounded "ai-seh-ee"). Older books, however, designated a few families by names that don't have -aceae endings. There were a total of 8 of them, mostly very large families with some singular distinctive trait. People (old people anyhow) still refer to "crucifers" in reference to the traditional name of the mustard family, Cruciferae (nowadays called Brassicaceae), and "composites" for the aster family (Asteraceae).]

Claridon Railroad Prairie is a diverse prairie remnant of the Sandusky Plains. The prairie is one mile long and 50 feet wide, situated between an active CSX railroad track and a little-used county Road in Marion County, OH. It was the inspiration and primary seed source for the Larry R. Yoder Prairie, a prairie restoration at OSU's Marion Campus. Both similar umbelliferous species occur at Claridon, and they are flowering now.

golden Alexanders at Claridon

  Claridon Railroad Prairie, Marion County, OH, May 29, 2008.

golden Alexandersmeadow parsnip

Two simlar umbellifers. Left: golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea). Right: meadow parsnip (Thaspium trifoliatum). Claridon Railroad Prairie, Marion County, OH, May 29, 2008.

Zizia aurea leafThaspium leaf

Leaves of two simlar umbellifers. Left: golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea). Right: meadow parsnip (Thaspium trifoliatum). Claridon Railroad Prairie, Marion County, OH, May 29, 2008.

In a standard botanical reference manual, the genera Zizia and Thaspium end up alongside one another, separated only by details of the inflorescense and the ovary. (Note that the Zizia leaf specimen above has five leaflets although it's "supposed" to have only three. Evidently the plant didn't read the book.)    

Zizia and Thaspium couplets

Both diagnostic traits can be discerned when the plants are either flowering or fruiting, although the ovary-is-winged feature, subtle in flower, is very conspicuous in fruit. The central flower, and only the central flower, of Zizia is sessile (stalkless), while all the flowers of Thaspium are stalked. Note also the prominently winged ovary (lower portion of epigynous flowers such as these) is winged in the Thaspium

Zizia umbellet dissectedThaspium umbellet dissected

Partly dissected umbellets of two similar yellow-flowered prairie umbellifers. Zizia is on the left and Thaspium is on the right. A few flowers were cut off from the foreground region of each cluster to reveal the central flowers. Claridon Prairie, May 30, 2008.

There's a massive display of white blue-eyed grass at the west end of the prairie. This species, Sisyrinchium albidum (family Iridaceae) was noted two weeks ago at the Marion Campus Prairie, where only one plant was seen and it had a distinct bluish cast to the flowers. Flower color can vary, and albino forms of many plants that are normally pink or blue-flowered occur now and then. This raised the question, "Are you sure this is white blue-eyed grass and not just a near albino form of a more common species?" (S. angustifolium is the common Ohio species of blue-eyed grass). Generally when similar species differ by flower color, there are other differences as well. True in this case: E. Lucy Braun in Monocots of Ohio tell us that S. albidum spathes (paired leaf-like appendages from which the flowers arise) are stalkless, whereas the spathes of S. angustifolium are stalked. She also mentions that albidum's flowers, which are normally white, can also be blue. That would be "blue white blue-eyed grass"!

white blue-eyed grass

Sisyrinchium albidum (family Iridaceae), Claridon Railroad Prairie, Marion County, OH, May 30, 2008.

The fleabanes (genus Erigeron in the family Asteraceae) are native annuals, biennials or short-lived perennials. They resemble asters (Symphyotrichum) but are generally spring-flowering whereas the asters bloom in late summer and fall. I'm not sure of the species, but I think that the one with clasping leaves, which this seems to have, is the Philadelphia fleabane (E. philadelphicus).

daisy fleabane

Erigeron philadelphicus (?) at Claridon, May 29, 2008.

fleabane leaves

 Stem and leaves of Erigeron philadelphicus (?) at Claridon, May 29, 2008

May 23, 2008, Larry R. Yoder Prairie
at the OSU-Marion Campus

While the bio students caught insects for the "animal diversity" lab, the instructor re-visited a spot where  bastard-toadflax recently appeared in great profusion. Now more of the plants are flowering.


Bastard-toadflax (Commandra umbellata), May 23, 2008, OSU-Marion.

Golden ragwort (Senecio aureus, family Asteraceae) is a native perennial herb of prairies and open woods.

Senecio aureus

Golden ragwort, Senecio aureus at OSU-Marion, May 23, 2008.

Senecio aureus

Golden ragwort, Senecio aureus at OSU-Marion, May 23, 2008.

May 23, 2008
Greenlawn Cemetery

Greenlawn Cemetery in Columbus, Ohio is a beautiful and historic cemetery that is well known as a great place for birding and seeing a variety of trees. I was there this morning with my Human Biology class, doing a lab activity called "Cemetery Demography" that constructs life tables based on birth and death dates for people born in the 1830's versus those born in the 1880's. While the students were recording data, I snapped some pics of plants. The tulip-trees (Liriodendron tulipifera, family Magnoliaceae) are in full flower.


Liriodendron tulipifera, Greenlawn Cemetery, May 23, 2008

The flowers of Liriodendron are much like those of Magnolia, and are generally regarded, along with buttercups (family Ranunculaceae) and water-lilies (Nymphaceae), to be among the most primitive flowers. This can be conceptualized by recognizing that flowers are basically modified branches and that flower parts --sepals, petals, stamens, and pistils --are modified leaves on those branches. The flowers that most resemble a branch with leaves are regarded as most primitive. The made-up word "FENSH" is a guide to the features of primitive flowers.
  • "F" signifies "FREE," as the flower parts are separate (free) from one another, i.e., they are not fused.
  • "E" stands for "EQUAL," as the flower parts within a series are the same size and shape. i.e., the flowers are radially symmetric.
  • "N" means the flower parts (not the flowers themselves) are NUMEROUS. 
  • "S" is for "SPIRAL," as the numerous flower parts are spirally arranged.
  • "H" represents the HYPOGYNOUS nature of the first flowers, wherein the petals, sepals, and stamens rise away from the flower below the pistils. (This is also called having a "superior ovary.") 
Notice in the tulip-tree blossom. how the flower parts are separate, all the petals are the same size, the stamens are numerous and spirally arranged, and the pistils (which are also numerous and spirally aranged) are the topmost features. A FENSH flower, primitive.

tulip-tree flower

Tulip-tree flower, Greenlawn Cemetery, May 23, 2008.

Covering a large stump sawed off level with the ground and also scattered in the lawn nearby is an "inky cap" mushroom, in the genus Coprinus, maybe C. atramentareus. The inky caps have closely spaced narrow black gills that decompose into black liquid as (or perhaps after) they mature.

Coprinus atramentarius

Inky-caps (genus Coprinus) at Greenlawn Cemetery, May 23, 2008.

Coprinus atramentareus

Inky-cap (genus Coprinus) have closely spaced narrow gills. Greenlawn Cemetery, May 23, 2008, Columbus, OH.

Before they go "inky," the inky caps are edible, but some, such as this one, have an unususal side-effect. When consumed with alcohol, the result is intense nausea. This is caused by a chemical in the mushrooms related to the pharmacutical medicine "antabuse," used to treat alcohol dependency. 

Coprinus from above

Inky-cap (genus Coprinus) gills at Greenlawn Cemetery, Columbus, OH.

Douglas-fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is a magnificant forest tree of the Pacific northwest that rivals  redwoods in height but is much more abundant. The familiar smell of plywood is the smell of Doug-fir.
This is a member of the Pine family (Pinaceae) that can be a little hard to identify as its single (not clustered as in pines and larch) needles make it resemble a true fir (genus Abies) or a spruce (genus Picea). There are subtle differences in the leaes and twigs, but when they have cones, identification is super-easy. Douglas-fir cones have their papery bracts that are located above each woody cone scale extending far out from the scale. (In almost all other pine family members the bracts are shorter than the scales, hence they are not visible unless the cones are dissected.)

Douglas-fir old cone

Douglas-fir with old seed cones, May 23, 2008, Greenlawn Cemetery, Columbus OH.

Douglas-fir young cone

Douglas-fir young seed cones, May 23, 2008, Greenlawn Cemetery, Columbus, OH.

In Columbus (and elsewhere no doubt) a few small native woodland wildflowers have established themselves as lawn weeds. Spring-beauty, (Claytonia virginiana, family Primulaceae) is a good example. Several species of violets too grace lawns in some places. Here at Greenlawn, the striped creamy violet, Viola striata (family Violaceae) is especially abundant.

Viola striata

Viola striata patch in green lawn at Greenlawn Cemetery, May 23, 2008.

Viola striata

Viola striata, Greenlawn Cemetery, Columbus, OH May 23, 2008.

Newer observations ("next")

Older observations ("next")