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The Velvetleaf Underground
(Abutilon theophrasti in the seed bank)
August 7, 2008, Marion, Ohio.
Residential and commercial development are underway on former farmland along State Rte. 95 at the eastern outskirts of the City of Marion, Ohio. Earth moving activities associated with land clearing and leveling often result in the establishment of large mounds of soil.
Two long earthen mounds are visible in the panorama below. One, at the extreme left, extends straight away from the camera's point of view. The other mound runs across most of the remaining field of view, visible as a darkish band between the trees in the distance and the flat meadow with Queen Anne's lace in the foreground. Recent excavation of the meadow created the mounds. The uniform green of the mounds is attributable to their being covered by a dense stand of velvetleaf (Abutilon theophrasti, family Malvaceae).
Newly created dirt mounds, August 7, 2008, Marion, Ohio, the site of many velvetleaf plants.
These mounds became occupied by the velvetleaf monoculture during the first season after exposure, with the plants no doubt originating from buried seeds. Viable seeds lying underground that can germinate when exposed to moisture and sunlight are termed the "seed bank."
Seeds of some species can live 100 years in the soil. This was decisively shown through a spectacularly long-running plant ecology experiment in which Michigan State University botanist William J. Beals in 1879 buried 20 vials of soil containing seeds of 21 different species of weed. Beals developed a protocol for their excavation and germination testing at 5-year intervals. (To extend the experiment the interval was increased, first to 10, and currently to 20 years.) The most recent withdrawls --there are 5 bottles remaining and the next will be dug up in 2020 --have consistently yielded only moth mullien (Verbascum blattaria, family Scrophulariaceae), plus, in some instances, traces of a few other species.
Velvetleaf, August 7, 2008, Marion, Ohio.
Velvetleaf was not one of Beal's test plants. Nonetheless it seems to have substantial longevity in the seed bank. It is an annual weed introduced from Asia in the 1700's that is a serious crop weed, especially of corn. Its specific epithet commemorates Theophrastus (371-287 BC), an ancient Greek scholar who was a successor to Aristotle and specialized in plants. Velvetleaf seeds are sometimes consumed from within by the same small bruchid beetle species (Althaeus hibisci and A. folkersti) that infect rose mallow hibiscus plants in our area.
Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense)
Nashville, Miami County, Ohio.
August 3, 2008.
Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense) is a tall grass, native of southern Eurasia, ranked among the world's 10 most noxious weeds. In Ohio, Johnson grass grows in agricultural fields where it can severely decrease yields, and at this time of year is conspicuous along roadsides and ditches. According to OARDC the plant is common-named for Colonel William Johnson, who introduced it in Alabama during the mid-1800's. As the name Sorghum indicates, Johnson grass is congeneric with sorghum (S. bicolor cultivars), an important grain and syrup plant, especially in arid parts of the world.
Johnson grass, Nashville, Miami County, Ohio, August 3, 2008.
Grasses (family Poaceae) are wind-pollinated. Their flowers are small and simple, consisting of an ovary topped by feathery stigmas that are good at receiving pollen drifting in the air, plus a few stamens that consist of relatively large anthers (pollen sacs) dangling loosely on very slender filaments in an arrangement that excels at setting pollen adrift into the air. These simple flowers develop within a pair of scale-like coverings from which they stick out when mature. After pollination, the ovary develops into a one-seeded fruit with a very thin outer layer that is tightly adherent to the seed; this is termed a "grain" and it is a unique fruit type that only occurs in the grass family.
Johnson grass flowers, August 3, 2008, Nashville, Miami County, Ohio.
Big hollow dead tree.
Nashville, Miami County, Ohio
August 3, 2008.
In a generally agricultural region north of Dayton, Ohio, there's a small woodlot. In the woodlot there's a 2.5 ft. diameter, 8 ft. tall hollow tree trunk. Perched on the tree trunk is a turkey vulture (Cathartes aura ), a magnificent bird that the lovable firebrand conservationist/author Edward Abbey (Desert Solitaire, The Monkey Wrench Gang) nicknamed the "airy purifier" through a loose translation of its scientific name.
Turkey Vulture fledgling, August 3, 2008, Nashville, Miami County, Ohio
This turkey vulture, although quite large, is neverthless incapable of sustained flight (it stayed put even when approached to within just a few feet). Its tail feathers, and perhaps its wings, are not fully grown in yet.
Turkey Vulture fledgling, August 3, 2008, Nashville, Miami County, Ohio.
Inside the hollow tree, about 8 feet deep, is a second turkey vulture. It's reasonable to conclude these birds were hatched in this tree trunk, although surprisingly there are no nest accoutrements such as lining material, food remains, or fecal material. It seemed remarkably fresh and clean, for a vulture's nest!
Turkey vulture deep in hollow tree, August 3, 2008, Nashville, Miami County, Ohio.
It's amazing that this bird, like its sibling before it, will somehow manage to clamber up and out out of this long narrow cylinder. While we were examining the nest area, an adult TV came, apparently to attend to these birds, saw us and flew away immediately, during which it tried to defecate on us.
Turkey vulture nestling, August 3, 2008, Nashville, Miami County, OH.
Turkey vultures are common throughout Ohio during summer, and are undoubtedly frequent breeders. But the results from the first Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas (1982-1987) showed strikingly few discoveries of strong evidence of their breeding, with "probable" or "confirmed" status recorded for only 28 blocks. That was fewer than 5% of the total number of blocks they were observed in during the breeding season, as most of the vulture observations were of roosting or soaring birds, classified as "possible" breeders.
Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas 1 (1982-87) results for turkey vulture.
The 2nd Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas is well underway, in year 3 of a projected 5 year field period. The state is divided into 4000+ atlas blocks, each of which is approx. 10 square miles. Atlasers sign up to "own" one or more blocks they will focus on, taking care to visit all the different habitats within each block during the breeding season, and to record specific observations as evidence for possible, probable, or confirmed breeding. Surprisingly, actually seeing nests with little chirpy birds in them is unusual, and not necessary to achieve a high degree of confidence that a species is breeding. For example, hearing a male singing on suitable territory on two occassions at least one week apart counts as "probable" (coded T7). And an adult holding a caterpillar in its beak is assumed to be feeding nearby young, scoring "confirmed" (CF).
This turkey vulture sighting was entered into atlas block 65A5NE (West Milton) as "FY" (fledged young), although "NY" (nest with young) would have applied as well. Anybody can submit breeing bird observations, even if they don't "own" the block the observation was made in.
Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas 2 has a pretty ambitious goal: 100% block coverage. There are still plenty of blocks avalable. The atlas is being amazingly well coordinated, with full use of internet technology for aquiring materials and uploading observations. Learn about the atlas at http://www.ohiobirds.org/obba2/.
Pay attention. Calm down. Cheer up.
Or not! --St. John's-wort is proven ineffective.
Killdeer Plains, July 31, 2008
A recent newpaper article (June 12, 2008, Columbus Dispatch) references one of our most common wildflowers.
All this hubbub is about a weed of dry disturbed sites, Hypericum perforatum (family Clusiaceae), seen here at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area, Marion County, Ohio. Common St. John's-wort has oppositely arranged leaves with neat translucent dots, a tuft of many slender stamens (with 3 slender styles) in the center of each flower, and sharp black specks along the margins of the petals. (The abbreviation for "saint" is the same as the abbreviation for "street." Weird. Maybe this plant is actually "common street John's-wort.")
Common St. John's-wort, July 31, 2008, Marion County, Ohio.
Common St. John's-wort flower, showing black spots on petal margins. July 1, 2008, Marion County, Ohio.
St. John's-wort leaf. July 31, 2008, Kildeer Plains, Marion County, Ohio.
St. John's-wort is best known as a folk remedy for depression. Does its ineffectiveness in treating ADHD signify it is also useless for depression? Probably. H. perforatum is our only non-native species of Hypericum. There are 15 native ones, including three low shrubs (the rest are herbs).
Another common St. John's-wort in Ohio is spotted St. John's-wort, H. punctatum. It sometimes occurs in disturbed settings as does H. punctatum, but can also be found in more natural ones such as the meadows at the edges of woods, as it was 2 weeks ago at the Pleasant Township Park in Marion County, Ohio.
Spotted St. John's-wort. July 22, 2008, Pleasant Township Park, Marion County, Ohio.
This native species is taller, and the leaves are about twice as large as those of H. perforatum. The petals have many small spots that are scattered rather than being concentrated at the petal margins as in H. perforatum.
Spotted St. John's-wort flowers, July 22, 2008. Pleasant Township Park, Marion County, OH.
Perhaps to make up for the less dramatic spotting on the petals, spotted St. John's-wort typically has black spots on the leaves in addition to translucent ones. Wow. Botany is so much more exciting than zoology!
Spotted St. John's-wort leaf, showing black dots AND translucent spots.
Shrubby St. John's-wort, H. prolificum, is fairly common in southern Ohio. It is currently flowering in an open field at the Deep Woods Preserve in Hocking County, Ohio.
Shrubby St. John's-wort, July 30, 2008, Hocking County, Ohio.
Purple fringeless orchid and a quasi-lookalike.
Deep Woods Preserve, Hocking County, Ohio.
July 30, 2008.
The orchid family (Orchidaceae) is a huge one, with about 20,000 species worldwide, second only to the aster family (Asteraceae), which has approx. 24,000 species. But by far the bulk of orchid diversity is in the tropics. (There are only 49 orchids in Ohio, compared with 263 aster family members.). One of our most beautiful midsummer wildlfowers is the purple fringeless orchid, Platanthera peramoena.
Purple fringeless orchid, July 20, 2008, Hocking County, Ohio.
Wildflower lovers tend to get very excited about orchids. They have a lot of interesting traits. Orchids are monocots with the flowers twisted upside-down. The male and female parts are fused together. Their seeds are extremely tiny, almost dust-like, and lack nutritive tissue for the developing seedling. Orchids depend upon partnerships with fungi for at least some of their food. And orchid pollen, instead of being distributed as individual grains, are adherent in waxy masses called pollinia that get delivered in bulk to a female stigma. (Orchids and milkweeds are the only plants that do that.) Many are quite rare, and none are really abundant.
Purple fringeless orchid, July 20, 2008, Hocking County, Ohio
A superficially similar plant that grows about the same time, and in similar habitats (damp soil) is a striking tall species of phlox, spotted phlox, Phlox maculata (family Polemoniaceae).
Spotted phlox, July 30, 2008, Hocking County, Ohio.
It's interesting how phlox flowers are twisted in the bud. The corolla forms into a tube below the lobes of the corolla. This is functionally similar to the orchid's spur (a single petal).
Spotted phlox, July 30, 2008, Hocking County, Ohio.
Pleasant Township, Marion County, Ohio
July 22, 2008
There is a newly dug pond at the recently established Pleasant Townhip Park in Marion County, Ohio. The pond is being naturally vegetated by a variety of aquatic plants and plant-like organisms. In the photo below we see an emergent wetland flowering plant, water-plantain (Alisma subcordatum, family Alismataceae).Black mustard
Water plantain at edge of pond at Pleasant Township Park, Marion County, July 22, 2008.
The "plant-like" organisms are algae. Algae are photosythetic but lack the structural and life-cycle complexity of true plants, which are adapted for life on land. Algae are classified in the Kingdom Protoctista (sometimes called Protista) along with mostly unicellular organisms. Two intriguing algae are common here. One of these is a filamentous green algae that might just be called "pond scum," and it certainly doesn't look very appealing or distinctive in the field.
Spirogyra in pond at Pleasant Township Park, Marion County, Ohio, July 22, 2008.
Through the microscope though, the algal filaments reveal a distinctive trait: the spiral chloroplasts that are the basis for the name Spirogyra. Even the word "Spirogyra" is catchy; it was adopted as the name of two musical bands. "Spirogyra" was a British folk band, and "Spiro Gyra" is an american jazz/fusion band.
Spyro Gyra, the band.
Green algae Spirogyra, microscope view, July 22, 2008.
Another green alga is well known because it's almost a plant! This is Chara, a stonewort. Stoneworts are structurally complex algae that have many morphological features, as well as supporting molecular data, that indicate they are a close "sister group" to true plants. Thus the immediate ancestor of true plants was likely a stonewort or stonewort-like green alga.
Chara, a stonewort, at Pleasant Township Park, Marion County, Ohio, July 22, 2008.
Morral, Marion County, Ohio
July 21, 2008
Black mustard (Brassica nigra, family Brassicaceae) is doing very well this year, competing for attention with sow-thistle, Queen Anne's lace, and chichory. The seeds of this species, crushed and mixed with vinegar and some spices, are made into the famliar condiment. Most years it can be found flowering until late September or even early October.
Black mustard, Morral, Marion County, Ohio, July 21, 2008.
The Brassicaceae is one of the most easily recognized plant families. A traditional name, the Cruciferae, meant cross (crucifix)-bearing, in reference to the 4 wide-spreading petals. Mustards also have 4 sepals, and the stamens, of which there are six, are "tetradidymous," meaning that they are arranged in a distinctive pattern of four long stamens plus two short ones. The fruit, a peculiarly modified capsule, is unique as well. Depending upon the genus, the fruits are either long and narrow (and termed a silique), or short and squat (and called a silicle). The black mustard fruit is a silique.
Inflorescence of black mustard, Morral, Marion County, Ohio, July 21, 2008.
Nashville, Miami County, Ohio
July 20, 2008
One of the most distinctive and conspicuous wildflowers is bloomimg now, during the apparent "lull" in the woods between spring/early summer wildflower riots and the aster displays of autumn. It's tall bellflower, Campanula americana (family Campanulaceae). Bellflower has a wand-like flowering stalk, displaying well the type of sequential maturation of flower parts known as "protandry," wherein the pollen receptive (female) stigmas are not functional until later in the life of an individual flower. In the photo below, note how the older (lowermost) blooms have have their 3-parted stigmas spread apart to receive pollen, whereas in the younger ones they are still pressed tightly together.
Tall bellflower, July 20, 2008, Nashville, Miami County, Ohio.
Tall bellflower visited by small native bee, July 200, 2008, Nashville, Miami County, OH.
An enchanting plant.
Pleasant Township Park, Marion County
July 15, 2008
Everybody is upset about invasive plants like garlic mustard, multiflora rose, etc., spreading through the woods. But native plants, it seems, perhaps rightfully, get a "free pass" even if they're practically all you can see on the forest floor. One especially abundant native plant is the lovely enchanter's nightshade, Circaea lutetiana (family Onagraceae).
Enchanter's nightshade, Pleasant Township Park, Marion County, OH, July 15, 2008.
Emchanter's nightshade (unrelated to the true nightshades --toxic members of the Solanaceae in the genus Atropa, from which belladona is derived) is a good example of a plant with an inferior ovary --the fruit-developing portion of the flower is located below all the other flower parts. In the picture below, the ovary is the swollen spiny portion. Note also how simple these flowers are, with only two sepals, two petals, and two stamens.
Enchanter's nightshade, Pleasant Park, Marion County, July 15, 2008.
Enchanter's nightshade is a great example of "zoochory," i.e., animal dispersal of fruits. They are stick-tights.
Circaea is named after Circe the enchantress, from Greek mythology (perhaps because of the clinging fruits).
Enchanter's nightshade fruits, Pleasant Park, July 15, 2008.