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

There's no trillium like snow trillium!
...and coltsfoot, (not) far far away!
Delaware County, Ohio. March 31, 2009.
In this Sunday's Columbus Dispatch there was a delightful article by naturalist John Switzer describing an outing he had recently taken with a friend to see a rare species of early-blooming trillium that, he explained, was actually first discovered nearby, in 1834. Hopefully the newspaper people won't mind if a faithful subscriber posts the article, demonstrating the good work they do promoting local natural history.

Columbus Dispatch article about snow trillium
Columbus Dispatch article on snow trillium. March 29, 2009.

By luck, a friend of mine who is a friend of the friend that John went on his outing with went on a similar outing with him (John's friend) this morning and thus was able to give me directions to the site.

snow trillium
The tiny blossom of a snow trillium pokes through the leaf
clutter on the 11th day of Spring in Delaware County.

Nearby, on a disturbed bank at the edge of the woods where the trillium is blooming, a intriguing alien wildflower is up. This is coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara, family Asteraceae). Coltsfoot is a perennial from a creeping rhizome. Its scaly-bracted but otherwise leafless flowering stems emerge before the leaves do.

Coltsfoot. Delaware County, Ohio. March 31, 2009.

In about a month coltsfoot fruiting heads will appear, dandelion-like but so intensely white they could be mistaken for blossoms when seen along a road. The leaves will be heart-shaped with angular lobes, resembling colt's feet. Coltsfoot is a well-established herbal remedy for cough and sore throat.

Silver Maple
A Spontaneously Moving Ball
Marion Ohio. March 31, 2009
Two weeks ago, the silver maple (Acer saccharinum, family Aceraceae)  trees in the Marion Cemetery had just begun flowering. Now, the clusters of female flowers are further developed. This majestic tree in an older section of the cemetery displays them well. Note for a moment though, another noteworthy object: the spherical item seen between the lower two branchlets is one of the wonders of the modern world: Marion Cemetery's famous Spontaneously Moving Ball!

silver maple at Marion Cemetery
Silver maple branch with late-stage female flowers. March 31, 2009.
Note amazing granite ball on pedestal in the background.

Spontaneously Moving Ball
The spontaneously moving Merchant Ball in the Marion Cemetery.
The light unpolished spot on the ball rested on the pedestal when it was constructed in 1896.

The ball is made of granite that was polished after it was placed on the pedestal. Given that it weighs approx. 5000 lbs., it was anticipated that it would not need any anchoring. But a few years after its construction in 1896, it was noticed that the rough spot that started out lowermost (and thus not polished) had moved somewhat and by 1905 has shifted about 1/2 way to the top. At that time it was the subject of a Scientific American article.

Scientific American article about ball
April, 1905 Scientific American article about the ball.

Back to the maple. The pistillate silver maple flowers have begun to display an expanded ovary, with the expanded wings that later will enable their single-seeded fruits to be dispersed by the wind.

silver maple pistilate cluster
Silver maple pistillate flowers. March 31, 2009.

Another Lichen (and another lichen book) 
Deep Woods Preserve, Hocking County, Ohio
March 27, 2009
The slightly too weird Photoshopped lichen face (scroll down, at your own risk) apparently was unsettling to some people. Sorry about that. But it doesn't take a whole lot of imagination, or having recently seen Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, to see lichen faces even without digital image manipulation. 

lichen that looks like a face, really
Foliose lichen Flavoparmelia punctata on hardwood tree.
Deep Woods Preserve, Hocking County, Ohio. March 27, 2009.

The identification of this lichen was made with the help of another excellent lichen identification manual, The Macrolichens in West Virginia, by Don. G. Flenniken. Like many manuals devoted to the biota of a particular region, it is almost equally useful in neighboring regions, in this case southern Ohio.

Macrolichens in West Virginiana
This book is great!
Keys, descriptions and excellent photographs!

Adorning the the wet sandstone cliffs of the Deep Woods Preserve is a lichen with such a peculiar green and fleshy aspect that it looks at first glance a little like a thallose liverwort.  

Dermatocarpon habitat
Lichen-adorned wet rocks in mixed hemlock-haedwook forest.
Deep Woods Preserve, Hocking County. March 27, 2009.

Following the key, and noting that the thallus: (1) is not gelatinous; (2) is umbilicate rather than fruticose or podetiaform, and; (3) its surface has black dots (perithecia), revealed it to be a member of the genus Dermatocarpon, of which only two species occur in our area. This one --green when wet, light-colored beneath, and tending to occur on perennially wet sandstone --must be D. luridum.

Dermatocarpon luridum
Dermatocarpon luridum. Deep Woods Preserve, Hocking County, Ohio. March 17, 2009.

Nearby, on the same sandstone ridge, an interesting evergreen primitive vascular plant creeps along. This is the shining clubmoss Huperzia lucidula (formerly Lycopodium lucidulum).

Huperzia lucidula
Shining clubmoss. Deep Woods Preserve. March 27, 2009.

Looking closely, this plant displays two strikingly different modes of reproduction. In the axils of many upper leaves there are small yellowish spore cases (sporangia) in which single-celled spores were formed by meiosis. (The sporangia have split open, and are empty now.) This spore production is a sexual process equivalent to the production of sperm and eggs by animals. Near the top of many stems, asexually produced plantlets called gemmae also occur.

Huperzia sporangis and gemmae
Shining clubmoss displaying gemmae, and sporangia in the axils of the leaves.
Deep Woods Preserve. March 27, 2009.

Beautiful spring wildflowers have begun blooming. One of them is American hazelnut (Corylus americana, family Corylaceae). Hazelnut has a pollination syndrome typical of anemophilous (wind-pollinated) woody plants. The female flowers are comparatively large, few in number, and topped with expanded pollen-receiving stigmas. The male flowers are minute and aggregated into drooping catkins that are well able to launch their pollen grains into the breeze.

American hazelnut flowers. Left: two pistillate (female) flowers. Right: staminate (male) catkins.
Deep Woods Preserve, Hocking County, Ohio. March 27, 2009.

In early spring, while it is sufficiently warm but sunny because it is before leaf-out, wildfowers bloom in midwestern deciduous forests. Here is such a forest, at the Deep Woods Preserve in Hocking County, taken from the Marathon pipeline right-of-way, facing south.

Deep Woods Preserve
Deep Woods Preserve, Hocking County, Ohio. March 27, 2009.

Two forest wildflowers. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis, familly Papaveraceae) is on the forest floor, while yellow harlequin (Corydalis flavula, family Fumariaceae) is a rock-top plant.

Sanguinaria and Corydalis
Some early vernal angiosperms. Left: bloodroot. Right: yellow harlequin.
Deep Woods Preserve, Hocking County, Ohio. March 27, 2009.

Caledonia, Marion County, Ohio
March 22, 2009

A great thing about living in the Buckeye State is that there are many opportunities for enthusiasts with every style of interest to join like-minded people in the enjoyment of Ohio's biota. There are Ohio groups for beetles, lepidoptera, birds, native plants, and many other specialized taxa.  Every year there are conferences and workshops such as the Ohio Botanical Conference and the Wildlife Diversity Conference. There are advanced naturalist workshops such as those held by the the Edge of Appalachia and Arc of Appalachia preserves. There are ongoing surveys such as the Ohio Spider Survey, periodic surveys like the Ohio Breeding Bird Atlas 2, plus occassional identification marathons such as the upcoming "bio-blitz" to be held in July at Old Woman's Creek State Nature Preserve. Arching over all of this is the venerable umbrella group, the Ohio Biological Survey, promoting natural history study in myriad ways, perhaps most notably by producing books and miscellaneous publications that guide the interested naturalist.

One such citizen science group is OMLA: the Ohio Moss and Lichen Association. Mosses and lichens often grow together, and so the members of this terrific and friendly club like to prowl around together searching for the little "cryptogams."
OMLA just held its annual meeting and workshop at the OSU Museum of Biological Diversity in Columbus. It was great fun and very educational.

OMLA workshop
Moss and lichen enthusiasts at OMLA annual meeting and workshop. March 21, 2009.

Present were several lichen enthusisasts, and seeing them at work was inspiring. Two especially active OMLA lichenologists who were there are Ray Showman and Don Flenniken, the authors of a terrific lichen identification book "The Macrolichens of Ohio," published by the Ohio Biological Survey. 

Ray and Don at OMLA workshop
Lichen enthusiasts at OMLA meeting, including the authors of The Macrolichens of Ohio.

Most OMLA members focus much more on one group, either bryophytes or lichens, but not both. I'm a moss person for sure, but maybe it's finally time to learn a little lichenology. Lichens are dual organisms consisting of  a fungus and an alga living in a close symbiotic relationship. Mostly though, a lichen is a fungus, and lichen nomenclature (naming system) and distinctive morphological features are fungal structures. Here's an unknown lichen growing on a piece of standing dead wood in an open disturbed area along a road in Marion, Ohio. 

Physcia stellata
Standing woody debris with unknown lichen at Caledonia Preserve, Maron County, Ohio.March 22, 2009.

The first couplet in the key asks about the general overall growth form of the lichen. The manual explains there are several types of gross morphology, including (1) crustose lichens that are crust-like, very tightly appressesed forms that are not considered "macrolichens" and so are not covered by the manual; (2) foliose lichens that are flattened, leaf-like, with an upper surface that is diferent from the lower, and (3) fruticose lichens consisting of upright branches that are round or flattened in cross-section and, if flattened, have little difference betwen sides. This one is obviously a foliose lichen. 

Macrolichen key p.1
Lichen key in The Macrolichens of Ohio. The apparently correct choices ("leads") are circled,
and the respective question pairs ("couplets") are indicated with a square.

A closer view of the unknown lichen shows it to be flattened and tightly adherent to the tree bark.

Physcia stellaris
Unknown lichen on woody debris at Caledonia Preserve, Maron County, Ohio.

"Rhizines," the glossary tells us, are black to light brown, or translucent pale cords of hyphae (fungal threads) that project from the lower surface to the substrate and tend to anchor the thallus (plant body of the lichen). This will require examining the undersurface of the lichen.

lichen underside
Undersurface of unknown foliose lichen, showing rhizines.

Following the key some more, we are asked what type of fungal spore-bearing structures are present, more about the overall growth form, and about the type of algal partner; is it a cyanobacterium, or a green alga?

Macrolichen key p2

The fungal component of a typical lichen is an ascomycete, i.e., a member of the huge class of fungi that bear spores in microscopic tubular sacs called "asci." While the asci themselves are too small to be seen with the unaided eye, they are packaged together in larger structures called "ascocarps" that are distinctively shaped. The ascocarps that this lichen produces are dish-shaped apothecia, not flask-shaped "perithecia."

lichen upper surface
Upper surface of unknown lichen, showing the abundant dish-shaped apothecia
and the absence of any perithecia. 

A cross-section of the lichen shows the white interior (the medula), and a layer of microscopic unicellular green algae situated just beneath the upper surface layer (upper cortex).  

lichen cross-section
Cross section of unknown lichen showing green algae layer.

Getting back to the key, we are asked about the color of the inside (the medula), and what the margin of the thallus is like.

Macrolichen ley p3

Are the lobes paw-shaped? Hard to say. My brother and his wife in Brooklyn just sent me a great picture of their cat Lucky in his favorite sleeping box. Lucky has paws. How do they compare with the marginal lobes of the lichen? Let's "pause" and take a look. (Bad pun I know, but at least be thankful there are no "lichen/liking" ones!)

lucky paw
Lucky asleep, oblivious to the comparison between his feet and the margin of a lichen.

The lichen's marginal lobes look somewhat paw-shaped, but maybe not paw-shaped enough. If this one were paw-shaped, then it would be Physcia adscendens. When starting out with a new group of organisms, it helps to check species descriptions frequently for any gross mis-matches. Ray and Don give useful DIAGNOSTIC FEATURES for each species, and for the paw-lobed (hooded rosette) lichen, they tell us some things about its sporocarps and habitat that don't seem quite right.

Physcia adsecendens diagnostic features

Maybe Lucky has lichen-lobed feet! In any case, it's back to the key, where we are queried about the undersurface of the lichen. Is there a velvety nap of short rhizines?

Macrolichen nap couplet

Lucky seems to be taking a nap, but that's not any more relevant than his paws were! However, from the image above of the lichen undersurface showing the sparse, thick, light-colored rhizines, it's clear we need to go to couplet 28. This is the first one that refers to a chemical test. Lichens tend to contain secondary metabolites, usually complex organic acids, the presence of which can be detected with spot tests, and used as diagnostic features. There are 3 main tests: the K test, utilizing 10% potassium hydroxide (KOH); the C test, employing dilute liquid bleach such as Chlorox, and; the P test, performed with an exotic specialty reagent, paraphenylenediamine. This couplet asks for the K test.

macrolichen key K test couplet

The image shows a cross-section of the thallus before and after applying a couple drops of KOH. We're keeping our eye out for a color change to yellow, noting how intense it is, how quickly the change occurs, and what part of the lichen it occurs on.

MOUSEOVER the IMAGE for K test results
lichen K test
Unknown foliose lichen K test

There is certainly a color change to yellow, and it appears to be limited to the upper cortex. (The inner medulla stayed white.) It's a tough call, but apparently this color change is not as intense and immediate as it could be. This "weak" K+ reaction takes us to couplet 29.

macrolichen key after K test

... more questions about color and details about size and shape.

macrolichen key gray section

...and finally we come to a lichen genus, Physcia.

macrolichen key the end

Ray and Don tell us that Physcia is "characterized by a medium sized thallus with linear to elongate lobes, usually whitish-gray in color, upper cortex with atranorin (K+ yellow), lower surface corticate, pale, with simple rhizines." There are 9 species in Ohio. The one this seems to be the star rosette lichen, P. stellaris.

Physcia stellata
Yay! The lichen is unknown no longer!

It is interesting that this common foliose lichen produces neither isidia nor soredia.

talking lichen
Yikes, a talking lichen!

And a pretty crude Photoshop job! An interesting aspect of lichen biology that we chanced not to encounter while keying out Physcia stellaris has to do with their reproduction. Many foliose lichens produce specialized asexual reproductive structures on their upper surface, of which there are two types: fingerlike isidia and granular soredia. They are well described in the glossary.

glossary definitions
Isidia and soredia defined in glossary of The Macrolichens of Ohio.

This raises two questions. First, lacking any obvious means to do so, how does this lichen reproduce? And secondly, what's up with the apothecia? Why do lichenized fungi still produce them? The fungal spores alone are incapable of perpetuating anything, so why haven't these structures gone out of existence? Granted they might not be energetically costly to produce and so natural selection might not strongly favor forms that lack them, but there is an evolutionary mechanism akin to "use it or lose it" whereby disruptive mutations will inevitably creep into the genome and, without the purifying power of natural selection to retain needed traits, un-needed ones will be lost. (As an example of this, we primates have many messed up nonfuntional DNA sequences that match up quite closely with olfactory receptor protein genes that are fully intact and operational in other, less visually oriented, mammals with which we share a common ancestor. These pseudogenes (familiarly termed "fossil genes") are not very good evidence for intelligent design.)


Earlier observations ("next")