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Welcome to, the website of Bob Klips, a plant enthusiast living in Columbus, Ohio.
(Additional content at flickr Photostream and YouTube Channel)
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A Roadside Prairie Garden
July 31, 2010
Delaware, Ohio

Along State Route 315 in Delaware, Ohio is a nursery that apparently occupies a larger tract of land than needed for their commercial plant-growing purposes, so they planted a nice assemblage of native and almost-native prairie species there for us to enjoy as we travel that pleasant road. One of them is compassplant, Silphium laciniatum (Asteraceae), a huge, dramatic, and long-lived perennial that, while a signature element of tallgrass prairie in much of the midwest, might not be native this far east. (The single putative Ohio compassplant station, in the far south-centrally located Lawrence County, has a history suggestive of an accidental introduction. We do, however, have oodles of prairie dock, S. terebinthinaceum, which is just as good.)  

Compassplant thrives in a roadside prairie garden.
July 31, 2010. delaware, Ohio.

Silphium is unique among our "composites," as members of the aster family are often called. Like all composites, their flowers are small and aggregated together into heads that simulate individual blossoms and, also like many composites, Silphium flowers are of two types: (1) radially symmetric ones in the center of each head ("disk flowers"), and (2) strap-shaped ones encirceling the periphery ("ray flowers") that act like the petals of more typical flowers (advertising for pollinators). The unique Silphium trait is that the central flowers do not produce fruit. Only the ray flowers are fertile, the reverse of the situation found in many composites with otherwise similar flower heads. Moreover, those central flowers each have a long horn-like unbranched style very different from the "rabbit-ears" style banches of, say, a sunflower (Helianthus).

compassplant capitulum
Compassplant disk flowers each bear a long unbranched style. July 31, 2010. Delaware, Ohio.

While flowers are nice, it's actually the leaves of compass plant that receive the most attention, and gave the plant its common name as it may have helped direct midwestern settlers and hunters during night-time travel. The leaves are oriented in a north-south direction (i.e., with the blades facing east and west), a stance that has been demonstrated to result in an optimal photosynthetic rate and water use efficiency, mainly by reducing water loss that that would result from a direct exposure to the sun during the hours of mid-day. Also, the leaves are beautifully deeply cut, i.e., "laciniate," hence the specific epithet laciniatum.

compassplant leaf
Compassplant leaves, photo taken facing west. Note also side-oats grama grass.
July 31, 2010. Delaware, Ohio.

Another striking prairie plant is a moderately low-growing grass, side-oats grama, Bouteloua curtipendula. While this plant is a denizen of prairies and dry hills across much of the U.S., and indeed does occur naturally at scattered locations in west-central Ohio, it is a common component of prairie restoration seed mixes, and its presence here is no doubt deliberate. Bouteloua has a distinctive growth form, consisting of a narrow panicle of many drooping short spikes, disposed along on one side of the culm (secund).

Here's a closer view of side-oats grama, showing the spike composition.

side-oats grama spike
Side-oats grama spikes are numerous, drooping, and secund.
Delaware, Ohio. July 31, 2010.

Occuring naturally along this road is a thriving population of an attractive wildflower, nodding wild onion, Allium cernuum (traditionally placed in the Liliaceae, now re-classified into a smaller new family, Alliaceae). While Allium is a huge genus containing approx. 500 species worldwide, there just three species native to Ohio. In addition to this nodding one, we have wild garlic (A. canadense), and wild leek (also called "ramps," A. tricoccum). Nodding wild onion is frequent in the calcareous soil of gravel banks, rock ledges, roadsides and praires, where it is often very abundant.

nodding wild onion
Nodding wild onion with a nodding wild bumblebee.
July 31, 2010. Delaware, Ohio.

Bumblebees seem to love it.

Bumblebees visit nodding wild onion.

Switchgrass Flowers
July 31, 2010
Columbus, Ohio

Prairie enthusiasts from sea to shining sea did a double-take when President George W. Bush mentioned  switchgrass in the 2006 State of the Union address.

Swichgrass at the SOTU.

Indeed, this hardy warm-season grass, especially productive even on marginal sites, is being developed as a bio-energy crop, mainly for the production of ethanol. Because it is a naturally occuring species that now has "cultivar" genotypes which might have ecological properties different than those in the native populations, researchers at the Ohio State University are hard at work investigating the potential for gene flow from the cultivated plants to native prairies. Today I visited a test plot where a variety of switchgrass plants are being grown for gene flow experiments, and saw that some of the plants are in flower.

Switchgass (Panicum virgatum) flowers, like those of all grasses, are tiny. The perianth (sepals and petals) are reduced to two tiny swellings that push open a little pair of leaf-like bracts (a lemma and a palea) that enclose the sexual parts of the flower. Being wind-pollinated, grass flowers lack showy parts. The pollen-producing anthers are pendent, held by slender flexible filaments that enable the pollen to be cast into the breeze. Plumose stigmas serve as excellent wind-borne pollen-snaggers.

Switchgrass in flower. July 31, 2010. Columbus, Ohio.

The peculiar arrangement of flowers in the grass family (i.e., its inflorescence type), is called a "spikelet" (a little spike). In the photo above, we see 7 spikelets, each of which is one-flowered (actually 2-flowered, but one of the lemma-palea pairs in each spikelet is empty). The spikelets of Panicum, seemingly true to the name, but probably a coincidence because "Panicum" is just an ancient name for a type of millet, are arranged in a diffuse, several-times-brached cluster called a "panicle."

Here's a picture of switchgrass several years ago, showing its overall aspect.

Swichgrass spikelets are arranged in a diffuse panicle.
July 23, 2007. Larry R. Yoder Prairie at OSU-Marion, Marion County, Ohio.

Somewhat Similar Scirpus Sedges
(some sans sessile spikelets)
Scirpus pedicellatus and S. cyperinus.
Marion County, Ohio. July 28, 2010

The bulrush genus Scirpus consists of tall, tufted sedges with many small cone-like spikelets arranged in a terminal cyme. They look fluffy! There are 8 species in Ohio, all native. While they all have bristles surrounding their achenes, two of them have especially long bristles, so they look especially fluffy!! These are wool-grass, Scirpus cyperinus, and stalked bulrush, S. pedicellatus.

Here they are together, slightly "posed." (The S. cyperinus on the left was plucked and carried over to be held next to the S. pedicellatus.)

two wool-grasses
Somewhat similar sedges at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area. July 28, 2010.
Left: Scirpus cyperinus. Right: S. pedicellatus.

The more exciting find is the stalked bulrush,  S. pedicillatus. Apparently it is a county record! Wool-grass, S. cyperinus, is much more widely distributed. As seen below on the couplet distinguishing them in the Flora of North America, stalked bulrush is characterized by having generally stalked, rather than sessile, spikelets, and more early-maturing achenes.

wool-grass couplet
Distinguishing traits of somewhat similar sedges.
(Flora of North America)

Here's what stalked bulrush looked like at the beginning of the month.

stalked bulrush
Stalked bulrush at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area. July 5, 2010.

...and here are its stalked spikelets, wooly, with mature achenes already!

Scirpus pedicellatus spikelets
Stalked bulrush at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area. July 5, 2010.

...and here, for comparison, is a portrait of wool-grass. Note the more compact appearance owing to the sessile spikelets.

Scirpus cyperinus
Wool-grass at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area. July 28, 2010.

Speaking of sedges with the word "rush" in their name, there's another one evident here today, a type of  "spike-rush," in the genus Eleocharis. Spike-rushes are low-growing unbranched annual or perennial plants with a single terminal spikelet. We have 19 spike-rushes in Ohio. This one, our most common species, is an annual called "blunt spike-rush, Eleoocharis obtusa.

Eleocharis obtusa
Blunt spike-rush at Killdeer Plains. July 28, 2010.

The name "Eleocharis" is from the Greek helos, a marsh, and charis, to grace. They do indeed grace the marsh! Here's a closer view of the blunt spike-rush spikelet.

Eleochars obtusa spikelet
Blunt spike-rush spikelet.
Note achene surrounded by bristles.

A distinguishing feature of blunt spike-rush is the expanded style-base atop each achene, forming a definite tubercle, visible in the photo below (cropped and expanded from the photo above).

Eleocharis obtusa achene
Blunt spike-rush achene. Note broadly triangular tubercle (expanded style-base) atop achene.

I Love Loosestrife
Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area
July 28, 2010

This isn't the evil invasive purple loosetrife. It's lovely winged loosestrife, Lythrum alatum (Lythraceae), a delicate native plant occasionally seen in wet prairies, marshes, fens, and along shores of ponds.

winged loosestrife
Winged loosestrife is a summer-flowering wetland perennial.
July 28, 2010. Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area.

Winged loosetrife flowers typically have 6 petals (unusual for a non-monocot!) and six stamens. Winged loosetrife illustrates an unusual flower variability called "heterostyly" that is found in only a few species. 

(Descriptions of hererostyly in the genus Hedyotis can be seen here and here.)

The flowers come in two different types distinguished by the length of the style (the upper portion of the female part of the flower, i.e., the pistil).

The long-styled "pin" flowers have six short stamens, located within the throat of the flower.

Lythrum alatum pin flower
"Pin" flowers have a long style, and short stamens.
July 28, 2010. Killder Plains Wildlife Area.

...while short-styled "thrum" flowers have long-exert stamens.

Lythrm alatum thrum flower
"Thrum" flowers have a short style and long stamens.
July 28, 2010. Killder Plains Wildlife Area.

An individual plant bears only one type of flower, and pollen from one type of flower is unable to fertilize flowers of the same type as its own. Thus the plants are not merely self-incompatable, but they are incompatable with half of the plants in the population!

The particular type of heterostyly exhibited by winged loosetrife, wherein there are two style morphs, is "distyly." Other members of the genus, including the evil purple loosetrife, Lythrum salicaria, have an even more intricate "tristylous" heterostyly. This was of great interest to an obscure 19th century biologist named Charles Darwin.

Darwin's Lythrum text
 In short, nature has ordained a most complex marriage-arrangement,
namely a triple-union between three hermaphtodites. 

A few years ago I saw some evil purple loosestrife plants growing at Killdeer.

Lythrum salicaria
Evil purple loosestrife at Killdeer Plains Wildlife Area.
Wyandot County, Ohio. August 3, 2004.

Here's a long-styled evil purple loosestrife flower, with a set of mid-length stamens and a set of short ones.

Lythrum salicaria long-styled flower
Evil purple loosestrife, long-style flower. August 4, 2004.

Here's a mid-style evil purple loosestrife, with one set of stamens above the stigma, and one below it.

Lythrum salicaria mid-style floower
Evil purple loosestrife. mid-style flower. August 3, 204.

Here's hort-styles evil purple loosestrife, with two sets of stamens at different positions above the style.

Lythrum salicaria short-styled flower
Evil purple loosestrife, short-styled flower. August 3, 2004.

Darwin surmised that the different style-length morphs are an adaptation that enhances reproductive success because they position a flower's style corresponding to the stamens of flowers of the other style mortps, i.e., the only ones that can provide legitimate pollen. Under this model, the positioning is critical because it effects a distribution of accumulated pollen on the bodies of foraging insects complementary to the respective male and female organs on compatible plants, thus promoting effective cross-morph pollination. Modern research carefully looking at the efficiency of legitimate pollen transfer in heterostylous plants has in some instances found, and in others failed to find, support for Darwin's hypothesis. 

Bringing Neighbors Headaches

(Our Slighly Less Boring Backyard)
Summer, 2010

The 2010 Ohio Botanical Symposium, held in late March, was awesome and fun and informative. We marvelled at the best botanical finds of 2009, gasped in horror at the status of the hemlock wooly adelgid, found out why there are so many sedges in Ohio (and elsewhere), explored the secrets of pollination, and followed in the footsteps of E. Lucy Braun though the restoration of Agave Ridge Prairie.

Among the highest of the highlights of the Symposium was the keynote speech, "Bringing Nature Home," by University of Delaware Professor Douglas W. Tallamy, author of a book by that name, subtitled "How You Can Sustain Wildlife With Native Plants." This address was a transformative experience for many in the audience, and, more to the point, for their suburban lawns.

Bringing Nature Home

Dr. Tallamy, an entomologist, explained that wildlife diversity in North America could be enhanced tremendously if the vast acreage covered by suburban lawns and gardens were more productive of insects. Here's how he so aptly puts it on his informative web site
Commentary on the lawn on Douglas Tallamy's web site.

His reasoning is that insects, which he aptly calls "bird food," are adapted to eat native, not exotic, plant species. Shunned by bugs, the primarily Asian and European plants favored by nurseries and their gardening customers do not adequately fulfill the important role at the base of the food chain. Lawns, he explained, are  about as good (bad) as roads and parking lots in terms of their ability to nurture and sustain wildlife. By planting natives in our gardens and landscaped lawns, and by converting chunks of lawn to mixed native plantings, we could go a long ways toward giving wildlife a helping hand.

...and it could be incredibly annoying to our neighbors to have a big "weed patch," so let's do it!

Here's a shot taken from an upstairs window looking down on a very boring backyard just a few weeks after the Symposium. If you look closely, you might be able to make out some thin stakes set a few feet apart. These stakes mark the boundary of of our future BNH Garden!

boring before picture
Boring Backyard Before BNH. April 10, 2010.

Here's the BNH garden after the roto-tilling, and the initial planting, were performed. The bushier plants along the back and the forward edges on the right are some "legacy" plants that have sentimental value and/or are natives that belong in the new scheme. Pursuant to Dr. Tallamy's recommendations, we "tamed" the area by keeping a mowed path through it that also serves as a great observation area.

BNH garden in late May
Early stages of BNH garden. May 28, 2010.

Some of our BNH garden plants came from Scioto Gardens, a nursery in Delaware, Ohio that specializes in native plants. The trip to the nursey was especially fun, because in addition to plants we got an engaging garden mascot -- a dinosaur scultpure made of old farm hand tools. His name is "Erasmus," and he's (barely) visible in the photo above.

Here's a zoom-crop of the Erasmus on sentry duty.
Erasmus settles in to the BNH garden. May 28, 2010.

The other source of BNH plants was the OSU-Marion Prairie Nature Center plant sale. Here are some of the plants we "bought" there. (If I ever give them the money I "promised," to pay, I'll remove the quotation marks around "bought.")

 prairie plants 
Prairie plants for the BNH garden.

We tried to plant as many species as possible, including forbs and graminoids. (A "forb" is an herbaceous plants that isn't a graminoid, i.e., what is normally called a "wildflower.")

 prairie seedlings 
More prairie plants for the BNH garden.

By mid-summer, the BNH garden started looking like an ecosystem, or what some people might call a "weed patch." Mission accomplished!

BNH garden midsummer
BNH garden during mid-summer. July 25, 2010.

...and Erasmus is fitting in quite well!

Erasmus is quite comfortable in his role as garden guarder. Summer, 2010.

The following is a sample of snapshots taken in and near the BNH garden this summer.

One of the plants we got at Scioto Gardens is a Helianthus (sunflower) in the "native to North America but not Ohio" category, and it seems to be a big hit with the bugs. Here's a clouded sulfur butterfly, Colias philodice,  nectaring on it, the view of which is partly blocked by an incoming bumblebee.

Helianthus with butterfly and incoming Bumblebee
Sunflower with clouded sulfur butterfly and incoming bumblebee.

An interesting thing about this sunflower is that it seems to be an exceptional nectar source for night-foraging moths. Here's one that, insasmuch as it looks like a little airplane, can be told is is a type of "plume moth," i.e., a member of the family Pterophoridae, consisting of approx. 140 species that are essentially impossible to tell apart in the field.

plume moth on sunflower
Plume moth on sunflower at night.

...and apparently bumblebees sleep there, just hanging on. Who knew?

bumblebee sleeps on sunflower
Bumblebee asleep at the sunflower.

An striking early-flowering prairie wildflower is Ohio spiderwort, Tradescantia ohioesis (Commelinaceae).

Ohio soiderwort
Ohio spiderwort produces many-flowered umbels.
Within each umbel, only a few flowers are in bloom on a given day.  

Here's a little video of a bumblee enjoying the spiderwort.

Little video of a bumblebee enjoying the spiderwort.

Another big thrill of having a BNH garden is to have something in common with Ohio Governor Ted Strickland: We both have Siphium in our backyard!

A tale of two backyards
A tale of two backyards.
Left: Governor's mansion, with prairie-dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum).
Right: Bob's mansion, with compass-plant (S. laciniatum).

Contributing to the effectiveness of Dr. Tallamy's message is the fact that it is data-driven. He and his research associates compiled a list of North American woody plants ranked by degree to which they are food for numbers of lepidopterans (moths and butterflies). "Leps" were chosen because they are especially well studied and also are generally very good "bird food." Topping the list are oaks (genus Quercus, family Fagaceae), with 534 species supported. So we bought a little Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii) sapling.

Shumard oak
Oaks, like this Shumard oak, support a great number of insects.

I think it was just "chillin'" here rather than having been raised upon the oak, but it's nice to see this happy short-horned grasshopper (Order Orthoptera) in our BNH garden .

short-horned grasshopper
Short-horned grasshopper on oak twig.

Happily, several of our herbaceous plants (inccluding Helianthus) rank high on Dr. Tallamy's list of herbaceous "best bets." Among them is a grass called little bluestem, Schizachyrium scoparium (Poaceae). This prairie plant that can sometimes be identified, even when non-flowering, by its flattened culms and ligules that are a zone of hairs.

little bluestem
Little bluestem and short-horned grasshopper.

We planted a couple other native praire grasses that might have to be kept in check as sometimes they can be a little bit too successful in prairie planting, crowding out the forbs.

Andropogon and Sorghastrum
Two tallgrass praire tall grasses at the BNH garden.
Left: Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans). Right: Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii).

Various members of the genus Rudbeckia in the Asteraceae are highly regarded by Team Tallamy for their association with insects. Two of them, black-eyed Susan (R. hirta) and orange coneflower (R. fulgida), are low-growing, short-lived perennials that quite resemble one another.

This is black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta):

black-eyed Susan
Black-eyed Susan is an easy-to-grow prairie forb that often flowers in its first year.

This is orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida).

orange coneflower
Orange coneflower:  less common, and more of a prairie specialist, than black-eyed Susan.

These two Rudbeckia species can be a challenge to distinguish because some of their diagnostic traits, such as hairiness and flower color, seem more a matter of degree than of kind. A close look at the flower heads, however, shows a great field mark. The style-branches of orange coneflower end in a fist-shaped tip, whereas those of black-eyed Susan slenderly taper to a point.

Rudbeckia styles compared
Style-branches of two similar Rudbeckia species at the BNH garden.

There are legumes (family Fabaceae) in the BNH garden. One of them is an annual which I hope is capable of self-pollination because there's only one plant. This is butterfly-pea, Chamaecrista fasciculata.

Butterfly-pea is a an annual plant.

Butterfly-pea, like many legumes, engages in an interesting mutualism with ants. The plant produces food for the insects on special glands at the base of the leaves, called "extrafloral nectaries." In return the ants defend the plants against herbivores.

extrafloral nectary on butterfly-pea
Ant feeds on butterfly-pea extrafloral nectary at BNH garden.

A close relative of butterfly-pea is wild senna, Senna hebecarpa. Senna is a perennial, and much taller than Chamaecrista.

Wild senna is a tall perennial legume.

Senna, like Chamaecrista, attracts ants to extrafloral nectaries at the base of its leaves.

ant visits senna extraflral nectary
Ant associate of senna at the BNH garden.

Milkweeds, in addition to being the most wonderful things that nature ever selected, and way better than orchids (which really isn't saying very much), are known for their special insect associations.

Here's a beetle larva feeding on a common milkweed leaf. Famously, there aren't many things that do this, so it wasn't too hard to pinpoint this as a milkweed leaf beetle, Labidomera clivicollis (Chrysomelidae), the adults of which (surprise) are red and black, and quite beautiful. I'm afraid this individual may have fulfilled its destiny as "bird food," but we'll look for them next year.

milkweed leaf beetle larve
Something that isn't a monarch merrily munches milkweed at the BNH garden.

It was a treat this summer to see both types of milkweed bug on milkweeds at the BNH garden. Milkweed bugs feed on milkweed seeds, often before the fruits open to release them. They accomplish this by inserting their proboscis through the ovary and then into a seed, dissolving its contents with injected saliva, and then sucking up the juicy seed-smoothie.

swamp milkweed and large milkweed bug
Swamp milkweed fruit at BNH garden, with large milkweed bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) nymphs.

The excellent 2nd half of Bringing Nature Home, entitles "What Does Bird Food Look Like?" is essentially a primer of entomology. Here, in the section on Hemiptera (true bugs), Tallamy relates an amazing thing about the large milkweed bug. He tells us "The observant gardener will notice that the large milkweed bug does not appear until later in the summer month, and that when it first shows up, it is always an adult. Where has it been hiding out?" He explains that, in the 1960's, ecologist Hugh Dingle discovered that Oncopeltus is a migrating insect that spends the winter along the Gulf Coast, where milkweed seeds are available year-round. The timing of its northward migration coincides with the appearance of milkweed fruits as they become mature farther and farther north. The bugs follow the supply of their food source, fresh milkweeed seeds.

Oncopeltus fasciatus
Oncopeltus is distinguished by its large size, and the large black band running across its wings.

The small milkweed bug, Lygaeus kalmii, has more of an hour-glass shape on its wings, flanked by black spots that are not continuous across the wings.

small milkweed bug
Small mikweed bug at BNH garden.

A common milkweed plant at night is a hiding place for a crab spider.

crab spider
Crab spider Misumena vatia at rest beneath common milkweed leaf in BNH garden.

There are members of the parsely (carrot, celery, umbel, whatever) family, Apiaceae, in the BNH garden, one of which is this scary-looking rattlesnake-master, Eryngium yuccifolium.

Rattlesnake-master produces many small flowers in a globose head --not a typical umbel!

...and seen here in fruit, a spring-flowering prairie forb called "golden Alexanders," (Zizia aurea). This genus is a lot like Thaspium (meadow-parsnip), except that Thaspium fruits are much more prominently winged that are those of Zizia.
golden Alexanders
Golden Alexanders in fruit. Each one will eventually split into 2 one-seeded units.

A few insects seen in the yard, although not on the BNH plants, were nonetheless an inspiration to promote their kind by planing more natives. Here's a narrow-winged tree-cricket, Oecanthus niveus.

narrow-winged tree-cricket
Narrow-winged tree cricket on an apple tree near the BNH garden.

Until this moment I was unaware that there is a matid native to Ohio. This beauty, seen on a magnolia shrub, is the Carolina mantid, Stagmomantis carolina. Smaller than the introduced Chinese mantid (Tenodera aridifolia) and European mantid (Mantis religiosa), they are nonetheless formidable insect predators. Like their alien brethren, they overwinter as eggs deposited in a frothy mass., and it take the entire summer for to reach sexual maturity. This is, I believe, a female. I hope she found a mate!

Carolina mantis
Carolina mantid near the BNH garden.