So Long to the Chimney Swifts

Our neighborhood Chimney Swifts have pretty much headed south and will be missed until they come again in the spring. This reminds me of a some birds that Casey and I ran into at a location we camped at in Arkansas this spring. They were using a secluded and dark hallway that lead to bathrooms we used for their overnight roosting. This was the first time I have been so close to perched Chimney Swifts so I had to take a few pics.

Chimney Swift (Chaetura pelagica)

Thalia dealbata (Powdery Thalia)

Thalia dealbata, or powdery thalia, is a fascinating plant that I was introduced to this past August while on a botany trip with Pete Kozich and Stephen Dilks. A member of the mostly tropical arrowroot family (Marantaceae), T. dealbata is the only member of this family to be found in Missouri and only in the low and wet areas of the southeastern portion of the state. We found these plants a little late in their flowering season but with a few blooms in prime condition remaining at Otter Slough Conservation Area.

A closeup look at the mirrored pair of flowers of Thalia dealbata (powdery thalia).

The leaves of Thalia are what the plants are primarily known for, looking very reminiscent of the cannas and very tropical in appearance. However, doing a little research after seeing these guys for the first time, I have become fascinated with the flowers and the pollination mechanism they developed. First of all, what appears to be a single flower in the image posted here is actually a pair of blooms in mirror image of each other. Additionally, the gorgeous purple petals are not petals at all but highly modified and sterile stamens (staminodes). This is just the beginning of the weird story of these flowers. These staminodes are key to a pollination strategy that literally throws pollen in the face of and often ends in the demise of all but the strongest of would-be insect pollinators. I was going to attempt to try and describe the pollination biology of this system, but this has been expertly described by Price and Rogers in a 1987 article published in Missouriensis. I highly recommend you give this a read!

Pete standing behind a nice batch of Thalia dealbata.

Agalinis fasciculata (Fasciculate False Foxglove)

Agalinis fasciculata, known as the fasciculate false foxglove and beach false foxglove was one of the more fascinating and unexpected plants I became acquainted with this year. A member of the Orobanchaceae family, this species is an annual hemiparasitic plant that does well in poor and sandy soils. I photographed these plants at the Missouri Mines State Historic Site in St. Francois County.

The genus Agalinis comes from the Greek – agan, meaning ‘very’ and linon, refering to ‘flax’, apparently in reference to the similarity of the flowers to those of flax. The species and common names refer to the fasciculate, or bundled manner in which the leaves are attached to the stem – something I failed to take any photos of this year. In my defense, much of the stem and leaves of these plants in mid-September were beginning to senesce and were not very photogenic.

Agalinis fasciculata (Fasciculate False Foxglove) in glorious bloom at Missouri Mines State Historic Site.
Many species of bees and flies like this syrphid fly act as pollinators of Agalinis fasciculata.
A rare six-lobed corolla of Agalinis fasciculata. This was the only six-lobed flower I found among hundreds I observed on this visit.

Aesculus pavia (Red Buckeye)

The red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) was definitely one of the plants of the year for me. With so many trips to southeastern Missouri (this buckeye is primarily natively found in the Mississippi Lowlands Division of Missouri) and Arkansas, I and my friends came across this plant in bloom many times. This particular little stand was found at Arkansas Oak Natural Area in Nevada County, AR. The etymology of the Latin name: Aesculus refers to the horsechestnut and pavia is named for Peter Paaw, an early 17th century Dutch botanist. This plant can be grown at least as far north as the St. Louis area but apparently needs high quality rich soil to thrive.

A stand of red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) growing in a pine forest-savannah setting at Arkansas Oak Natural Area.

Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans)

This southern black widow was found at Sand Prairie Conservation Area in Scott County MO. Quite unusually, she had built a web in the open within the tallest branches of a Polygonum americanum (American jointweed), where she had just dispatched a Dielis plumipes (Feather-legged Scoliid Wasp).

This southern black widow female was found wrapping up her prey, a feather-legged scoliid wasp at Sand Prairie C. A.
My shadow cast as I took photos caused her to head for cover.
I also found a male southern black widow moving about the boundaries of the female’s web.

Baptisia sphaerocarpa (Yellow Wild Indigo)

This nice patch of Baptisia sphaerocarpa was found back in May of 2021 at Rick Evans Grandview Prairie WMA in Hempstead Co., AR. Although this species is found in a few of our southwestern prairies, most consider these to be introductions and not a native plant of Missouri.

Baptisia sphaerocarpa (Yellow Wild Indigo)

Bee Flies – Exoprosopa brevirostris

More from Sand Prairie Conservation Area. These members of the bee fly family (Bombyliidae) were owning this patch of blooming Stylisma pickeringii (Convolvulaceae). Be sure to check out the image of a male coming in to spit game at a female that was not giving him the slightest bit of attention.

Green-eyed Wasp (Tachytes sp.)

This summer I finally got to spend a little quality time wandering through Sand Prairie Conservation Area in Scott County, MO. Within and bordering the dunes one walks by large numbers of Stylisma pickeringii (Convolvulaceae) and Polygonum americanum (Polygonaceae), the later called American jointweed. If you arrive at or near sunrise there does not seem to be a lot of interest in regards to pollinators. Wait until the day heats up, say around 9 or 10 am, and then things get hopping. I saw all sorts of insects I had never seen before, mostly in the Hymenoptera. One of these was the green-eyed wasp (Tachytes sp.). Of course, when everything is warmed up, getting the photographs you want of these small and active insects becomes an epic story of frustration. But, try and try again and you might get something you’re happy with. The following pics aren’t as nice as I had hoped but I think they show this splendid little wasp as you might find them in situ.

A green-eyed wasp (Tachytes sp.) nectaring at a blossom of Polygonum americanum (American jointweed) as the gracious photographer works.
With a head that is almost all eyes, the green-eyed wasp (Tachytes sp.) is always wary and alert to potential threats.

Roaring River Conservation Area

I finally got to spend some time at Roaring River C.A. this past spring when Casey and I made a trip to the southwest of the state. This location is easily seen driving to and from Roaring River State Park. At this time, the Castilleja coccinea (Indian paintbrush) and Camassia scilloides (wild hyacinth) were the stars of the show, accenting the hilly glades and savannahs.

Castilleja coccinea (Indian paintbrush) in bloom at Roaring River Conservation Area.
A sepia treatment was given to this infra-red capture of the savannah at Roaring River Conservation Area.

Three Missouri Lilium

This year I was fortunate to meet with all three members of Missouri’s Lilium species.

Up first and by far the most common is the Michigan Lily, Lilium michiganense. This species blooms in June and July and can be found throughout the state except for the southeastern lowlands. This individual was photographed in Reynold’s County.

Up next is Lilium superbum, the so-called “Turk’s cap lily.” The largest native lily found in the U.S., These photos were taken in the only known population of this species in the state in Perry County.

Last of all was an unexpected finding of a Lilium philadelphicum, or wood lily. Like L. superbum, this is a very rare species in Missouri, only occasionally found in prairies in the north-western portion of the state. Unfortunately, the plant was not yet in bloom and I did not have the opportunity to travel the nearly 4.5 hours to visit again when the plant was in bloom.

Lilium philadelphicum nearly in full bloom.