Here is a genus that I find interesting. The Penstemon is made up of approximately 270 species and is the largest genus of flowering plants that are endemic to North America. Now classified in the plantain family (Plantaginaceae), this is a very diverse genus found across a variety of habitats and altitudes. Most species should be readily identified as a Penstemon due to their unique flower morphology. The corolla is a fused tube, comprised of five petals that can be identified as lobes in a two on top, three on the bottom configuration. Inside the corolla you will find two pairs of stamens with anthers pushed towards the top of the open mouth. In between the fertile stamens is a staminode that lies towards the bottom of the tube. This sterile modified stamen usually ends in a brush-like structure. This is the eponymous “beardtongue”. The generic name, Penstemon, meaning “stamen-like”, also refers to this staminode.
I got to meet four species of Penstemon in bloom this year – two of which I planted in the garden. I was happy to see them bloom in their first season.
Casey and I ran into a number of spiderworts in forests, glades and prairies across Arkansas and southern Missouri during our trip in May. Although Casey did his best in identifying the plants as we came across them, my field note taking can often leave a lot to be desired and I didn’t record which photo was which plant. With approximately ten species of Tradescantia in this geography plus a few known hybrid situations as well as multiple flower colors possible in some species, identifying these just by closeup photos of the flowers would be challenging even for the experienced botanist. So, I am satisfied just to focus on the forms, colors and insect interactions of these flowers as seen in these photos.
This has me thinking about the possibility of sending in my 5D mk iv into Canon to have the conversion that enables voice notes recording. I used this a couple times when I had the 1D mk iv and think it would be useful during these trips where we are hurrying from plant to plant and location to location and I realize I left my pen and notebook in the car or at home, or am simply to lazy too use them.
The Virginia Sneezeweed is a Missouri state endangered and federally threatened species of Helenium, first discovered outside of Virginia, by our own Julian Steyermark. I photographed these in August, 2020 at Tingler Prairie N.A. I encourage you to read this great article by Bridget Macdonald to read more of the story of this plant.
I previously shared photos of adult of swamp metalmark (Calephelis muticum). This spring, after a couple or three years of looking for them on their host plant, Cirsium muticum (swamp thistle), I finally found the caterpillar of this vulnerable species of conservation concern.
This fantastic little one is the western daisy (Astranthium ciliatum) that we found at Middle Fork Barrens Natural Area. In the xeric, shallow soils of the barrens this daisy was single-stemmed and and no more than 6″ off the ground. If only they would behave like this in the home garden! Their range is centered in Oklahoma and Arkansas although they can be found in southwestern Missouri. These were beautiful little plants and rank up with my favorites in the family.
Today’s orchid, Liparis liliifolia, (large twayblade, purple twayblade, lily-leaved twayblade, mauve sleekwort) is considered one of the most abundant in Missouri with quite a large range across the state. They have the potential to be found almost anywhere in the state with moist to dry-mesic forests, but do need open spots with partial sun. This is a species that benefits from disturbances and clearings due to fire, tree falls and human activity like trails where they are most likely to be found.
Insects are the most obvious choice for pollinators, however, there have not been many recorded observations of specific efficacious visitors and more information is needed to determine what species are responsible for pollinating this species. There is no real fragrance associated with these flowers. The purplish translucent flowers have been hypothesized to attract flesh flies which might be efficient pollinators. The primary mode of reproduction seems to be vegetative via underground corms.
The flowers are set in the typical 3-petals and 3-sepals configuration of the family. In this case, the lower petal, or “lip”, is mauve in color and translucent. The translucency was enhanced when the lip was wet. The two lateral petals are filiform, or worm-like. To me they resembled the nectar spurs found on some orchids, but these are not hollow and do not contain nectar. The three sepals are blade-like, with one facing straight upwards behind the column and two are lateral and underneath the lip. It would not be a stretch to say the entire flower might mimic some insect.
The large twayblade is definitely an interesting Missouri orchid. I will look for these close to home in the coming years and perhaps get some photos of their pollinators visiting.
Here is a perfect example of ‘why native plants?’ in the home garden. This is the first year of our new native flower garden in front of our new house. This spring we spent a good deal of money and time getting the old exotic evergreen bushes out of the beds and planting a new garden consisting of mostly native forbs and a couple patches of grasses. After a long and cool spring, we are finally getting some heat units on these mostly gladey and xeric species and a few are starting to respond nicely.
During my daily deadheading of some flowering Coreopsis and other asters, I notice new things from time to time. The arthropods are beginning to come. Since the original razing of the land that this subdivision sets on some 45+ years ago, these plant and insect communities have undoubtedly been rare. While my 100 square feet of natives won’t likely make a big difference, hopefully more and more of us will ‘go native’
About a week ago, I noticed these golden drops on the leaf of a Liatris spicata (marsh blazing star). After taking a few photos in situ, I decided to collect the leaf and see what the hatch might be. I figured it was a hemipteran of some sort and after a little research, I narrowed it down to the Coreidae family, or ‘leaf-footed bugs.’ If you can identify these to any degree of higher specificity, please let me know.
After three or four days in a jar, all of a sudden the leaf was alive with the movement of spikey mechanisms. I took a few photos on their cradle leaf, then moved a few to a Coreopsis sp. bloom. Afterwards, I let them go to feed as they like on our plants, maybe to see them another day.
The second new “Missouri” orchid I came across on Casey’s and my trip through Arkansas in May was the Calopogonoklahomensis, the Oklahoma Grass Pink. This is a sister species to C. tuberosus, the Grass Pink, and likewise has the odd non-resupinate flower, meaning the flower pedicle does not twist and the lip is on the top side of the flower, an odd arrangement for orchids. Whereas C. tuberosus prefers wet feet and is typically found in fens, wet meadows and prairies, C. oklahomensis prefers drier feet and is found in more mesic prairies, savannas and open woods.
The orchids seen here were photographed in a prairie in Prairie County, AR. This location was a real treat, with hundreds of orchids and a variety of colorations. I wish we could have spent more time here photographing all the variations, but there were miles to be driven yet on this day.
This Tachinus fimbriatus, a member of the rove beetle family, Staphylinidae, was found and photographed in September, 2020 at Babler State Park in St. Louis Co, MO. Some consider the Staphylinidae the largest family of animals in North America with close to 5,000 species described in more than 500 genera. Most rove beetles are carnivorous and feed primarily upon invertebrates. However, many feed on decaying vegetation, especially as larvae. This adorable beetle is believed to feed primarily on rotting mushrooms.