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.
Liparis loeselii (fen twayblade, Loesel’s twayblade) is ranked as imperiled in the state of Missouri. We found these in a marly fen in Butler County, MO in bloom during late May, 2021. Within this fen, these orchids grow on the edges between small tussocks and the marl/muck, out of the way of larger competitive plants.
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 shared some images and info on the spring beauty rust last year. I did not find it nearly as prevalent this year in the same patch of spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) but I was able to find the alternate and rarer sporulating telia. The life cycle of the Puccina rusts are very complex and often require the use of two hosts (heteroecious). In the case of this species, there does not seem the need to use more than one host to complete its lifecycle. The first sporulating legions are the yellow “cluster cups” or aecia. These structures burst open and release dikaryotic (containing two nuclei) aeciospores.
The next photo shows the darker teliospore-producing telia. Known as “black rust” in the wheat pathogen, the teliospores are able to survive harsher conditions in the environment and do not need the strict temperature and humidity requirements to survive and infect the next generation.
This is all I have for now. Next year I would like to see if I can get photographs of each respective spore if I can figure out the right equipment.
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.
These were taken at a sand prairie in southern Iowa in June 2020 while I was hunting for orchids. Pro tip – don’t wear hiking sandals while walking through habitat that contains loads of prickly pear…
I still have quite a few from 2020 to share. These Melanthium virginicum were photographed a year ago this month at Helton Prairie Natural Area in Harrison County, MO.
With a CC value of 9, this plant requires specific habitat of wet meadows, moist prairies, fens and acid seeps. With the loss of these habitat types, this plant has become rare in Missouri and Illinois. This plant is also toxic to mammalian herbivores. So, if you have the appropriate spot, this would be a great native perennial to plant in high deer pressure areas.
It’s not only orchids that I have had the pleasure getting to know during the past few years. Having new botanically-minded friends, I have been able to find and get to know a number of other interesting and sometimes quite rare plants found in other families. Obolaria virginica, known as Virginia pennywort or pennywort gentian, is indeed in the Gentianaceae family (gentians). It is ranked as S2 (imperiled) in Missouri, likely due to the small number of populations found here. This plant emerges very early and is much like a typical spring ephemeral. Like the coralroot orchids (Corallorhiza sp.), this plant is mycoheterotrophic, getting at least some of its nutrients by parasitizing microrrhizal fungi.
With the relatively recent removal of the Yellow-breasted Chat from the Parulidae, the title of the largest new world “wood warbler” may very well go to the Ovenbird, Seiurus aurocapilla. The Ovenbird is somewhat of a misfit itself. Seiurus is a monotypic genus, believed to have derived early in the evolution of the family. This pot-bellied, thrush-like bird nests and forages on the forest floor, getting its common name from its nest that supposedly resembles a Dutch oven.
Although the Ovenbird can be easily heard through much of the summer in any large-track deciduous forest, getting good looks and photographs is easiest by waiting to spot them in a migration trap like Tower Grove Park in St. Louis City where these photos were taken.
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.