The Beardtongues?

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.

Penstemon pallidus (pale penstemon) from my front garden in St. Louis Co., MO.
A closeup of Penstemon pallidus flowers. Note the yellow beard (staminode) that is thought to aid in pollination by pushing hymenopteran pollinators towards the stigma and anthers located at the top of the corolla tube. Also note the dark nectar guides that point towards the back of the tube.
Penstemon digitalis (foxglove beardtongue) is the most common and least particular member of the genus in eastern Missouri. These plants were found in a field at Beckemeier Conservation Area in St. Louis County.
The flowers of Penstemon digitalis are mostly white in color and have a relatively long blooming period compared to other local members of the genus.
Penstemon tubaeflorus is a showy white penstemon that is found primarily in the southwestern quadrant in Missouri. These photos were taken at Tingler Prairie Natural Area near West Plains, MO.
Here you can see why this species gets its common name of ‘trumpet beardtongue.’
The large and showy flowers of Penstemon cobaea (prairie beardtongue). These were photographed from the author’s front garden in St. Louis Co., MO.
I used focus stacking to capture the details in the flower of this Penstemon cobaea (prairie beardtongue). Note the two pairs of stamens that wrap around the inside of the corolla and present their pollen-filled anthers at the top. The stiff brush-like beard of the staminode pushes would-be pollinators towards these reproductive organs.


Missouri Orchids – Liparis loeselii – Fen Twayblade

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.

A raceme of Liparis loeselii at peak bloom.
A Liparis loeselii plant in bloom with two clasping leaves surrounding the flowering stem. Note the remains of the stem and seed capsules of previous year.
It may come as no surprise, due to the plain and diminutive flowers of Liparis loeselii, but this plant is considered autogamous (self-fertilizing).


Helenium virginicum (Virginia Sneezeweed)

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.

Through extensive searching and reintroduction efforts, there are now more than 60 known populations of Helenium virginicum (Virginia Sneezeweed) found in Missouri.

Spring Beauty Rust (Puccina mariae-wilsoniae)

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.

“Cluster cups” or aecia of Puccina mariae-wilsoniae

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.

Telia of Puccina mariae-wilsoniae

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.


Bizarre Creatures in My Garden

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.

These golden drops turned out to be eggs of a leaf-footed bug (Coreidae family)

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’

I originally noticed these eggs by observing this jumping spider. The concurrence is assumed accidental.

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.

Coreid nymphs within an hour of hatching.

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.


Opuntia humifusa (Eastern Prickly Pear)

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…

Opuntia humifusa (eastern prickly pear) is a sharp plant that produces large and striking flowers.
A grasshopper nymph helping itself to some protein-rich pollen from a Opuntia humifusa (Eastern Prickly Pear) flower.


Melanthium virginicum – Illinois Bunchflower

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.

Melanthium virginicum (Illinois bunchflower) in full bloom in June being visited by pollinators.

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.

Melanthium virginicum, a glorious native lily.


Obolaria virginica (Virginia Pennywort)

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.

The diminutive Obolaria virginica (Virginia Pennywort) has been reported from only three Missouri counties in the southeastern portion of the state.

Nesting Birds of Missouri – The Ovenbird

The thrush-like Ovenbird

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.

Getting a photo of an Ovenbird showing its orange crown stripe can be a fun challenge!

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.

“The Ovenbird”
Robert Frost

Ovenbirds walk along their environments more often than flying.


Cypripedium candidum (Small White Lady’s Slipper)

The conservation status of Cypripedium candidum, the small white lady’s slipper, is currently ranked as S1 (critically imperiled) by the Missouri Natural Heritage Program.

I have one more lady’s slipper we found in May to share. Cypripedium candidum or small white lady’s slipper requires moist and full-sun exposures, such as may be found in wet prairies, meadows, fens and forest edges. The reason for its rare status (likely found on fewer than five locations in the state) is due to habitat disturbance and orchid poachers digging them up for horticultural uses.

A small bunch of small white lady’s slippers

This species can hybridize with C. parviflorum (yellow lady’s slipper) when found in close proximity. This can potentially be a conservation concern in some states, but to my knowledge, there are no close associations between these two species in Missouri.

The habitat where these slippers where found in Shannon County, MO. You will not be able to see them, but I assure you, there are slippers in this photo.

It was wonderful finding this and the other lady’s slippers in the state this year. I’m hoping this one can still be found here far into the future.

The rare Cypripedium candidum