Those Lovely Spiderworts

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.

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).

-OZB

Amianthium muscitoxicum (fly poison)

Another striking member of the Melanthiaceae family is Amianthium muscitoxicum, commonly known as fly poison. This name comes from the practice of early Americans who would crush the plant’s bulbs with sugar in order to, well, kill flies. Like many plants in this family, A. muscitoxicum contains a variety of toxic alkaloid compounds that provide it protection from a variety of herbivores. I think this might be a good candidate for horticulture in high deer pressure areas, but be sure no parts of the plant can be ingested by people or domestic animals. These plants were found in Mark Twain National Forest in Carter County on May 22, 2021.

Early developing pyramidal racemes of Amianthium muscitoxicum.
Amianthium muscitoxicum raceme that is partially in bloom. As the flowers mature, the flowers and entire raceme will turn green.
A group of Amianthium muscitoxicum in bloom. Note the lily-like leaves and growth habit.

-OZB

False Map Turtle (Graptemys pseudogeographica)

Two subspecies of the false map turtle are found in Missouri. Minor differences in the color and pattern near the eyes are used to distinguish between the two. Unfortunately, I did not get the shots that would allow this determination. This photo was taken in St. Louis County.

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.

Swamp Metalmark (Calephelis muticum) – Larvae

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.

A swamp metalmark (Calephelis muticum) caught shortly after depositing some frass created from its host plant, Cirsium muticum (swamp thistle).

Astranthium ciliatum (Western Daisy)

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.

Astranthium ciliatum, or western daisy, is a spring-blooming member of the Asteraceae.

Missouri Orchids – Liparis liliifolia – Large Twayblade

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.

Liparis liliifolia with its pair of fleshy basal leaves and flowering raceme that blooms from the bottom to the top.

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.

This male mosquito was observed feeding at the nectary of this Liparis liliifolia flower. However, he was too small to come into contact with the column and is not considered an efficacious pollinator.

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.

A young developing flower stalk of Liparis liliifolia next to flowering stalks and seed capsules of last year’s efforts.

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.

-OZB

Blue-headed Vireo

The Blue-headed Vireo (Vireo solitarius) is a through-migrant in Missouri. It winters throughout the southern Atlantic and gulf states, Mexico and parts of Central America. This vireo nests in cool temperate forests across Canada and in high elevations of the Appalachian Mountains. This is a species that will be threatened by the continued loss of the boreal forests of Canada. You can hear its sweet song in the spring in Missouri at places like Tower Grove Park where this photograph was taken.

The Blue-headed Vireo is an attractive Vireo that is seen in the spring and fall in the St. Louis area.
The song of the Blue-headed Vireo sounds much like a Red-eyed Vireo that is taking its time.

-OZB