Thursday, August 27, 2015

Basswood, Linden, Honey-tree...

Basswood leaves, seeds and bracts (unfinished; it turns out there is NOT enough time in the day to do all that I want to do and all that I need to do and also sleep -- which I guess is a need and a want -- so... unfinished drawings. Ah, well.  At least I'm drawing.)
Call it what you will, the seeds of the basswood are starting to disperse.  I used to think that the bracts were instrumental in seed dispersal, similar to the wings of a maple seed.  But in fact, many of the bracts stay on the tree and the seeds fall off independently, as happened with the missing seeds in the picture above.  The bracts may actually function to attract pollinators to the flowers earlier in the year; and seed dispersal's most likely vector, besides gravity, is animals.  (When the seeds sprout into baby trees, the seedleaves are crazy -- nothing at all like the leaves of the tree shown above... but that's not happening yet!)

I guess it would be negligent not to explain the title.  Growing up on the north shore, I called these trees linden trees, but apparently this is a fairly localized common name for what most people call the basswood.  (My husband had no idea what I was talking about when I referenced a linden).  And many people call them honey-trees, due to the sticky sap that drips from them... as anyone who has ever parked their car under one well understands.  I guess we could clear up confusion and just say Tilia americana, but that's no fun...

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

It's Galling! and More

Hackberry "nipplegall" on the underside of a leaf. 
I know many people consider them ugly, especially given their prevalence on an infected tree... but I really like Hackberry Galls.  This time of year, just before the adult insects emerge from the galls sometime in September, there are these tiny yellow insects inside.  They're not really viable yet but they're big enough to walk around, and they're kind of cute.  (Yes, I recognize that I've essentially killed the one pictured here to photograph it, but they seem like a pretty renewable resource, so to speak.)   

These insects have a fascinating life cycle (similar to many gall-creating critters).  When they come out in a month or so as adults, they will still be small, less than 1/4 inch long.  They look like mini versions of their close relatives, cicadas and leaf hoppers.  They will seek a relatively protected place to overwinter, such as inside cracks in bark, where they will hibernate. In the spring, they will awaken and lay their eggs on the underside of the new leaves of a hackberry tree.  The baby bug causes the tree to start growing around it -- I believe because of an enzyme they secrete when they eat.  The result is a gall, a growth made of plant material that houses the little insect.  In this protected environment, the insects spend the summer sucking on sap until they are full grown and ready to come out and start this process over.  The hackberry trees aren't harmed by the galls, other than in the aesthetic sense.  (I don't think the trees actually care how they look).  
I bit open the gall to study this fellow who was living inside!
Other updates:
My first mistflowers bloomed yesterday; most aren't in flower yet. 
Primroses -- peak bloom.
The American hazels started turning orange just within the last day or two...
White turtlehead blooming. 

Sawtooth Sunflower

Sawtooth sunflowers are starting to bloom.. though they have a very long flowering range, quite a few are open.  I don't think they've hit peak yet and I expect to see them at least until October.  What sets these apart from other DYCs* is their odor.  Since I was just a young nature nerd, I've been told by naturalists that they smell like chocolate.  Now, there are a few possibilities here.  Maybe I, or they, have bad senses of smell.  Maybe they were just repeating what they'd been told, as I am admittedly doing here.  Maybe these fine folks spent so much time being nature nerds that they didn't cook.  I don't know.  But I definitely don't smell chocolate.  The plants do have a distinct odor, not quite sure how to describe it... (actually, that's the fourth and likely correct option -- we just don't have very good vocabularies of smell.  If it's not "like something else" we can't capture it...)  At any rate.  Sawtooth sunflowers! 

*that's, um... "darn yellow composites"

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

I Love to Learn Something New!

It's not often, to be honest, that I run across a flower that I just don't know.  I mean, sometimes I have that "oh, I know that one but I can't remember the name," tip-of-the-tongue type of reaction, but I know that at some point I knew the name of that plant.  It's familiar to me, even if it's identity eludes me.  But today I came across the lovely little pinky-purple blooms pictured below and I had no idea what they were... a plant mystery!  (Happy day!)  A brief description: the photo may not communicate their diminutive size -- the plants are less than 2 feet tall, and the flowers themselves less than 1/2 inch.  They were almost hidden among the other prairie plants, though they were living in a spot with shorter neighbors... also, notably, about 2 feet from the pond edge.  The opposite leaves are slender and linear in shape.  Flowers (or their white little buds) come off right from the leaf axils on very thin stalks.  They are irregular in shape, with 5 spotted petals, very much like a foxglove, which makes sense because... my mystery plant is a Slender False Foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia)!  YEA!  I learned something new!


This time of year, it's pretty solidly late summer.  The trees and the prairie are still predominantly green -- the late season yellow tinge colors the world... yes, some of the prairie plants are past peak or even done flowering, but still.  It feels like summer.  

Cottonwood trees seem to be providing the exception.  Their leaves have already started to brown and fall.  Walking past them, you sense two of the quintessential signs of autumn that even the least observant phenologists detect... the crunch of dead leaves underfoot, and the smell of them in the air.  It's a little taste of what's to come!

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bad Guys

Usually I like to focus my observations and energy on natives... if I spent too much time paying attention to the invasives, I'd have a terribly negative attitude, as there are a lot of them.  Still, sometimes its important to be aware of their phenophases...
Purple Loosestrife, ravager of wetlands, is in peak bloom now... 
Sweet clover is blooming, slightly past peak.
Queen Anne's Lace... many are blooming,
many are already going to seed...
Chickory -- probably peaked last week but there's still plenty.  
This photo is just to show the whitecaps on the lake --
it's another REALLY windy day!

Sunday Sketches

I have decided I need to take the time to draw again.  This weekend was nearly perfect for it, weather-wise (though the wind made my subjects prone to more movement than I prefer -- if I wanted moving subjects, I'd draw animals!
Woodland brome is one of two grasses (the other being sea oats) which, right now, are adding great interest to the shade garden in my front yard with  green seeds.  Though unripe, the seeds are lovely in this stage, playing in the wind, flickering, twisting and turning on their slender stems...

White Snakeroot isn't yet blooming; in the center of the (unfinished) picture is the bud cluster of future flowers -- they are one of the last to bloom.  Blooming or not, snakeroot got its name from the incorrect belief that it could help cure snake bites.  In fact, it is poisonous to animals as well as humans (and including humans who drink milk/eat meat from animals that have eaten it!)  The ones in our yard have leaf miners at work... They live within the tissue of the leaves and they create these white trails that form random patterns all over the leaves.  They get slightly thicker as the miners grow larger, which is kind of cool...