Modiola caroliniana – Carolina Bristlemallow

Modiola caroliniana comes from a large and diverse plant family, the Mallows (Malvaceae).   The family includes 243 genera; trees like the basswood, foods like okra, the globally important crop – cotton, the large flowered Hibiscus genus,  and  lowly lawn weeds like the Carolina Bristlemallow.  The latter does have beautiful flowers.  But they are tiny – less than one half inch across.

Modiola caroliniana Carolina Bristlemallow Flower

Modiola caroliniana
Carolina Bristlemallow
Flower

Modiola caroliniana is somewhat of an outlier – it is a monotypic genus, meaning that there is only one species in the genus.   And it does not have some of the major characteristics of the rest of the family.   The flowers of the Mallow family are usually large and the stamens and style protrude from the center of the flower.  This is illustrated by the photographs below of Kosteletzkya pentacarpos (Saltmarsh Mallow) and Hibiscus moscheutos (Crimsoneyed Rosemallow).   However, Modiola has tiny flowers and the stamens and style are not protrusive.

Kosteletzkya pentacarpos Saltmarsh Mallow Flower

Kosteletzkya pentacarpos
Saltmarsh Mallow
Flower

Hibiscus moscheutos Crimsoneyed Rosemallow Flower

Hibiscus moscheutos
Crimsoneyed Rosemallow
Flower

Modiola also has an odd distribution in North Carolina.  It is almost absent from the Mountains and the Coastal Plain, and is reported from only two small, disconnected  clusters of counties in the Piedmont region.  It is native to North America and can be either a perennial or an annual.  Well adapted to its niche of lawns and disturbed areas,  it is a prostrate, spreading plant that roots at the nodes.

Early leaves are not yet deeply cut, but have a rounded appearance.  The hairy bristles can be seen along the stems.

Modiola caroliniana Carolina Bristlemallow Early Leaves

Modiola caroliniana
Carolina Bristlemallow
Early Leaves

Leaves that appear later in the spring can be deeply divided.  Bristles can be seen on the bracts of the opening flower bud.

Modiola caroliniana Carolina Bristlemallow Divided Leaf and Flower Bud

Modiola caroliniana
Carolina Bristlemallow
Divided Leaf and Flower Bud

The fruiting head has a wheel-like appearance.  Thus the botanical name for the genus is based on the Latin for the hub of a wheel – modiolus.

Modiola caroliniana Carolina Bristlemallow Fruit

Modiola caroliniana
Carolina Bristlemallow
Fruit

In a closer view of the center of the flower,  the deep red nectar guides can be seen.  Nectar guides are markings or colors that assist the pollinators in finding either nectar or pollen.  In sunny conditions, the nectar guides in Modiola can be vivid and striking.   The Common Checkered Skipper, the major pollinator, has no difficulty locating this tiny, bright orange flower.

Modiola caroliniana Carolina Bristlemallow Flower with Nectar Guides

Modiola caroliniana
Carolina Bristlemallow
Flower with Nectar Guides

Herb Amyx

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Southern Chervil (Chaerophyllum tainturieri) at Falls Lake

Southern Chervil – Chaerophyllum tainturieri - is a common wildflower and is widely distributed throughout North Carolina. Thus it seems odd that it is overlooked by many of the popular wildflower field guides including Newcomb’s and  Peterson’s field guides, and Wild Flowers of North Carolina.  Some consider it a weed, but it is missing from Bryson and DeFelice’s Weeds of the South.  It is found in a field guide to the Northeastern states – Clements and Gracie’s Wildflowers in the Field and Forest.  It is a plant with beautiful foliage but very tiny flowers, which may be why it is often overlooked.

Southern Chervil is a native annual which is also called Hairyfruit Chervil and Southern Wild Chervil.  It is reliably found in disturbed areas and roadsides right at the Falls Lake Dam, and often along greenways throughout the Falls Lake area.  It is a true winter annual, and its delicate, highly dissected leaves are a welcome contrast to the pine needles and brown leaves of winter, as shown in the following photograph taken in February.

Chaerophyllum tainturieri Southern Chervil Winter Foliage

Chaerophyllum tainturieri
Southern Chervil

In spring, the growth of foliage is explosive and the plant takes on a fern-like appearance.  Southern Chervil is a member of the carrot family (Apiaceae) and serves as a host to Black Swallowtail caterpillars that feed on the fine foliage.    Note the tiny white flowers against the green background.

Chaerophyllum tainturieri  Southern Chervil   Spring Foliage

Chaerophyllum tainturieri
Southern Chervil
Spring Foliage

The foliage sometimes turns red and does so surprisingly early.  The following photo was taken last year in mid May.

Chaerophyllum tainturieri  Southern Chervil Red Color

Chaerophyllum tainturieri
Southern Chervil
Red Color

Southern Chervil is a pilose (fuzzy) plant, with fine hairs covering the leaves and stems.

Chaerophyllum tainturieri Southern Chervil Pilose Stem

Chaerophyllum tainturieri
Southern Chervil
Pilose Stem

Close observation and excellent vision are required to see the 5 petals on the tiny, white flowers held in compound umbels.

Chaerophyllum tainturieri Southern Chervil Flowers

Chaerophyllum tainturieri
Southern Chervil Flowers

The next two photographs provide closer views of the flowers.

Chaerophyllum tainturieri Southern Chervil Close View of Flowers

Chaerophyllum tainturieri
Southern Chervil
Close View of Flowers

Chaerophyllum tainturieri Southern Chervil Close View of Flowers

Chaerophyllum tainturieri
Southern Chervil
Close View of Flowers

The upright fruits are distinctive and help to identify the plant as a Chervil at an easy distance.

Chaerophyllum tainturieri Southern Chervil Fruits

Chaerophyllum tainturieri
Southern Chervil
Fruits

The garden culinary herb known as chervil comes from an entirely different plant:  Anthriscus cerefolium.  It is not native to North America but is grown here in gardens and sometimes escapes cultivation.  It has not been reported from North Carolina.  Southern Chervil is generally not used as a substitute for garden chervil.

Herb Amyx

 

 

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The Parsley Hawthorn – Crataegus marshallii

Hawthorns are a diverse group of native small trees/large shrubs with bright, white flowers in spring and red berries in the fall.  They are a confusing group (Genus Crataegus) to classify, and accurate species  identification is often left to specialists.  According to The Sibley Guide to Trees, botanists of 100 years past listed 1,100 species of Hawthorns in North America.  In recent times, cooler heads have prevailed, and current thinking is somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 species.

Fortunately there are a few species of Hawthorns that are relatively  easy to identify.  One of these is the Parsley Hawthorn (Crataegus marshallii), named for its deeply cut leaves that resemble the leaves of parsley.  The leaves are unique for a Hawthorn, and serve to separate it from its close relatives.

Crataegus marshallii           Leaves

Crataegus marshallii
Leaves

Crataegus marshallii Deeply Cut Leaves

Crataegus marshallii
Deeply Cut Leaves

Compare the leaves of the Parsley Hawthorn to several other Crataegus sp. Hawthorns found in the Falls Lake area and illustrated below.

Crataegus sp. Hawthorn

Crataegus sp. Hawthorn

A Crataegus sp. Hawthorn

A Crataegus sp. Hawthorn

The Parsley Hawthorn is a tree of the Southeastern United States, and is primarily a Piedmont species in North Carolina, avoiding the Mountains and the Coastal Plain.  It is a member of the Rose family (Rosaceae) and has plenty of thorns on its trunk and twigs.

Crataegus marshallii        Trunk

Crataegus marshallii
Trunk

Crataegus marshallii       Twig Thorns

Crataegus marshallii
Twig Thorns

Buds are formed in late March to early April, and take several weeks to develop and bloom.   As the blooms open, the striking pink-raspberry anthems stand out against the white petals.

Crataegus marshallii Flower Buds

Crataegus marshallii
Flower Buds

Crataegus marshallii Flower Buds

Crataegus marshallii
Flower Buds

Crataegus marshallii Flower opening

Crataegus marshallii
Flower opening

Crataegus marshallii Buds Opening  Into Bloom

Crataegus marshallii
Buds Opening
Into Bloom

The five-petaled white flowers bloom in corymbs, and usually have 2 styles and 15 to 20 stamens.  As the anthers age, they change from the pink- raspberry color to black.  Below is a corymb of flowers blooming with the typical parsley-like leaves in the background.  The blooms are very small – less than an inch across.

Crataegus marshallii  Flowers in Corymbs

Crataegus marshallii
Flowers in Corymbs

In the close photo below, the 2 green styles can be seen at the center, surrounded by the stamens.

Crataegus marshallii      Close View of Bloom

Crataegus marshallii
Close View of Bloom

Below is the flower in profile with the two green styles visible among the stamens.

Crataegus marshallii Close Profile of Flower

Crataegus marshallii
Close Profile of Flower

The Parsley Hawthorn seen blooming below is about 15 feet tall and lies in the outer flood plain of the Neuse River, along the Neuse River Trail.  A red arrow points to the trunk of the tree.  The foliage has grown reaching for more sun, which gives the tree an off-balance appearance.    Most of the photographs above were taken from this tree.

Crataegus marshallii Parsley Hawthorn

Crataegus marshallii
Parsley Hawthorn

Herb Amyx

 

 

 

 

 

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Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis) in Spring

Aniseroot (Osmorhiza longistylis) is a perennial member of the Carrot family – Apiaceae – and is uncommon to rare in the Wake County portion of Falls Lake.  A few years ago, there was a very large population at the tailrace below the Falls lake Dam, but it is difficult to find any there now.   The very interesting divided, compound foliage of Aniseroot appears above ground in late fall and persists throughout the entire winter.  This  allows identification of the plant before the energetic spring growth and bloom.    The common name is derived from the scent of anise – mild in the leaves and strong in the roots.

Osmorhiza longistylis Aniseroot

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot  – Winter Foliage

Osmorhiza longistylis Aniseroot

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot  –  Winter Foliage

Osmorhiza longistylis  has a close relative – Osmorhiza claytonii  (Sweet Cicely), which has very similar late fall and winter foliage and is quite difficult to distinguish from Aniseroot until the bloom occurs.  The flowers of Aniseroot have styles that are significantly longer than the petals, while the flowers of Sweet Cicely have styles that are shorter than the petals.  Sweet Cicely also has a more westward distribution and is not found in the Falls Lake area.

The long styles of Aniseroot are quite striking as illustrated in several of the following photos demonstrating the mature plant and the bloom.

Osmorhiza longistylis Aniseroot Mature Foliage

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot
Mature Foliage

Osmorhiza longistylis  Aniseroot Mature Plant

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot
Mature Plant

Osmorhiza longistylis  Aniseroot Flowers

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot
Flowers

Osmorhiza longistylis  Aniseroot Flowers and Foliage

Osmorhiza longistylis
Aniseroot
Flowers and Foliage

Another plant with interesting and persistent  winter foliage is Yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima).  Yellowroot comes from the Buttercup family (Ranunculaceae) and has similar but slightly less complex compound foliage.  It is more common in the Falls Lake area than Aniseroot and tends to occur right at the margins of streams and lakes.  The winter foliage is low and spreading, but in the spring, the growth is upright with woody stems.

Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot Winter Foliage

Xanthorhiza simplicissima
Yellowroot
Winter Foliage

Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot Winter Foliage

Xanthorhiza simplicissima
Yellowroot
Winter Foliage

Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot Mature Plants in Bloom

Xanthorhiza simplicissima
Yellowroot
Mature Plants in Bloom

Xanthorhiza simplicissima Yellowroot Flowers

Xanthorhiza simplicissima
Yellowroot
Flowers

Depending on the location, both Aniseroot and Yellowroot are blooming or starting to bloom now, in mid April.

Herb Amyx

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The Obscure Life of the Ground Bee (Andrena sp.)

Heritage Day at the B. W. Wells Rockcliff Farm is this coming Saturday, April 5th.  The hundreds of visitors who park in the grassy lot and walk through the open field behind the Wells House will scarcely notice the enormous colonies of Andrena sp. Ground Bees that are directly under foot.  The Ground Bee burrows either go unnoticed, or are mistaken for ant hills.  Lacking bright colors, the bees themselves are obscure, and their weaving flight pattern, low to the ground, renders them faint and indistinct, looking a lot like flies.  The bees also appear to completely ignore visitors, with stings being somewhere between extremely rare to never.

In spite of their undistinguished  appearance, the Andrena sp. Ground Bees are  vitally important pollinators of early spring wildflowers, shrubs and trees.  One species, Andrena erigeniae,  collects pollen almost exclusively from Spring Beauties (Claytonia virginica).

Even when the bees are at rest, their small size and dull colors make them difficult to spot.

Andrena Ground Bee at Rest

Andrena Ground Bee at Rest

The red clay of the burrow entrances stands out in the grass of an open field.  There are many colonies of Ground Bees (also known as Mining Bees) scattered in open spaces throughout the Falls Lake area.

Ground Bee Burrows in a Field

Ground Bee Burrows in a Field

The burrow entrances can start out smooth, but as the bee extends its excavations, mounded soil begins to build up around the hole.

Andrena Ground Bee Burrow Entrance

Andrena Ground Bee Burrow Entrance

Andrena Ground Bee Mounded Burrow Entrance

Andrena Ground Bee Mounded Burrow Entrance

The Andrena are solitary bees, which seems contradictory when they live in such huge colonies, with burrows close together.  But each female bee has a separate burrow, with a number of side chambers, where a wad of pollen and nectar is placed and a single egg is laid.  When the larvae hatch, they feed on the nectar and pollen.  Thus the bees’ life cycle is completely dependent upon the pollen collected from spring flowering plants.

The following photos illustrate a pollen-laden bee returning to the burrow, a bee just emerging from a burrow entrance, and bees mating.

Andrena Ground Bee With Load of Pollen

Andrena Ground Bee With Load of Pollen

Andrena Ground Bee Exiting Burrow

Andrena Ground Bee Exiting Burrow

Andrena Ground Bees Mating

Andrena Ground Bees Mating

Like some of the spring ephemeral wild flowers they pollinate, the Andrena sp. Ground Bee adults are active above ground for only about 2 months in the early spring.

Herb Amyx

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The Curious Case of Bidens alba

A few years ago, two separate populations of Bidens alba strangely appeared in the Falls Lake Area.  They persisted for two years and then  completely disappeared.  Bidens alba (Shepherd’s Needles, Butterfly Needles) is primarily a Florida plant, with only spotty distribution north of Florida, and has been reported from only one county in North Carolina (New Hanover).  In the Falls Lake Area, one population of nearly one hundred plants was clearly associated with a large, newly planted screen of Glossy Privet (Ligustrum lucidum).  The other colony came up in the disturbed soil of land being cleared for a new development.

B. alba can be up to 5 ft. tall with luxurious f0liage and bright white flowers.

Bidens alba

Bidens alba

The Bidens genus is known for its slender, needle-like seeds terminating in 2 barbs, which allow the seed to stick to animal fur and human clothing, helping to disburse the seeds.  But Bidens alba made this large geographic jump by hitchhiking in soil at the base of landscape plants, and on equipment or supplies used for land clearing.  Outside of Florida, B. alba is considered an annual, so it must have seeded successfully for the second year of growth and then failed to persist thereafter.  It is one of the few members of its genus to have white rather than yellow flowers, which aids in identification.

Bidens alba

Bidens alba

Just a year previous to the appearance of B. alba, another visitor from out of state appeared at Falls Lake –  Jacquemontia tamnifolia (Smallflower Morningglory).  In keeping with its reputation as a landscape weed, it was spotted along with other weeds in a Falls Lake parking lot.  An annual and a member of the morning glory family, J. tamnifolia did not return to that site again.  It is primarily a coastal species and has been reported from only 2 North Carolina counties.  Seeds can be dispersed by wind or birds, with the latter the most likely in cases of isolated occurrence.  While the flowers are quite small and clustered, the leaves are large for the morningglory family.

Jacquemontia tamnifolia  Flowers

Jacquemontia tamnifolia
Flowers

 

Jacquemontia tamnifolia Leaf

Jacquemontia tamnifolia
Leaf

Finding plants out of place, like those described above,  may seem somewhat mysterious, but is an example of how dynamic plant distribution can be.  William Cronon’s classic eco-history of New England – Changes in the Land - describes the forces that determine why a particular species might be located where it is.  Ecological factors such as climate, soil, and slope provide the background to intermediate, sometimes catastrophic events such as fire, wind and disease (and development) that can shift the species composition of an area completely.    The two plants described above were unable to persist in their new location, unlike many of the invasive species we deal with today, which were able to establish permanent residence.

Herb Amyx

 

 

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Fire Ants Catch a Little Sun

It is early afternoon on February 19th, and after weeks of cold, harsh winter, the sun is bright and the temperature is 72 F.  Upland Chorus Frogs are calling from the wetlands, gnats swarm in circles in the meadows, and…large masses of fire ants bask in the sun.  Displaying  an unusual and little studied behavior, entire colonies of the Red Imported Fire Ant (Solenopsis invicta) leave their underground chambers to lie in tangled masses in the warm sun.

The following photographs were taken during an identical occurrence in January 2010.

Masses of Red Imported Fire Ants -  Solenopsis invicta

Masses of Red Imported Fire Ants -
Solenopsis invicta

Masses of Red Imported Fire Ants -  Solenopsis invicta

Masses of Red Imported Fire Ants -
Solenopsis invicta

Red Imported Fire Ants Solenopsis invicta

Red Imported Fire Ants
Solenopsis invicta

Fire ants are highly temperature sensitive.  Because they are incapable of surviving long, cold winters, their range is limited.  In North Carolina, they have not spread into the northern border counties or most of the mountains.  In Virginia, they inhabit only a few southern coastal counties.

Thermoregulation is an important biological imperative for fire ants, as demonstrated by their willingness to completely expose most of the colony during sudden, short warm spells in the wintertime.  One or two days of warm weather in mid winter is not enough to warm the soil at the surface of the mound, so the only way for the ants to warm themselves is to come outside the mound into the sun.  Even queen ants have been reported on the outside surface during these basking episodes.  This would appear to be a risk to the colony, but apparently the benefit of warming outweighs the risks.

Herb Amyx

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