Heritage Day is April 8th at Rock Cliff Farm

The B. W. Wells Association will host Heritage Day at  Rock Cliff Farm, B. W. Wells State Recreation Area, 1630 Bent Road, Wake Forest, North Carolina, on Saturday, April 8, 2017, from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm, Rain or Shine.  There are no admission fees.  Heritage Day features history and nature walks, an hourly plant raffle, and children’s games and activities.

Dr.Wells and his wife Maude were loved and respected by the neighboring families in the rural community where they spent their retirement years at Rock Cliff Farm.  He taught the children how to make baseballs, how to paint with homemade pine needle brushes, and how to make and fly kites.  These crafts, and others, are part of the children’s activities on Heritage Day.

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Bertram Whittier Wells was a pioneer ecologist and botanist.  He was a historically important figure as a proponent of studying plants as part of a natural community rather than as isolated individuals.  His book, The Natural Gardens of North Carolina, published in 1932, is a classic work on the natural history of North Carolina.

The following anecdote is taken from Nature’s Champion: B. W. Wells, Tar Heel Ecologist by James Troyer:

Dr. Wells tried to make botany understandable and interesting to the average person.  He invented common names that differed from those in contemporary botanical manuals.  He wanted the common name to help the observer remember the flower or plant.  Most of his names have been lost to time, but the one that remains and is still in use in botanical manuals is Green and Gold, Dr. Wells’, name for Chrysogonum viginianum.  It is pictured below.

Chrysogonum virginianum
Green and Gold

Herb Amyx

 

 

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Recognition of Winter Annuals – Part 2

The purpose of Part 2 is to provide additional information about the plants introduced in Part 1, and in most cases, to  illustrate their mature form.  Some of the plants change form completely while others change very little from their winter appearance

Galium sherardia (Blue Field Madder)

Blue Field Madder is not a native species, but was introduced from Eurasia.  Often better known as Sherardia arvensis, the previous scientific name, it is a member of the Bedstraw family (the Rubiaceae), and like most of its close relatives, is not particularly invasive.  It is hard to find isolated individuals like those shown below; it is usually tangled with other vegetation, and can form large mats, like those pictured in the second photograph.

Galium sherardia
Blue Field Madder
Winter Appearance

 

Galium sherardia
Blue Field Madder
Multiple Plants

Blue Field Madder is easy to distinguish from the other bedstraws by its blue flowers and sharply pointed leaves.  The tiny flowers, shown below, resemble those of the early spring Bluets, which are close relatives.

Galium sherardia
Blue Field Madder
Flowers

Nuttallanthus canadensis – Blue Toadflax

 Blue Toadflax is a true native wildflower, and one of the most prolific in the Southeast.  It can be seen blooming in early to mid spring by the thousands in fields and roadsides.  In winter it resembles a tiny portulaca , but as spring approaches, the plant form changes.  Tall, stringy stems are produced, followed by small, blue flowers at the tips.  The sequential changes are summarized in the photos below.

Nuttallanthus canadensis
Blue Toadflax
Winter Appearance

 

Nuttallanthus canadensis
Blue Toadflax
Early Spring

 

Nuttallanthus canadensis
Blue Toadflax
Maturing Plant

 

Nuttallanthus canadensis
Blue Toadflax
Flowers

Scleranthus annuus – Knawel

Knawel is an introduced species from Eurasia that has become a major weed of lawns, grassy parks, and roadsides.  The leaves are linear and needle-like, with stiff points, somewhat resembling the leaves of a creeping phlox.  Knawel is actually related to carnations in the Caryophyllaceae family.

Scleranthus annuus
Knawel
Winter Plant Form

The flower, pictured below, has no petals, but has 5 green sepals, which give the appearance of petals.

Scleranthus annuus
Knawel
Flower

Soliva sessilis – Burweed

Burweed is another non-native plant, introduced from South America.  Like Knawel, it is a troublesome weed of lawns and roadsides.  In fact the two plants are very often found together.    Burweed is hard on bare feet as it produces seeds in the leaf axils that have durable, vertical, spine tips that remain upright.  It is a very unpopular lawn weed.

Soliva sessilis
Burweed
Plant Form

Erigeron annuus – Annual Fleabane

Annual Fleabane is a native, and one of the commonest and best known late spring wildflowers.  It is found along roadsides, greenways, in open fields and disturbed areas.  It is often referred to as the spring daisy, and Daisy Fleabane is a common name given to this plant along with other closely related fleabanes.  The leaves along the flowering stem are very similar to the basal leaves shown below.

Erigeron annuus
Annual Fleabane
Basal Leaves

Annual Fleabane can be distinguished from the asters due to its earlier flowering and its higher number of narrow petals.

Erigeron annuus
Annual Fleabane
Flowers

Lobelia inflata – Indian Tobacco

Lobelia inflata is a summer annual with a long bloom time, extending from the summer into late fall.  The odd common name comes from the historic use of this plant by Native Americans for a variety of purposes.  It has a scent reminiscent of tobacco, hence the origin of the name.  Lobelia inflata is a prolific seeder.  When leaf litter is low, and a good amount of soil is exposed, a single plant can produce 50 or more seedling rosettes similar to the one pictured below.

Lobelia inflata
Indian Tobacco
Basal Leaves

The flowers are small but have the typical appearance of Lobelia flowers, with two petals up and three petals down.  The species name “inflata” comes from the balloon-like appearance of the seed pods.  One can be seen in the photograph below, under the bloom and out of focus.

Lobelia inflata
Indian Tobacco
Flower and Seed Pod

 

Herb Amyx

 

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Recognition of Winter Annuals – Part 1

Winter annuals have been appearing in gardens, lawns and landscapes for the past several months. These plants can be recognized through their characteristic shapes, and peculiarities, with a special focus on leaves since many will not bloom until spring.  The human brain has an incredible capacity for visual pattern recognition.  With practice and repetition, most of us can identify the common winter annuals from their earliest stages.  This is very helpful to gardeners and conservation managers, who want to eliminate undesirable weeds before they mature and multiply.

Occasionally, mistaken identities result in humorous plantings in public or private gardens.  In the municipal garden shown below, a small specimen of Senna obtusifolia – Sicklepod – was raised unknowingly as an ornamental shrub.  Watered and carefully tended by the garden staff, it reached huge proportions before someone explained the mistake.  The staff now fights large crops of young sicklepods that come up every spring all over that garden.

Senna obtusifolia Sicklepod Shrub

Senna obtusifolia
Sicklepod
Shrub

Here is a brief display of a few interesting  visual patterns seen in five winter annuals, and  one summer annual.   All of the plants are very common in the North Carolina Piedmont.  See if you recognize some of them.  The names are listed at the end.

Plant #1

img_1165-young-sherardia

Plant #2 (Perhaps the most difficult of the group)

img_1168-toadflax

img_1170-nuttallanthus-canadensis

Plant #3 (Actually blooming in the 2nd photo)

img_1806a-scleranthus-annuus

img_1812-scleranthus-annuus

Plant #4

img_1797-erigeron-annuus

Plant #5

img_1808-erodium-cicutarium

img_1810-erodium-cicutarium

Plant #6 (The summer annual)

img_1802-lobelia-inflata

The identities of the plants are:

Plant #1 is Galium sherardia  –  Blue Field Madder

Plant #2 is Nuttallanthus canadensis  –  Blue Toadflax

Plant #3 is Scleranthus annuus – Knawel

Plant #4 is Erigeron annuus – Annual Fleabane

Plant #5 is Soliva sessilis – Burweed

Plant #6 is Lobelia inflata – Indian Tobacco

The Blue Toadflax plants seem more like young succulents and are often among the most difficult to identify.  More details about each plant will follow in the next article.

Herb Amyx

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Mulberry Weed (Fatoua villosa) – an Unwelcome Intruder

Mulberry Weed, Fatoua villosa, is an oddity – the only member of the Mulberry family (the Moraceae) in the Southeast that is a herbaceous plant rather than a shrub or a tree.  Originally from East Asia, it is a relatively new arrival in North America (early 1960s),and  is now spreading rapidly.  The common name is derived from the plant’s close resemblance to small, seedling Mulberry trees.

Mulberry Weed is a summer annual with an upright plant form and large, alternate leaves.  It is found primarily in disturbed areas, gardens and landscapes.  Below is an example of the plant form.

Fatoua villosa Mulberry Weed Plant Form

Fatoua villosa
Mulberry Weed
Plant Form

The leaves are triangular or sometimes slightly heart-shaped, with toothed margins and prominent veins.  The flowers are found in small clusters at the leaf axils, and have no petals.  Leaves and flowers are pictured below.

Fatoua villosa Mulberry Weed Leaf

Fatoua villosa
Mulberry Weed
Leaf

 

Fatoua villosa Mulberry Weed Leaves

Fatoua villosa
Mulberry Weed
Leaves

Young plants can also closely resemble False Nettle (Boehmeria cylindrica), and both can be  found in similar, shady habitats.  The leaves of False Nettle, pictured below, are opposite, rather than alternate – the best distinguishing feature.

Boehmeria cylindrical False Nettle Leaves

Boehmeria cylindrica
False Nettle
Leaves

Mulberry Weed is a heavy seed producer, and the plants flower when only a few inches tall.  The seeds mature quickly, and the plants are known to produce 2 to 5 generations in a single year.  Thus the invasive potential is very high, and control is difficult once the plants are established.

For information on management and control, see this excellent bulletin from the NC State Extension Service:  https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/mulberryweed-fatoua-villosa

 

Herb Amyx

 

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A Frostweed (Verbesina virginica) Creates an Unusual Ice Bloom

From a distance it looked like a white plastic bag that had been snagged on the dead stem of a weed.  On closer inspection, it turned out to be a Frostweed (Verbesina virginica), with an ice sculpture wrapped around its stem.  Frostweeds earn their name in cold winters, when moist soil and a hard freeze combine to create the conditions for these plants to produce (passively) interesting and beautiful ice sculptures like the one pictured below.  For more detailed information on Frostweeds, see last years article : https://bwwellsassociation.wordpress.com/2016/01/27/frostweed-verbesina-virginica-blooms-in-central-north-carolina/.

The formation of Frostweed ice sculptures usually occurs at the base of  the plants.  In this case, the large stem was preserved structurally intact, and the ice was able to climb four feet up the six foot stem, an unusual happening.

Verbesina virginica Frostweed Ice Bloom

Verbesina virginica
Frostweed

Below is a closer look at the ice pattern at the base of the plant.  An indistinct groove can be seen in the center, where the stem is located.

Verbesina virginica Frostweed Closer View of Ice on Stem

Verbesina virginica
Frostweed
Base of the  Stem

The two photos that follow illustrate the complex patterns formed when the cold sap turns to ice and either extrudes from or is formed at the surface of the stem.

Verbesina virginica Frostweed Closer View of Ice

Verbesina virginica
Frostweed
Closer View of Ice

Verbesina virginica Frostweed Close View of Ice

Verbesina virginica
Frostweed
Close View of Ice

The picture below illustrates how the force of the expanding ice splits the stem open in the area near the top of the plant.

Verbesina virginica Frostweed Splitting Stem

Verbesina virginica
Frostweed
Splitting Stem

Although the ice in these sculptures looks thick and robust, it is actually thin and fragile, adding very little to the weight of the plant.  This plant stayed upright during windy mornings in spite of the shell of ice, and hosted a number of large, repeat blooms.  The ice melts very quickly in sunny conditions.

Herb Amyx

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A Rare Winter Visitor – the Rufous Hummingbird

On a cold, windy morning in  December, in the North Carolina Piedmont, with the temperature holding at 24 F., a tiny hummingbird hovers over a nectar feeder.  Even at 24 degrees, the nectar in the feeder is not completely frozen, so the hummingbird settles on the feeder and begins to drink an icy morning breakfast of nectar slush.  This tiny visitor is a Rufous Hummingbird, a cold-hardy Western species that wanders in small numbers into North Carolina every winter.  In its normal range, it can nest as far north as southern Alaska, and overwinters in Mexico.  But the Rufous has a propensity for wandering far from its normal route, and isolated individuals can be found during winter all through the Southeastern United States, especially along the Gulf Coast.  In North Carolina, they tend to visit the Piedmont  rather than the coast, perhaps due to the larger number of nectar feeders available in the more populous areas.  The Rufous Hummingbirds visiting North Carolina tend to be juveniles or adult females.  Pictured below is an adult female Rufous Hummingbird, the bird described in the earlier narrative.

Adult Female Rufous Hummingbird

Adult Female Rufous Hummingbird

Adult Female Rufous Hummingbird

Adult Female Rufous Hummingbird

Rufous Hummingbirds are sometimes referred to by their Genus name: Selasphorus.  This is because the extremely rare Allen’s Hummingbird, also a Western species in the Genus Selasphorus, has been seen (3 records) in North Carolina.  The two are virtually indistinguishable except as adult males, so in an abundance of caution, females and juveniles of both species can be simply called Selasphorus Hummingbirds.  However, many observers are persuaded by mathematical probability, and stick with Rufous Hummingbird.

Below is the adult female Rufous Hummingbird showing the patch on the throat below the bill.  Depending on the light angles, the patch either appears black or an iridescent orange or red.  This, along with the rufous sides, helps to identify the species.

Adult Female Rufous Hummingbird

Adult Female Rufous Hummingbird

Survival of the Rufous Hummingbird is greatly enhanced by winter nectar feeders.  Maintaining a nectar feeder over the winter is surprisingly easy; in many respects, easier than in the summer.  The cold temperatures inhibit the ants and yellow jackets, and keep the sugar solution from spoiling.   The sugar in the water also delays freezing until temperatures are into the mid to high twenties F.

For more information about Rufous Hummingbirds, see  the  Birds of North Carolina website:  http://ncbirds.carolinabirdclub.org/view.php?species_id=352

and  about winter hummingbirds:  http://naturalsciences.org/research-collections/hummingbird/nc-hummers

Herb Amyx

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The Anglestem Primrose-willow, Ludwigia leptocarpa

The primrose-willows, which are sometimes called water-willows, are common and widespread along the lake shores, ponds, and wetlands of the Coastal Plain and Piedmont of North Carolina.   They are members of the Evening Primrose family, the Onagraceae, and are usually found as erect and well branched, small to medium sized shrubs.  One of the largest of these is Ludwigia leptocarpa, the Anglestem Primrose-willow.  Pictured below is a single plant of L. leptocarpa standing alone, followed by a group of plants forming a small hedge along the shore of a lake.

Ludwigia leptocarpa Anglestem Primrose-willow Shrub

Ludwigia leptocarpa
Anglestem Primrose-willow
Shrub

Ludwigia leptocarpa Anglestem Primrose-willow Hedge of Shrubs

Ludwigia leptocarpa
Anglestem Primrose-willow
Hedge of Shrubs

L. leptocarpa has noticeably elongated floral tubes, a distinctive characteristic that distinguishes it from all of its close relatives.  In fact, another common name for this plant is Longpod Primrose-willow.  The photo below shows the long floral tube of a flower bud, a flower, and a flower that has just lost its petals.  Notice the extreme pubescence seen on the stems and floral tubes, another characteristic which distinguishes it from its near relatives, whose stems are smooth.

Ludwigia leptocarpa Anglestem Primrose-willow Floral Tubes

Ludwigia leptocarpa
Anglestem Primrose-willow
Floral Tubes

As the flowers age, the floral tubes turn red, making them more visible from a distance.

Ludwigia leptocarpa Anglestem Primrose-willow Red Floral Tubes

Ludwigia leptocarpa
Anglestem Primrose-willow
Red Floral Tubes

The developing seedpods retain the distinctive elongation.

Ludwigia leptocarpa Anglestem Primrose-willow Seedpod

Ludwigia leptocarpa
Anglestem Primrose-willow
Seedpod

L. leptocarpa has a sharply angled stem which is the source of the  common name Anglestem Primrose-willow.  See below.  Notice also the  heavy pubescence.

Ludwigia leptocarpa Anglestem Primrose-willow Angled Stem

Ludwigia leptocarpa
Anglestem Primrose-willow
Angled Stem

L. leptocarpa has flowers with 5 to 7 petals and sepals, while its closest relatives have 4- petaled flowers.

Ludwigia leptocarpa Anglestem Primrose-willow Flower

Ludwigia leptocarpa
Anglestem Primrose-willow
Flower

Ludwigia leptocarpa Anglestem Primrose-willow Flower

Ludwigia leptocarpa
Anglestem Primrose-willow
Flower

The bright yellow flowers of L. leptocarpa do somewhat resemble the flowers of Evening Primroses (Oenothera biennis), and are the source of part of the common name.  Their shrubby early growth and narrow, lanceolate leaves also resemble young willows.  Although most of the Ludwigia genus are herbaceous, Ludwigia alternifolia  (Seedbox) has woody stems, which resemble young willows even more.  Thus the shrubby members of the Ludwigia genus  came to be known collectively as Primrose-willows.

Herb Amyx

 

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