30 March 2010

Composites Blooming in March?

When I think of composites (plants in the family Asteraceae), I think of asters, goldenrods, blazing stars... late bloomers that often provide some of the last color of the season before the snow begins to fall. Can you imagine my surprise when, while in Parrish, Florida a couple of weeks ago, we came across a composite in bloom?

When we first saw this colony of plants, the solitary flower heads were closed up and nodding, exposing the pink to purple abaxial sides of the ray flowers. In addition to this characteristic feature, the scapose stems were densely white pubescent, as were the undersides of the basally disposed leaves; the upper surfaces of the leaves were shiny and dark green.

When we arrived at this population later in the day, the flower heads had opened up and were upright, displaying the white adaxial surfaces of the ray flowers and the creamy white and yellow disk flowers. This composite is appropriately known as Woolly Sunbonnets (Chaptalia tomentosa). Unlike the late-season composites I mentioned previously, this species blooms from December to May.

Pineland Daisy, as this species is also known, grows in pinelands and open woods, in sandy bogs, in open areas, and along ditches in coastal states from North Carolina to Texas. It has easily become one of my favorite composites.

20 March 2010

Indiana South?

The reason it's been a bit slow lately at Through Handlens and Binoculars is that I've been very busy doing vegetation surveys in Florida. Although it is approximately 1200 miles south of my home, I see a lot of similarities between Florida and northern Indiana: pancake-flat topography, heavy agriculture and cattle farming, abundant area that was historically wetland that has since been drained by ditches, and sandy soils deposited by historic water bodies are just the tip of the iceberg.

That said, there are obviously plenty of differences as well. The photo above shows a Florida dry prairie, dominated by Saw Palmetto (Serenoa repens), Bottlebrush Three-awn (Aristida spiciformis), and a variety of forb species. Dry prairies in Florida, like in northern Indiana, require fire to keep them from undergoing succession and becoming shrub- or tree-dominated communities. The sandy soils of Florida dry prairies are acidic, leading to an abundance of Ericaceous shrubs including Shiny Blueberry (Vaccinium myrsinites) and Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida).

The photo immediately above and those below show what I would consider hydric hammocks, or wet forest. In the photo above, Spanish Moss (Tillandsia usneoides) drapes the branches of an oak (Quercus sp.).

Above, epiphytes including Spanish Moss, Small Ballmoss (Tillandsia recurvata), Giant Airplant (Tillandsia fasciculata), and Resurrection Fern (Pleopeltis polypodioides, aka Polypodium polypodioides) blanket the trunks and branches of the canopy. Cabbage Palmetto (Sabal palmetto) is also often an important component of this community.

The photo above shows yet another hydric hammock with a dense fern understory consisting of species such as Toothed Midsorus Fern (Blechnum serrulatum), Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis), Netted Chainfern (Woodwardia areolata), and Virginia Chainfern (Woodwardia virginica). Trees common in this wetland included Red Maple (Acer rubrum var. trilobum), Sweetbay (Magnolia virginiana), and Water Oak (Quercus nigra), while the subcanopy was dominated by Dahoon (Ilex cassine) and Wax Myrtle (Morella cerifera, aka Myrica cerifera).

I'll post a few more photos from my trip as I get caught up.

05 March 2010

A Hallmark of Hanging Lake

With as busy as I'm becoming and spring certainly around the corner (I have heard Eastern Bluebird, Red-winged Blackbird, and Sandhill Crane while walking our trails the last two evenings after work), this will probably be my final post about our trip to Colorado in July 2009. There were many more topics that I had hoped to cover, but I just don't have time, unfortunately.

On 14 July 2009, we visited Glenwood Canyon near Glenwood Springs, Colorado. The preserve is located in the montane life zone and includes forest that has a remarkably eastern feel to it, with many genera and species of plants that were very recognizable to this Indiana botanist. The steep cliffs and canyon walls quickly bring you back to the reality that you're definitely not in the Midwest.

Hanging Lake is the primary attraction at this location. As the name implies, Hanging Lake is positioned on the side of a canyon. The lake has formed after thousands of years of limestone precipitating from calcareous waters that are flowing down the mountain and over rocks and logs. The resulting travertine layers eventually formed a bowl-like feature that now cradles the clearest water I've ever seen.

Along our ascent as we approached the lake, we continually encountered a comely columbine (Aquilegia) with pink sepals and yellow petal blades that didn't match the columbines in any of the reference guides we had with us. We took numerous photographs thinking that we would need to see all aspects of this species to be able to property identify it later that evening.

Fortunately, we didn't have to wait that long. When we arrived at the lake itself, we encountered an informational sign identifying this curious columbine as Barneby's Columbine (Aquilegia barnebyi), a plant only known from two locations in the world - Hanging Lake and in Rio Blanco County in northwestern Colorado. We had no idea that this species, so abundant at this location, would have been so rare overall. At Glenwood Canyon, we saw Oil Shale Columbine, as it is also known, in forest, around Hanging Lake, and in a boggy seep (shown below).

Oil Shale Columbine is now also known from Utah, but is still considered endemic to the Green River drainage; it grows on cliff walls and on moist, calcareous soils (Whittemore 1997).

Whittemore, A.T. (1997). Aquilegia. In: Flora of North America Editorial Committee, eds. 1993+. Flora of North America North of Mexico. 15+ vols. New York and Oxford. Vol. 3.