25 November 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

I hope that all of you had a wonderful Thanksgiving spent with friends and family, and that your stomachs aren't still as stuffed as mine.

I am thankful for many things this year. One of those things is being lucky enough to get a photo like the one below of Greater Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) with my cheap work camera. This photo was taken in September at Miller Woods in Lake County, Indiana.

For more information on Greater Fringed Gentian and some of the species that are similar in appearance, visit my post from September 2009 on Get Your Botany On!.

19 November 2010

Sky-white Aster

Sky-white Aster? Say what? Maybe you've heard of Sky-blue Aster (Aster azureus, or Aster oolentangiensis, or Symphyotrichum oolentangiense, depending on who you listen to), but how about Sky-white Aster?

Okay, so I made up the common name, but it seemed silly to call a plant with nothing blue about it Sky-blue Aster. This is the form of Sky-blue Aster with white ray flowers, known as Aster azureus forma albidus (azureus, of course, means "bright blue"; albidus means "white"). This year must have been a good year for white-flowered forms of composites (Asteraceae); earlier in the year, I posted on Get Your Botany On! about two normally pinkish-purple-flowered species of Liatris with white-flowers. Just to prove that this is in fact Sky-blue Aster, I've included a photo below of the characteristic heart-shaped, rough-textured lower leaves from the plant.

A photograph showing the typical color of the ray flowers of Sky-blue Aster is shown below. Sky-blue Aster is a plant of open to semi-open areas with sandy, loamy, or rocky soils, where it is found in prairies, glades, barrens, savannas, alvars, and open woodlands. It is known from a good part of the eastern half of North America, to as far west as South Dakota and Texas, but is absent from the northeast and the Appalachian region.

11 November 2010

Only The Coolest Sedge In The World

You could say I'm a bit of a sedgeaholic. I've seen a lot of sedges in my time. I've gone out of my way to see certain sedges on more than one occasion, in fact. I've even pushed the limits of Lindsay's patience by staying out too late looking at sedges. It's a disease, I tell you... a downward spiral.

There is an amazing amount of morphological diversity in this graminoid family (Cyperaceae), and particularly in the multi-sectioned genus Carex, which has been divided into approximately 2000 species worldwide and almost 500 species in North America. Until this summer, Waterfall's Sedge (Carex latebracteata), a Ouachita endemic with inflated bracts that conceal the spikes, was my hands-down favorite. Others high on my list include: Golden Sedge (Carex aurea), a crowd-pleaser with tiny, orange, pumpkin-like perigynia; Ravenfoot Sedge (Carex crus-corvi), a spiky-inflorescenced gem with long-beaked perigynia that look like little golf tees; Northern Long Sedge (Carex folliculata), a charmer with inflated, gradually tapering perigynia in unique-looking spikelets; False Hop Sedge (Carex lupuliformis), an elusive yet distinct character with diamond-shaped achenes that have quite knobby angles; Painted Sedge (Carex picta), a gorgeous dioecious species with showy scales that make it a strong candidate for native landscaping; and Little Green Sedge (Carex viridula), one of the only sedges with a common name nearly as adorable as the inflorescence itself.

However, upon seeing the graceful beaut pictured above and below in Douglas County, Wisconsin this August, I could only fall to my knees and gaze appreciatively at the long awned chocolate-brown scales that much exceed the suborbicular perigynia, assembled into a pistillate spikelet somewhat reminiscent of a rattlesnake rattle. This is Boreal Bog Sedge (Carex magellanica ssp. irrigua, formerly known as Carex paupercula).

Boreal Bog Sedge, a member of Carex section Limosae, is often found with Sphagnum moss in bogs, fens, and marshes of Greenland, Canada, New England, the northern tier of Great Lakes States, a few western states, and Eurasia. The specific epithet magellanica is a reference to the Strait of Magellan, a narrow strip of water near the southern tip of South America. So how did this northern species come to be named for a southern hemisphere passageway? Carex magellanica is a bipolar disjunct species, meaning that it is found at both extremes of the globe - the northern polar regions and the southern polar regions - but not in between. Plants in the cool temperate areas of South America are known as Carex magellanica ssp. magellanica. This unique global distribution, in combination with the elegance of its inflorescence, clearly makes Carex magellanica the coolest sedge in the world.

05 November 2010

Zoo Birds II

In March 2009, I posted about some of the interesting birds that Lindsay encountered on a spring trip to the St. Louis Zoo. Last weekend, Lindsay and I were back in St. Louis, visiting Jenny, Frank, and Allison, and we visited the zoo for Boo at the Zoo. After all of the tricks and treats, we walked through some of the exhibits, including a couple of bird exhibits. Below are some of the birds we encountered.

One of the exhibits, located in the 1904 World's Fair Flight Cage, features birds of North American cypress swamps. This was one of the most interesting displays that I have ever seen at a zoo... both the plants and the birds are native to the cypress swamps along the Mississippi River. Usually, zoos seem to feature mostly animals native to far away, exotic places; to see an exhibit highlighting the diversity found just next door was refreshing. The bird above is a Cattle Egret (Bubulcus ibis), a common species that can often be found eating insects off of the backs of cows in pastures within its range.

Another bird we saw in the cypress swamp exhibit was Ruddy Duck (Oxyura jamaicensis), pictured above. This was certainly the best look we've ever had at this cute duck species. One feature that really stands out on this 15" long duck is the long, paddle-like tail that often can be seen sticking straight up when a Ruddy is on the water. Ruddy Ducks are known as divers, and when they are under water searching for food, they use this broad tail as a rudder to propel them towards prey.

"Oh, look... a flamingo!" If I could get just a dollar for each time I've heard this misidentification blurted from the mouths of awestruck observers who have no idea that there could be another species of pink bird, I would be able to blog about long, exotic trips instead of vacations to a zoo! One look at the spoon-shaped bill of this bird (you may need to click on the photo to see this better) tells you that it is not a flamingo at all, but is in fact a spoonbill... a Roseate Spoonbill (Platalea ajaja), to be exact. You can see in the photo above that the nostrils are all the way at the base of the bill. This is very important, as Roseate Spoonbills feed primarily by "head-swinging" (sticking their partially open bills nearly all the way into the water and swinging them back-and-forth in arcs to create currents that bring insects, mollusks, crustaceans, etc. into feeding range). When the spoonbill feels the vibrations of its prey nearby, it closes its bill and scoops up a meal. With nostrils so far back on the bill, Roseate Spoonbills can breath while their bills are almost completely under water.

The bird above was difficult to photograph, even though we knew a covey of them was within 15 feet of us. This is a Northern Bobwhite (Colinus virginianus). Bobwhites are often heard (they produce a whistling "bob-white" song that rises in pitch through the second syllable; but don't be fooled by a mimicking European Starling (Sturnus vulgaris)), but rarely seen. They are often quite well hidden amongst grasses and brushy vegetation.

Although it is much more exhilarating to find these species flying and foraging free in nature, having an exhibit to show the unknowing public some of the beauty and diversity that is within just a couple of hundred of miles is a good idea that can really open the eyes of potentially budding naturalists. I wish more zoos had local exhibits similar to this.

04 November 2010

Shhhh... It's a Secret

On our recent trip to Osage Beach, Missouri, Scott informed me that we needed to go past "The Secret of the Indian". A picture of the Indian is posted below. Can you identify his secret????