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Posts Tagged ‘parasitic plants’

We had a light frost here yesterday morning, so there probably won’t be too many more wildflower posts for this year. I’m going to miss them!

1. Field Milkwort

I found a few of these native field milkwort (Polygala sanguinea) flowers in an old pasture, growing in very sandy soil. One way to identify this plant is by its taproot, which smells like wintergreen. Another way is by its leaves, which should be alternate as the photo shows, and not whorled. The sepals on this flower shade from purple at the top to white at the base in this case, but its flowers can also be white or green. The “poly” part of the scientific name means much in Greek and “gala” means milk. It was once thought that cows eating this plant would produce more milk, and that’s how the plant got its common name.

2. Beech Drop Plant

Beech drops (Epifagus virginiana) are parasitic plants that insert a root-like structure called a haustorium into a beech tree’s root, taking what they need from the tree to stay alive. Since they are parasitic they don’t need chlorophyll and aren’t green. Instead the leafless stems are pale, yellowish green and the flowers can be wine red to pink to yellowish in color, sometimes with brownish purple stripes. This plant is also called cancer root because of the false belief that it cured cancer. It is related to Indian pipes and pinesap plants. Native Americans made a bitter tea from it.

3. Beech Drop Flowers

A closer look at the small flowers of beech drops. The plant is self-fertilizing but is also visited by insects.

4. Dodder

Dodder (Cuscuta) is another parasitic plant, but it isn’t limited to one kind of host like the beech drops. It can live off many different kinds of plants. Dodder is an annual and grows from seed in the spring. It wraps itself around the stem of another plant and pushes growths called haustoria into the stem of the host plant. If you look just to the upper left of the white flower in the photo you can see how the orange dodder stem has burrowed into the goldenrod stem. Once it is feeding on its host it loses all connection to the soil. This plant has no chlorophyll and its stems are bright orange. The round growths are seed pods.

 5. Flowering Raspberry

I was surprised to see this purple flowering raspberry (Rubus odoratus) in September-it usually starts blooming in June and might bloom into July in a good year. This shrub is in the rose family and might be mistaken for a rose if it wasn’t for its large, maple-like leaves. Its stems are hairy but not prickly like a rose. The native shrub will reach 3-6 feet tall and twice as wide under the right conditions.

6. Silverrod Flowers

Silverrod (Solidago bicolor) is in the goldenrod family and is also called white goldenrod. It is the only white flowered goldenrod found in the northeast and is a native. Seeing these flowers always reminds me that the growing season is nearly over. I usually find it in dry, gravelly places at the edge of the woods. As the flowers age they fade and change color slightly, and that’s where the bicolor part of the scientific name comes from.

 7. Obedient Plant Flowers

Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) is native to central and southern U.S. but in my experience, will grow just about anywhere.  I planted some in my yard several years ago to try to attract hummingbirds and it has been trying to take over ever since. Each year I weed it out, thinking that I’ve finally gotten rid of it only to find it growing in a different spot the following year. Its small snapdragon like flowers can be white or pink and are quite beautiful.

8. Slender Gerardia

The small, hairy flowers of slender gerardia (Agalinis tenuifolia ) are small and grow close to the ground, so they are easily missed. This plant is also called slender foxglove because its tube shaped flowers are similar in appearance to those of foxglove. The narrow leaves and wiry stems remind me of toadflax. An odd fact about this plant is that it turns black when it is dried, so it is not a good plant to press for herbarium specimens. It grows in fields and gravelly waste areas-often next to forked blue curls (Trichostema dichotomum).

9. Slender Gerardia

Slender gerardia flowers last only for a single day, opening in the morning and closing at night. By midafternoon they begin to take on a wilted look, so photographing them is best done at mid-day. Bees pollinate these flowers, and I see plenty of them when I visit these plants.

10. Sand Jointweed

I find sand jointweed (Polygonella articulata) growing in sand, just as its common name suggests. These plants grow to about a foot tall with thin, wiry stems and small white or pink flowers. The leaves are very small and lie against the stem so the plant appears leafless. The plant gets its name from the curious way the stems are jointed. I’m not sure why, but this is one of the hardest plants to photograph that I’ve ever met.

 11. Large Leaved Aster

Big leaved asters (Eurybia macrophylla) grow quite deep in the woods, so they have large leaves with enough surface area to collect what dim light is available. There is no hard and fast rule, but plants with larger leaves can often take more shade. It seems odd to see aster flowers topping a plant with such large, 8 inch long by 6 inch wide leaves. These plants grow in large colonies and I’ve seen entire hillsides covered with them. The flowers can be white, pale violet, or purple. Some Native American tribes used the plant’s roots in soup and its young spring leaves as food or medicine.

12. White Snakeroot

White snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum ) is very toxic and in the early 19th century killed thousands of people-especially settlers in places like Indiana and Kentucky. In just one Indiana County half the deaths were said to be caused by this plant. A compound called trematol is passed from the plant to cows that graze on it, and their milk becomes toxic. When humans drank the milk before too long they started to show signs of what was called “milk sickness” and in a week or less would be dead from heart or liver failure. Abraham Lincoln’s mother died from milk sickness when he was just 9 years old. All parts of the plant are toxic to cattle, horses, sheep, and humans. Today’s farmers eradicate the plant from their pastures and mix the milk from many cows together, so milk sickness is almost unheard of. A Native American woman from the Shawnee tribe is credited with finally warning settlers about this plant.

Can we conceive what humanity would be if it did not know the flowers? ~ Maurice Maeterlinck

Thanks for coming by.

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