Botany Blog Plants of the Northeastern U.S.

July 2, 2017

July Orchids

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 15:20

Lots of orchids in bloom now in Central NY. The first batch are from a poor fen. The pink orchids are rose pogonia (Pogonia ophioglossoides) growing with northern pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea), spoon-leaf sundrew (Drosera intermedia), and mud sedge (Carex limosa).

Scattered on the floating mat were grass pinks (Calopogon tuberosus). It was raining most of the day and this skipper was probably just seeking shelter on the petals.

Some of the grass pinks were impressively large and exhibited considerable color variation.

The sun came out just long enough for bog coppers (Lycaena epixanthe) to become active. The larvae feed exclusively on large and small cranberries (Vaccinium macrocarpon and V. oxycoccos, respectively) and adults are usually found when these plants are flowering.

We also visited a wet meadow with a large population of northern tubercled rein orchids (Platanthera flava). This species can be distinguished from similar ‘green’ orchids by the tubercle (bump) on the labellum (lip petal).

On a roadside nearby we found some ragged fringed orchids (Platanthera lacera). This species likes open, moist to wet fields and benefits from mowing early in the year to reduce competition.

Greater purple fringed orchids (Platanthera grandiflora) are in full bloom now. This one was found in a swampy partly shaded edge of a rich fen. The similar lesser purple fringed orchid (Platanthera psycodes) usually blooms a couple weeks later and can be found in similar habitats.

June 24, 2017

Tug Hill

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 21:59

Some interesting plants seen today on the Tug Hill in Lewis County, NY.

The first is bog Jacob’s-ladder (Polemonium vanbruntiae), a globally rare species found primarily in NY.

This was the first time that I have seen Michaux’s sedge (Carex michauxiana).

Shiny lanceolate leaves and reddish spotted stems help distinguish wild sweet-william (Phlox maculata) from other Phlox spp.

Broad-lipped Twayblade (Neottia convallarioides, formerly Listera convallarioides) occurs in northern white cedar swamps in NY. Though once known from several locations in upstate NY, the plant pictured here is from the only known extant population in the state.

June 12, 2017

Round-leaved Orchid

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 18:19

Round-leaved orchid (Amerorchis rotundifolia) once occurred in a few places in northern NY but is now considered to be extirpated. It is considered to be rare in most states where it still occurs.

This orchid is primarily found in northern white cedar swamps. I joined a small group today on a trip to a cedar swamp in Canada where this orchid is still relatively common.

The flowers are pinkish white and typically have pink spots on the lip.

Plants have a single, round to oval basal leaf.

A form with broad, longitudinal reddish lines on the lip has been called var. lineata and was found mixed with the more typical form.

Closeup of the lined form.

June 9, 2017

Alpine flora

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 16:52

Yesterday I visited Mount Washington, NH to see several alpine plants in bloom. The auto road was originally scheduled to be closed for paving but fortunately the work was done early and they decided to open at 9:30 am. Even more fortunate, as I got there early, the road was opened a little after 8:30 am.

While I was waiting for the road to open I took a walk around the visitor center. In a small rocky brook I found twisted sedge (Carex torta) which I had not seen before with mature perigynia. Notice the black-margined scales and somewhat dropping lower spike.

On a hillside meadow there was lots of bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) in bloom. Here in central NY bunchberry is not so common and rarely grows out in the open like this.

Little bluet (Houstonia caerulea) was also abundant. These could be seen everywhere from 2000′ elevation all the way up to the alpine zone, though they became less abundant further up the mountain.

In a few spots along the roadside, including just below the summit, was mountain shadbush (Amelanchier bartramiana). Unlike most other Amelanchier spp. this one has nearly sessile leaves that taper towards the base and flowers borne singly or in few-flowered clusters.

Before leaving the tree line I got the chance to see lots of mountain paper birch (Betula cordifolia). It is quite similar to, and used to be considered a variety of paper birch (Betula papyrifera). It differs from the latter in having leaves that are more or less cordate at the base and bark with a pinkish hue.

Pinkish-brown peeling bark of heart-leaved paper birch.

As the forest transitioned to krummholz (a zone of dwarfed, deformed trees) I started to find black crowberry (Empetrum nigrum) along the road. Close examination of several patches of crowberry turned up at least a little purple crowberry (Empetrum atropurpureum) which has twigs covered by white hairs unlike the smooth twigs of black crowberry.

Also in the krummholz and lower alpine zones there were alpine bilberries (Vaccinium uliginosum) just beginning to bloom.

Once I reached the summit I hiked down to the Alpine Garden Trail where boulder fields and bedrock were still covered by a bit of snow. The dwarfed and twisted evergreens are likely balsam fir (Abies balsamea) and/or black spruce (Picea mariana). The bit of lavender in the foreground are the flowers of Lapland rosebay (Rhododendron lapponicum) and the creamy white flowers are those of pincushion plant (Diapensia lapponica).

I was able to tentatively identify a few graminoids simply because of their abundance in the alpine zone despite the fact that most had not yet started to flower. These are likely the leaves of Bigelow’s Sedge (Carex bigelowii).

I was able to identify this plant as a rush since some still had fruits from last year. It is probably highland rush (Juncus trifidus) since it was rather abundant in the alpine zone.

Tufted clubsedge (Trichophorum cespitosum) was the only graminoid close to flowering. The related alpine cotton-grass (Trichophorum alpinum) is occasionally found in rich fens in central NY.

There were a few little rivulets running through the alpine zone. Near one of these the coppery-red leaves of squashberry (Viburnum edule) were just starting to emerge.

At least one willow was also associated with the rivulets. I think this one is tea-leaved willow (Salix planifolia) because it has yellowish styles. This species is known to hybridize with Labrador willow (S. argyrocarpa) on Mount Washington.

The ground-hugging bearberry willow (Salix uva-ursi) was also blooming in the alpine zone.

Ligonberry (Vaccinium vitis-idaea) was quite common in the alpine zone. A few plants still had fruit from last year. Some were close to but not quite flowering.

I was also hoping to find the endemic mountain avens (Geum peckii) in bloom but had to settle for leaves and a few immature flower stalks. This rare plant is only found in the White Mountains of NH and a few sites in Nova Scotia.

The mountain avens above is growing through a patch of Diapensia. Here is more Diapensia which was in full bloom and quite abundant in the alpine garden.

Alpine azalea (Kalmia procumbens) was found growing in close association with Diapensia. The genus Kalmia, named for famed botanist Peter Kalm, includes the mountain laurel (K. latifolia), sheep laurel (K. angustifolia), and bog laurel (K. polifolia).

Closeup of the flowers of alpine azalea.

The term azalea is typically applied to some members of the genus Rhododendron. Two Rhododendron spp. can be found in the alpine zone on Mount Washington, Labrador-tea (R. groenlandicum) which was not blooming yet, and Lapland rosebay which was just starting to bloom when I was there.

On my way back down Mount Washington I spotted another Rhododendron growing on a rock outcrop right next to the road. This one was Rhodora (R. canadense). A search of the area turned up a few more plants along a stream and some taller ones growing in a wet meadow.

May 20, 2017


Filed under: Plant-Insect Interactions,Uncategorized — admin @ 15:21

Cecropia moths (Hylaphora cecropia) have started to emerge from their cocoons. Here is a caterpillar in its fourth and final instar toward the end of August of last year.

And this is what they look like after cocooning. The leaves are maple leaves, one of the primary food plants of the caterpillars.

Mating adults after their wings expanded in May.

May 11, 2017

More Violets

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 13:31

Among the stemless blue violets there are several ‘cleft’ violets, so named for their variously lobed leaves. The number of species is not very well understood at this time. I recently observed one of these cleft violets near Albany in limestone woods. It is treated as the Viola subsinuata species complex by some or split into two separate species by others, V. palmata and V. subsinuata. Supposedly V. palmata makes uncleft leaves early in the spring followed by cleft leaves later (i.e. it is heterophyllous), while V. subsinuata only produces cleft leaves (i.e. it is homophyllous). According to this latter definition the plant in this picture would be V. palmata, however I was given a plant from near Ithaca that in my garden is homophyllous but has produced heterophyllous leaves in another person’s garden this year. Both have been called early blue violet, although they don’t flower particularly early relative to the common stemless blue violet V. sororia.

A perhaps more well-defined species is V. brittoniana (Coast Violet) which has deeply cleft leaves and is only known from near the Atlantic Coast. This plant was photographed growing on a sandy roadside in southern NJ a couple days ago.

April 29, 2017


Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 19:04

Violets are blooming and with the sudden surge of warm weather in the northeast there is considerable overlap in bloom time for many species. In the last two days I’ve observed flowering of V. blanda, V. pubescens, V. rotundifolia, V. rostrata, V. sororia, V. striata, V. sagittata, and V. selkirkii. I photographed the latter species for the first time this year.

Flowers of Selkirk’s Violet (Viola selkirkii) have beardless petals.

Leaves and flowers of Selkirk’s Violet all arise from the rhizome, i.e. there are no leafy stems. Leaves are ovate and sparsely hairy above.

The spur of the lower petal is elongate and somewhat expanded, giving this species the alternate common name of Great-spurred Violet.

Arrow-leaved Violet (Viola sagittata var. sagittata) in my garden. It usually does not have so many flowers and notice the leaves are slightly chlorotic. I suspect this might have something to do with the gravel substrate it is in, which is slightly alkaline.

The Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) can also be quite floriferous, especially when grown in full sun without competition.

Not a violet but Celandine Poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) is blooming now as well. It naturally occurs in a rather restricted region from Ohio and West Virginia west to Missouri and Arkansas.

October 2, 2016

Spiranthes magnicamporum

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 20:49

Great Plains Ladies-tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum) was first identified in New York at an alvar preserve in Jefferson County by Dan Brunton in 2014 (see Winter 2015 NY Flora Association Newsletter). Not long after another distinct population was located within the same preserve in Jefferson County and two other populations in St. Lawrence County. It is likely that this species had been overlooked in the past because of its similarity to S. cernua, though it is also likely restricted to a few locations in northern NY.

With this in mind I asked Don Leopold if he had seen this species at another large privately owned alvar in Jefferson County we had visited back in 2011. He soon sent me a picture taken several years ago of what he thought was S. cernua at the time. Sure enough it appeared to be S. magnicamporum. We revisited the site on September 25th of this year and found what may be the largest population of this species in NY.

Plants tend to be scattered, though in one location there were about 50 plants with some close enough together to get several in one shot.


The flowers of this species tend to be a bit longer than those of S. cernua and have a bit of yellow in the throat, with lateral sepals that spread over the top of the flower. The leaves are typically absent at the time of flowering.


The plants in these photographs have characteristics of typical S. magnicamporum.


We found a few plants that had started flowering earlier and had characteristics that suggested possible hybridization with S. cernua. Examination of seeds collected from some of these plants seems to support gene flow from S. cernua, as some capsules contained a mix of monoembryonic and polyembryonic seeds.


The above seed appears to be monoembryonic. Below is a polyembryonic seed from the same sample.


Another common species at the site was fluxweed or false pennyroyal (Trichostema brachiatum).


September 25, 2016

Autumn in the Pinelands

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 21:32

Visited NJ again the day after the autumnal equinox. There were a number of thoroughworts (Eupatorium spp.). I believe this one is white-bracted thoroughwort (Eupatorium leocolepsis).


The involucral bracts are acuminate and puberulent.


Asters are another group well-represented in the pinelands. This is showy aster (Eurybia spectalibis). Not visible in this image are the phyllaries which are squarrose in the outer series.


Grass-leaved or shaggy blazing star (Liatris pilosa) reaches its northern limit in NJ. This bumblebee was diligently examining every flower for nectar.


The highlight of the trip were two species that are named for the season in which they bloom. Slender rattlesnakeroot (Prenanthes autumnalis) is one of the more attractive members of the genus.


Pine barren gentian (Gentiana autumnalis) is another Atlantic coastal species that reaches the northern limit of its range in NJ. I recall the flowers having a bluish hue, though they photographed purple. I’ve adjusted the color slightly to match my recollection.


Most of the flowers were open, though a few were still in bud. I noticed that plants in the shade were nearly closed, so they might need sunlight to get them to open up.


September 11, 2016

Flax-leaved Aster

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 18:25

Took a trip to northern NY in an attempt to find flax-leaved aster (Ionactis linariifolius) where it was collected nearly 100 years prior. Didn’t take long to find it.


Also found a green snake (Opheodrys vernalis) on the trail.


In the sandy soil on the edge of pine woods there was some blue ground-cedar (Diphasiastrum tristachyum).


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