Botany Blog Plants of the Northeastern U.S.

June 10, 2016

Alvar Grassland

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 20:19

Yesterday I visited a beautiful alvar ecosystem in upstate NY. Alvars occur on mostly flat expanses of limestone bedrock with very little soil accumulation (a type of pavement barren). Alvar plant communities are typically dominated by grasses and sedges, with scattered forbs, shrubs and trees. Many of the plants are rare and a few are found nowhere else in the state.

Balsam ragwort (Packera paupercula) was one of the dominant forbs at the site and was putting on a spectacular floral display.


Downy arrowwood (Viburnum rafinesquinum) is a shrub found in open areas on limestone, usually along the edge of grassland. It can also occur in woodlands but will not usually bloom in the shade. A related species, V. dentatum, is a common shrub of wetlands that is tolerant of a wider range of pH values.


Harebell (Campanula rotundifolia) occurs on very thin soils over limestone. This species can also occur in more acidic environments like pine barrens and sand dunes. This plant, like many other alvar species, likely thrives here because of its ability to tolerate extreme environmental conditions that limit the establishment of more aggressive plant species.


Many native roses thrive in dry environments. The most common species in the alvar community is smooth rose (Rosa blanda).


There is even a rare species of poison ivy found in alvars. Western poison (Toxicodendron rydbergii) is a small shrub, unlike the climbing plant (Toxicodendron radicans) more commonly found in NY. As the common name suggests it is more frequent in the Western U.S. where annual precipitation is lower. In the East it is most often found growing on sandy or gravelly soils.


Wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum) is widely distributed in NY but rarely abundant where it is found. It is tolerant of drier conditions than our other native lilies. Some of the more unusual habitats for this species in NY are powerline right of ways where brush clearing maintains the high light exposure this species requires. This specimen was found growing up through a russet buffaloberry (Shepherdia canadensis) that would probably have overgrown the lily had it not been dwarfed by the harsh environmental conditions of the alvar.


The real highlight of the trip was a huge population of scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) that covered many acres of the site. This species is a hemiparasite that attaches itself to the roots of surrounding plants to acquire some of its water and nutrition. Scarlet paintbrush has experienced a severe decline and is extremely rare outside of the alvar ecosystem in NY, and even in alvars the populations are typically small, making the population at this site a significant remnant of New York’s natural heritage.


On the way back I made a short stop at a fen near Lake Ontario to see one of the most beautiful of our native orchids, dragon’s mouth (Arethusa bulbosa).



June 7, 2016

Green Dragon

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 20:42

That’s one long spadix!


June 1, 2016

More NJ spring flowers

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 23:12

I visited southern NJ again on May 12th and found the following plants blooming in the pine barrens.

Lance-leaved violet (Viola lanceolata) is normally found on moist sandy soils bordering ponds, lakes, and rivers. These plants seemed to be quite drought tolerant, growing on an open sandy site without any nearby water source.


A similar species is primrose-leaved violet (V. primulifolia), which some botanists believe is a hybrid of V. lanceolata and V. pallens though it can occur without one or both parents nearby.


A common biennial plant in the pine barrens is blue toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis). Since its life cycle is heavily dependent on successful annual seed production this plant is a prolific bloomer.


Another interesting plant blooming in pine barrens this time of year is American ipecac (Euphorbia ipecacuanha). The root of this plant has been used to make an emetic (syrup of ipecac, which induces vomiting), hence the common name and specific epithet.


May 7, 2016

Pasture Thistle

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 21:26

When many people hear the word thistle they think of the introduced bull thistle (Cirsium vulgare) or the erroneously named Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), both weedy plants that are introduced from the Old World. There are however a number of less commonly encountered thistles that are native to the Northeastern U.S.

I have recently started growing one such native thistle in my garden. Pasture thistle (Cirsium pumilum) is a biennial species that spends its first year as a basal rosette and flowers the summer of the next year. It is monocarpic, meaning that once it flowers and sets seed the plant dies. There is a relatively rare variety of this species native to prairies in the Midwest, var. hillii, that is sometimes perennial.

Plants are easy to grow, however since so few people grow this species seeds are not commercially available. The seeds require about 60 days of cold moist stratification and then they will germinate sporadically with a few coming up within a week but some taking months to sprout. The plants that I started last spring are now coming up for their second year and the leaves have an interesting bluish cast.


They should begin flowering in July and continue into August. The flowers of this species are quite large relative to the rest of the plant. Here is a picture of a flowering specimen in the wild.


April 18, 2016

Pine Barrens in Spring

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 20:23

I visited southern New Jersey this past weekend to see a rare spring flower just starting to bloom. Swamp pink (Helonias bullata) is a federally threatened species that occurs along the coastal plain from NJ (where it is most abundant) to GA. It was once found on Staten Island in NY but is now considered extirpated from the state.

At the site where these were found the plants were most common on the edge of hummocks. The water next to these hummocks was up to 3 feet deep.


Closeup of the flowers. They had a spicy fragrance.


We also saw a couple interesting violets growing along one of the sand roads nearby. This is Viola sagittata var. ovata, which lacks the broad lobes at the base of the leaf typical of var. sagittata.


This is Viola pedata. It is one of the larger-flowered violets. Note the petals lack any hairs (they are not bearded). The leaf segments on these are broader than those of var. lineariloba that I’ve seen in sand prairies along Lake Michigan in IL.


May 2, 2015

Trailing arbutus and twinleaf

Filed under: North American Native Plants,Uncategorized — admin @ 18:12


Trailing arbutus (Epigaea repens) has just started blooming in Central NY. It is a member of the Heath Family (Ericaceae) found in semi-open areas on acidic, mesic to dry, sandy or gravelly soils. It seems to prefer slopes, perhaps because on level ground the evergreen leaves would otherwise covered by falling leaves from the canopy above. It can be locally abundant and has a NY state rank of S4.

Twinleaf, (Jeffersonia diphylla), is also flowering now. It is most common in west central NY and is listed as threatened in the state (S2). The genus is named for our third president.

November 13, 2014

Bladdernut seedling

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 23:46

It has been a long wait, but I finally have some seedlings of bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia).


I collected the seeds in 2013 and started them in plastic bags with some damp potting mix. The shiny light brown seeds require about 3 months cold followed by 3 months warm and then another 3 months of cold moist stratification before they break dormancy. I put them in the fridge after the warm period and then forgot about them, so they ended up in the fridge for about 6 months.

Update 12-14-2014: Most of the plants have put on 2 new sets of leaves.




August 2, 2014

Visit to the NJ Pine Barrens

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 22:01

Got the chance to visit an interesting wetland complex in the Pine Barrens of NJ a couple weeks ago and saw several species for the first time. Here are some of the highlights:

Collin's Sedge

Collins’ Sedge (Carex collinsii)

Atlantic White Cedar

Atlantic White Cedar (Chamaecyparis thyoides)

Thread-leaved Sundew

Thread-leaved Sundew (Drosera filiformis)

Hypericum stragulum

St. Andrew’s Cross (Hypericum stragulum)

Lophiola americana

Goldencrest (Lophiola americana)

Lycopodiella alopecuroides

Foxtail Bog-clubmoss (Lycopodiella alopecuroides)

Narthecium americanum

Bog Asphodel (Narthecium americanum)

Polygala brevifolia

Little-leaved Milkwort (Polygala brevifolia)

Polygala cruciata

Cross-leaved Milkwort (Polygala cruciata)

Sabatia difformis

Lance-leaved Rose Gentian (Sabatia difformis)

June 3, 2014

Swamp Fly Honeysuckle

Filed under: North American Native Plants — admin @ 20:59

Swamp fly honeysuckle (Lonicera oblongifolia) is blooming now in Central New York. This is a native species typically found in peatlands such as fens or conifer swamps. It can be distinguished from other honeysuckles by the following combination of traits: 1) style hirsute; 2) upper 4 petals fused; 3) peduncles over 5 mm; 4) leaves obtuse; 5) ovary glabrous; 6) pith of branchlets solid and white.


Lonicera oblongifolia flowers


Recognition of habitat, entire leaf margin, and the downy pubescence on the undersides of leaves can help when searching for this plant. The leaves are typically more symmetrical than those of Lonicera canadensis.


 Upper surface of leaves


Lower surface of leaves


Fruits ripen in July and can range from orange to red or red-purple

May 1, 2014

What’s Blooming

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

Here are some of the plants that are blooming now in Central NY.

Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)

Leatherwood (Dirca palustris)


Round-leaved Yellow Violet and Spring Beauty

Round-leaved Yellow Violet and Spring Beauty




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