An online resource based on the award-winning nature guide

Flowering Plants

Tulip Trees Flowering

6-26-19 tulip tree2 0U1A0105The Tulip Tree,(Liriodendron tulipifera), one of our largest native trees, is a member of the magnolia family. There may not be a more appropriately-named tree in all the land, for the likeness of its orange and yellow goblet-like flowers and the shape of its leaves to that of tulips is undeniable. Although large in size (2” in length) the flowers can go unnoticed because they are usually found high up on the 60 – 90-foot tree, and they don’t appear until the leaves are fully developed.

Tulip Trees flower for only two to six weeks. Pollination must occur when the flowers are young, and they are often receptive only for 12 to 24 hours. The flowers produce large quantities of nectar for pollinating insects such as flies, beetles, honey bees and bumblebees, but they are not very efficient pollinators and many seeds do not develop. Those that do form cone-shaped seed heads that may remain on the tree after the leaves have fallen.

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Pussy Willows Peeking Out

3-27-19 pussy willow_U1A5143Nothing announces the arrival of spring more than willow flowers peeking their silver heads out of the bud scales which have surrounded and protected them all winter. What we call pussy willows are, in fact, the soft, silvery hairs that insulate the emerging spike of flowers, or catkin, within a willow flower bud. Pussy willows are dioecious, meaning there are both male plants and female plants. A male willow has only male catkins; female willows have only female catkins.

An individual willow catkin consists of all male or all female flowers. The first catkins to emerge in the spring are usually males. The hairs, or “pussies,” that emerge when willow buds first open trap the heat from the sun and help warm the center of the catkins, where the flowers’ reproductive parts are located. This trapped heat promotes the development of the pollen (or in female flowers, the ovules) of the flowers deep within the hairs. Eventually the reproductive parts of the willow flowers – the stamens and pistils – emerge, but until they do, we get to enjoy their silvery fur coats.

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Beechdrops Flowering

10-1-18 beechdrops

Congratulations to “imachayes,” producer of wondermyway.com blog, for being the first (of many) readers to correctly identify the most recent Mystery Photo as a Beechdrops flower. A fairly inconspicuous brown stem produces two types of flowers, cleistogamous flowers that self-pollinate without ever opening, and chasmogamous flowers that open, but are often sterile. Those that are not sterile are pollinated by ants as well as other insects.

Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) is a flowering plant that lacks chlorophyll and thus cannot photosynthesize and make its own food.  Instead, this plant obtains nutrients from American Beech trees. It belongs to a family of plants (Broomrape) whose members live as root parasites. Beechdrops insert a root-like structure called an haustorium (see photo inset) into an American Beech tree’s root and absorb enough nutrition to sustain themselves and produce flowers between August and October.  Being annuals, Beechdrops don’t live long enough to damage their host trees.

Because they lack chlorophyll and obvious leaves (their leaves are scale-like and pressed flat against their stem), Beechdrops are easily overlooked. Keep an eye on the forest floor near American beech trees for these 5 – 18-inch plants which are flowering right now. (Photo:  Beechdrops at base of an American Beech tree; inset:  root system of Beechdrops)

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Red and White Baneberry Fruits Maturing

8-16-18 red and white baneberry-1While the flowers of Red (Actaea rubra) and White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) are quite similar (the flower head of Red Baneberry is more globular than the elongated head of White Baneberry), their respective fruits, the color of which gave them their common names, quickly distinguish these two species from each other.

White Baneberry produces white fruits commonly called “Doll’s eyes” due to the persistent remains of the flower’s stigma, which leaves a black dot on each fruit.  Red Baneberry’s shiny red berries also have these black dots, though they are not as apparent. All parts of both species are poisonous, with the berries being the most toxic part of the plant.

Seed dispersal is carried out by animals that have enough tolerance to feed on the berries. These animals include various mice, squirrels, chipmunks and voles, as well as a wide variety of birds and White-tailed Deer.

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American Bur-reed Flowering

7-23-18 bur weedAmerican Bur-reed, Sparganium americanum, is an aquatic, perennial plant that grows two to four feet high and looks a lot like a grass due to its narrow leaves (but isn’t).  This member of the Cattail family grows in shallow water (up to a foot deep) in marshes and along muddy shorelines.  The flower stem forms a zig-zag pattern with flower clusters at each stem juncture.   The large, spherical female flowers are located on the lower part of the stem, with the smaller male flowers at the top.

Considered an important plant for conservation purposes, American Bur-reed has the ability to remove nitrogen and phosphorus from wetlands.  It can help prevent eutrophication by lessening the buildup of nitrogen (often from agricultural land) and phosphorus (households, industry) from runoff.

American Bur-reed spreads rapidly through its underground root systems of rhizomes, and is relied upon by many birds as an important source of food.  Waterfowl, including Mallards, Redheads, Ring-necked Ducks, Greater Scaup, Buffleheads, Canvasbacks, American Wigeons and Blue-winged Teal, consume the seeds, as do Soras, Virginia Rails and Wilson’s Snipe. Muskrats eat the entire plant. (Thanks to Kay Shumway for photo op.)

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Mystery Photo: Young Eastern Black Walnuts

7-6-18 black walnuts IMG_8342Congratulations to “Deb” – the first person to correctly identify the subject of the most recent Mystery Photo as young Eastern Black Walnuts!

Eastern Black Walnuts (Juglans nigra) produce abundant tiny male flowers on long, dangling, finger-like catkins. Female flowers, located on the same tree as male flowers, are fewer in number and are slightly larger. Being wind-pollinated, Black Walnut produces female flowers with stigmas (the top-most, pollen-receiving structures) which have a large surface area designed to catch pollen drifting in the wind. (These are the “rabbit ears.”) The stigmas often persist while the fruit matures  — they are barely visible on the left walnut in photo.

By September, the walnuts will have matured. They then fall to the ground where their outer husk slowly decays. The fruits are well-known for leaching chemicals into the soil that inhibit the growth of other plants, an interaction known as “allelopathy” (literally meaning “making your neighbor sick”).

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Indian Cucumber Root Flowering & Fruiting

6-29-18 wild cucumberroot_U1A9795

Indian Cucumber Root, Medeola virginiana, lives up to its name, as its rhizomes have a mild cucumber taste. Equally as enticing are its flowers — delicate and oh so intricate.

This member of the Lily family has one whorl of leaves if it isn’t going to flower (too young or without enough energy to reproduce), and two if it is. If there are two whorls of leaves, look under the top whorl and you will find flowers unlike any other you have seen. The pale petals fold back and from the center emerge three long reddish styles and several purple stamens (reproductive parts). Occasionally the flowers are above the topmost leaves, but typically they are below.

The change in position that Indian Cucumber Root flowers undergo as they develop into fruit is as fascinating as their appearance. The pedicels, or stalks, of these flowers become more erect once the flowers have been pollinated and fertilized, to the point where the dark blue berries mature above the upper whorl of leaves. You can see both stages in this photograph (styles have yet to fall off the developing fruits).

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