Wild Mint and…

Wild MintI took a little walk after work last Thursday and found lots of Wild Mint (Mentha arvensis) blooming. All of the mints are edible and I enjoy popping a leaf into my mouth and sucking on it while I walk. Fresh or dried leaves can be made into tea.

This one is particularly fragrant.  Sometimes, when I’m trying to catch a frog or tadpoles, I might step on some that I didn’t even notice was there… and my nostrils are filled with the fresh scent.

The Latin genus name Mentha is also the name of an unfortunate Greek nymph.  It seems that Mentha was beloved of Haides.  When Mentha boasted that she was nobler in form and more excellent in beauty than Persephone, the goddess was not pleased.  Poor Mentha was trampled into the ground by the goddess and metamorphosed into a mint plant.

But look closely…

I’m not the only one who enjoys mint…


And just a little closer, still:


I’m no expert on insects.  I’m guessing this is the Common True Katydid (Pterophylla camellifolia) and I’m guessing it is female because it looks sort of like this photo at Bugguide (though the wings on mine are kind of stubby in comparison).  Perhaps mine is relatively newly emerged and has not molted enough times to have fully developed wings.

I’m tentative about my ID, because all the websites I found on katydids indicate that they are seldom seen, only heard and that they feast on leaves high in deciduous trees.  I see them all the time in fields and along the trail, only sometimes under trees.  Is there anybody out there who can shed some light?

The common name comes from the fact that the sound they make resembles the repeated phrase “Katy did.  Katy didn’t.”

Anyway, now let’s look at that first photo one more time… Can you see her?
Wild Mint

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Not Your Typical Bog

I tagged along with Jeff when he went to check out a nearby bog as a possible destination for our final week of Day Camp.  It was a strange bog…  It has a floating mat, but not many of the typical bog plants that you would expect to find… No Sundews or Pitcher Plants.  No Labrador Tea or Cranberries.  Here’s what we did find.  Hey, let’s make it a quiz – collective naturalizing – the way Tom sometimes does!









Truth is, I don’t know what some of them are myself!  Hoping for a little help from you all.

Good luck!  (Hey!  Give common names, too, for those of us who aren’t botanists!  Kay? Thanks!)

Black Bindweed

Black BindweedThere was a plant that kept catching my eye as we walked from one net to the other at bird banding last Thursday.  It reminded me of Dodder because of the way it wound around other plants.  But unlike Dodder, this plant had leaves and presumably produces its own food by photosynsthesis, whereas Dodder is a parasite.


Black BindweedBoth have brightly colored stems.  Dodder’s is orange, this plant’s – red.

Black Bindweed (Polygonum convolvulus) is an introduced plant that can be found throughout the world, especially where the land is used for agriculture.  Here is an interesting tidbit I dug up:

By climbing up the crop, P. convolvulus also causes lodging in grain crops (Neururer 1961, Hume et al. 1983), and can cause subsequent harvesting problems when its vines wrap around moving parts of machinery (Forsberg and Best 1964, Fabricius and Nalewaja 1968). Further, high weed densities can raise the moisture content of harvested grain (Neururer 1961) and contribute to heating in storage when harvested with cereals as a seed contaminant (Holm et al. 1991). Mature plants of P. convolvulus produce large amounts of seed and these are often difficult to separate from grain crops, because of their similar size. Therefore, P. convolvulus is a serious contaminant of seed stocks in several places in the world (Gooch, 1963; Bogdan, 1965).  (source)

Now, of course, you have to wonder how a plant with green leaves, green and/or white flowers, and red stems gets the name Black Bindweed.  Here’s how:

Black Bindweed Seed
The seeds were like onyx, very small, very pretty!  Hmmm… I wonder if they could be strung together for a bracelet or dangled from your ears?

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Poison Ivy-Oak-Sumac

More than once, while leading a group at Audubon, I have been involved in an exchange that goes something like this:

Oooooops!  Went the wrong way...Kid:  “I’ve had poison ivy before.”

Mom:  “No, honey, I think you had poison oak.”

Me:  “Did you get it around here?”

Kid:  “Yeah.  In my back woods.”

Me:  “Then it was poison ivy, not poison oak.  We don’t have poison oak around here.”

The kid usually gets a big kick out of seeing his parent corrected in front of a group.  On the other hand, technically, they are both right.

“Poison Oak” is the common name given to the genus Toxicodendron which includes seven species including Poison Ivy, Poison Oak, and Poison Sumac.  (If you include the numerous sub-species, you will have more than seven!)  Here in western New York, we have two of those species, according to the USDA Plant Database:  Eastern Poison Ivy (T. radicans) and Poison Sumac (T. vernix).  Western Poison Ivy (T. rydbergii) is found in counties surrounding Chautauqua, so it wouldn’t surprise me if we have that, too.

Toxicodendron Range Maps

If you don’t spend a lot of time in the woods, you may not know how to recognize Poison Ivy.  We have a poem:  “Leaves of three, let it be.  Vines with hair, beware!”  But there are many plants with three leaflets and fuzzy stems.  On top of it, Poison Ivy changes in appearance through the season.  Don’t count on the leaves being shiny, for example!  The picture above with my foot in it was taken in August when the leaves had lost their shine.  This one was also taken  in August, but it has some new growth on it.  The large green leaf is probably only shiny because of rainwater.  But the new little leaf is intrinsically shiny and red!Poison Ivy
Notice that the center leaflet is symetrical, while the two side leaflets are heavier on one side with a notch.  I think the side leaflets look somewhat like a mitten with the notch being the thumb.  Of course, not all Poison Ivy leaves will look exactly like that, and there are other plants with 3 leaflets that can look very similar… But after a while, you can just tell the difference.

In some places, Poison Ivy makes a lovely ground cover.  Sometimes in an effort to get its leaves to the sun, it may climb trees, often completely concealing the trunk of the host.

Vines with Hair - BewarePoison Ivy ClimbingPoison Ivy Tree at Millrace Park in Falconer

As far as I know, we have just one specimen of Poison Sumac at Audubon.  Do you recognize this spot along the trail that goes around Spatterdock Pond?
Path by the Blown Down Trees
It’s just after you have crossed the long boardwalk… right where the blowdown is…  Just as you are about to enter the dark hemlock forest – there on the right side of the path – still bright green in the sun…  That’s a Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix)!  (Click on the photo to go to Flickr where I’ve added a note to point it out.)  The leaves look like this:

Poison Sumac

All of the plants in this genus contain an oil called urushiol.  That is the culprit that can make you itch and give you a nasty rash.  Apparently, it doesn’t affect animals or 10-15% of the human population.  I might be one of those 10-15% since I’ve never had the rash…  But I won’t be tempting fate by rolling it it, either.

At Audubon, it is pretty hard to find a poison ivy free area for certain games.  Last summer at Day Camp, after enjoying a fine game of Camouflage, we suddenly realized that we had been playing in Poison Ivy.  To prevent getting the rash, we washed with soap and water and rinsed and rinsed and rinsed.  Washing away the urushiolWe used dishsoap, rather than a moisturizing hand soap.  Dishsoap is designed to cut through oils and wash them away.  The hand soap might have made things worse by moving the urushiol around on our skin.

None of us got the rash, thank goodness.  I’ve since read that cutting the urushiol with isopropyl alcohol first, then rinsing with lots of water is very effective, too, at preventing the rash when you suspect exposure.

If you can’t get to either alcohol or water for quite sometime, look for a plant that often grows where Poison Ivy grows… Jewelweed.

Jewelweed and Poison Ivy

Break off a stem of the Jewelweed and use the juices to wash your skin where you suspect Poison Ivy exposure.  Follow up with other treatments as soon as you can.

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Complicated Family Life

I may have to give up on trying to learn the plant families…  This week, I found plenty of “Swamp Candle” or “Yellow Loosestrife” blooming at Audubon.

Swamp Candle
Swamp Candle or Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia terrestris)

I thought to myself, “This would be a good time to learn the Loosestrife Family.”


Yellow Loosestrife is in the Primrose Family.  As is Whorled Loosestrife:
Whorled Loosestrife

Lysimachia quadrifolia

And Fringed Loosestrife:
Fringed Loosestrife
Lysimachia ciliata

Honest.  I don’t make this stuff up.  I wonder if there are any primoses in the loosestrife family?  It’s all so complicated.

Happy Flowery Friday… I’m off for more bird banding… A birdie post will be next!

A rose is a rose is a rose…

A rose is a rose is a rose… Or is it?

Sometimes, I make a stab at understanding botany.  Sometimes my efforts result in ah-ha moments.  More often, though, I end up with Huh? moments.

RosesMy latest kick is to try to learn some of the major plant families, taxonomically speaking.  I like being able to group things by common characteristics.  It’s satisfying to (metaphorically) toss items into the correct boxes.  And learning the unifying characteristics can often help later in getting to a specific identification…  “Hmm… I don’t know what species this is, but surely it must be in the Rose Family because of…”  It makes you sound smart, too.

I worked on the Mustard family first.  (Click here for mustard post.)  That was pretty easy…  4 petals, 6 stamens – 4 tall, 2 short…

Common BlackberryAfter taking pictures of a few flowers in the rose family, I decided to work on that one… How hard could it be?  Oh dear…  Well, it starts out looking simple:  5 sepals, 5 petals, numerous stamens (usually), oval serrated leaves (except sometimes).  It’s the “usually” and the “except sometimes” that will get you!  For example, nothing pictured here has more than 5 petals.  But a domestic rose has lots more!  According to one source, these extra petals were bred from stamens…  (How do “they” do that, I wonder…)

Raspberries and Blackberries are roses.

Purple Flowering Raspberry

All the Cinquefoils are roses.Rough-fruited Cinquefoil


Strawberries (Barren and otherwise) are roses.Barren Strawberry Closeup

Strawberry Blossom Reverse Lens Macro

Agrimonies are roses.
Woodland Agrimony Closeup

Avens are roses.
Rough Avens

Even apples are roses.
We Want to Be Apples When We Grow Up

 Worldwide, there are 3,000 species that fall under the Rose Family. How many do you have in your backyard?

Relatives (again)

Blue FlagThe Blue Flag Irises are slowly finishing their bloom cycle. You can still find a few down by the pond where the dragonflies are active… But slowly, slowly, they are setting seeds and the flowers are wilting away…

Not to worry… Another from the Iris family is just starting:  Blue-eyed Grass. I was kind of surprised to learn that this “grass” is really an iris! But when you look closely, you can see, of course it is:

Blue-eyed Grass

Iris family members have flowers with parts in multiples of three and leaves that occur in a  single flat plane at the base of the plant.  Blue-eyed Grass meets this criteria.

It’s a small plant – far smaller than Blue Flag – so look carefully amongst the long grasses to see it – during the day, as the blossoms seem to close up when evening comes.

The USDA Plant database lists 41 species.  Click here to see which variety lives near you!

Multiflora Rose

If you’re human, I’m sure this describes you:  You’ve done something that seemed like a really good idea at the time, and now you regret it.  Maybe you don’t totally regret it.  May be there are some advantages to what you’ve done… But all in all, you wish you hadn’t…

Consider this flower:

Multiflora Rose

Frosty HipsWhat could be the harm in such a pretty little rose?  It’s fragrant.  It make gorgeous red fruits that stay through the winter adding a little color to an otherwise white landscape.  It’s easy to grow…  happy in just about any kind of soil.

Arching branches provide cover for rabbits, quail, bobwhite, and others.

Multiflora Rose

So what’s the problem?

Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora) is a non-native shrub brought to the US in the 1800s from Japan for use as rootstock for ornamental rose cultivars.  Because it quickly creates impenetrable thickets, the US Soil Conservation Service encouraged its use as living fences for livestock in the 1930s.

Multiflora Rose HipsMultiflora Rose is prolific!  The seeds inside the fruit are carried by birds and disbursed easily.  It can also produce new plants when the tip of a cane arches and touches the ground.  These features make it a great plant if you are trying to create songbird food sources and shelter for certain types of wildlife…  The downside?  It chokes out other native flowers, including native roses.

Multiflora Roase is blooming at Audubon now.  It may be non-native, but it is very pretty, and fragrant, and attracts lots of interesting pollinators.  And the bunnies DO use it for shelter.  Come on down for a walk and see what you can see…

Information for this post came mostly from: