Out of Town

Moth MulleinWhen you don’t see me posting in the next few days, don’t go worrying about me… I’ll be out of town camping with nephews and daughter…  It won’t be because I got sucked into some virtual world role playing game or anything like that…

This flower is called Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria).  It gets its name from the fact that the fuzzy, purple stamens look somewhat like moth antennae.  It comes in white or yellow.  We have both varieties at Audubon.

Moth Mullein


I snapped the yellow one along the Universal Trail near the building and the white one out on the embankment of Big Pond.




See you in September!

Ditch Stonecrop

Ditch StonecropGrowing in the muck along the side of a stream that overflows its banks frequently and makes hiking a messy prospect, tucked in along with Spotted Jewelweed, I found this.

It’s called Ditch Stonecrop (Penthorum sedoides), and its listed in Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs:

American Indians used seeds in cough syrups.  Historically, plant tincture was used as demulcent, laxative, and tonic, for mucous membrane irritations, vaginitis, diarrhea, dysentery, pharyngitis, tonsillitis, piles, chronic bronchitis, and nervous indigestion.

Wow.  That’s a lot of stuff.  The flowers are supposed to be “white to greenish” but my closeups all had a pink tint:

Ditch Stonecrop Closeup

It can be found throughout the east, and in the northwest in wetlands.  Indeed, it is listed by the USDA Plants database as an obligate species for wetlands.  So, next time you’re out hiking through muck, keep your eyes open for Ditch Stonecrop!

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Allergy Season

At least one person commented on my Flowery Friday post about an allergy to Goldenrod.  Sorry to disappoint you, but it is highly unlikely that you are allergic to Goldenrod… at least to the pollen!  Here’s why:

Butterfly on GoldenrodGoldenrod pollen is sticky and heavy.  Goldenrod relies on pollinators to move the pollen around.  Take a trip to a Goldenrod Jungle and just count the number of critters you find on it!  In order for you to get Goldenrod pollen up your nose to cause an allergic reaction, well… let’s just say… you’d have to work pretty hard.  (Check out all the pollinators on Montucky’s Goldenrod by clicking here.)

In fact, Goldenrod is listed in several sources as an herbal medicine.  Crushed flowers have been chewed to relieve sore throat.  A tea made from dried leaves has been used to combat urinary tract troubles and kidney stones.

This is not to say that no one is allergic to Goldenrod.  Some people seem to have a dermatitis reaction when the plant juices get on their skin, for example.

Most people who think they are allergic to Goldenrod are actually having a reaction to another plant whose pollen is so lightweight that it can rely on the wind for pollination.  Indeed, it doesn’t bother with brightly colored flowers or pleasant fragrance to attract anyone.  It just sits in the open, waiting for a breeze.

Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia)

According to Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs, plants in the Ambrosia genus account for 90% of pollen allergies!  Still, Common Ragweed is listed as a medicinal.  For example, the pollen is collected to make treatments for ragweed allergies.  Plenty of other uses are listed as well… my favorite:  “American Indians rubbed leaves on insect bites, infected toes, minor skin erruptions, and hives.”  I’ll have to try that next time I get a mosquito bite!  But can I pick a leaf without releasing pollen into my nose? Hmm…

Learn more:

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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