November 02, 2020

Dormancy: A Plant’s Way to Hibernate

Happy Monday, CVNP-goers! Hopefully you aren’t feeling too groggy today after Daylight Saving Time this weekend. In the spirit of the changing seasons, let’s talk about dormancy.

Dormancy is a plant’s response to suboptimal growing conditions. This includes periods of intense heat, drought, lower temperatures, and nutrient shortages. Dormancy in plants is similar to hibernation in animals. Just as a bear gathers food and hides in a cave to sleep all winter, plants will conserve their last bits of water and nutrients by decreasing their activity and receding to their core and roots.

In Northeast Ohio, our plants enter dormancy in the fall when trees and shrubs lose their leaves and perennial grasses and forbs shrivel and brown (Side note: annual plants complete their life cycle in one growing season, and thus, do not enter dormancy in the fall. Examples include jewelweed, black-eyed Susan, and Miami mist). In this feature, I’ll explain how our plants know when to become dormant and for how long they should stay dormant. I’ll be using information from Richard Amasino’s research on vernalization, joint research on epigenetics done by Catherine Dupont, D. Randall Armant, and Carol A. Brenner, and from All sources are cited at the end of this journal post.

How Do Plants Know When It’s Time to Enter Dormancy?

When plants conduct photosynthesis, there are two interdependent reactions going on. The first set of reactions is called the light-harvesting reactions. This is the part in photosynthesis where the plant converts sunlight energy into chemical energy. The enzymes (or substances that catalyze biochemical reactions) that drive light-harvesting reactions require sunlight to do their job. The second set of reactions are called the dark reactions. In this step, plants use the chemical energy created by the light-harvesting reactions to convert the carbon in CO2 into sugar molecules (like glucose). They are called the dark reactions because the enzymes that drive them do not require sunlight. Instead, the dark reactions’ enzymes require optimal temperature conditions. As daylight becomes shorter and temperatures dip in the fall, the enzymes driving these processes begin to slow down. Thus, the plant’s food production slows, growth pauses, and the plant becomes dormant.

How Do Plants Know How Long to Stay Dormant?

Plants have something called a “winter memory”. The mechanisms for a plant’s “winter memory” vary in different plant species and they are still being studied. So far, scientists have determined that environmental cues like light and temperature create modifications to a plant’s chromosomes that let the plant know how long they’ve been dormant for the winter. Some scientists call these epigenetic changes, but the jury is still out on this one. Epigenetic changes happen when environmental variations apply “on and off” switches to one’s DNA, resulting in changes to one’s physical characteristics. Epigenetic switches are heritable, but the switches that create a plant’s “winter memory” are not.

Plant enzyme activity in response to environmental changes tell a plant when it’s time to enter dormancy and “on and off” switches in a plant’s DNA tell it how long to stay that way. Feel free to comment with any questions, ideas, or corrections that you notice! This journal post will conclude our weekly wildflower features for this season. Thank you all so much for contributing your observations to this project. It’s been wonderful seeing everyone’s photos and helping one another identify what we’ve seen. Best wishes to everyone! Catch you on the flip side!

Richard Amasino 2004. Vernalization, Competence, and the Epigenetic Memory of Winter. The Plant Cell 16(10): 2553–2559.
Dupont et al. 2009. Epigenetics: Definition, Mechanisms, and Clinical Perspectives. Seminars in Reproductive Medicine 27(5): 351-357.
Dickison et al. 2009. Online Encyclopedia entry: Plant. Encyclopedia Britannica Online.

Posted on November 02, 2020 07:40 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 28, 2020

American Witch Hazel: A Spooky Shrub

Hey there CVNP family! Hope you’ve all enjoyed yourselves during these cold and rainy days of late October. I would like to apologize for getting this week’s post out so late; I helped with another week-long tree planting event for Make a Difference Day!

This week, one of our rangers, Rebecca Jones, suggested that we talk about witch hazel, a fitting feature for spooky season! American witch hazel is not a wildflower in the definition of a wildflower being a forb. It’s a shrub or small tree that flowers middle-late autumn. Its native to the eastern half of the U.S. and has quite the history of folklore remedies and uses! Various American Indian groups used witch hazel for a wide variety of ailments; from sore throats and fevers to bruises and back pain. Even today, we might see witch hazel on the shelves of the first aid section at our local drug stores. Witch hazel was also once used in the practice of “well-witching” or “dowsing” in which a practitioner used a forked branch to locate underground water or valuable metals. The origin of dowsing is uncertain, for evidence from ancient groups from Europe, China, and even Egypt display accounts of this practice.

American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is an understory plant in our forests, growing as a stout bush or an abundantly branched small tree. Its gray branches give it a gnarled and mysterious look during middle to late autumn, when its blooms appear. Its blooms are a golden yellow with twisted, string-like petals that resemble a spider’s legs or a witch’s wild mane. The blooms will curl up when it gets too cold and unfurl in warmer temperatures (relative to the chilling temperatures of fall, that is). Witch hazel is pollinated, often at night, by owlet moths.

The blooms only appear once the shrub’s leaves have turned yellow and fallen for the season. Its leaves are an oval-obovate with wavily-toothed margins. Witch hazel seed capsules resemble a whittler or carpenter’s rustic representation of an acorn. After pollination, seed capsules enter a dormant stage until the following autumn, when the capsules forcibly (and sometimes audibly) expel their seeds up to 30 or 40 feet!

Left: gray bark of American witch hazel, Middle: golden blooms and woody seed pods of American witch hazel, Right: American witch hazel leaves
Photo Credit: John Hilty, courtesy of Illinois Wildflower Guide online

Left: American witch hazel with green leaves, Middle: with yellow leaves, Right: with blooms
Photo Credits: Great Plains Nursery, William Cullina, and Roland Boutwell

This week’s post has been informed by John Hilty’s Illinois Wildflower Guide online, Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, Peterson’s Field Guide to Medicinal Plants and Herbs, Science World, and the United States Department of Agriculture. Enjoy the rest of your week everyone! Stay safe this Halloween!

Posted on October 28, 2020 02:22 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

October 19, 2020

Mulleins of Ohio

Hey there iNatters! Welcome to another lovely week of fall weather in Northeast Ohio. This week, we’re featuring mulleins, which are members of the Verbascum genus. Ohio is home to five mullein species: great mullein (Verbascum thapsus), moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria), wand mullein (Verbascum virgatum), orange mullein (Verbascum phlomoides), and purple mullein (Verbascum phoenicuem) (according to USDA PLANTS database). However, only two of these species are found in CVNP: great mullein and moth mullein. In this feature, we will review identifying characteristics of these two species. For the other three species, we will briefly mention some of their outstanding characteristics. Most of the following information will come from John Hilty’s Illinois Wildflower Guide online and Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.

Great mullein (Verbascum Thapsus):

Typically, mulleins are biennial plants, meaning one plant’s vegetative life cycle lasts for 2 years. During the first year, mulleins produce just a short rosette of leaves. Their densely hairy leaves are oblong-ovate with either smooth or crenate leaf margins. In a way, most first-year mulleins look like fuzzy heads of lettuce!

Photo credit: Mallory Klein

In their second year, great mulleins grow between 3-7’ tall. The first-year rosette is replaced with a taller plant stalk that terminates in a dense flower spike. The leaves remain a similar shape as in the first year and are alternately attached to the stem. The flowers of great mullein are yellow with five petals. Each flower on the spike will only open for a single day for pollination. If the flower does not get pollinated, it will revert to self-pollination (this process is a form of “delayed selfing”). The longer its flower spike, the lower its chance of self-pollination.

Photo credits: user MPF on Wikimedia Commons, John Hilty

When the colder weather sets in and most of our plants become dormant, mullein leaves will wither off the plant. The flower spike, however, will have produced reddish-brown fruits that persist through the winter. You might see these rods of fruit throughout the cold season.

Photo credit: Jennifer Keir

Moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria):

Moth mulleins will also produce a low-growing rosette in their first year. Their leaves are still hairy but, unlike great mullein, their margins have deeply rounded lobes.

Photo credit: Pamela B. Trewatha, Missouri State University

In their second year, moth mulleins will grow to 1-3’ tall. Their leaves are alternately attached to the stem, with the lower leaves clasping the stem (looking as though the stem has perforated the leaf) and the upper leaves being sessile (meaning the leaves are directly attached to the stem without a petiole). The leaves also have generally coarsely crenate leaf margins. Moth mullein flower spikes are much less densely packed with flowers than great mullein. The flowers can be yellow or white with pinkish purple centers, due to the brightly colored hairs on the stamens. Each flower has five petals and can be up to five times as large as great mullein flowers (great mullein flowers are usually less than 1” wide, while moth mullein flowers can get up to 5” wide).
Photo credits: Cecily Myer and MDC staff, courtesy Missouri Department of Conservation

Because the remaining three mullein species are much less common in Ohio, you will likely be deciding between great and moth mullein when IDing your observations. Wand mullein (Verbascum virgatum) closely resembles moth mullein (Verbascum blattaria). Its flowers can also be yellow or white and their leaf margins are both toothed in some way. However, wand mullein leaves have more rounded teeth than moth mullein leaves and moth mullein leaf tips are often pointed.

Photo credits: Left: moth mullein leaves by Peter M. Dzuik. Right: wand mullein leaves by Barry Breckling

Orange mullein (Verbascum phlomoides) has a dense flower spike, similar to great mullein (Verbascum Thapsus). Orange mullein, however, has larger flowers and its leaves can be wavier and are less oblong than great mullein’s.

Photo credits: both courtesy

Finally, purple mullein (Verbascum phoeniceum) is easy to spot because its flowers are purple or a deep pink color. Purple mullein is popular among gardeners and is coveted for its luscious color.

Photo credit: Purple mullein, courtesy Dave's Garden and Krzysztof Ziarnek, courtesy of wikimedia commons

Thanks for tuning into this week’s feature! Hopefully this will be helpful on your fall and upcoming winter treks. Happy iNatting!

Posted on October 19, 2020 11:04 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 2 comments | Leave a comment

October 13, 2020

Fall Phlox: One of Ohio's "Late Bloomers"

Hey there iNatters! Sorry we missed you on here last week. If you follow our park’s Facebook, though, you’ll notice we featured goldenrods in our Wildflower Wednesday post. Here’s a link to it in case you wanted to check it out:

This week, we’re featuring fall phlox (Phlox paniculata) (also called garden phlox and summer phlox in other regions). Most Ohio phloxes bloom in the spring and summer, but Phlox paniculata is one of our late bloomers. These flowers are out for about a month and a half anywhere between mid-summer and mid-fall. They prefer loamy and fertile soil in partial sun conditions. The best places to find them are on the borders of forest habitats, along trail edges, and even along river edges.

Even though they bloom a little late, the fall phlox still displays that tell-tale phlox-flower shape: a tubular corolla that terminates in five symmetrical petals. These magenta, lavender, or white flowers occur at the ends of plant stems in rounded panicles (or, loose bunches of flowers). The plant’s stem is usually green and hairless with oppositely attached leaves. The leaves are ovate oblong with smooth, sometimes ciliate (or hairy) leaf margins. Below are some photos of fall phlox to help you identify them next time you see some in CVNP!

Photo credits: Lavender fall phlox by Arthur Haines, White and magenta fall phlox (photos 2 and 3) by John Lynch, and fall phlox leaf by Arthur Haines.

Want to learn a little more? Check out New England's Native Plant Trust webpage on Phlox paniculata here: And check out John Hilty's Illinois Wildflowers page here:

Take care, friends and family and happy iNatting!

Posted on October 13, 2020 06:41 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 28, 2020

Great Blue Lobelia: Lobelia siphilitica

Happy Monday everyone. Hopefully you all had an enjoyable weekend! Did anybody celebrate National Public Lands Day this Saturday? I didn’t celebrate yet, BUT I will be celebrating all week with our week-long habitat restoration events! If you’re interested in participating, visit CVNP's website here: Registration is required for ALL participants. If slots are full, keep an eye out for potential events later in October!

I’ve been noticing these dashes of blue on the ground on my runs, bike rides, and hikes through the park. I originally dismissed them as either ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) or blue bugle (Ajuga reptans) (both pictured below). However, I know those blooms came and went in late spring/early summer.

Credit: ground ivy by Thomas Kent and blue bugle byTim Chandler

Finally, I stopped to take a good look and lo’ and behold, our great blue lobelias are in full bloom! These blooms add a perfect bluish-purple contrast to all of the yellows, purples, and whites that make up Ohio’s fall fields of wildflowers. So, for this week, I just wanted to give some identification tips for this wonderful gem of a plant. As always, my identification tips are coming from Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and John Hilty’s Illinois Wildflower Guide online.

Great blue lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica):

In addition to the great blue lobelia plant, CVNP is home to three other members of the Lobelia genus: cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis, we should be nearing the end of this flower’s bloom time), Indian tobacco (Lobelia inflata, which should be blooming for another month or so here!), and pale-spiked lobelia (*Lobelia spicata*which should have finished its blooming period about a month ago).

Most great blue lobelias are around 1’ tall, but some can reach about 4’. They are unbranched and have alternately attached leaves with serrate leaf margins. The plant’s bluish-purple flowers are found toward the tip of the plant. These blooms have two lips: the upper one is split into 2 lobes, while the lower one is split into 3. You’ll likely find these beauties in lower-lying, wet habitats. Some good examples are wet prairies, thickets, swamps, and floodplains.

Credit: Eric Hunt and John HIlty (for second and third photos)

Hopefully this feature is helpful during your next visit to CVNP! For more detailed information, here is the link to John Hilty’s page on great blue lobelia:

Enjoy your week out there, iNatters! Can’t wait to see your cool finds!

Posted on September 28, 2020 10:43 AM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 1 comment | Leave a comment

September 21, 2020

Symphyotrichum: The American Aster Genus

Happy Monday iNatters! Hopefully your weekend has left you refreshed, reinvigorated. This week, we noticed that our beloved asters are beginning to bloom in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Asters are arguably one of our most precious fall wildflowers in Ohio.

To be clear, we are not talking about the entire Aster family, Asteraceae. We are talking about the American aster genus, * Symphyotrichum*. As a side note, you may know these species as members of the Aster genus. However, scientists have recently split Aster into multiple smaller genuses. The largest genus from these splits is our American aster genus, Symphyotrichum, which contains asters from both North and South America.

Ohio is home to about 30 American aster species, 13 of which have been documented in the park. In this post, we will go over identifying characteristics of our 5 most common American asters: New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae), common blue wood aster(Symphyotrichum cordifolium), calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum), smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve), and hairy white oldfield aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum).

American aster leaves get smaller from the base to the top of the plant and leaf shape can vary along the plant’s height. It’s important to note the size of the plant and to observe the leaves on the entire length of the plant! Additionally, American asters have composite flowers, meaning their flower heads are an amalgamation of many disk (reproductive flowers that make up the central circle of American aster flower heads) and ray flowers (the petal-looking flowers on the edges that attract pollinators). In this explanation, we will mention the color variations of both!

New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae):

You’ll find New England asters in fields, damp meadows, and shoreline habitat. They have hairy stems with alternately attached leaves. Leaves are lance-shaped and clasping (meaning the leaf base partially surrounds the stem). The inner yellow to golden disk florets are surrounded by those signature purple to deep violet ray florets we all know and love!

Credit: The Cosmonaut and davecz2, both courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Common blue wood aster(Symphyotrichum cordifolium):

Common blue wood asters prefer to live in woods and thickets. Their stem is usually hairless but will sometimes have sparse white hairs. The stem is branching with alternately attached leaves. The lower leaves are heart-shaped or ovate with serrate edges and long leaf stalks. The upper leaves become more lance-shaped and the leaf stalk is less noticeable. The ray florets can be a light blue or light purple color. The central tubular disk florets start out a cream to yellow color and turn purple to magenta with age.

Credit: both David G. Smith, courtesy

Calico aster (Symphyotrichum lateriflorum):

Calico asters can be found in field and edge habitat. This plant branches and often leans to one side. Its stem is green to red with white hairs. The alternately attached leaves are lance-shaped near the bottom of the plant with teeth in the middle of the leaf’s length. The leaves become more linear toward the top of the plant. The white ray florets surround the tubular disk florets that start out a pale yellow and become brown or magenta with age.

Credit: Thomas G. Barnes and Katy Chayka.

Smooth blue aster (Symphyotrichum laeve):

The smooth blue aster has a smooth and hairless stem with clasping, alternately attached leaves. The leaves are oblong-ovate in shape and get smaller as you ascend the plant. The leaf edges are often smooth but can sometimes be sparsely toothed. The ray florets on this plant can be light purple to light blue. The central disk florets will start out a pale-yellow color that fades to magenta and then brown over time. You’ll find smooth blue asters in dry fields and open woods.

Credit: Arthur Haines, John Hilty, courtesy of Illinois WIldflowers

Hairy white oldfield aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum):

The Hairy white oldfield aster prefers field, meadow, and roadside habitat. Its leaves are alternately attached to its hairy stem. The lower stem, however, turns a reddish brown and loses hair with age. Its leaves are lanceolate-elliptic shaped (a leaf shape resembling two elongated parentheses next to each other). While the lower leaves sometimes have teeth near the tips, the upper leaves will have smooth margins. The white ray florets will surround yellow, magenta, or red-brown disk florets.

Credit: John Hilty, courtesy Illinois Wildflowers and Katy Chayka

If you have questions about American asters or notice a detail I’ve missed, please add it to the comments below! As always, I have used my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and John Hilty’s Illinois Wildflowers online guide for the above identification tips. Enjoy your fall aster hunting. I can’t wait to see all of your lovely observations!

Posted on September 21, 2020 05:49 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 14, 2020

The Sneakiest Orchid of Them All

Hey there CVNP-goers! Hope you’ve all been enjoying yourselves and this lovely, cool weather. Anybody out there partaking in one of NE OH’s classic Fall Hiking Sprees?

One of my colleagues shared this sweet-looking genus with me called Spiranthes or the Ladies’ Tresses. These delicate cuties are out and blooming right now and I know everybody loves a good orchid, so I figured it’d be a cool one to feature! However, when we’re talking about our precious orchids, we must be careful. Orchids are a sensitive species subject to theft by sellers and collectors.

Our ladies’ tresses, though, have been relatively safe from orchid thieves because most people don’t realize that they’re orchids. Ladies’ tresses aren’t bright and showy like a typical orchid. Although, one could argue that their spiraling flower spikes are, nonetheless, captivating.

Ladies’ tresses have basal leaves that are either grass-like or egg-shaped shape. They’ll produce one flower spike bearing small, white, tubular flowers. The spike usually blooms from the bottom up. Ohio hosts 11 Spiranthes species, 5 of which have been reported in CVNP. The three most common species that we will discuss today are oval ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes ovalis), Great Plains ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum), and slender ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes lacera). Below, we’ll talk about their identifying characteristics. Most of my information will come from my trusty Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide, John Hilty’s amazing Illinois Wildflower Guide online, and the North American Orchid Conservation Center.

Oval ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes ovalis):

Oval ladies’ tresses have 1-2 smooth, basal leaves that are usually lanceolate in shape. Sometimes, this plant also bears alternately attached leaves that ascend its flower stalk. The flower stalk can be 3-12” tall. It is hairless at the bottom and gets hairy as you ascend the stalk. Flowers are attached to the stalk tip in a double spiraled spike. The white flowers are tubular, curved, and nodding. Many bee species visit this flower for nectar and herbivores will eat the leaves for food. These plants prefer light shade or sporadically lit patches in moist to well-drained woodlands and swamps.

Credit: Jim Fowler (for photos 1 and 2) and Jen Modliszewski.

Great Plains ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum):

Great Plains ladies’ tresses bear 2-3 basal grass-like leaves. These leaves will wither before the flowers begin to bloom. Great Plains ladies’ tresses flowers can be white, cream, or yellow in color. They sit on the hairy flower stalk in a tight spiral with petals curving upward. The labellum (or the orchid’s modified petal, often called a lip or beard) curves downward with an often yellow-colored center and wavy edges. You’ll find this flower in dry to moist grasslands and fens.

Credit: Katy Chayka (first and third photos) and Peter M. Dziuk

Slender ladies’ tresses (Spiranthes lacera):

Slender ladies’ tresses have 2-4 basal, egg-shaped leaves. Its flower spike is a tight spiral of small, nodding, white flowers. Slender ladies’ tresses are easily identified by the small green dots that adorn the labellum

Credit: Dave Taft, Gerald C. Williamson, and Gary Van Velsir.

If you have a passion for orchid conservation, you should check out NOCC: The North American Orchid Conservation Center. They have tons of cool resources about orchid conservation:

Have fun out there this week, everybody! Stay safe and make sure you have a plan for your visit!

Posted on September 14, 2020 11:39 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 09, 2020

The Cosmic Law Between Travelers and Beggartick Seeds

Hey there iNatters and welcome to beggartick week! Around this time of year, Ohio becomes a sea of yellow and we would be remiss not to mention some of our least favorite golden nuggets: Beggarticks (also known and Spanish needles and bur marigolds).

While these blooms are brilliantly bright, we might think of their seeds as annoying atrocities. Beggarticks form seeds called achenes, which are dry fruits containing only one seed. Achenes are cool and all, but beggartick achenes sport 2-4 barbs that help the seed latch onto any passerby that brushes against it. Has anyone ever been on a late summer/early fall hike and gotten back to your car or house and discovered a bunch of small seeds stuck to your socks? Yea, those are probably beggartick seeds.

A wise person once told me, you can’t always change the situation you’re in, but what you can change is how you choose to react to it. So, we can choose to pluck those seeds off in annoyance and chuck them as far away as humanly possible. Or, we can smile and realize that we are acting out a cosmic law between plants and animals. Just as bees and butterflies suppose they are minding their own business as they gather pollen and nectar, so too have we galivanted among the wildflowers and been unknowingly tasked with spreading their seeds. So, next time you’re plucking those achenes off your socks, imagine yourself in line with our dutiful Ohio pollinators making the next generation of wildflowers possible.

A total of 9 beggartick species live throughout Ohio. Beggarticks are members of the Bidens genus, which is divided into two groups: those with showy flowers and those with inconspicuous flowers. In this journal post, we’ll talk about Ohio’s five most abundant beggarticks: Devil’s beggartick (B. frondosa), tickseed beggarticks (B.aristosa), nodding beggarticks (B. cernua), marsh tickseed (B. trichosperma), and purplestem beggarticks (B. connata). This week, I will keep identification remarks short and simply link you to Jonh Hilty’s Illinois Wildflower Guide and other similar webpages, which contain plenty of helpful identification information! As always, I will also be referring to my handy Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide

Devil’s beggartick (B. frondosa):
This is Ohio’s most abundant beggartick flower. Devil’s beggarticks do not display a showy flower. They often have hairy, purplish stems with compound leaves with 3-5 lanceolate leaflets.

Credit: Ernie Marx, courtesy Eastern Colorado Wildflowers

Tickseed beggarticks (B.aristosa):
Tickseed beggarticks have showy flowers with hairy, bright purple stems. Tickseed beggartick leaves are also compound, but its leaflets are often pinnate or bipinnate (meaning they are can be further lobed or subdivided).

Credit: Famartin, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, and Peter Friedman

Nodding beggarticks (B. cernua):
This Bidens has a showy, nodding flower. Nodding beggarticks have purplish stems with sessile, oppositely attached, lanceolate-ovate leaves with lightly toothed margins. As the fall season fades, nodding beggarticks leaves often become tinged with purple.

Credit: G.D. Bebeau

Marsh tickseed (B. trichosperma):
The marsh tickseed is a showy Bidens flower that is easily mixed up with Bidens aristosa. The most noticeable difference between the two are their flower bracts: B. aristosa has outwardly-curled bracts, while B. trichosperma has straight, blunt-tipped bracts.

Left to right: B. trichosperma plant, B. trichosperma leaves, B. trichosperma flower bracts, and B. aristosa flower bracts.
Credit: Peter M. Dzuik, Katy Chayka (x2), and JK Marlow

Purplestem beggarticks (B. connata):
Purplestem beggarticks do not have showy flowers. This Bidens plant will have a hairless, light green to purplish stem. The leaves on B. connata are lanceolate and sometimes have one or two lobes near the base.

Credit: John Hilty, courtesy of Illinois Wildflowers (x2)

Hopefully this post and its resources are helpful on your achene-filled hikes these next few weeks! Keep on keeping on iNatters!

Posted on September 09, 2020 01:11 AM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 31, 2020

Bring your Hankies and Tissues: It’s Ragweed Season, Folks!

Hey there friends and family! The clock is ticking on the end of summer and we’re all trying to get in on these last bits of cheery, sunny weather. What’s one thing you want to do before our chillier weather rolls in?

Our Fall and Spring seasons of shift never cease to bother our seasonal allergies. Ragweed is Fall’s biggest culprit, so that’s what we’ll be on the lookout for this week! CVNP is home to two species of Ragweed: common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia) and giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifada). We’ll talk about the identifying characteristics of those and we’ll also look at some of their tricky look-alikes! As always, I’ll be getting most of my information from Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide and John Hilty’s online Illinois Wildflower Guide.

Common ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia): Crazily lobed leaves, green flower racemes, blooms beginning/middle Aug. through Oct.

Common ragweed can be found grassy prairies, but does well in disturbed locations, like roadsides and abandoned farm fields. This plant can grow to about 3’ tall and has green to reddish-pink stems that are hairy. Its leaves can be oppositely or alternately attached and are deeply and irregularly lobed, almost resembling a disgruntled fern leaf. Younger leaves might have hair on their underside, but mature leaves will be mostly hairless.

Pictured: common ragweed leaves and stem.
Credit: Photos courtesy of

At the end of the stems, you’ll find racemes (or spikes of uniformly attached flowers) of yellowish-green flowers. Ragweed has two types of flowers: staminate (or flowers that only have a stamen, or male part) and pistillate (flowers that only bear a pistil, or female part). The staminate flowers occur on the top of the raceme and make up most of this spike. This contributes to our allergy frustrations and explains why one ragweed plant can create around 1 BILLION pollen grains each year (yowza!). The pistillate flowers will grow either below the male ones or where leaves connect to the stem, both excellent locations for catching all that pollen to make seeds!

Left: common ragweed flower racemes. Middle: male flowers. Right: female flowers.
Credit: Andrew Butko, Sheldon Navie (for male and female flower pictures)

Honeybees will sometimes feed on the flowers, but since it’s a green flower, our typical pollinators don’t usually visit! Ragweed leaves, stems, and flowers are often eaten by beetles, aphids, flies, and more. Additionally, the seeds get eaten by our squirrels and voles, but are also an important winter food source for overwintering birds in Ohio!

Common ragweed’s look-alike: Common mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris): Lobed leaves, green flower panicles, blooms at the end of Aug./ beginning of Sept. through Oct.

With its lobed leaves and spiky flower inflorescence, it’s easy to confuse common ragweed for common mugwort (A. vulgaris). Common mugwort has a hairless and reddish pink stem that takes on a woody appearance near the base of the plant as the plant matures. At the stem tips, closer to the flower spike, however, the stem can be hairy and reddish-green. The leaves are alternately attached and deeply and irregularly lobed. Their lobing, however, has a more predictable pattern and is less disorganized than that of common ragweed. The leaves are hairless on top, but the underside is well-covered by small white hairs.

Left: mugwort leaves. Right: white hairs on underside of leaves.
Credit: John Hilty, courtesy Illinois Wildflowers (both photos)

Common mugwort flowers grow in what is called a panicle. A panicle, like a raceme, is a spike of flowers. Unlike a raceme, however, the flowers are not uniformly attached to the stem. In this way, common ragweed racemes look like elongated cones while common mugwort panicles look more relaxed and flowy.

Pictured: mugwort flower panicle
Credit: courtesy of Bally Robert Gardens

Giant ragweed (Ambrosia trifada): differs from common ragweed by size, leaf lobing, and habitat preferences

Like common ragweed, you’ll find giant ragweed in grassy areas. However, giant ragweed prefers richer and moister soils than common ragweed. Thus, you’ll find it in higher quality habitat, like prairies and on the edges of woodlands. Like common ragweed, few pollinators visit giant ragweed. However, large plots of giant ragweed will attract many insects, which in turn, attracts insect-eating birds like sparrows, the American redstart, indigo buntings, warblers, and other songbirds.

Living up to its name, giant ragweed can grow between 3-12’ tall. Its stem is green with white hairs and its leaves are large with 3-5 distinct lobes. Just like common ragweed, giant ragweed’s leaves can be alternately or oppositely attached, and its stems terminate in yellowish-green flower racemes.

Left: giant ragweed. Middle: giant ragweed flowers. Right: giant ragweed leaf.
Credit: First and last: John Hilty, courtesy Illinois WIldflowers; middle one: Swen Follak

Giant ragweed’s look-alike: American pokeweed (Phytolacca amricana): white to pinkish flower raceme, blooming July-mid-Aug.

When we mistake American pokeweed’s inflorescence for ragweed, we might groan at the thought of seasonal allergies as early as July! But fear not, there’s still a month or so to wait before ragweed season hits. By the time ragweed begins to bloom, American pokeweed is already producing its iconic purple berries on those bright pink stems. And remember, pokeweed’s flowers are either white or pink while ragweed’s are a yellowish-green! Lastly, pokeweed leaves are ovate (or egg-shaped) with smooth margins and prominent leaf veins. This is much different than ragweed’s lobed leaves.

From left to right: American pokeweed plant, American pokeweed leaves and hairless stem, American pokeweed flowers, American pokeweed berries.
Credit: John Hilty, courtesy Illinois Wildflowers (all four)

Once pokeweed berries form, however, we might confuse THOSE for elderberries or wild grapes. Yikes! As with any wild food, check your sources before chowing down!

Left: American pokeweed berries. Middle: American elderberries. Right: Summer grape (Vitis aestivalis)
Credit: courtesy Frozen Seed Capsules, courtesy Earthcare seeds store, and the OSU Perrenial and Biennial Weed Guide

Hopefully, this feature helps you see the difference between our park’s ragweeds and their common look-alikes. Have fun exploring out there and don’t forget to bring your hankies and tissues!

Posted on August 31, 2020 06:23 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 24, 2020

It's Time to Thank our Blazing Stars, with: the Liatris genus

Happy Monday to all our Northeast Ohio Naturalists! This week’s going to be a hot one, so I hope you all stay hydrated and get plenty of vitamin D from that glowing orb in the sky. It’ll be waning to the winter sun before we know it!

This week let’s talk about Blazing Stars, or the Liatris genus. Even experts have trouble identifying the species within this group because their differences are subtle, and they LOVE to hybridize (or breed with members of other species). Though it's a tricky one, this is an important genus because it is an important food source for many animals! An abundance of pollinators will visit these plants for nectar, including tiger swallowtails, wood nymphs, monarchs, sulphurs, painted ladies, gray hairstreaks, Aphrodite fritillaries, red admirals, leaf-cutting bees, digger bees, long-horned bees, bumblebees, and hummingbirds (whew, that’s A LOT!). Some insects rely on other parts of the plant as a food source, including flower moth caterpillars, borer moth caterpillars, aphids, and sometimes mammals like rabbits, groundhogs, voles, and livestock. Blazing stars are said to be deer resistant, but we all know how deer get when they’re hungry!

Blazing stars grow from corms, which are swollen underground bulbs that a plant uses to survive its dormant period (In our situation, that’s winter). Corms look like bulbs, but they don’t have visible storage rings like bulbs do! The plant has a simple stem (or, a stem with no branches) that often has some amount of white hairs on it. The leaves are alternately attached to the stem, but they’re so smooshed together that they appear to have a whorled attachment. The leaves are narrow, lance-shaped, and are long towards the base of the plant and get shorter as you go up. Blazing stars have discoid flower heads of 5-60 purple to pinkish tubular flowers. Each tubular flower has 5 pointed lobes with 1-2 thread-like styles emerging from it. Thus, each flower resembles a small shooting star, where the lobes are the star and the style(s) are the blazing trail it leaves behind. Some blazing star species have sessile flower heads that lack a stalk and are attached directly to the stem. Others will be attached by short stalks.

According to the USDA PLANTS database, nine species of Blazing stars call Ohio home. However, only seven of these species are strongly confirmed on iNaturalist, and honestly, I would say that only 4 of those are relatively common in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. So, without further ado, let’s dive into the differences of those four species!

Note: Most of the information presented here is adapted from John Hilty’s Illinois Wildflowers online guide. His pages are amazing and thorough. I suggest checking it out some time!

Prairie blazing star (L. pycnostachya): look for the curly styles and outwardly curved bract scales

Prairie blazing star has thin, white hairs that cover its stem in a scattered or nonuniform growth pattern. Its flower heads have a cylindrical shape and are sessile with 5-10 flowers per head. Flowers will have 2 separate, curly styles. The bracts of the flower head form pointed scales, the tips of which are reddish-pink and curve outward slightly, giving the flower head’s base a fuzzy appearance from a distance. The prairie blazing star prefer moist, rich soils, but can also inhabit rockier soils as well.

Left to right: L. pycnostachya plant, curled leaf bracts of L. pycnostahcya, and stem and leaves of L. pycnostachya
Credits: Arthur Haines, DenPro on their blog "Field Biology in Southeastern Ohio", and John Hilty, courtesy Illinois Wildflowers.

Dense blazing stars (L. spicata): look for the curly styles and the flattened bract scales

The dense blazing star can have a light green to purplish green stem with a sparse covering of short, white hairs. Flower heads are cylindrical and sessile with bracts that are closely pressed together. Their tips are pressed flat and do not curve outward like that of L. pycnostachya. Each flower head can contain 4-10 flowers, bearing two curly styles, just like L. pycnostachya. Dense blazing star prefers wetter soils (hence its other common name, Marsh blazing star). It prefers rich soils, but also enjoys soil that is slightly sandy. You’re likely to find this species on the edge of marshes, in grassy fens, and in prairie swales (or, low points in the prairie where water might collect).

Left to right: L. spicata plant, L. spicata flattened bract scales, and L. spicata stem and leaves
Credits: H. Zell, courtesy Wikimedia Commons, DenPro on their blog "Field Biology in Southeastern Ohio", and John Hilty, courtesy Illinois Wildflowers.

Rough Blazing star (L. aspera): look for the densely hairy stems and button-shaped flower heads

The stem of rough blazing star can be green or dark red and bears a nice covering of short, stiff, white hairs. While the leaf bottoms of most blazing stars are hairy and the leaf margins smooth, L. aspera can also have ciliate leaf margins, where the edge of the leaf looks a bit hairy. Rough blazing stars have button-shaped flower heads with bracts that are closely pressed together, similar to those of L. spicata. You’ll find this species in drier prairie conditions in rich, sandy, or even gravelly soils.

Left to right: L. aspera inflorescence, L. aspera inflorescence, L. aspera stem and leaves
Credits: Kay Kottas, and John Hilty, courtesy Illinois Wildflowers (for second 2 photos)

Scaly blazing star (L. squarrosa): look for the super spiky bracts and the curly-Q flower tips

Scaly blazing star’s stem is covered in thin, white hairs that look slightly longer than other Liatris species. These flower heads also have more of a button shape and contain 15-45 flowers. The 5 lobes on each flower are recurved (or, they curve backward), accentuating the tube aspect of the flowers and giving them a curly-Q-tipped shape. Scaly blazing star appears to have two styles emerging from its flowers, but really, each single style is bifurcated, or split in two. Most notably, the bracts of each flower head are pointed and the scales curve far outward, giving them a very spiky appearance. Scaly blazing star is rarer of the four species we’ve mentioned because they prefer high quality habitat in dry woods and prairies.

Left to right: L. squarrosa curly-Q flower tips, L. squarrosa super spiky bracts, and L. squarrosa stem and leaves
Credits: Susan Strine, and John Hilty, courtesy Illinois Wildflowers (for second 2 photos)

Hopefully, this journal post encourages you to get out there and identify those blazing stars! And don’t forget, Ohio is still home to another five blazing star species: cylindrical blazing star (L. cylindracea), dotted gayfeather (L. punctata), devil’s bite (L. scariosa), spherical gayfeather (L. spheroidea), and Appalachian blazing star (L. squarrulosa). Good luck out there everybody! Have some fun while it’s still warm out!

Posted on August 24, 2020 08:50 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 0 comments | Leave a comment