Journal archives for August 2020

August 03, 2020

Jewelweed: Ohio's Humblest Gem!

Hello and Happy Monday to all our Wonderful Wildflower Enthusiasts of Cuyahoga Valley! This week let’s talk about Jewelweeds (also known as Touch-me-nots)! Jewelweed is a very popular plant among Herbalists, Ethnobotanists, and lovers of medicinal plants alike. For this reason, I would like to preface this feature by reminding us that Cuyahoga Valley National Park is a park for everybody to enjoy. The natural life within it is our responsibility to protect and share with one another. Doing this successfully means that we are not permitted to take natural resources out of the park.

Please know that there are PLENTY of online stores where you can buy Jewelweed seeds. You can find them by Googling “jewelweed seeds for sale”. Just remember to check for scientific names and remember to BUY NATIVE! Ohio’s native Jewelweeds include common jewelweed (Impatiens capensis, also called Spotted Jewelweed) and pale jewelweed (Impatiens pallida). If you are looking to add jewelweed to your home garden, I would get on buying those seeds ASAP because jewelweed seeds do best when they are planted in the early fall.

Now, back to the plants!

Jewelweed is an herbaceous annual that typically reaches a maximum height of 2-5’ tall. When it is well-established, you might even mistake it for a shrub! Here are some notable characteristics to reference next time you think you’ve spotted jewelweed in CVNP:


Jewelweed has a hairless (or, glabrous) stem that contains a sap (Note: plant guides describe a sap-containing stem as succulent). This sap, which also runs through jewelweed leaves, is often harvested as an antidote for poison ivy and stinging nettle. Jewelweed stems are thin, often shiny, and can be green to pale reddish green in color.

Left: Jewelweed as shrub-like growth (courtesy Washington State's NWCB). Middle: green-colored Stem (courtesy Steve Baskauf). Right: reddish green stem (courtesy Dawn Dentzer).


Jewelweed leaves are alternately arranged on its stem. Its leaves are egg shaped and coarsely toothed, meaning its edges are serrate and each tooth is rather large (as opposed to a finely toothed leaf). The upper surface of jewelweed leaves is often dull and smooth. Jewelweed leaves, along with other plants of the Impatiens genera, are waterproof. You’ll notice this by the way rain droplets and morning dew forms beads on the leaf’s surface. Additionally, tiny air bubbles are trapped just beneath the leaf’s surface, giving them a silvery sheen that is most noticeable when wet. Some accredit the Jewelweed name to this silvery sheen. Others say it comes from the plant’s seed, which we will talk about next!

Left: leaf shape (Arthur Haines). Right: water beading on waterproof leaves (Marie Read).


The jewelweed fruit is an elongated capsule (about ½-1” long) that resembles a swollen green bean. When it has grown to full size, it will burst at the slightest touch, hence its other common name, touch-me-not. Fresh seeds are green and resemble a plump sunflower seed. Over time, the green seed becomes black in color. However, when the seed’s thin outer layer is gently peeled or scraped away, a beautiful light turquoise seed is revealed, often referred to as the “jewel” of the jewelweed plant. If you choose to examine the seeds in this manner, please remember to leave them in the park!

Left: Seed pods, common jewelweed flowers, burst seed pods, black seeds, blue seeds, and one green seed (Russ Cohen). Right: Seed pods, green seeds, and burst seed pod (courtesy Jim Conrad's Naturalist Newsletter).


Jewelweed flowers hang on stalks attached to the top of plant stems. Its flowers are tubular and shaped like a cornucopia with a spur that produces nectar. This nectar is desired by pollinators, like hummingbirds, bees, and less commonly, butterflies. Common jewelweed (Impatiens capensis) has orange flowers with reddish spots, while pale jewelweed (Impatiens pallida) flowers are mostly yellow and have fewer spots that are orange. The spur on common jewelweed curves beneath the flower so that it is about parallel with the flower. The spur on pale jewelweed is usually curved less so that its spur is roughly perpendicular to the flower.

Left: Common jewelweed flower and spur (courtesy Washington State's NWCB). Middle: Pale jewelweed flower (G.D. Bebeau). Right: Pale jewelweed spur (G. D. Bebeau).

Habitat preference:

Both common and pale jewelweed prefer to grow in shaded areas but will sometimes tolerate partial sun. They prefer wet soils and can be found in wet forests and on the edges of wetlands, swamps, marshes, stream banks, and even in ditches. While common jewelweed is found almost exclusively in wetter soils, pale jewelweed can sometimes thrive in soils that are slightly drier.

Hopefully, you’ll find this feature helpful this week while you’re hunting for jewelweed observations! If you would like to learn more, Kent Karriker with the US Forest Service wrote an excellent article on jewelweed:

Posted on August 03, 2020 03:58 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 10, 2020

Ironweeds: The Purple Towers of Ohio Meadows

Happy Monday everybody! This week, we’re featuring Ironweed. Ironweed has been a valuable plant for people living in the Americas for hundreds of years. Even today, research is still being conducted on the uses of chemical properties of certain ironweed species. How cool! As naturalists, however, we might be more excited by ironweed’s value for our local pollinators. Ironweed blooms in Ohio between late July and October, making its flowers a crucial late-season source of nectar for local bees and butterflies. Ironweed is a host plant for the American lady butterfly and many of our other native butterflies feed on the nectar, including Eastern tiger swallowtails, monarchs, skippers, and sulfurs.

Photo credit: Patrick Coin

There are 18 ironweed species throughout the North American content and, according to the USDA PLANTS database, 5 of them can be found in Ohio. In Cuyahoga Valley National Park, however, we’re likely to see just two ironweed species: tall ironweed (Vernonia gigantea, synonymous with Vernonia altissima) and New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis).

First, let’s go over the difference between tall and New York ironweed. Then, we’ll review some unique identifying characteristics of the other ironweeds of Ohio!

Tall ironweed (Vernonia gigantea):

Like Joe-pye weed, tall ironweed is another of Ohio’s wildflower giants (hence the name!). Tall ironweed typically reaches a height of 5-8’, with some reports as large as 10’ tall- Wowza! This giant grows as one skinny main stem with alternate leaves. Each leaf is lance-shaped and finely toothed with hair on the lower leaf surface. At the top of the plant, ironweed boasts its branching, bright purple flowers. The flowers occur on the plant as heads, with each head of the tall ironweed plant holding 13-30 flowers. Each flower head is held together by bracts, or small modified leaves. The bracts of tall ironweed are scale-like with blunt or short-pointed tips.

Photo credits: David D. Taylor and John HIlty, Illinois Wildflowers

New York ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis):

New York ironweed has nearly the same physical characteristics as tall ironweed and both plants enjoy medium to wet soils in full sun (think: prairies, meadows, woodland openings, pastures, and even streambanks). So, what’s the secret to telling these two apart? It’s their flower bracts. Look closely at the bracts at the base of each flower head. If the tips of those bracts are skinny and thread-like, you’re probably looking at New York ironweed. Additionally, each flower head can have 30-50 flowers, nearly twice as many as tall ironweed flower heads. New York ironweed’s jam-packed flowerheads and thread-like bract tips can give the flower heads a fuzzy-looking appearance.

Photo credits: Esther Westerveld and Susan C. Larkin.

Here are some tips for identifying the other three ironweeds you might see in Ohio!

Missouri ironweed (Vernonia missurica):

Missouri ironweed can grow nearly as large as tall ironweed. However, its stem and the underside of its leaves have dense, white hairs. Additionally, its flowers form a corymb, with flowers of the outer edges of the clusters having longer branches than those near the center. In other ironweeds, the flower branches are all similar lengths. The bracts on Missouri ironweed flower heads are scale-like and resemble those of tall ironweed.

Photo credit: John Hilty, Illinois Wildflowers

Smooth ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata):

Smooth ironweed typically only reaches a height of 4 or 5’. Its leaves are shorter, narrower, and have no hair at all, unlike the three species we’ve mentioned so far. Smooth ironweed’s flowers also form a corymb, but its flower heads are denser and fluffier than those of Missouri ironweed.

Photo credits: Peter M. Dzuik and John Hilty, Illinois Wildflowers

Arkansas ironweed (Vernonia arkansana):

Arkansas ironweed will grow 2-5’ tall and has light green lanceolate leaves. Its leaves can also have short, stiff hairs on both the upper and lower leaf surface. The flower heads on Arkansas ironweed are fluffy and resemble miniature bergamot flower heads with bracts that have prominent thread-like tips.

Photo credits: Karl Gercens III and John Hilty, Illinois Wildflowers

Hopefully, this wildflower feature has been helpful. If you have any tips or things to look for when identifying ironweed, please add them in the comments below! Happy iNatting!

Posted on August 10, 2020 07:23 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 2 comments | Leave a comment

August 17, 2020

WHAT is the American Hog-Peanut?

Hey friends and family! Hope you’ve all been enjoying these last bits of summer. Though this summer has been unique across America, one thing hasn’t changed for us Ohioans: Summer goes by so DARN quick! And now that it’s the end of August, we might be finding ourselves slipping into that lull of warm weather contentment; I know I am!

Well today, we’re snapping RIGHT out of that! Because this week, we’re gonna talk about the American hog-peanut.

Credit: Katy Chayka, courtesy Minnesota Wildflowers

I read about this little plant in one of Harriet Keeler’s wondrous books: “Our Northern Autumn, A Study of its Characteristic Flowers, Its Brilliant Foliage and its Conspicuous Fruits…” Living from 1846-1921, Keeler was not only an outstanding writer, but also a key figure in the Cleveland Public Schools and our area’s Women’s Suffrage Movement. If you want to learn more, check out CVNP’s new article: August 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment and that’s something we should ALL celebrate! 😊

BACK to the American hog-peanut. This vining pea plant likes to live in our moist meadows, prairies, woodland edges, and more! As a member of the legume family, Fabaceae, it’s known and appreciated for its role in Nitrogen fixation in our soils.

But that’s not even the cool part! This plant has both two different types of flowers AND two different types of seeds. Crazy, right? The first flowers that we notice right away on this plant are bunches of white and purple tubular flowers. The white part is actually the flower’s calyx (it’s whorl of sepals, which typically look like small green leaves beneath a flower’s petals) and the purple part forms the flowers corolla, or its whorl of petals. These flowers are open for business for purple-loving pollinators like bees and butterflies.

Credit: Nathanael Pilla, courtesy Save the Dunes; and Kate St. John

It’s second flower, however, is MUCH more conspicuous. These cleistogamous flowers (or flowers that remain closed and thrive by self-pollination only) can lay close to the ground or even underground on the plant’s stolons (or stem runners that take can root to form new plants). Yea, that’s right, the American hog-peanut has UNDERGROUND flowers. I guess the beetles and the worms deserve a beautiful summer show too, amirite?

Because it has two types of flowers, the American hog-peanut also produces two types of seeds. When the above-ground seeds mature, they look like brown pea pods which hold the plant’s bean-like seeds. The below-ground seeds skip the whole pod step and are simply a solo bean pod that sprouts its roots and begins to grow!

Left 4 panels: Mature aboveground seed pods and seeds. Right panel: mature underground seed pod with roots. Credit: Susan Mahr, courtesy University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Left: 3 green, aboveground seed pods; 1 white, belowground seed pod. Credit: Jerry Davis, courtesy
Right: top- 3 larger belowground seeds, bottom: 3 smaller aboveground seeds. Credit: , Arthur Haines

This vine is out here masquerading as a mainstream wildflower, but it’s actually living a literal underground double life that we don’t usually get to see. I don’t know about you, but that gets me super jazzed and ready to explore CVNP so I can see one of these crazy plants for myself!

Take care, everyone! Stay safe and have fun out there!

P.S. Want to learn more about this little plant? Here are some well-done articles and online guides! As always, feel free to comment your remarks and questions on this journal post or message me directly on iNaturalist!

Posted on August 17, 2020 06:20 PM by mklein1216 mklein1216 | 1 comment | 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

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