Thursday, May 28, 2009

American Columbo

American Columbo, Frasera caroliniensis, is blooming in force this year. Stress often triggers a plant to go into reproductive overdrive. Drought was extreme here during the summer and fall of 2007 and was even worse in 2008. This had to have caused stress to many plants. I know it stressed me, although I proved I wasn’t a plant by making it through the ordeal without adding to the two kids I already have.
This plant will last for several years as a cluster of basal leaves. I know from experience that Columbo can frustrate a beginning botanizer. I walked past the same cluster plants for two years before one decided to flower.
When all requirements of the plant are met, a thick stalk will ascend 4 to 6 feet and clusters of green blooms will appear. Although they are quite showy when viewed up close, they quickly blend into the dappled sunlight of the woods and can be hard to notice at a distance.
Most years, only a few flowering plants are seen at one site. There are at least a dozen plants showing in the photo above. Scenes like this remind me of the man-eating plants in the old Tarzan movies or John Wyndham's Triffids. I can imagine that lead plant leaning forward to unleash its sting upon me.
Just one more thing. Deer Flies are out in big numbers so be ready to employ whatever defense tactics you usually use. Any guesses on how many pictures you can take before a Deer Fly drills completely through the back of your hand?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Potato Dandelion

The Potato Dandelions, Krigia dandelion, are showing the last of their blooms and the leaves are beginning to show signs of yellowing and wilting. Available literature describes this plant as being found in open woodlands having dry, loose or sandy soil. While this is a generally correct statement, Potato Dandelions do their best growing in full sunlight.

The Blue Jay Barrens population was found in a wooded area on a dry ridgetop. Even though most growth occurs during November through April when the trees are without leaves, the lack of sunlight causes the Potato Dandelion leaves to be short and rounded, with a purple bloom that makes them resemble small Trout Lilies. Blooms are rarely produced under these conditions.

When planted in the open, the leaves narrow and elongated while producing several filamentous lobes. Flowers become numerous. A single plant can easily turn into several dozen by the next season.

So why is it so rare? One thing became very clear after I transplanted a couple of plants up close to the house where I could watch them. Almost every plant eater you can think of finds these plants to be delicious fare. The only vigorous population I can maintain is in a five gallon pot surrounded with chicken wire. There’s a struggling population in one of the beds in the vegetable garden. All attempts to establish self maintaining populations have failed because of predation.

The second problem is a failure to produce viable seed. It's hard to colonize new territory if there's no seed to send out. I never see typical pollinators visiting these flowers. In the photo, you may notice a small dark spot sitting on the edge of the flower. This is a small fly that seems to choose one flower and stay there. Most flowers this spring had a single resident fly that never seemed to leave. A couple of flowers had a collection of tiny beetles that also seemed not to move from flower to flower. Hand pollination efforts have resulted in fewer than one seed produced per flower. I have had no luck germinating any of the seeds.

By June, all signs of the plant will have disappeared, but it’ll be back by the end of October.