Saturday, June 19, 2010

Hairy-jointed Meadow Parsnip

Some plants, even though large, are hard to see in the landscape. Hairy-jointed Meadow Parsnip, Thaspium barbinode, with its small flowers arranged in loose umbels and the divided leaves widely separated on the tall thin stalk, is a plant with so much empty space incorporated into its form that it can disappear from view against the backdrop of other plants.

I think the Hairy-jointed Meadow Parsnip must either be a very efficient photosynthesizer or user of energy. The small leaflets on the divided leaves don’t make a very large surface area for capturing the sun’s energy. It just seems like there’s a lot of stem that must be supported by a few leaves. I think it would be interesting to develop energy budgets for plants to determine how well they produced, stored and utilized energy.

The hairy ring that forms where the leaves attach to the stem is what gives the plant part of its common name. When I see characteristics like this, I begin to wonder what the significance of that particular feature is to the survival of the plant. Is this some remnant of the past that no longer plays a role in the current functioning of the plant or does it somehow give the plant the edge it needs to survive? Would a plant that developed without the hairs, be doomed to perish before having the chance to pass on this hairless genetic trait? This is just an example of the type of thing I think about when I’m out walking about. It might explain why some people are relieved when I wander off by myself.

When I first started identifying plants, I carried a copy of Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide with me. I found Newcomb’s to be the best organized and most comprehensive of the different guides available. Like many field guides, there was usually a short description of the habitat in which the plant was most likely to be found. I remember the guide describing this plant as being found in rich woods and open rocky slopes. Now, it seemed to me that those were two radically different environments and if the plant could grow in those two extremes it could grow just about anywhere. It so happened that I found that first plant on a rocky slope, but over time I’ve found it growing in a wide range of conditions.

Most of the insect life I found on this particular specimen was concentrating on the flowers. There were bunches of these little hover flies visiting the plant. I believe this is Toxomerus geminatus. Once, while sitting in a swarm of these flies, I had someone point out that the double keyhole pattern on top of the abdomen was the identifier for this species. While in elementary school, I had a lot of fun with bee mimics like this one. To the amazement of all my classmates, I demonstrated how I could pick up bees and unflinchingly endure the numerous stings I was obviously receiving.


  1. Do you ever sleep? Your posts continue to amaze me. Thank you. Kt

  2. I am fascinated with the detail and information you have each day. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Few!!!! No tick picture today!!!! I have enough of them and I hate them crawling on me!!! Don't wonder of to far we would miss your interesting post!!

  4. Katie - I'm not familiar with this "sleep" to which you refer.

    Lois - Sharing is part of what blogging is all about. I'm just glad people find it interesting.

    grammie g - I'll try to keep the tick photos to a minimum. I may wander off, but I'm pretty good at finding my way back home.