Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Potato Dandelion in the Woods

Rare plants don’t have to be eye-catching beauties, but they should at least hold themselves up with some semblance of respect. This collection of Potato Dandelion, Krigia dandelion, looks more like a wilted salad tossed to the ground than it does an uncommon Ohio native.

Over most of its range, Potato Dandelion grows in full sunlight or in the partially shaded conditions found in open woods. At Blue Jay Barrens it is found beneath a full deciduous woodland canopy. In these more shaded conditions, the leaves tend to sprawl across the ground. I’m often reminded of Dali paintings when I observe the limp plant draping itself over forest floor obstructions.

The leaves would normally be held vertically if the plant was growing in a sunny situation. I don’t know if the horizontal positioning of the leaves in a shaded site is due to a lack of plant vigor resulting from lack of sunlight or if the plant is growing the leaves in this position in order to take best advantage of available sunlight. I know it’s a subtle difference that may not have any importance. I would just like to know if I’m viewing plants that are being stressed because of lack of light or if they are plants healthily taking advantage of a natural adaptation to low light conditions.

The Blue Jay Barrens population of Potato Dandelions covers about 6,000 square feet along a ridge top covered in mixed deciduous forest. Cattle historically had access to this area and probably spent much of their time on the ridge top. The woods was timbered several different times over the last 80 years, but it was never clear cut and the canopy cover always stayed above 90%. I just find it odd that a plant that favors open areas would be found in such a shaded place.

The size of the Potato Dandelion population has really been expanding during the last ten years. I think one factor benefiting the plants has been the increase of Wild Turkeys in the area. Plants that fight their way up through thick leaf litter always have fewer leaves and no bloom. I used to rake the leaves off of a few spots each year so some flowers would develop. Now the turkeys scratch away the leaves and expose much more bare ground than I ever did. The plants respond with an abundance of flower stalks.

Flowers normally open in the morning on sunny days. I’ve yet to see the first bloom this year, maybe because I rarely see the sun. Even in years when we have many blooms, I don’t find any viable seed in these flowers. Possibly there’s a lack of pollinators or it could be that this is a large population of clones that are not self fertile. At least the population keeps increasing so I should have them around to study for a long time to come.

1 comment:

  1. very cool, unopened reminds me of fireweed a bit...have never seen this one around here, a Potato-go-to-bed-at -noon!;).