Monday, December 28, 2015

2015 Krigia Project

On the day before Christmas, while the other family members were secreted away wrapping gifts, I took a trip to check on the progress of Potato Dandelion, Krigia dandelion, tubers planted out during August.  Many tubers were planted in this woodland site that mimics the original site of Krigia dandelion on the property.  As with the other woodland site, leaves completely covered the woodland floor.

Beneath the leaves were young Krigia sprouts.  Most of these plants displayed abnormally elongated growth resulting from their effort to find a way through the leaves to reach sunlight.  This growth pattern is typical of woodland grown plants.  Plants eventually find their way through the leaf cover, but rarely have an enough stored energy left to produce a flower.  The plants are able to survive and even generate new tubers, but spring blooms are unusual.

Knowing that Potato Dandelions have a tough time growing beneath the leaf cover or competing with other vegetation, I planted tubers in some barren areas bordering the woodland.  These sites generally have bare soil showing throughout the year.

The plants are doing quite well in this barren environment.  South facing slopes and a lack of ground cover allow these plants to receive an abundance of sunlight.  No leggy growth here.  Plants are forming tight whorls and the leaves are developing lobes, both signs that these plants will flower in the spring.  Several references refer to Krigia dandelion growing in prairies, rocky glades and woodland borders, so this may be the ideal location for this plant.  The unknown factor is the heat tolerance of the dormant tubers.  Temperature monitors set at a depth of two centimeters, have recorded summer soil temperatures as high as 125°F on these sites.  The majority of tubers that I have uncovered have been at or just below that level.  I guess I’ll have to wait until next fall to see how many plants make it through the summer.

Mild, wet weather has allowed the container grown Potato Dandelions to demonstrate some amazing growth.  Plants have nearly filled the pot.

Large plants have grown from the tubers planted in August.  I planted nine tubers in this pot.  You can almost identify the nine locations in the previous photo.

New growth includes a plethora of subterranean rhizomes that are responsible for the emergence of these smaller plants.  These young plants are unlikely to produce flowers in the coming year, but they will leave behind tubers that can give rise to flowering plants the following season.  This pot should yield hundreds of tubers next summer.

The plants are showing no signs of developing flower buds.  I am assuming that flower development is governed by photoperiod and that lengthening of daylight periods next April will trigger the creation of flower buds.  This species is roughly at its northern limits at Blue Jay Barrens.  The weather we have experienced so far this year is probably more typical of what the species encounters in its more southern haunts.  There’s still plenty of time for cold weather to appear though.   I’m sure I’ll have an opportunity to watch this plant endure some rapid temperature fluctuations over the next couple of months.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Newt Larva

After being dry for nearly six weeks, the pond was partially restored by a two inch rain during the last week of October.  I’ve been carefully watching for the arrival of the first breeding salamanders of the season.  Both Jefferson and Streamside Salamanders have been known to enter the pond in December.

Last night I spotted several small salamander larvae moving about in the water.

Using a fine meshed aquarium net, I scooped one out for closer examination.  The larva may look large in the photo, but it is actually only about an inch and a half total length.  The mesh of that net has 16 openings per lineal inch.  Beside the larva is a freshwater amphipod.

From the net, I dropped the larva into a glass jar for observation.  Identifying characteristics are poorly developed in a specimen this young, but there is no doubt that this is the larva of a Red-spotted Newt.  Red-spotted newts have a definite spring breeding season, but also seem to be opportunistic breeders throughout the year.  Breeding behavior is common in the water garden during summer and early fall, especially following a heavy rain.  This individual probably hatched from an egg deposited soon after the late October rain.  Eggs typically take three to five weeks to hatch, and warm water would have allowed hatching to occur closer to the three week mark.  I estimate this larva to be about a month old, so it still has four or five months to go before beginning a terrestrial life style.

As the larva develops, the head will become smaller in relation to the body and will develop more of a taper towards the snout.

The hind legs are just buds.  They will grow steadily over the next couple of months.

The beginnings of the distinctive dark eye stripe is just now forming between the eye and mouth.  By the time salamander larvae appear in the pond, the newt larvae will be formidable predators.