Sunday, August 14, 2016

Albino Woodland Plants

Albino Fagus grandifolia, Meredith, NH, July 2016.
Albino plants, which have lost the ability to make the green pigment chlorophyll, show up occasionally among seedlings or as abnormal growth from an established plant. This summer, I've noted a couple of photosynthetically-challenged native plants in my travels, including the American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) above. American Beeches send up root-borne shoots as a method of vegetative reproduction; in this case something went wrong with chlorophyll synthesis in part of the root system of a normal mature beech, and there were several pale shoots like this in a small area of the forest floor. The albino shoots are supported by sugars produced by the original green, photosynthetic portions of the clonal grove of trees. The albino beeches were in a pine/maple/hemlock forest near Winnesquam Lake in New Hampshire.

 Albino Cypripedium acaule, Mansfield Center, Ct, May 2016.
Back in Connecticut, I discovered an immature Pink Lady's Slipper with a completely albino leaf. This was the first time I've seen a true albino form of this woodland orchid, though apparently others have been photographed, including one that grew to flowering size. Almost all orchids have minute seed and seedlings that cannot survive on their own at first, relying on symbiotic fungal hosts from which they absorb the nutrients they need to grow. All Pink Lady's Slipper seedlings go through a subterranean phase that can last several years, when they produce no foliage at all. Presumably, an albino Cypripedium seedling can survive for an indefinite period, by relying on its parasitic relationship with fungi long after normal green plants would be making most of their own food. 

White flowered Cypripedium acaule, Mansfield Hollow.
Back around Memorial Day I revisited the white-flowered Pink Lady's Slipper that I found two years ago in Mansfield Center, Ct. It's still doing well, although I looked last year and couldn't find it; possibly it skipped a year without blooming.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Carnivorous Plant Meeting at UConn

Carnivorous plant collection at the UConn Ecology and Evolutionary Biology Teaching and Research Greenhouses.
The New England Carnivorous Plant Society held their May 14 meeting at the University of Connecticut. Activities included a tour of the botanical teaching collections, which include a good selection of carnivores. After the business portion of the meeting was concluded, some of us headed to the Dunhamtown Forest preserve, less than a mile from the center of campus, to look for some of the local carnivorous plants and other spring wildflowers. 

Dunham Pond, Storrs, Ct.
We hiked on the trails to the bank of Dunham Pond. The pond is a natural body of water, and is probably a kettle pond dating back to the last ice age, formed as a depression left behind by the melting of a large residual mass of ice left behind by the glaciers. Dunham pond hosts several species of aquatic Utricularia (bladderworts), but it was too early to see any sign of these. Purple Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia purpurea) also grow in the preserve, but in a very difficult to access swampy thicket, so we didn't get chance to visit them this time. There is an old herbarium record of Sarracenia flava, one of the large, upright southern pitcher plants, naturalized at Dunham Pond. These must have been planted out by a local botanist, and there is no sign of them surviving today.

Arisaema triphyllum, Jack-in-the-Pulpit, in the Dunhamtown Forest.
Various spring wildflowers were in bloom along the trails, such as Canada Mayflower, Wood Anemone, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit, one of our local aroids. People often misidentify the inflorescences of Jack-in-the-Pulpit for pitcher plants, but no one from the NECPS was going to make a rookie mistake like that.

Drosera rotundifolia, the Round-leaf Sundew.
In the end, the only carnivore we saw at Dunham Pond was Drosera rotundifolia. This is the only sundew (of two potential local species) that occurs at the site. The plants were fairly abundant on Sphagnum moss tussocks, and sometimes growing directly in rotting wood on waterlogged fallen tree trunks.

Sarracenia purpurea in Willington, Ct.
A few of us took a break after the walk at the UConn Dairy Bar, and decided to head to another nearby bog, in Willington, Connecticut, to see Purple Pitcher Plants. The bog, a classic site for UConn biology field trips, is a floating Sphagnum mat with one of the most vigorous populations of S. purpurea that I know of, and also plenty of Round-leaf Sundews. It was a little early for the pitcher plants, which were just starting to produce flower buds and only had overwintered pitchers from last season. 
Rhododendron canadense, Rhodora, in early May, Willington, Ct.
Rhodora, a Rhododendron of bogs and swamps in the Northeast was in full bloom. This low shrub was growing in a couple of scattered spots on the Sphagnum mat, among the pitcher plants and a much more abundant ericaceous shrub, Chamaedaphne (Leatherleaf).

Friday, April 1, 2016

Cactus Show this Weekend

CCSS president Chris Allen setting up plants for the show. The flowering cactus is Parodia magnifica.
It's show time again for the Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Society, which is holding their annual sale and judged show at Naugatuck Valley Community College this weekend. I just got back from the setup, and as has become expected, the number and quality of plants and vendors is going to be very impressive, especially for a C&S event in the East. Stop by if you're in the area; it's free to park and enter, though what happens to your wallet when you reach the sales floor or attend the auction might be another story.

My favorite part of the show, the Conophytum class. These are all mine, but there will be contributions from other growers by the time the judges come around tomorrow morning.

The Madagascan Euphorbia class was also filling up, last I saw.

The sales area was about half way to being set up earlier this evening; some nurseries come early Saturday morning to prepare their booths.

Rick Logee of WRC Greenhouses in Danielson, Ct, is a relatively new addition to the vendor list at the CCSS Show, but he has become known for putting on an especially attractive and colorful display.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The 2016 Sugaring Season

A short, snow-free sugaring season in southern New England.
 Back around the holidays, I was wondering if the warm winter up to that point would impact maple sugaring. The whole meteorological winter season (December-March) turned out to be very mild, with just a few cold snaps.  Sugar Maples that I tapped in mid-February did produce some good sap runs, so apparently there was enough cold to vernalize the trees and set them up for sap flow. But, the season only lasted about 2-3 weeks, finishing up last week, which is at least three weeks short of a normal season. This was because of continued warmth; we just didn't get the nightly freezes that are needed to get the sap pressurized and moving during the day. The local professionals are also complaining about a short and not very productive sugaring season. Some frosty nights predicted for the weekend might create another sap run, but plants are starting to break dormancy now, and once the maples start budding and flowering, the flow is pretty minimal regardless of the weather, and any sap that does collect is useless for making syrup because it becomes bitter.

Winter 2015-2016 temperature rankings by state, courtesy of NOAA.
It wasn't just warmer than usual this winter in Connecticut, it was the warmest winter in the 121 year  record for all of New England, and way above average for most of the US. Last winter was unusually cold, especially in second half, so the current state of global warming clearly doesn't preclude old-fashioned winters in the Northeast, though it's looking like there will be more and more years where maple sugaring operations are going to have a hard time.  

Friday, February 12, 2016

An Afternoon at Yale

Marsh Botanical Garden cactus bed.   
 Last weekend, the Connecticut Cactus and Succulent Society met at Yale University's Marsh Botanical Garden. The greenhouse complex at Yale includes a large modern structure with houses for botanical research, teaching and public displays, plus a couple of small legacy greenhouses that are mainly used for overflow space. One of the newer glass houses includes an open area with chairs and tables--used during the week for classes--where the CCSS held their meeting.

A pair of mature or nearly mature Welwitschia mirabilis plants at Marsh Botanical Garden.
 The cactus club was lucky enough to have a presentation by Dr. Michael J. Donoghue of Yale's Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology. Michael Donoghue is one of the best known plant evolutionary biologists active today. His talk for the CCSS covered Welwitschia, the peculiar xerophytic gymnosperm (cone-bearing seed plant) from arid northern Namibia and southern Angola. The fascinating lecture ranged from the history of Welwitschia's introduction to botanical science, with independent discoveries in 1861 by the Austrian medical doctor Friedrich Welwitsch as well as the artist Thomas Baines, to the latest findings from molecular phylogenetics, and finds of fossil Welwitschia-like pollen and cones.

Yearling Welwitschia seedling from the UConn teaching collections.
One point of interest from the talk, appropriate for the Darwin Day (February 12) season, concerned the evolutionary relationships of Welwitschia. The plant has long been known to be part of a small group of gymnosperms called the Gnetophyta, which also includes the genera Gnetum (broad-leaved tropical trees and lianas) and Ephedra (joint-stemmed shrubs of temperate deserts, the source of the stimulant ephedrine). The Gnetophytes as a whole were of somewhat uncertain affinities; an earlier idea was that they were the closest living relatives of the Angiosperms (flowering plants), based on details of their wood anatomy and pollination/fertilization process, as well as reproductive structures that resemble modified bisexual flowers. More recent evidence, primarily from DNA sequencing but also from the reinterpretation of anatomy and reproductive biology, indicates that Welwitschia and its allies are actually more closely related to the conifers (pines, cedars and their relatives).

Michael Donoghue at the February CCSS meeting.