Sunday, December 14, 2014

Take a picture, it lasts longer - Eryngo

My daughter is always telling me to leave the camera behind, but then, if I did, I would miss the joy of reliving treasured moments.

Kansas Eryngo, (eryngium)

I first saw this tall, spikey flower called Eryngo in England, in the vallage of Twyford, near Winchester, several years ago while visiting relatives. It grew along the fence and seemed to be one of those lucky coincidences. A bird had perchance dropped a seed and the flower flourished and spread.

Eryngo Kansas

Years later I was out for a walk and came across the same flower again. It was in a waste area off an abandoned railroad track and near a small creek. Because of its spikes, the flower is often mistaken for a thistle. It is rather a member of the Eryngo or Eryngiuam family with over 230 species.

This species is related to the shorter, purple Leavenworth Eryngo.

Its color is a pale green and the plant grows to a towering six feet in height.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Wild Rose of Kansas

Rose Hip 

Yet, while I weep to say I would sow 
More rose hips about my garden soil 
Like words cast too freely 
Unpruned and untended 
They spread about and hurt 
The tender hand and heart they touch

A rainy day in late November, I came across the rose hips of a wild rose of Kansas, shorn of its leaves, nevertheless the bright berries stood out against a grey cloudy day.

Rose hips, Butler County, Kansas

Rose hips, Butler County, Kansas

Rose hips, Butler County, Kansas

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Velvetleaf in Kansas

By the second week of November, a high pressure in the Pacific Ocean pushes the Polar Vortex from its home in the Arctic down into to the Midwest and Kansas.

Kansas Velvetleaf, seed pod
It is bitter cold and the last few butterflies and insects of summer and fall have been silenced. If there is a benefit to this cold, it is that the freezing temperatures push back against the invasive species that are non-native to Kansas.

Velvetleaf, Sedgwick County, Kansas, winter

One such invasive species is the Velvetleaf, a Chinese native plant introduced to the Americas in the nineteenth century that unfortunately has adapted to the cold temperatures of Kansas. The plant is opportunistic, finding its way to farm fields and disturbed sites by birds. Eventually, because of its height and because of the shade from its leaves, it will out compete more desirable plants.

Velvetleaf, winter, Kansas

Handicrafters will use the seed pods for potpourri. The Chinese use the Velvetleaf plant as a homeopathy to treat ailments such as stomachaches, fever, and dysentery. The stalk produces a strong fiber, China jute, used in the making of rugs. But American farmers find the Velvetleaf in the fields significantly reduce the yield of corn and other crops.

Velvetleaf, seed pod

Kansas currently restricts Velvetleaf (9 per pound) that may be hitchhiking in other seed packages.

Velvetleaf, Kansas, winter

Velvetleaf, seed pods

Velvetleaf, seed pods

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Why is it called Pokeweed?

The “poke” in Pokeweed comes from the Powhatan or Virginia Algonquian Indians of Virginia whose word for blood was “pak”. 

Pokeweed is common throughout Kansas and the Midwest, growing in fields, along highway fences, and near woodland edges. 

The plant can reach 6 to 8 feet in height. Leaves are smooth and oblong, usually 6 to 8 inches in length. In winter the stalks wither, but the perennial root remains viable below the ground.

Clusters of succulent, pea-size berries, occur at the tops of the plants. Birds love them, but the berries are poisonous to humans. The shade and berries of the Pokeweed are attractive to game birds such as the Bobwhite and Quail.

As the plant matures, the berries turn a shiny bright purple, which can be used as a dye. The Pawnee Indians used the color to paint war horses. During the Civil War, soldiers of both sides used the berries as ink to write letters home.



Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kansas Monarchs in September

Kansas Monarchs in September 

Monarch butterfly, Lake El Dorado, Butler County, Kansas

September in Kansas, the harsh summer sun is gone and cooler temperatures bring the annual migration of Monarch butterflies south to Mexico. The Monarchs fill the fields and gardens, feasting on a multitude of Golden Rod and Thistle. 

What is amazing is that this is a fourth generation of Monarchs that has progressed from egg to caterpillar, then chrysalis, and finally adult butterfly within a short life cycle of 6 to 8 weeks. 

But our Kansas Monarchs do not die so quickly, this specialized group makes its way to Mexico and lay dormant until the following February and March when they will awaken and lay their eggs to begin the marvelous cycle of migration again. 

A month or two, think about that. An entire life encompassed in 30 to 60 days. That is the life of most Monarch butterflies from egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and finally butterfly. The egg grows about 4 days. It hatches as a caterpillar (larvae) and then munches milkweed, for about 2 weeks. The caterpillar's life inside the chrysalis (pupa) lasts 10 days, and its life as a butterfly floating and flittering on its journey north and south from 2 - 6 weeks. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Compass Plant and Silvery Checkerspot

On the Flint Hills of Kansas, there is no flower so bright and sunny in September as the Compass Plant. The name comes from the plant's tendency to face north. 

Resting for a moment on the flower is the Silvery Checkerspot (Chlosyne nycteis) butterfly.

Compass Plant and Silvery Checkerspot butterfly

Compass Plant and Silvery Checkerspot butterfly

Compass Plant and Silvery Checkerspot butterfly

Compass Plant and Silvery Checkerspot butterfly

Friday, September 19, 2014

Ths Scottish Thistle

O, the Thistle o’ Scotland was famous of auld,
Wi’ its toorie sae snod and its bristles sae bauld;
’Tis the badge o’ my country – it’s aye dear to me;
And the thocht o’ them baith brings the licht to my e’e

Scotland has been in the news lately, so I thought it appropriate to post an image of the national flower of Scotland, the Thistle.

I am glad, for old times sake, that Scotland will remain part of the United Kigndom.

The translation of the first stanza of the Scottish national anthum goes like this:

O, the Thistle o’ Scotland was famous of old,
Wi’ its craggy hills so trim and its bristles so bold;
’Tis the badge o’ my country – it’s yes dear to me;
And the thought o’ them both brings a light to my eye

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Indian Blanket

I came across these flowers while driving along the Kansas Scenic Highway near Marfield Green.  They are the Oklahoma state flower, the Gaillardia pulchella, commonly referred to as the Indian Blanket or Firewheel.  They grow as both a perennial and annual  plant and are a popular bedding plant because of their distinctive red and yellow color.

Indian Painted Flower

Indian Painted Flower

Indian Painted Flower

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Kansas Buffalo Gourd

This is Labor Day weekend and I am driving along Scenic Highway 177 from Cassoday to Strong City. At Matfield Green I detour off the highway and into town. Then across Sharp's Creek to where the gravel roads lead into the Flint Hills.

Chase County gravel road

I am still in the rich bottom land. There to the left side of the road, next to a field of soy beans lie some uncut native grasses. 

Kansas Buffallo Gourd flower

Within the matted grass are several Buffalo Gourds. It is also known by the name Stinking Gourd because of the foul smell the rotting fruit gives off. The stems of the plant are trailing, in one case wrapped within a fallen gate, radiating a dozen and more feet from the center where a taproot borrows into the ground. The smooth leaves are large, pointed, and velvety. reports that the carrot-like taproot of buffalo gourd can reach 4-6 feet long and weigh more than 100 pounds. Like the native Osage Indians, I believe in the plant's mystical powers; it should not be disturbed. 

The Indians used the gourds for ceremonial rattles ad children's play toys.

A few round gourds, the size of a tennis ball, now yellow with age, but once green with light stripes like a cucumber, hang from the rails of the gate or lay on the ground. It is the end of the flowering period, but a few remain. The flowers are large and yellow like the squash blossom, and, therefore, presumably edible.

fruit of the Kansas Buffalo Gourd

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Pickerel Weed, Pontederia cordata

Pickerel Weed (Pickerelweed), Pontederia cordata, is an aquatic plant common to marshes, ponds, and lakes in the south. It grows three to four feet tall, but, you only see one or two feet, because the rest is underwater. It is native to the eastern United States and Canada. USDA Plant Profile.

It is beautifully displayed at Botanica Gardens in Wichita.

The  Pickerel Weed has towering spikes with clusters of violet-blue flowers. Each flower is small, less than half an inch wide. It has two small yellow spots on one petal.

Pickerel Weed blooms in June and continues until November. The Honey Bee and other insects pollinate the flowers. After a flower has been pollinated, it dies and a small fruit grows containing one seed each.

Pickerelweed and Honey Bee

Pickerelweed and Honey Bee

Pickerel Weed and Honey Bee

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Solanum rostratum – Kansas Thistle

Steer clear of this one. It has yellow flowers the size of a half dollar and lobed leaves that look like those of the watermelon.

Solanum rostratum – Kansas Thistle

It is August in Kansas. Near the over grazed cattle pens and along the rocky roads you will find this low lying plant. Don't ouch this plant, the entire plant is a mass of numerous, wickedly sharp, stinging spines. Don't eat this plant, the leaves and green fruit are poisonous

This plant is a member of the Nightshade family, and poisonous alkaloids.

Its common names include: Kansas Thistle, Buffalobur Nightshade, Buffalobur, Buffalo Burr, Colorado Bur, Mexican Thistle, Texas Thistle.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Bee Fly

To be or not to be a Bee-
It's not a Honey Bee 
Or Bumble Bee
It's a humble Bee Fly

If you were an insect, would you rather be a bee or a fly?

Bee or Fly?

If I was a lowly fly, why not be a Bee Fly?

Bee Fly in Kansas

These are flies of the genus Bombylius, a large family of flies, Bombyliidae, better known as the Bee Fly. This one was hovering over a Wavy-Leaf thistle in Butler County, Kansas. Bee Flies are widely distributed in the northern latitudes and found in North America as well as Europe and Asia.

A real Honey bee

"Imitation is flattery," and the Bee Fly flatters the bee in that they are golden-brown and furry with a back side that hints of some stripes and make a buzzing sound when flying. A Bee Fly won't bother you. The similarity is called Batesian mimicry, which simply means something harmless imitating something dangerous.

Fly Bee over a Thistle

But unlike bees they have two wings instead of four, large eyes, skinny long legs and very short antennae, not at all like those of bees. They fly like a hummingbird and can hover in midair, move fast and maneuver with skill, changing directions in the blink of an eye. The long probe on the front of their head, call it a nose or tongue, allows them to sip nectar while hovering over the flower.