Monday, March 31, 2014

Henbit Deadnettle

Henbit Deadnettle
Lamium amplexicaule
There's a cool web page called "Eat the Weeds" which has detailed descriptions of all sorts of edible plants.  According to Green Deane (is that his real name?), Henbit is easy to identify, good to eat, no side effects, and just an all around good wild edible.  In the article, he describes himself collecting Chickweed, came across Henbit and decided to try it.  I'm sure they're all very good, but if you've ever been out collecting Chickweed or Henbit, you'll find that you will do lots of collecting before you get enough for a meal.  You're probably spending more energy doing the collecting than you get from the plant.  On the other hand, Henbit flowers are quite pretty and would add a unique touch to a salad, especially if you are having guests.

The leaves are unique among any other plants that might look like Henbit

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Tall Tickseed

Tall Tickseed
Coreopsis tripteris
There's a big push lately to use native plants in your landscaping and gardening.  There are all sorts of benefits and not many downsides.  All you have to do is some research to learn which plants are native and how they would work in your yard.  In fact, there is a statewide organization called INPAWS (Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society) dedicated to getting the word out.  Be sure to check it out.

Tall Tickseed is on their list of native plants to use in the garden.  It is a very tall prairie plant that looks nice when it's planted in a group that has room to sway in the wind.

These plants are usually found in groups
This species of Coreopsis has brown centers rather than yellow centers as do other members of this genus.
The leaves can be somewhat variable, but are opposite and have 3-5 leaflets

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Swamp Verbena

Swamp Verbena
Verbena hastate
This plant is known as Blue Vervain to most people.  It is quite common and usually found near water.  It is rather distinctive because there are usually a number of flowering stalks sticking up higher than the plants around them.

The unique flowerheads always have only some of the flowers blooming at a time.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Spotted Joe Pye Weed

Spotted Joe Pye Weed
Eupatoriadelphus maculatus
Plants have way better names that birds.  Sometimes you have to dig deep to figure out how they got the name in the first place.  The names of a lot of plants evolved years ago and it's hard to know for sure where they came from.

So, who was Joe Pye?  And, why did they name a weed after him?

A deep and thorough research (Bing) reveals two competing theories.  One is that there was a guy named Joe Pye who was a medicine man in the 1700's who traveled around Massachusetts and used this plant to cure an outbreak of typhoid.  The other is that it is a derivative of the Indian word for typhoid - jopi.

The truth may be somewhere in the middle.

Note the whorl of leaves, sometimes 3, sometimes 4, but not usually any more than that.
The flowerheads are somewhat flat-topped and have lots of flowers in each umbel.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

True Forget-me-not

True Forget-me-not
Myosotis scorpioides
There are five species of Myosotis in Indiana, three of which are native and two non-native.  True Forget-me-not is not native.  Bummer.  It's a cute little plant that is occasionally found next to lakes and streams.

I don't know where it got it's name or why this particular Forget-me-not is "True".  Please comment if you know.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Rough Cocklebur

Rough Cocklebur
Xanthium strumarium
Indiana is full of exotic invasive plants.  537 of the 2630 species of plants found in Indiana are considered to be introduced and about 100 of those are considered invasive.

This isn't one of them.  It has the appearance of a weedy invasive, such as burdock, but it's a native species.

However, it's not native to Africa, where it has gotten established and is now considered to be an alien invasive.  So I guess it's just a matter of where you live and where the species started out to know if you should hate it or not.

The pistillate flowers are the large ones. The one to the left is a good example.
The staminate flowers are the smaller ones. The middle left one is the staminate flower.

Heart shaped leaf
The pods hang on for over a year

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Prairie Blazing Star

Prairie Blazing Star
Liatris pycnostachya
This is a plant of the prairies, which occur mostly in western Indiana.  However, there have been lots of prairie restorations in other parts of the state and this plant can often be found where you might not expect it.  There used to be bits of prairie across northeast Indiana and into Ohio where the conditions were just right, so it's not totally out of character to have prairie restorations in these areas.

Monday, March 24, 2014


Pontederia cordata
Pickerelweed is a pretty plant to come upon when canoeing along the edges of the lakes in northeast Indiana.  The flower heads are unmistakable, although the leaves are quite variable in shape and look a lot like Arrowhead (Sagittaria) leaves.  The seeds and young leaves are edible.

The leaves are often arrowhead shaped, although not always
Most of the plant is under water with the leaves and flower heads sticking out

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Lanceleaf Fogfruit

Lanceleaf Fogfruit
Phyla lanceolata
This plant grows in muddy areas along lake edges in small colonies.

Sometimes the name Frogfruit is used instead of Fogfruit.  An internet search for Frogfruit yields 125,000 results and Fogfruit gives 10,900 results.  So, via scientific analysis, Frogfruit is prefered 10:1 over Fogfruit.

So, why two names.  Well, the first name given was Fogfruit.  Fog is an old Scottish word for moss, referring to the growth habit of the plant.  The second name of "Frog fruit" first appeared in 1834 in "Botanical Teacher for North America".  This second name appears to be a typo, since it is also referred to as "Fog-fruit" in the same book.

The name "frog-fruit" is then used in another publication in 1852 - "Catalogue of Flowering Plants and Ferns: Observed in the Vicinity of Cincinnati".

And thus a new name was born.

Obviously people prefer the name of Frogfruit over Fogfruit, either for alliterative value or because the image of a frog is easier to remember than the old Scottish name for moss.  Call it what you will.

The plants tend to grow in mats and send up flower stalks every so often, sort of like moss
Opposite coarsely toothed leaves


Saturday, March 22, 2014

Skunk Cabbage

Skunk Cabbage
Symplocarpus foetidus
The Skunk Cabbage flower is one of the most peculiar looking and therefore easy-to-identify flowers in the plant kingdom.  It pops out of the ground very early in the spring.  They can be a bit hard to find among the leaf litter, but when you do find them there are usually a bunch of them.  They generally grow in colonies in wet areas in woodlands.

Skunk Cabbage also has a few other peculiarities.  One is that they smell bad (how about that).  Rather than smelling pretty like most plants, they smell like, hmmm, skunk.  Tear off a leaf sometime and give it a whiff.

Another thing is that they are thermogenic.  This simply means that they create heat, like mammals do.  Sometimes you can find the flowers late in the winter with the snow melted around them.

All in all, Skunk Cabbage is one of the more interesting plants on this planet.

The flower actually blooms right out of the frozen ground
The flowers sprout first thing in the spring, then the leaves unfurl and last throughout the summer.
A most peculiar looking flower

Friday, March 21, 2014

Harbinger of Spring

Harbinger of Spring
Erigenia bulbosa
Ahh, the Harbinger of Spring, one of the first flowers to show itself in a sunny woods in the springtime.  They're very small and blend in well with the leaf cover, so you have to really look for them.  But when you do, you know that the Hepatica, Cutleaf Toothwort, Bloodroot, etc. are not far behind!

Another name for this plant is Pepper and Salt, which of course refers to the small white petals and dark pistils and stamens.  Remember that it is "Pepper and Salt" rather than "Salt and Pepper".  If you look up "Salt and Pepper" in the index of a field guide, you won't find it.  It took me quite a while to figure that out.

Note the purplish anthers on the stamens
Its compound leaves are generally divided into three leaflets and the leaflets have three lobes

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Wild Cucumber

Wild Cucumber
Echinocystis lobata
Wild Cucumbers are striking plants.  These plants are found in woodlands, often near water.  They're viney things that drape across other plants and produce bunches of little cucumber looking fruits.  They're not edible like cucumbers, but they look cool.

Wild Cucumbers are unique in that they are the only member of the genus Echinocystis and, as near as I can find, there are no subspecies.  It's nice to find a plant that's easy to identify!

Wild Cucumber is easily identifiable by its crazy looking pods. They look like small cucumbers with big spikes.

The plant is a sprawling vine that hangs on other plants

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

White Baneberry

White Baneberry
Actaea pachypoda
White Baneberry is more commonly known as Doll's Eyes, which is a great name for it since the fruits could easily be plucked and plopped into  some china doll's eye sockets.

The plant is 1-3 feet tall and really stands out in a nice woodland setting.  It is named Baneberry for a reason.  The berries, and for that matter the whole plant, is toxic.  It is in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae), of which all species have a chemical called Ranunculin.  This is a fairly complicated chemical that can cause all sorts of problems if ingested, which happens more with farm animals that with people.  Don't let your kids play with the berries!

The 2-3 foot plants grow in rich woods
The flowerheads can really stand out during a walk through the woods

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

West Indian Nightshade

West Indian Nightshade
Solanum ptycanthum
It is written that "The berries of Black Nightshade are edible to humans, if they are fully ripe and eaten in small quantities."  If not, I suppose you die.  Another book states "Personally, I consider the whole plant potentially deadly and leave it alone."  Euell Gibbons made pies from the berries.  So, what to do?!  Here's a very detailed explanation of the plant - Eat The Weeds.  If you're adventurous, at least wait until they turn black and ripe.

Unripe berries
The flowers and berries can be on the plant at the same time
The leaves can be somewhat variable in shape
The whole plant is a foot or two tall

Monday, March 17, 2014

Flowering Spurge

Flowering Spurge
Euphorbia corollata
The Euphorb's have rather peculiar flowering structures that produce these rather peculiar seed capsules.  The flower is so unusual that botanists had to give it it's own name - cyathium.  I can't even describe it here, just follow the link if you're interested.  Those white things that look like petals are not. They're simply referred to as appendages.

In any event, they're cool looking plants.  Poinsettia's are in the Euphorbia genus.  Look closely and you'll see the same structure.

Nice neat little alternate, untoothed leaves