Thursday, December 19, 2013

A Tribute to Some Tremendous Trees

Everyone remembers the first time they experienced the emotion of falling in love.  That moment of realization and cognizance that nothing else can compare to what you have grown to hold so dear.  If you're lucky those feelings never fade and only increase exponentially as time inevitably marches forward.  For your blogger it was trees that first tugged at his heart strings, botanically-speaking, of course.

Trees are the modern day kings of the vascular plant world and among the most massive and oldest individual (and clonal) organisms on the face of our planet.  There's just something about them that has kindled respect and astonishment from me at even a young age.  Whether reacquainting myself with an old friend who has seen many a spring thawing and winter's chill or gazing upon a stately stranger I've only just met, each moment spent under their sprawling ceiling of limbs, branches, and twigs is precious.  Their role and importance in any ecosystem cannot be understated and without them the world would be without us and millions of other beings. Trees truly are the heart and soul of our natural world.

In my travels both near and far, I've always kept a keen eye open for any spectacular individuals that just beg to be documented with the camera.  Rarely does any photograph ever truly forge or recreate the same awestruck feeling of disbelief and/or amazement as in person but I've done my best pick out those that at least try their very hardest.  The character and personality these mighty wooden sentinels are capable of displaying are not unlike our own as human beings when you take the time to notice.  Trees are the ultimate prize of time, patience, and opportunity.

One of the largest Sitka spruce trees left on the planet

Let's start off with a bang and an experience that left me feeling rather small and immensely humbled.  This monstrosity of a conifer on the Olympic peninsula of Washington state is one of the largest Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis) trees left on the planet.  It's thought to be over one thousand years old and is still packing on more and more wood annually.  For more on this tree and other virgin temperate rain forest giants, you can check out the post about my visit to this lush land HERE.

Forest-grown white oak in Gross Woods
Old-growth bitternut hickory

I often times enjoy making an attempt to liken the feel of my current-day photographs to that of a time over a century earlier with a black and white scheme.  It gives the slight impression of what it might have felt like to stand next to the leviathans long lost to the saw and ax.  It's a sad reality that we lose these relics of the past much faster and more frequently than nature can replace them; especially in a time where land development and alteration is occurring at an ever-accelerating pace.

Blogger and the great white oak of Logan, Ohio

Few trees leave me more breathless than the Great White Oak in the old cemetery of Logan, Ohio.  If someone knows of a plumper, more impressive tree specimen in the state I'd love to see it because I can't imagine many could ever compare.  Estimates put this tree at near/over 500 years old.  That's 500 years of Mother Nature's fury combined with human development and stress that hasn't seemed to slow this gargantuan beast down. Giving this white oak a hug should be on every nature-appreciating Ohioan's bucket list!

Ancient white pine in the Adirondack Mountains
Ancient white pines in the Adirondacks of NY

A road trip to the southern Adirondacks of upstate New York a couple summers ago introduced me to some genuine Northeast white pines (Pinus strobus) that I will never forget.  White pine has long been a treasured and renowned species for its tall, straight growth habit that was perfect for ship building.  Subsequently, almost all the old-growth pine stands in New England met their sawmill fates well over a century ago with very few groves still remaining.  The tree pictured top left is believed to be one of the largest/oldest white pine's left in the Adirondacks at over 350 years old and 150'+ tall!

Giant white cedar on South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan

Nestled in a remote corner of South Manitou Island in Lake Michigan survives a small grove of virgin white cedars (Thuja occidentalis) that have reached unbelievable dimensions like the one shown here.  In fact, the largest white cedar on Earth once called this small island home before falling over in a violent storm not too long ago. Perhaps this one here is its successor?

Old-growth beech in a SE Indiana wet flatwoods
An ancient beech at Fort Hill in Highland Co., OH

Few trees have the same look and feel as the timeless beech (Fagus grandifolia) in my opinion.  Their smooth, ghostly grey trunks always seem to emit a warm glow in the shade of the forest.

An exceptional tuliptree from southern Ohio

If the white pine is the monarch of the conifers in Eastern North America, then the tuliptree or tulip poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera) is the monarch of its broadleaf brethren.  This fast-growing but potentially long-lived species is the tallest angiosperm we have in our eastern forests and once scraped the heavens at over 200 feet tall in the primeval forests.  Today, it doesn't reach nearly as high but 180'+ specimens do exist.  This particular tuliptree from southern Ohio exhibits the remarkable diameters these behemoths are also known for.

Impressive red oak in Glen Helen
Single-stem sycamore of nice proportions

Not exactly record-setters but this red oak and sycamore from the Yellow Springs area are hardly anything to ignore.  Single-stem sycamores of this size aren't an every day sight anymore despite trees like this (and much bigger) were nearly a dime a dozen along our waterways in pre-settlement times.

Dan Boone and Rick Gardner walking through Daughmer Oak Savanna in Crawford Co., Ohio

Few places instill the flavor and atmosphere of a pre-settlement western Ohio like the few oak savannas we have left in our state.  For centuries many a stalwart bur, white, and/or post oak watched over the open, seasonally wet grasslands that once pocketed the glaciated Wisconsin till plain before man's plow bit into its virgin sod...

Massive bur oak on a Columbus-area golf course

Not even a rare appearance on the golf course can distract your blogger from noticing the ancient monoliths of Ohio's past.  This hardy bur oak had its roots in the soil long before carts whizzed past without so much as a glance from their occupants.  Standing next to this particular giant gave me pause when I considered its view of tall grass prairie choked full of spectacular summer wildflowers was only a distant memory and forever lost to the past.  Just goes to show that nothing ever stays the same, even for a tree.

Huge white ash in a west-central Ohio woodlot
Giant bur oak in Goll Woods in NW Ohio

However, it's not all doom and gloom as even in a heavily farmed and developed state like Ohio, some woodlots still persist with scattered individuals linking the present to our storied past.  The white ash (Fraxinus americana) pictured above left is the largest single trunked specimen I've yet seen even if its crown is largely dead and/or missing.  Bur oaks like the one above are a mesmerizing sight upon entering one of the last vestiges of the Great Black Swamp in Goll Woods state nature preserve in extreme northwest Ohio.

Largest black walnut the blogger has ever laid eyes on
Even better is coming across an example of a tree species you could barely believe still exists in such dimensions. Black walnuts (Juglans nigra) were, and still are quick to be harvested for their very valuable and beautiful wood and thus hard to find in a large size.  While not prime lumber grade, this particular black walnut in Buck Creek state park was and still is by far the largest I've ever laid eyes on.  

Snow covered scene in Davey Woods state nature preserve

The winter woods and its bare, skeletal canopy is a silent testament to nature's beauty no matter the season.  The forest seems to speak and beckon you in with its creaks and groans emitting from the chilled air.  Each tree set against the snow becomes an individual with a unique story and form and a tranquility to it all that words can't quite touch.

Old-growth swamp chestnut oak/sweet gum/beech woods in southeastern Indiana

A lovely example of an old-growth wet flat woods in southeastern Indiana full of trees three to four feet in diameter and rocketing over 100' into the sky.  Swamp chestnut oak, sweet gum, and beech are the primary occupants with thick, stout trunks that are slow to taper as they ascend.

Dan Boone and a mighty swamp chestnut oak
Looking up the column of the same oak

The most impressive denizens of this particular wet flat woods were the swamp chestnut oaks (Quercus michauxii), a species that doesn't quite make it north/east enough to occur in Ohio.  My good friend and brilliant botanist, Dan Boone poses next to one of the largest specimens of them all with the accompanying photograph showing the incredible volume of wood reaching into the heavens.

Exceptional sweetgum from SE Indiana

But then again, the sweetgums (Liquidambar styraciflua) in the same woods and other nearby old-growth flat woods aren't anything to pass over either!

I could go on and on in sharing my favorite trees but I will end it with one of the most impressive trees (height-wise) I've yet seen.  This shellbark hickory (Carya laciniosa) from another wet flat woods in southeastern Indiana is estimated at over 150' tall and three feet in diameter.  I'd love to get back out with the necessary tools and information to get a more educated height but regardless it's one imposing tree!  It's hard to fathom how this tree has survived who knows how many winter storms, squall lines, and ice events to still astound this tree-loving botanist today!

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Showcase on the Sedges (Cyperaceae)

Sedges.  The mere mention of this monocotyledonous group can make even the most enthusiastic of plant lovers furrow their brow.  That comes as no surprise as the complexity and excruciatingly similar characteristics of the family is well known and subsequently shunned by some.  They typically aren't for botanical greenhorns but can quickly become a fevered obsession to some.  Don't fear though!  This post is geared towards the artistic and aesthetic aspect of the family and its respective genera/species with some basic information.  I don't want to overdue it and drown my readers in a deep treatment full of botanical jargon and drool-inducing paragraphs; even if it sounds like fun to me!  I'm one of the aforementioned folks with the hots for this family.

Carex sartwellii among the Virginia irises in a west-central Ohio fen meadow

The Cyperaceae family is arguably the largest (grasses in the Poaceae could have more, I've never counted and compared) in Ohio with 250+ species in 15-16 different genera.  Sedges come in all shapes and sizes.  Some are so minute you need a hand lens to accurately inspect the plant, while others can be taller than you and/or occur in large, sprawling colonies.  Despite many species appearing very similar, they all display a unique and sometimes fascinating arrangement, look, and/or feel to them.  Many species are downright beautiful and architectural works of wonder as you'll soon see.  Fair warning: most sedges don't have common names and only go by their Latin botanical names.  If all else fails, just glance at the photos and admire these all-too-frequently overlooked plants!

Carex communis flowering in the early spring

The largest and most diverse of the Cyperaceae's genera are the true sedges from the Carex genus.  Ohio is home to over 160 different species and account for a nice chunk of our botanical biodiversity.  The photograph above shows the delicate pollen-laden staminate (male) flowers and the clear, thread-like pistillate (female) flowers on the flowering culms of Carex communis in early spring.

Display of associate sedge species from a calcareous fen meadow

All Carex have three-ranked (triangular) leaves/culms and their achenes (seeds) each individually encased in a papery sack called a perigynium (perigynia plural).  the perigynia make up the spikelet (fruit) and are hands down the most attention-grabbing part of a sedge.  Above is a lineup of some Carex species typically found in west-central Ohio's calcareous fen meadows.  From left to right: C. stricta, C. buxbaumii, C. viridula, C. sterilis, C. flava, C. leptalea, C. suberecta, and C. hystericina.

Next are a handful of different Carex species I find visually appealing and worth an extra look at.  Admittedly, they also happen to be some of the species I've managed to remember to photograph.  With so many wildflowers and trees around, it's sometimes hard to focus your lens on such small botanical bounties.

Carex grayi
Carex lurida

From R to L: Carex frankii, C. crus-corvi, C. lupulina, C. lupuliformis, C. grayi, C. comosa, and C. crinita

Carex hyalinolepis
Carex utriculata

Carex buxbaumii

Of all of Ohio's indigenous sedges, this one may be my favorite.  Buxbaum's sedge (C. buxbaumii) has perigynia of a spectacularly distinct green color that is contrasted brilliantly by its dark pistillate scales.  This uncommon species is most frequently found in Ohio's calcareous fen meadows but also occurs in marshes, wet flatwoods, and other wet, open habitats.

Carex squarrosa
Carex aurea

An interesting note about Carex aurea (pictured above right), is the fact its achenes are edible and have somewhat of a nutty taste to them.  I gave it a try after snapping the picture above with my iPhone and wasn't displeased at their taste.  Not too bad!

Comparison between C. comosa on L and C. pseduocyperus on R

An example of two similar species can be seen above with C. comosa on the left and the very rare, state-endangered C. pseudocyperus on the right.  Careful examination and measurement of the perigynia and their beaks is essential in this particular case!

Sea of Carex intumescens growing in the deep shade of a wet, acidic flatwoods in southwestern Ohio.

Now it's time to move away from the diverse Carex genus and explore a number of other genera in the Cyperaceae family and some of their representative species.

Browning clump of woolgrass (Scirpus cyperinus) growing alongside a pond.

The Scirpus (bulrushes) genus is represented by eight species in Ohio, with the photographed woolgrass (Scirpus cyperinus) being one of the most frequent species.  Bulrushes are vital food sources for waterfowl and other aquatic critters.  The bulrushes tend to be the largest/tallest of the Cyperaceae members as well.

Eleocharis obtusa 

Eleocharis (spike rushes) is a diverse and notoriously difficult genus that requires careful study of their tiny achenes and other inconspicuous characteristics to identify them down to species level.  Spike rushes have small terminal spikelets and culms with extremely reduced leaves (blades often absent).  There are 16 taxa native to Ohio with many being rather rare, or at least overlooked.

Rhynchospora capillacea
Rhynchospora capitellata

Rhynchospora (beak rushes) are named for the tiny "beak" or tubercle that caps each achene in this genus.  Their spikelets occur terminally and are arranged in glomerules, or compacted clusters.  Here in Ohio we only have a handful of species (including the two photographed above) but further to the south/east this genus is represented by dozens of species.

Eriophorum viridicarinatum

Eriophorum (cotton grass) is one of the most immediately-recognizable and distinguishable Cyperaceae genera for its woolly perianth bristles that are quick to catch the eye.  Unlike the aforementioned Rhynchospora genus whose range is primarily in the southeast; this genus is predominately found in the boreal north's fens and bogs.  Ohio is home to only three species and all three are quite rare in their limited distribution.

Cladium mariscoides

Cladium (twig rush) is a small genus of only three North American species and only one member in Ohio.  Our sole species, C. mariscoides occurs in calcareous fen meadows, marly mud flats, and marshy shorelines.  A relative of our twig rush, C. mariscus in the south is known as sawgrass for its hard, serrated edges that can easily slice open mammalian skin.

Schoenoplectus purshianus
Schoenoplectus saximontanus

Schoenoplectus (naked-stemmed bulrushes) is a relatively new genus split out from Scirpus and still goes by the common name of bulrush.  This genus has species that can be have either triangular or round stems in cross-section; which can cause for some confusion.  However, its small, clustered spikelets accompanied with an erect, non-leafy proximal bract (looks like a continuation of the stem) can help them stand out.

Scleria triglomerata

Scleria (nutrushes) might be my favorite genus out of all the Cyperaceae.  There are only four species to be found in Ohio but their very artistic achenes definitely set them apart.  The achenes turn bleach white when mature and have a unique pattern and/or combination of characters that help identify them to the species level.  I definitely plan to delve into our state's four taxa in their own dedicated post in the near future.

Dulichium arundinaceum

Dulichium (three-way sedge) is a monotypic genus, meaning only one species (D. arundinaceum) represents the entire genus.  This unique plant does an excellent job of displaying the three-ranked leaves trait when looking straight down from above.  The thin, needle-like structures are this species' achene-bearing spikelets.  It occurs sporadically throughout the state in wet-moist, open soiled situations.

Lipocarpha drummondii

Lipocarpha (dwarf bulrush, halfchaff sedge) is one of the most dainty and unique of the Cyperaceae genera  in Ohio.  Only two species occur in our state and both are extremely rare and only occur in a few places. The plants are small, densely tufted annuals with very thin culms that bear equally small spikelets near the apex. Keep an eye out for this genus in northwest Ohio's flat, sparsely-vegetated sand plains and swales.

Trichophorum alpinus

Trichophorum (club rush) is a weird but charming genus that physically looks very similar to the spike rushes (Eleocharis) with a single, small, and terminal spikelet; however Trichophorum spp. culms have reduced, but noticeable leaf blades.  This particular species, T. alpinum pictured does not occur in Ohio but has the added bonus of perianth bristles reminiscent of the cotton grasses (Eriophorum); which this species is sometimes placed in.  In Ohio, we only have a single species found in upland, dry oak forests called T. planifolium.

the native annual Kyllinga pumila (L) sitting next to the invasive, non-native and rhizomatous K. gracillima

Kyllinga (greenhead-sedge, spike sedge) is last but certainly not least.  This often overlooked and diminutive native sedge is quite charming and handsome in its own right.  Our native species, K. pumila is an annual with a fibrous root system (seen on left above) and can easily be told apart from the newly-invading, non-native Asian species, K. gracillima, which is a perennial with a rhizomatous habitat.

There are a handful of genera I currently do not have photographs of (Bolboscheonus, Bulbostylis, Cyperus, and Fimbristylis) that I hope to add to this post sometime in the future.  If anything, I hope you've discovered that between the diversity and difficulty of this family, there is an awful lot of beauty.  You only have to look a little harder, sometimes with the aid of a hand lens to see it!

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Plant Quiz Solved: Rock Sandwort (Minuartia michauxii)

Congratulations and thanks to Keith Board, affiliated with the fantastic Get Your Botany On! blog, for correctly identifying this species as Arenaria stricta, also known as Minuartia michauxii: the rock sandwort.  This late spring/early summer flowering plant is rare in Ohio and listed as a potentially-threatened species with scattered populations in the southern counties and counties along Lake Erie.  In our state it grows almost exclusively on dry, rocky limestone (calcareous) situations like cliffs, bluffs, rock faces, prairies, and quarries.  Its charming and delicate white flowers bloom in the latter part of May and into June. This particular patch was photographed on a dolomite glade bluff in Adams county where the plant is locally common.

Thanks to those to played along on here and on Facebook!  Keep your eye out for another plant quiz in the future.

Minuartia michauxii in flower

Time for another plant quiz!  Take a gander at the accompanying photograph of the plant in question and leave your answers/responses in the comment section below.  Note: the plant in question is not the oak seedling! Thanks to all those who decide to play along and best of luck!

Do you recognize this native Ohio plant?