The forecast over the weekend called for possible rain, so the WGNSS Botany Group chose a location close to home in case we got rained out. I would have never thought of Creve Coeur Park as a place to botanize, but the environs surrounding the lakes, particularly Mallard Lake, get good moisture and have been allowed to revert to semi-native vegetation (with a few significant exotic invasives) for many years now. We first examined a few native garden plantings near the parking lot and saw several things not typically found in this part of the state, but the most interesting to me was Liatris scariosa (savanna blazingstar), one of our less common species, and it’s large fantastically showy blooms.
Eupatorium serotinum (late boneset) was blooming profusely along the margins of the lake—I scanned the flowers for a while hoping to see some interesting beetles, with several Euphoria leucographa (a common flower chafer) being the only beetles seen. As I looked, I enjoyed Steve’s explanation of the common name of late boneset compared to another common Missouri species, Eupatorium altissimum (tall boneset)—the former actually blooms later than “late boneset,” and the latter is actually as tall as “tall boneset”!
Further along the lake margin we found a stand of “Helianthus” sunflowers, but these proved to be the lookalike Heliopsus helianthoides (false sunflower)—I’d been fooled by their straight yellow color versus the orange-yellow color that is more typical of the species. A good character to distinguish this species when the color is not diagnostic is the double-rank of phyllaries on the underside of the flower head, with the inner ones short and rounded and the outer ones long and pointed-recurved.
There is also another easy way to distinguish false sunflower—by noting the presence of Lygaeus turcicus (false milkweed bug, also called the heliopsis bug), a close relative of L. kalmii (small milkweed bug) which looks very similar to the latter but, as indicated by the common name, feeds exclusively on false sunflower instead of milkweed. We eventually found several of the bugs (which, sadly, did not cooperate for photos), further confirming our identification of the plants.
We diverted to a dry, sandy spot under the bridge to check out some ant lion pits. Also called “doodlebugs,” these relatives to lacewings are surely the inspiration for the brain-eating “Ceti eels” in Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan! In the area, a super-fresh Limenitis arthemis astyanax (red-spotted purple) probed for salts on the ground, posing beautifully for a few photos.
Walking along the trail north of Mallard Lake, we saw two species of vining plants: Amphicarpaea bracteata (hog peanut), and Apios americana (groundnut). Both of these plants belong to the bean family (Fabaceae) and have underground edible portions—the former in the form of peanut-like fruits formed from self-fertilizing, “cleistogamous” flowers that bloom near the ground (or even underground), and the latter in the form of tubers that form like strings of beads along the underground rhizomes of the vine. Both were important food sources for indigenous cultures. I’ve never seen either of these species in bloom (the flowers of groundnut, in particular, were unlike any other I’ve seen), so it was nice to be able to compare them on plants growing nearly side-by-side.
Walking back towards the cars, we had one more “DYC” (damned yellow composite) to test our ID skills. Fortunately, Helenium spp. (sneezeweed) are easily distinguished from other DYCs by their wedge-shaped ray florets with lobed tips and protuberant, nearly spherical disks. Helenium autumnale (common sneezeweed) is identified to species by its combination of yellow disk florets and broad leaves attached to a conspicuously winged stem.
By the time we reached our cars, I was as hungry, sweaty, and thirsty as I’ve ever been on one of these walks. My thirst and appetite for knowledge, however, were, for the moment, completely satiated.
This is the seventh “Collecting Trip iReport”; this one covering a 5-day trip to Arkansas and Oklahoma from June 7–11, 2019 with my friend and local collecting buddy Richard Thoma. As with all previous “iReports” in this series, this one too is illustrated exclusively with iPhone photographs.
Day 1 – Ozark National Forest, vic. Calico Rock, Arkansas It’s been many years since I’ve visited these sandstone glades overlooking the White River near Calico Rock. Conditions were partly sunny when we arrived, but water on the ground suggested rain earlier in the day. We had only a short time to start exploring before the wind started blowing up and the smell of rain filled the air. I did manage to beat one Amniscus sexguttata from a branch of living Pinus echinata and collect a couple of Strigoderma sp. from Coreopsis lanceolata flowers before steady rain forced us to retreat.
Day 2 – Ouachita National Forest, Winding Stair Campground & Ouachita Trail, Oklahoma We walked the trail from the campground S about 2½ miles and back. I started off with Acmaeodera tubulus on Krigia sp. flowers, eventually finding a lot of them on this plant at higher elevations along with a single Acmaeodera ornata, and I beat a few Agrilus cepahlicus off of Cornus drummondii. This had me thinking it would be a good buprestid day, but it wasn’t, the only other species collected being some Chrysobothris cribraria off of small dead Pinus echinata saplings and Pachyschelus laevigatus on Desmodium sp. Also beat a few miscellaneous insects off of Cercis canadensis and Vaccineum arborea and swept some from grasses and other herbaceous plants. Back at the campground I collected Chrysobothris dentipes on the sunny trunks of large, live Pinus echinata trees.
Ouachita National Forest, Talimena Scenic Dr at Big Cedar Vista, Oklahoma There were lots of native wildflowers like Coreopsis tinctoria and Ratibida columnifera in bloom, so we stopped to check them out. There were lots of butterflies, however, I found only a single Typocerus zebra on Coreopsis lanceolata.
Ouachita National Forest, Winding Stair Campground, Oklahoma We returned to the campground in the evening to do some blacklighting. I had high hopes, but only five cerambycids came to the lights, all represented by a single individual: Monochamus carolinensis, Acanthocinus obsoletus, Amniscus sexguttatus, Eutrichillus biguttatus, and Leptostylus tranversus (the first four are pine-associates). I also picked up a few other miscellaneous insects.
Day 3 – Medicine Park Primitive Campground, Oklahoma There wasn’t much insect activity going on in eastern Oklahoma, so we drove out west to the Wichita Mountains for hopefully better luck. We found a small park with a primitive campground in the city of Medicine Park—my first thought was to beat the post oaks dotting the campground, but when I went into the native prairie between the campground and the creek I never came out! Right away I found what must be Acmaeodera ornatoides on flowers of Opuntia sp., then I found more on flowers of Gallardia pulchella along with Acmaeodera mixta. The latter were also on flowers of Thelesperma filifolium along with Acmaeodera neglecta—took a nice series of each, and I also got a few of the latter on flowers of Coreopsis grandiflora. Strangalia sexnotata were on flowers of C. tinctoria and Torilis arvensis, and then on the latter plant I saw a male Strangalia virilis—a Texas/Oklahoma specialty that I’ve never collected before! I spent the next hour looking for these guys and ended up with 3 males and 2 females along with a few Trichiotinus texanus—another Texas/Oklahoma specialty—and a single Agrilaxia sp. nr. flavimana (could be A. texana). One single Typocerus octonotatus was on flowers of Achillea millefolium. I think we may come back here tomorrow—I’d like to look for more S. virilis and beat the post oaks (the reason we stopped here to begin with).
Lake Lawtonka nr. Ma Ballou Point, Oklahoma We stumbled into this area while looking for stands of Sapindus drummondii (soapberry)—found a small stand along the road, but it was too inaccessible. The same diversity of blooms were present as at the previous spot, so I picked a few longhorns off flowers of Coreopsis grandiflora and Gaillardia pulchella. Super windy, so we didn’t stay long.
Day 4 – Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge, Oklahoma Before starting the day’s collecting, we wanted to go into the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge to have a look around. On the way into the refuge we some American bison near the road and had to stop, take photos, and simply admire these massive, majestic beasts. We then went to the Cedar Plantation, where I had visited before back in 2012 and photographed black individuals of Cicindelidia obsoleta vulturina (prairie tiger beetle). No tiger beetles were out now (they come out in the fall), but I’d hoped to maybe see Cylindera celeripes (swift tiger beetle) along the 2-tracks in the area. No such luck—nevertheless, we saw a myriad of interesting insects, including several more Esenbeckia incisuralis (green-eyed horse flies) and a beautiful Trichodes bibalteatus (checkered beetle), the latter of which I photographed on flowers of Ratibida columnifera and Achillea millefolium with the big camera. Afterwards we visited the “prairie dog town” and got marvelous views and photographs of black-tailed prairie dogs.
Medicine Park, Jack Laughter Park, Oklahoma We’d noticed this spot yesterday because of the old post oaks and wealth of wildflowers blooming up the mountainside. There wasn’t much going on today, however—just a few Acmaeodera mixta on flowers of Gaillardia pulchella. I did find an Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia) sp. on my arm! Otherwise I spent some time photographing the landscape and some geometrid larvae on flowers of Gaillardia pulchella.
Medicine Park Primitive Campground, Oklahoma We returned to this spot since we had so much luck yesterday. I was hoping to collect more Acmaeodera ornatoides and Strangalia virilis, but there was much less going on today than yesterday—basically didn’t see anything for the first hour and a half. I didn’t give up, however, and kept checking the area where we saw most of the S. virilis yesterday, and eventually I saw another male in the same area as yesterday on the same stand of Torilis arvensis. I found two more males in the same area over the next hour, so three males on the day was a good reward for the time spent looking for them. I also collected Trichodes apivorus and Trichiotinus texanus on flowers of Allium sp. Interestingly, beating the post oaks—the reason why I originally wanted to stop here—produced nothing. So, not very many specimens on the day, but happy with those I did get.
Medicine Park, Jack Laughter Park, Oklahoma I was pretty much done for the day after spending all morning at the refuge and most of the afternoon at the previous spot, but Rich wanted to take another look at Jack Laughter Park because he’d found some interesting grasshoppers there. As with earlier in the day there were few beetles of interest to me, but I did collect a couple of Trichiotinus texanus on flowers of Cirsium undulatum. I checked out some large post oaks with large dead branches thinking that might be what Strangalia virilis was breeding in but never saw any, and eventually I turned my attention to photographing a few interesting native plants that I found along the way.
Day 5 – Epilogue We were tempted to do one last little bit of collecting on the way back to St. Louis, but since had pretty good luck during the last couple of days and the drive alone would take more than nine hours we decided to leave well enough alone and get home at a reasonable hour. A walk with Beauregard when I got home to stretch the post-drive legs was the perfect way to end the mini-vacation.
As my friend Rich and I stood in the verdent understory admiring the spectacular panicles of red buckeye punctuating the green lushness, a small brown flower on a leafless branch above me caught my eye. “Pawpaw!” I exclaimed, perhaps partly in amazement that it took us awhile to notice the trees that were, in fact, all around us. Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) is a member of the only temperate genus in the otherwise exclusively tropical and subtropical family Annonaceae (Custard Apple Family). Although not nearly as restricted in occurrence in Missouri as the red buckeyes with which they were growing, they are nevertheless always a treat to see. Scattered throughout the state, they can be found growing in bottomland forests, ravines in mesic upland forests, along woodland streams, and at bases of bluffs (Yatskievych 2006).
Pawpaws are, of course, famous for their large edible fruits, sometimes called Indian bananas, Missouri bananas, Michigan bananas, [insert eastern state here] bananas, etc. Technically, however, the pawpaw fruit is a berry, since it is derived from a single pistil and has multiple seeds embedded within the pulpy matrix. I’ve not tried the fruit myself, not for lack of desire but rather an inability to find them when they ripen in fall before the birds and mammals get to them. Some effort has been made to cultivate the plant for fruit production, but low fruit set seems to be a persistent problem due to reproductive self-incompatibility.
Pawpaw also famously serves as the larval food plant for the zebra swallowtail butterfly, Eurytides marcellus (family Papilionidae). Beyond this, however, there seem to be not many insects associated with the plant. I have collected dead wood of pawpaw in an effort to determine the species of wood-boring beetle species that are associated with it. The only species I’ve reared is the longhorned beetle, Elaphidion mucronatum (whose common name “spined oak borer” belies the fact that it is one of the most polyphagous of all North American species), and two other longhorned beetles, Eupogonius pauper and Urgleptes querci (also highly polyphagous), have also been reported being reared from dead wood of this plant. I have not associated any jewel beetles with pawpaw, nor have any such associations been reported in the literature. It would appear that woodboring beetles are not fond of the soft, weak wood of pawpaw, perhaps due to the plant’s annonaceous acetogenins with known pesticidal qualities (Ratnayake et al. 1993) (acetogenins are also under investigation as anti-cancer drugs). Other poisonous compounds, chiefly alkaloids, are found in various parts of the plant, especially the seeds and bark, and likely play a role in herbivore defense. Insect pollinators also seem to be infrequent, as I have not noted any insects on its flowers. Most members of the family are pollinated by beetles (Yatskievych 2006), but the meat-colored, downward-facing, not-so-sweet-smelling flowers of pawpaw suggest pollination by flies, perhaps those attracted to carrion.