Botanizing at Castlewood State Park

Fall color was the goal of today’s Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) Botany Group field trip, and Castlewood State Park—with its breathtaking bluff-top views over the Meramec River Valley—is as good a place to see the autumn spectacle as any. It was a well-attended group despite the cool temps, blustery winds, and hint of moisture in the air, likely helped by the park’s closer-than-usual proximity to St. Louis.

Meramec River viewed from Lone Wolf Trail Overlook.

The group decided to hike the Lone Wolf Trail, which traverses both dry forest along the bluffs and riparian forest along Kiefer Creek. We got the climbing out of the way quickly by making the long, steep ascent up to the bluffs from the parking lot—giving ample opportunity for all to make it up before exploring the bluffs. John pointed out a small tree with developing male catkins that identified it as Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam). The catkins will remain closed through the winter and flower next spring. Ostrya (pronounced “oh-STRY-uh”) bark is usually vertically striate (pronounced “STRY-ate”), but the bark on this tree was still relatively smooth—a “non-striate Ostrya”!

Male catkins of Ostrya virginiana (hop hornbeam).

Reaching the wooden deck overlooking the Meramec River Valley, the size of our group apparently intimidated three youngsters that were on the deck, and they quickly yielded way. The expected fall colors had not yet materialized, leading some to engage in what seems to be an annual tradition of debating whether this year’s colors are abnormally late. While at the deck and walking further along the trail from it, debates centered mostly around distinguishing the various oaks and hickories. Fallen (squirrel-clipped?) twigs from one of the large oaks exhibited large, fuzzy, quadrangular buds typical of Quercus velutina (black oak), but the leaves had usually deep sinuses. After consulting a Missouri oaks field guide, we decided they must represent Q. velutina despite the atypical leaves. Close examination of the hickories with magnification revealed distinct pubescence on the buds and petioles, suggesting Carya texana (black hickory).

The WGNSS Botany Group takes in the view from the Lone Wolf Trail Overlook.

There was little still remaining in bloom along the bluffs, and what was still in bloom was in pretty rough shape. We found two blue fall asters near each other, but a closer look revealed that they were actually two different species—Symphyotrichum turbinellum (prairie aster), distinguished by its vase-shaped involucre and branchy growth with simple leaves, and Symphyotrichum patens (creeping aster), recognizable at once by its basally clasping leaves. Another fall aster without blooms caused some debate—the recurved phyllaries of the involucre and chordate lower leaves suggested Symphyotrichum anomalum (manyray aster), but the toothed leaf edges suggested something else. Without a flower to see the color, it was suggested it could be an “anomalous anomalum.” Otherwise, only the occasional, scraggly Solidago ulmifolia (elm-leaf goldenrod) completed the list of still-barely-blooming plants along the bluffs.

Acalypha virginca (Virginia copperleaf) provides the forest floor with subtle fall color.

Descending from the bluffs along a north-facing slope and more mesic conditions provided much more color than along the bluff. Patches of Asimina triloba (pawpaw)—their large, simple leaves now vivid yellow, brightened the understory, while the ubiquitous Acer saccharum (sugar maple) lifted the yellows higher into the canopy. Only the giant oaks, mostly Q. alba (white oak) and the aforementioned Q. velutina soared above the maples, their great height no doubt a result of rich, deep soils on the north-facing slope. On the ground below, a multitude of ferns colonized the moister areas, with three species found growing side-by-side: Adiantum pedatum (northern maidenhair fern), Phegopteris hexagonoptera (broad beech fern), and Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern).

Apioperdon pyriforme (pear-shaped puffball, stump puffball) on dead oak trunk base.

Fall color was not restricted to the leaves of the trees—fruits also provided dazzling points of color. Cornus florida (flowering dogwood) and Lindera benzoin (spicebush) both sported bright red berries similar enough in appearance to each other that close examination was required to distinguish those that had fallen to the ground. The former is monoecious and with perfect flowers (both male and female structures present), thus, all individuals can bear fruit. The latter, however, is dioecious—some trees bear only male flowers while others bear only female flowers; thus, only some of the trees sported their red berries. Comparing male versus female trees provided a chance to compare also the now-developing flower buds that will be among the first to open of any plant next spring. Since male plants tend to flower earlier than females, their flower buds were observed to be ever so slightly larger and further developed than those on female plants.

Lindera benzoin (spicebush) female fruits.
Lindera benzoin (spicebush) female flower buds.
Lindera benzoin (spicebush) male flower buds.

Along Kiefer Creek, flowers were limited to the occasional Campanula americana (tall bellflower) until we came upon a small area where a few late-blooming and very short-stemmed Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan) were found (regrowth?), but the remnants of green garden netting found around them indicated that they might have been planted. Definitely native in the same area, however, were a few still-flowering Eupatorium serotinum (late boneset) plants, a couple of which were found to be hosting a small, dark blue and yellow striped caterpillar. Neither of the two entomologists present knew what it was, although both had suggestions, but a little bit of sleuthing revealed them to be the larval stage of Haploa clymene (clymene moth), one of the tiger moths (subfamily Arctiinae) and known to feed on Eupatorium.

An unusually short-stemmed Rudbeckia hirta (black-eyed Susan).
Haploa clymene (clymene moth) caterpillar on Eupatorium serotinum (late boneset). Species ID based on host.

After returning to the parking lot and chatting with the group, I went back to the Eupatorium plants to take additional photographs of the Haploa clymene caterpillars with the big camera (look for those in a future post). On the way back to the car, I found a small snail actively crawling over the trail surface—its body fully stretched and antennae fully extended. I couldn’t resist putting the iPhone to the test to see if it could capture good photos of this small snail, and both the lateral and head-on shots were more than adequate. iNaturalist identifies it as a species in the genus Ventridens (dome snail), a member of the family Zonitidae (true glass snails).

Ventridens sp. (dome snail) on trail through mesic riparian deciduous forest.
Ventridens sp. (dome snail) on trail through mesic riparian deciduous forest.

©️ Ted C MacRae 2021

Botanizing at Prairie Fork Conservation Area

Restored claypan prairie around Crow Pond.

Today’s outing for the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) Botany Group was Prairie Fork Conservation Area, a newish Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) property that is open to the public only by appointment. The 911-acre property lies within the historic 9-mile long prairie of Callaway County, Missouri—namesake for Nine Mile Prairie Township. Prior to MDC ownership, the property was owned by Ted Jones, son of the founder of Edward Jones Financial Company, and his wife Pat, who began dedicated conservation practices beginning in the 1950s. Obviously, conservation in those days—with its reliance on plantings of many now-invasive exotics such as Lespedeza sericea (sericea lespedeza), Lonicera mackii (bush honeysuckle), and Elaeagnus angustifolia (Russion olive), meant something very different than it does today. Nevertheless, the foresight and generosity of Ted and Pat Jones ultimately led to the creation a conservation area where more than half of its area has been or is being restored to claypan prairie resembling as much as possible its presettlement character.

Crow Pond.

The group engaged in two short hikes—the first through several garden plantings and then at the interface between tallgrass prairie and upland forest surrounding the perimeter of Crow Pond. Almost immediately we were treated to the sight of Gentiana andrewsii (closed gentian) in bloom. To the uninitiated, the mature flowers appear to be still-unopened buds. In fact, the corolla in this species remains closed, and the flowers are pollinated by bumblebees, which must force their way through the closed corolla. We would see numerous plants as we traveled around the pond, with most being difficult to access and photograph due to the thick, surrounding vegetation.

Gentiana andrewsii (closed gentian) mature inflorescences.
Gentiana andrewsii (closed gentian) mature inflorescences.

At pond’s edge, we found several examples of Symphyotrichum laterifolium (calico aster), one of the few white fall asters that can be identified fairly easily in the field due to its profusion of smaller-than-average-sized flowers along lateral branches with relatively few rays (9–16) and disc florets turning from pale yellow to purple, lance-elliptic leaves with a “Mohawk” (i.e., hairs only along the midvein) on the underside, and stems covered in soft, white hairs.

Symphyotrichum laterifolium (calico aster).

At the far end of the pond, the group noticed Taxodium distichum (bald cypress) trees (native to southeastern Missouri but not this far north) with strange-looking galls on the twigs. There was some discussion about whether they were caused by an insect or a fungus—their rusty-brown color and numerous spikes brought to mind the galls on Juniperus virginiana (eastern red-cedar) caused by the fungus Gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae (cedar-apple rust). The fact that both Taxodium and Juniperus are in the family Cupressaceae made the idea of a rust fungus being the culprit seem even more likely. Nevertheless, a little online sleuthing (thank goodness for smart phones!) revealed that the actual culprit was, indeed, and insect—specifically Taxodiomyia cupressiananassa (cypress twig gall midge), a tiny fly. The spongy galls are snow-white at first and then turn brown with age, eventually dropping from the tree as leaves are shed. Maggots pupate inside the galls and adults may emerge from galls that are still on the tree later in the season. Maggots usually overwinter inside fallen galls to pupate and emerge as adults the following spring.

Galls caused by Taxodiomyia cupressiananassa (cypress twig gall midge) on Taxodium distichum (bald cypress).
Galls start out snow-white but turn brown with age.

As we walked, some of the more adventurous among us partook in freshly fallen fruits of Diospyros virginiana (persimmon). Those that were plucked from trees just as they were ready to drop were found to be the tastiest and least stringent, and sucking on the five or so seeds per fruit stretched out the flavor as long as possible. As we enjoyed the impromptu snack, a few still-flowering plants of Bidens aristosa (bearded beggarsticks or tickseed sunflower) were seen near the pond margin.

Bidens aristosa (bearded beggarsticks or tickseed sunflower).
Bidens aristosa (bearded beggarsticks or tickseed sunflower).

Eventually, we spotted from afar a large patch of bright, yellow-flowered composites in the distance. Their brown-purple discs brought the genus Rudbeckia immediately to mind, and our initial thought was R. subtomentosa (sweet coneflower) after seeing some of the large leaves with lobes. Still, the time of bloom seemed very late, and the plants were not as tall nor the leaves as “gray” as would be expected for that species. In reality, the majority of leaves were not lobed, and we decided they instead represented a form of R. fulgida (orange coneflower)—a highly variable and taxonomically difficult complex of populations.

Rudbeckia fulgida (orange coneflower).
Rudbeckia fulgida (orange coneflower).
Rudbeckia fulgida (orange coneflower) involucre.
Rudbeckia fulgida (orange coneflower) leaf.
Rudbeckia fulgida (orange coneflower) stem.

After completing the circuit around Crow Pond, the group caravanned to the northernmost and most recently renovated quarter on the property. Most of the plants established in this large tract of now-tallgrass prairie were well on their way to fall seed (and, in fact, had been combine-harvested for such), but mowing along the gravel access road allowed some still-green regrow the—the most dramatic being Helianthus maximiliani (Maximilian sunflower). This uncommon sunflower is most similar to H. grosseserratus (sawtooth sunflower) due to its large attractive flowers and narrow, curved leaves. However, leaves of the former are grayish due to the presence of many tiny hairs covering the surface of the leaf (in the latter leaves are glabrous), and the stem is rough—also due to the presence of hairs (in the latter the stem is glabrous and has a glaucus coating that can be rubbed off).

Helianthus maximiliani (Maximilian sunflower).
Helianthus maximiliani (Maximilian sunflower) involucre.
Helianthus maximiliani (Maximilian sunflower) stem/leaves.
Helianthus maximiliani (Maximilian sunflower) leaf.

The group agreed that three weeks earlier would have been a good time to see the area, and next spring or summer would be even better!

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Hiking at Grand Bluffs Conservation Area

300-ft bluffs tower above the Missouri River valley.

Balmy conditions continue as we head into the back half of October. For today’s hike, I decided to try something new and settled on Grand Bluffs to check out the spectacular views that are said to be available from atop its 300-ft bluffs that overlook the Missouri River valley.

The Missouri River Valley stretches off to the west.

I expected fall colors to be well advanced by now, but at least in this area the forests remain mostly green with only hints of the yellows, reds, and oranges that will soon explode across the canopy. The parking lot is near the valley, so the hike to the overlook is mostly up, sometimes for fairly long stretches. The views from the lookout, however, are breathtaking and well worth the effort to get there.

Warty leaf beetle (Neochlamisus sp.).

On the way up, fall asters (Symphyotrichum spp.) and goldenrods (Solidago spp.) bloomed prolifically along the trailsides under mesic deciduous forest—I saw three species of the former (anomalum, oolentangyense, and turbinellum) and two of the latter (nemoralis and petiolaris).

Gemmed satyr butterfly (Cyllopsis gemma).

Insects seen included syrphid flies and halictid bees on the fall asters, several warty leaf beetles (Neochlamisus sp.) feeding on foliage of black oak (Quercus velutina), and gemmed satyr (Cyllopsis gemma) butterflies flitting above the forest floor. A male eastern harvestman (Leiobunum vittatum) sitting in the trunk of a shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) proudly displayed his elongated, spiny pedipalps for all to see.

Eastern harvestman (Leiobunum vittatum).

The hike back down was almost as deliberate as the hike up, taking care to watch my footing as the late afternoon shadows grew longer and sharper through the dappled sunlight. While 2.7 miles is not a long hike, it was sufficient for the day, and I look forward to returning during the winter when an open canopy will afford even more spectacular views from atop the bluffs.

One of the dark-spored mushrooms (family Psathyrellaceae) at the base of a sugar maple (Acer saccharum).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Hiking at Valley View Glades Natural Area

My good hiking/collecting buddy Rich called me yesterday and asked if I was interested in a hike. Since I am retired, and he is retired, there was nothing on either of our schedules that prevented us from doing it the very next day, so we decided to come to one of our favorite places that we haven’t been to in awhile—Valley View Glades Natural Area near Hillsboro.

Fall color beginning at Valley View Glades Natural Area.

I brought my big camera along because I figured Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchids (Spiranthes magnicamporum) would be in good bloom, and I wanted to get good closeups with a blue sky background (I was successful in that regard—photos coming soon). I also brought along my collecting pack in case we found a beetle or two, but in this regard I was only half-successful—careful examination of several ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius intermedius) patches did not reveal any Dicerca pugionata (seen a week ago at nearby Victoria Glades), but I did find a Blackburn’s earth-boring beetle (Geotrupes blackburni) on the trail. We also found a gum bumelia (Sideroxylon lanuginosum) tree with copious amounts of frass at the base, indicating infestation by a bumelia borer (Plinthocoelium suaveolens), and I recorded the location so I could put an emergence cage at the base of the tree next season to catch the emerging adult.

One other item of botanical interest was downy goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris) growing near the margins of the dry post oak woodlands—a species I’ve not previously noticed but was able to recognize due to its combination of recurved phyllaries and moderately widened leaves without teeth (Buckley’s goldenrod, S. buckleyi, also has recurved phyllaries but wider leaves with the edges distinctly toothed).

Downy goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris).
Downy goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris).
Downy goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris).
Downy goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris).
Downy goldenrod (Solidago petiolaris).

An especially colorful gall caused by the cynipid wasp Atrusca quercuscentricola on the leaf of post oak (Quercus stellata) piqued both entomological and botanical curiosity.

Atrusca quercuscentricola gall on leaf of post oak (Quercus stellata). Note adult emergence hole in upper left of gall.
Atrusca quercuscentricola gall on leaf of post oak (Quercus stellata)—turned upside down.

Near the end of the hike, I pointed out a shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) tree that may be the northernmost naturally-occurring shortleaf pine in the state. I am aware of some trees further north along Hwy 21 at Sunridge Tower Park and in St. Louis Co. at Rockwoods Reservation, but I believe in both of these cases they are planted.

Shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Hiking at Hughes Mountain Natural Area

Even though I ended the bait trapping season last weekend, I still plan to get out on a weekly basis to explore some areas that I haven’t been able to visit yet this season. Tops on the list for me is Hughes Mountain Natural Area, an exposed rhyolite dome in the St. Francois Mountains that features dry oak-hickory woodlands surrounding xeric igneous glades.

Hughes Mountain summit.

The main thing I was hoping to see was Tragidion coquus, a spectacular longhorned beetle that seems common in some areas (e.g., Texas) but is rarely seen in Missouri. I saw one here three years ago in late September at the woodland/glade interface, and a recent conversation with fellow cerambyciphile Dan Heffern, who mentioned that they seem to prefer recently burned oak woodlands, makes me think that is why I saw it here (the surrounding woodlands are managed with periodic prescribed burns to stave off woody encroachment of the glade proper).

Columnar fracturing of rhyolite dome.
Eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana) on the glade.

I hiked along the trail through the forest leading to the main glade, noting an abundance of many-rayed aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum) in bloom and a few persisting blooms on now-rank plants of slender false foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia).

Many-rayed aster (Symphyotrichum anomalum). Note the photobombing ambush bug (Phymatodes sp.) on the stem in the lower left corner.
Slender false foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia).
Slender false foxglove (Agalinis tenuifolia).
Common dittany (Cunila origanoides).

After reaching the main glade, I stayed along the interface around its entire perimeter, hoping to see one of the beetles either resting on foliage or in flight. It was a good day to look—sunny and relatively warm, but no beetles were seen. In fact, even though we haven’t yet had any frost, there was not a lot of insect activity in general with the exception of marvelously cryptic lichen grasshoppers (Trimerotropis saxatilis), which were common on the glade along with a variety of other grasshoppers.

The remarkably cryptic lichen grasshopper (Trimerotropis saxatilis).

There was also little blooming on the glade, which made the chances of seeing the beetle even lower since they are known to be attracted to flowers such as thoroughwort (Eupatorium spp.) and blazingstar (Liatris spp.). I did find a few persisting blooms of the hot-pink largeflower fameflower (Phemeranthus calycinus), but most other plants were well past bloom. Eventually I completed the walk around the glade perimeter and worked my way back.

Largeflower fameflower (Phemeranthus calycinus) flower.
Largeflower fameflower (Phemeranthus calycinus) basal leaves.

At one point, I found a clump of small shagbark hickories (Carya ovata) that were oozing sap at several points along the main trunks and noted a variety of insects feeding at the sap flows. I checked carefully, thinking that they might include T. coquus, but none were seen—just flies, butterflies, and a wheel bug assassin bug (Arilus cristatus). Shortly afterwards, I reached the car—my bottles empty but my soul nourished by another day surrounded by nature.

An abnormal fall-blooming serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Botanizing (again!) at Victoria Glades Conservation Area

By pure coincidence, the WGNSS Botany Group decided to visit Victoria Glades for today’s weekly field trip—just one day after I’d made my own solo visit, so for me a bonus visit! You might think that would result in me seeing the same things that I’d already seen, but unlike yesterday’s solo outing, I had the benefit of multiple pairs of eyes and solid botanical expertise accompanying me and directing my attention to several new-to-me plants.

A clump of sunflowers (Helianthus sp.) caught our attention even before we left the parking lot. Our initial impression was Jerusalem artichoke (H. tuberosus), but it lacked the alternate uppermost leaves usually found in that species. Nevertheless, when we ran it through the key and came to a choice between this species or woodland sunflower (H. hirsutus), we decided that it must be H. tuberosus. As we walked by another clump of the plants, we noticed the first insect of the day—a still-bedded-down helmeted squash bug (Euthochtha galeator), a type of leaffooted bug (family Coreidae)—on one of the older flower heads.

Helmeted squash bug (Euthochtha galeator).

On the glade proper (MDC “west” side), the group was just as excited to immediately see the Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchids (Spiranthes magnicamporum) in bloom as I was yesterday, and I couldn’t resist the urge to take just a few more photos of two of impressively flowering specimens. We also noted the now brilliant red flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) that anchored the small woody hammocks dotting the glade and were surprised to find a total of eight “tree” species taking refuge in the hammocks, the others being Carolina buckthorn (Rhamnus caroliniana), deciduous holly (Ilex decidua), eastern red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana), dwarf hackberry (Celtis tenuifolia), sugar maple (Acer saccharum), gum bumelia (Sideroxylon lanuginosum), and persimmon (Diospyros virginiana).

Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).
Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).

We made our way to the interface between the glade proper and a large dry post oak woodland hammock, where prairie gentian (Gentiana puberulenta) was found last year. As we walked, we got into a discussion about the pronunciation of the species name for Solidago gattingeri (Gattinger’s goldenrod). While “guh-TIN-jur-eye” may follow general guidelines for pronouncing latinized names, these guidelines do not apply to patronyms—i.e., scientific names derived from the name of a person, and for which the pronunciation of the person’s name is conserved in its latinized form. Since S. gattingeri was named after the German-born botanist Augustin Gattinger (pronounced “GAH-ting-er”) (1825–1903), the latinized form, which has an “i” added to the end of the name, and is thus pronounced “GAH-ting-er-eye.

Reaching the interface and searching for the gentian would prove fruitless, but it was not without its consolations. The first of these was one of the blue asters, which we eventually determined to be azure aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense)—distinguished by its rough leaves with the basal ones arrowhead-shaped. This species sparked a further conversation about how to pronounce the double-o at the beginning of the name. In latinized nomenclature, all vowels must be pronounced (except the diphthongs ae and oe, both of which are pronounced “ee”). The specific epithet derives from the Olentangy River in Ohio, but the person who named the species misspelled it, adding an extra “o” at the beginning. Unfortunately, the rules of nomenclature demand that original spellings, even those considered misspellings, be conserved (unless certain special conditions are met), thus, the specific epithet must begin with a double-o, and both of them must be pronounced. Further, since it is derived from a place name, the pronunciation of “Olentangy” also must be preserved. As a result, the species name is pronounced “oh-OH-len-TAN-jee-in-see.”

Azure aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense) inflorescences.
Azure aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense) inflorescence.
Azure aster (Symphyotrichum oolentangiense) basal leaves.

As we continued searching the glade-woodland interface, we encountered a healthy little patch of rough goldenrod (Solidago radula). Only a few of the plants bore inflorescences in good condition, but the plants were nevertheless recognizable by their small size and numerous rigid, scabrous, serrate leaves. We were pleasantly surprised to find this fairly conservative species (CC = 6), and everybody agreed that the species name is pronounced “RAD-yew-luh.”

Rough goldenrod (Solidago radula) inflorescence.
Rough goldenrod (Solidago radula) leaf.
Rough goldenrod (Solidago radula) stem/leaves.

When we reached the area where we were certain we should find prairie gentian, we instead found silky aster (Symphyotrichum sericeum)—their silvery leaves glistening in the sun and branchy stems mostly devoid of lower leaves making them visible and recognizable even from afar. This highly conservative species (CC = 9) is restricted to only a handful of states in the upper Midwest.

Silky aster (Symphyotrichum sericeum) inflorescence.
Silky aster (Symphyotrichum sericeum) upper leaves.
Silky aster (Symphyotrichum sericeum).

Once satisfied that we’d done our due diligence in our search for prairie gentian, we headed towards the top of the knoll where stiff sunflower (Helianthus pauciflorus) and rough white lettuce (Nabalus asper) have been observed in recent years. The sunflowers were found easily, though all in the apparently expanding patch were past bloom, but it took careful searching and reference to a GPS reading to find what amounted to just two, post-bloom white lettuce individuals. This latter species has a distribution centered roughly across Missouri and Iowa and is fairly conservative (CC = 7).

Rough white lettuce (Nabalus asper) post-bloom inflorescences.

As we headed back towards the parking lot, we passed through a peninsula of dry post oak woodland, giving us the opportunity to see yet another blue aster, this one being prairie aster (Symphyotrichum turbinellum). This is another fairly conservative species (CC = 6) whose distribution centers over Missouri and extends to only a few surrounding states. The elliptic leaves, branched habit, and “vase-shaped” involucre were all clues to its identity.

Prairie aster (Symphyotrichum turbinellum) inflorescence.
Prairie aster (Symphyotrichum turbinellum) involucre.
Prairie aster (Symphyotrichum turbinellum) leaf.

By then, only John and Kathy remained and were ready to call it a day, but I had a hankering to visit the TNC “east” side to check the ninebarks (Physocarpus olulifolius intermedius) that grow along the toeslopes at the interface between the glade proper and the riparian woodland below to look for Dicerca pugionata—a spectacular jewel beetle (family Buprestidae) that breeds in the plant’s woody branches. This beetle is rarely encountered throughout most of its range across the eastern U.S. but seems to be common at this location—perhaps due to the general unthriftiness of the plants growing along the toeslopes, a drier than preferred situation that may compromise their ability to fend off colonization by the beetle. The beetles can be reliably found in spring and fall by examining the stems and leaves. As I searched for the beetles, I encountered “blue aster #4” on the day—aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium). In the case of this species, the reflexed phyllaries, branched habit, and oblanceolate sessile leaves absent at the base were the first clues to its identity. Crushing one of the leaves and smelling its fragrance left no further doubt.

Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) inflorescences.
Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) involucres.
Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) inflorescences/upper stem.
Aromatic aster (Symphyotrichum oblongifolium) leaf.

Continuing my search for the beetles, I noticed a garden spider (Argiope sp.) in its web. Something about it did not look right for the species we normally see in Missouri—the black-and-yellow garden spider (A. aurantia), and I eventually determined it to be instead a subadult male banded garden spider (A. trifasciata). The webs of this species tend to be more hidden than those of A. aurantia, and the preferred habitat is said to be drier, which may explain why this species tends not to be seen very often compared to its more commonly encountered cousin.

Banded garden spider (Argiope trifasciata).

Eventually, I found two D. pugionata individuals perched on the outer twigs and leaves of ninebark—just as I expected, and I took comfort knowing that this rarely encountered species continues to thrive in this unique location.

Dicerca pugionata on leaf of ninebark (Physocarpus opulifolius intermedius).

Remarkably, I would encounter one more “blue aster,” finding spreading aster (Symphyotrichum patens) as I searched around and through the dry post oak woodland at the top of the slope in hopes that I might still find prairie gentian. This species, found in Missouri only south of the Missouri River, is easy to identify (even by entomologists) by virtue of its purple ray flowers with yellow disks and strongly clasping stem leaves with distinctive rounded basal auricles.

Spreading aster (Symphyotrichum patens) inflorescences.
Spreading aster (Symphyotrichum patens) leaf.
Spreading aster (Symphyotrichum patens) involucres.

Five “blue asters” on the day, however, was enough to make this entomologist’s head spin, and with five hours in the field on a spectacular fall day, I finally headed back to the parking lot to close out the day.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Orchids blooming at Victoria Glades Conservation Area

Victoria Glades Conservation Area.

The late summer explosion of yellow composites has subsided greatly over the past week—Missouri conflower (Rudbeckia missouriensis) and rosinweed (Silphium integrifolium), and ashy sunflower (Helianthus mollis) have all gone to seed, and only sporadic still-blooming individuals of prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) and goldenrods—including old field goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), stiff goldenrod (S. rigida), and Gattinger’s goldenrod (S. gattingeri)—can be found. Gattinger’s goldenrod, in particular, deserved extra attention, as this species has only a few known population centers and comes as close to a true Missouri endemic as any plant species in the state. It can be distinguished by its basally disposed, glaucus leaves which become very small on the upper stem and its pyramidal inflorescences radiating out from the stem in all directions.

Solidago gattingeri (Gattinger’s goldenrod).
Solidago gattingeri (Gattinger’s goldenrod).
Solidago gattingeri (Gattinger’s goldenrod).

The decline of the fall composites does not mean, however, that the glades are now without color, as vibrant purples still dot the glade perimeter in the form of Liatris asperas (rough blazingstar).

Liatris asperas (rough blazingstar).
Liatris asperas (rough blazingstar).
Liatris asperas (rough blazingstar).

Sumacs, as well—both shining (Rhus copallinum) and fragrant (R. aromatica), and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) have already begun turning rusty to bright red.

Shining shining (Rhus copallinum).
Shining shining (Rhus copallinum).

Nor does it mean that nothing new is coming into flower—Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum) are blooming for the first time this week, and I saw numerous individuals still developing their inflorescences to suggest a fantastic October display is around the corner.

Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).
Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).
Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).
Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).
Great Plains ladies’-tresses orchid (Spiranthes magnicamporum).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

Two glade goldenrods

Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) is now in full bloom at Victoria Glades Conservation Area in Jefferson. Co., and I took the chance to photograph it alongside its more common congener, Solidago nemoralis (old field goldenrod), to show the differences between the two species. Solidago ridiga has a flat-topped or shallowly rounded inflorescence (versus pyramidal for the latter), relatively larger individual flowers, and upper leaves wider at the base and often clasping the stem. It occurs throughout the central region of the continental U.S. and just began blooming in these glades (versus mid-August for S. nemoralis).

Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) inflorescence.
Solidago nemoralis (old field goldenrod) inflorescence.
Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) florets.
Solidago nemoralis (old field goldenrod) florets.
Solidago ridiga (stiff goldenrod) leaves.
Solidago nemoralis (old field goldenrod) leaves.
Black-and-yellow lichen moth (Lycomorpha pholus) on inflorescence of old field goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).
Black-and-yellow lichen moth (Lycomorpha pholus) on inflorescence of old field goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis).

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021