…but craneflies are plants—specifically, orchids, or Tipularia discolor (cranefly orchid).* This past August, the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) Botany Group traveled to the Mississippi Lowlands of southeastern Missouri to look for two species of native orchids, this being one of them. They were not easy to find—even with a location tip, it took a group effort to find them. But persistence paid off, and we found a patch with about 20 individual plants, most in full bloom and a few slightly past.
*One little known “rule” about common names is that the adjective and object (in this case, “crane” being the adjective” and “fly” being the “object”) are separated when the object is true and combined when the object is false or used together as an adjective for another object. Thus, flies in the family Tipulidae are called “crane flies,” because they truly are flies, while orchids of the genus Tipularia are called “cranefly” orchids because they are truly not flies and together form an adjective. Butterfly, dragonfly, and ladybug are examples of straight false objects (thus, for which the common names are compound words), while honey bee, house fly, and assassin bug are further examples of true objects (thus, for which the common names are not compound words).
Everybody who has ever seen this orchid talks about how hard they are to see (despite their relatively tall stature), yet nothing prepares you for just how remarkably difficult they are to see until you encounter them yourself for the first time! I believe this is because of the environment they are in—a dimly-lit forest with dappled light—combined with the lack of contrasting colors on the plants themselves.
This species was not reported from Missouri until 1983, relatively recent, and while for a time it remained known in state only from the southeastern lowlands, it has more recently been reported from several counties across southern Missouri as far northwest as Hickory County. Considering how difficult the plants can be to see, it is tempting to think that this is simply a case of underreporting, but to the contrary the same phenomenon has been observed in Illinois and other states at the edge of its range, leading most botanists to conclude that the species is actually expanding its range. Of course, why this is occurring is anybody’s guess, but it is somewhat satisfying to see at least one native orchid doing well while many others are in decline.
I was extremely fortunate in that I did not end up with a bad case of poison ivy as a result of photographing these plants!
Don Robinson State Park comprises and protects much of the upper watershed of LaBarque Creek in northwestern Jefferson Co.—one of east-central Missouri’s most pristine and ecologically significant watersheds. The St. Peter’s sandstone bedrock underlying the area features box canyons, shelter caves, cliffs, and glades amidst high-quality upland and lowland deciduous forests. The property was originally purchased in the 1960s by businessman Don Robinson, who’s dream was to have a personal sanctuary as large as New York’s Central Park. Through his generosity, the property was bequeathed to the state to become part of Missouri’s state park system following his death a half-century later. The park opened to the public in 2017 and offers some of the highest-quality hiking trails within an hour’s drive from St. Louis. For those interested in more detail regarding the watershed’s geology, ecology, and conservation, an excellent summary can be found in the recently issued LaBarque Creek Watershed Conservation Plan by Friends of LaBarque Creek Watershed.
Here are a few photos from along the Sandstone Canyon Trail.
The flora along the riparian corridor inside the box canyons was of particular interest to me, as it contained nice stands of three tree species of note: Betula nigra (river birch), Ostrya virginiana (eastern hop hornbeam), and Carpinus caroliniana (blue beech, musclewood, American hornbeam). All three species belong to the family Betulaceae and have been associated with some interesting woodboring beetle species in Missouri. I have reared large series of Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia) cyanella from fallen branches of B. nigra (both blue and bronze color forms—see MacRae 2006), and in the course of doing so I also reared a series of an Agrilus species that turned out to be undescribed (to which I later gave the name Agrilus betulanigrae—see MacRae 2003). From O. virginiana, I have reared two specimens of Agrilus champlaini from galls on living trees (still the only known Missouri specimens of this species—see MacRae 1991). Finally, from dead branches of C. caroliniana, I have reared Agrilus ohioensis (see Nelson & MacRae 1990), and from a larger, punkier dead branch I reared a single Trachysida mutabilis—this also still the only known specimen from Missouri (see MacRae & Rice 2007). I think I’ll go back in late winter to early spring and see if I can find dead branches of each to place in rearing boxes or perhaps girdle some branches to leave in situ for a season before retrieving and placing in rearing boxes. Who knows, maybe I’ll get lucky with additional new finds.
MacRae, T. C. 1991. The Buprestidae (Coleoptera) of Missouri. Insecta Mundi 5(2):101–126.
MacRae, T. C. 2003.Agrilus (s. str.) betulanigrae MacRae (Coleoptera: Buprestidae), a new species from North America, with comments on subgeneric placement and a key to the otiosus species-group in North America. Zootaxa 380:1–9.
MacRae, T. C. 2006. Distributional and biological notes on North American Buprestidae (Coleoptera), with comments on variation in Anthaxia (Haplanthaxia) cyanella Gory and A. (H.) viridifrons Gory. The Pan-Pacific Entomologist 82(2):166–199.
MacRae, T. C. & M. E. Rice. 2007. Biological and distributional observations on North American Cerambycidae (Coleoptera). The Coleopterists Bulletin 61(2):227–263.
Nelson, G. H. & T. C. MacRae. 1990. Additional notes on the biology and distribution of Buprestidae (Coleoptera) in North America, Part III. The Coleopterists Bulletin 44:349–354.
Despite the relatively long drive from St. Louis, a healthy group of 15 showed up for this past Monday’s WGNSS Botany Group outing at Hughes Mountain Natural Area; participation no doubt helped out by a spectacular forecast (sunny with highs in the 70s) and near-peak fall colors. Hughes Mountain is situated in the northern portion of the St. Francois Mountains. At its summit is Devil’s Honeycomb—a barren expanse of uniquely fractured Precambrian rhyolite formed by the gradual cooling of magma inside a volcano that was then exposed over 1.5 billion years of erosion. Devil’s Honeycomb is one of Missouri’s geologic wonders, and it’s rocks are among the oldest exposed rocks in all of North America.
Rocks are not the only items of interest here; the igneous substrate results in acidic conditions that affect the flora in equally interesting ways. This is most pronounced in the igneous “glades” (more properly called xeric igneous prairies) where the soils are too thin and conditions too dry to support the growth of trees, offering refugia for grasses and other herbaceous plants more typical of the western grasslands to persist. Surrounding the glades are dry and dry-mesic upland deciduous forests of oak and hickory featuring a rich shrub layer and open woodland-adapted herbaceous plants.
Beginning on the trail from the parking lot, John Oliver pointed out a stand of tall, now leafless sumacs which nearly everybody (including this author) assumed to be Rhus glabra (smooth sumac) due to their size. In fact, despite their size, they proved to be R. copallinum (winged sumac), with the ID confirmed by a few persisting leaves and their distinctive axial “wings.” John pointed out that an easy winter ID tip for this species is the fruiting structures, which nod distinctively after first frost (those of R. glabra do not).
Ascending the trail through the dry-mesic forest towards the first set of glades, we noted the brilliant colors of small Acer rubrum (red maple) saplings in the understory. When their leaves finally drop, they will be more difficult to distinguish from A. saccharum; however, their rounded rather than elongated buds will still allow differentiation.
Several of the oaks were examined, with most thinking they were largely Quercus shumardii (Shumard’s oak) and Q. velutina (black oak)—both similar to each other but the latter bearing larger, grayer, pubescent, quadrangular terminal buds. Approaching the glades, Q. marilandica (blackjack oak), Carya texana (black hickory), and Ulmus alata (winged elm) became more abundant, all three much preferring the drier conditions found around the glade margins. An interesting feature of the latter (in addition to the distinctive, corky ridges on the twigs), is the leaves, which are smaller than those of most other elms but tend to grow larger towards the terminus of the twig. They also tend to be much less asymmetrical at their base than other elms.
Very little was left in bloom, but the remnants of recent bloomers were still evident. Solidago petiolaris (downy goldenrod) and Symphyotrichum anomalum (many-rayed aster) were common along the trail and still recognizable, their showy flowers gone and replaced by developing seeds. Hieracium sp. prob. gronovii (beaked hawkweed) was found nestled among mosses perched on a rhyolite shelf, the flowers gone but the leaves still green and distinctively hairy. Hypericum gentianoides (pineweed) was found on the glades proper, most with their stems and leaves turning red but the occasional plant still green enough to allow crushing its stems and enjoying its orange-like fragrance. Bucking the trend, however, was a small patch of Solidago nemoralis (old-field goldenrod), it’s yellow flowers fresh and bright in defiance of the calendar’s call to senescence. A small jumping spider in the genus Phidippus took advantage of the lingering greenery, hiding among the leaves in hopes of finding equally persistent prey.
The benefits of management efforts by the Missouri Department of Conservation in the area’s forests were more evident than ever. Between the first set of glades and the main glades surrounding the summit, a rich shrub layer dominated by Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac) stretched endlessly under an open woodland of oak and hickory, the latter turning the canopy bright yellow in vivid contrast to the orange and red shrub layer beneath. Such open woodlands were once common in pre-settlement Missouri but are now rare due to the elimination of fire in the landscape and its mediating impacts.
Entering the main glades, the group made their way up towards the summit and Devil’s Honeycomb, while Ted and Sharon stayed back to take a closer look at and photograph a robust colony of Cladonia cristellata (British soldiers) growing under Juniperus virginiana (eastern red-cedar). Lichens, of course, are unique in the world of vegetation in that they are a composite organism—a fusion between a fungus and another organism (usually a green alga or cyanobacterium) capable of producing food via photosynthesis. None of these groups of organisms are considered plants in the modern sense, and, in fact, fungi are more closely related to animals than they are to plants. Nevertheless, the convergence in appearance, habitat, and ecology of lichens with plants puts their study much more in the realm of botany than zoology.
The group arrived at the summit just in time to enjoy spectacular vistas under crystal blue skies with wisps of clouds and the balmiest temperatures one could possibly hope for in early November.
Walking Beau Diddley (my black lab) and blowing leaves today gave me an opportunity to glimpse into the world of leaf galls. Lots of organisms, both animal and disease, cause these bizarre structures to grow on the leaves and stems of various plants. In the case of the two shown here, they are cause by tiny wasps called cynipid gall wasps. There are thousands of different species of gall wasps, each creating their own characteristic type of gall and restricted to one or a few closely related host plants, but in each case the adult female wasp lays one or more eggs in the leaf—their “stinger” being used like a hypodermic needle to inject the eggs inside the leaf tissues (but completely unable to sting humans). When the eggs hatch, the larvae (called grubs) do not begin feeding directly on the existing leaf tissue, but instead secrete plant growth-like hormones that cause the plant to grow a specialized structure—called a gall—inside which the grub lives and feeds. It’s sort of like “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” on a micro-scale. When the grub has completed its development, it transforms into a pupa (kind of a wasp version of a butterfly chrysalis), and eventually the adult wasp emerges and chews its way out of the gall. It’s a marvelously elegant life cycle that goes unnoticed by most people.
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.
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”!
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).
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.
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).
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 synecious (i.e., all flowers bisexual), thus, all individuals can bear fruit. The latter, however, is dioecious (i.e., some individuals bear only male flowers, while others bear only female flowers); thus, only female trees produce the 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.