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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.”
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
Sumacs, as well—both shining (Rhus copallinum) and fragrant (R. aromatica), and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) have already begun turning rusty to bright red.
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.
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).
The target for today’s WGNSS Botany Group field trip was Boltonia decurrens (decurrent false aster), a federally endangered species known only from isolated stations along the Illinois River and near its confluence with the Mississippi River. The present population was discovered recently, although it was first collected from here almost 100 years ago, and it represents the northernmost known station of the species along the Mississippi River. We would find the plants flowering in abundance at the expected location, but before that we found an incredible stand of Helianthus grosseserratus (sawtooth sunflower) at the first meetup parking lot. This distinctive sunflower is recognized by its large, serrate, opposite leaves and glabrous or even glaucus purple stems. Some of the plants were enormous—one stood an estimated 14 feet tall.
Caravanning to the south end of the conservation area, it was a short hike to a thick stand of the decurrent false asters. Along the way, Cirsium discolor (field thistle) was blooming in abundance, it’s flowers a magnet for bumble bees and butterflies, especially Phoebis sennae (cloudless sulphurs or cloudless giant sulphurs).
The stand of B. decurrens was visible from afar, forming a cloud of dense white flowers in the distance. The species is easy to distinguish from the only other species of the genus in Missouri by way of the flanges, or “wings,” that extend along the stem on each side below the leaf attachment. In some plants, the wings were poorly developed, leading to some speculation that they could represent hybrids with the much more common B. asteroides (white doll’s daisy), which occurs nearby and with which decurrent false aster is known to hybridize.
In the same general area, the asteracous hits kept on rolling with three species of Bidens (beggarticks/bur-marigolds). First was B. cernua (nodding bur-marigold), recognized by its large yellow ray florets and simple, opposite, clasping leaves.
Next was what may have been B. aristosa (tickseed beggarticks) due to its small flowers with ray florets present and highly dissected, pinnately compound leaves, although it’s identity was never confirmed. Finally, along a nearby trail, we encountered B. vulgata (tall beggarticks), recognized by the small flowers with ray florets absent, numerous (>10) long phyllaries, and pinnately compound leaves.
I haven’t paid as much attention to aquatic plants as I should, but on this trip I benefitted from the willingness of a boot-clad Bruce to wade into a shallow pond and retrieve a Sagittaria calycina (Mississippi arrowhead, sometimes treated as a subspecies of S. montevidensis, or hooded arrowhead) for our examination. The species can be recognized by the pendent fruit clusters with persistent sepals strongly appressed to the clusters.
While we were looking at the Sagittaria, a Libytheana carinenta (American snout or common snout) butterfly posed cooperatively on Kathy’s thumb for photos.
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.
Continuing hot and very muggy during the last week, and today it was already in the low 90s by the time I got into the field a little before noon. Silphium terebinthinaceum (prairie dock) and old Solidago nemoralis (field goldenrod) are are in full bloom across the glade, and I noticed pre-flowering plants of what must be a different goldenrod species and a different blazing star. I suspect they will be in full bloom by the time I check the traps again at the end of next week. The plant of the day, however, was Agalinis skinneriana (pale false foxglove), not a true foxglove but rather a member of the family Orobanchaceae. Midwestern gerardia is another common name for the species, and like other members of the family it is a hemiparasitic annual forb.
This plant is relatively uncommon, both in Missouri, being found primarily in glades, upland prairies, and in the few other states in which it is found, and though I’ve not noticed this plant here previously I found at least a few individuals in both the east and the west parcels. The upward-facing flowers are a key attribute for identification in the field. The two upper corolla lobes are spreading to reflexed, and the plants are relatively slender, being fewer-branched and less bushy than the more common A. tenuifoliaand A. gattingeri.
Our destination for this week’s Monday field trip with the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) Botany Group was Pickle Creek Natural Area. This gem of a site has one of the most natural history action-packed 2.5 miles of trail in Missouri, featuring moist sandstone canyons, fascinating sandstone “hoodoos,” and unique sandstone glades. Fr. Sullivan got there early to beat the heat and had a few interesting things to show us in the small sandstone glade (more correctly called a xeric sandstone prairie) near the trailhead. These included two new-to-me glade specialists: Hypericum gentianoides (pineweed), and Trichostema dichotomum (blue curls).
Beginning along the trail we saw two species of aster still not quite ready to bloom: Symphyotrichum anomalum (many-rayed aster), with its distinctively reflexed phyllaries, and S. patens (spreading aster), distinctive by its strongly clasping leaves with rounded basal auricles. Two species of goldenrod were also present: the very common Solidago nemoralis (old-field goldenrod) in early bloom, and the very conservative (CC value = 8) S. buckleyi (Buckley’s goldenrod), its buds still growing for bloom in early September. Passing through the first of many deep cuts through the sandstone, we saw a small Aralia racemosa (American spikenard)—cousin to the devil’s walking sticks (A. spinosa) that we saw last week in southeastern Missouri. The plant was already past bloom and sporting bright red-purple berries.
Further down into one of the moist valleys, we found one of our objectives: Goodyera pubescens (downy rattlesnake plantain). I have seen this native orchid many times, as it’s distinctive white-veined leaves are a prominent winter sight in this area; however, this was the first time that I’ve seen them in bloom. Most of those with flower stalks were a bit past peak bloom, but we found at least a couple of plants still with good flowers for photographs. There were also many more basal leaf rosettes in the area without flower stalks, indicating a good population.
The sandstone hoodoos of the area are among its most unique feature, and John showed us a spot on one of them where all three Missouri species of Vaccinium (a genus of plants in the blueberry family) can be found growing right next to each other: V. arboreum (farkleberry), V. pallidum (lowbush blueberry), and V. stramineum (deerberry).
The last mile of the hike was more difficult due to the heat, but the deep, sandstone canyons and moist north-facing bluff still provided visual interest and a bit of cool relief. At the end of the hike, John almost tripped over a Geotrupes splendidus (splendid earth-boring beetle) lumbering across the trail.