Family Resemblance

by Carl Strang

A few days ago I found this in my aquarium:

My aquarium has fish varieties native to the Amazon River and its tributaries. I have not been as fastidious with the plants, wanting ones that can stay ahead of the snails. So, over the years I have added freshwater aquatic plants of many varieties without regard to geographic origin. The plant in the photo first bloomed in September of 2003. Right away I recognized something familiar about it. Do you see? It may not be clear in the photo, but this bloom has the same floral structure as a Jack-in-the-pulpit. The plant has bloomed perhaps three times since then. This time I decided to see if my hunch was correct. Going back to my notes I found that this plant is in the genus Anubias. A quick on-line search confirmed my guess. Anubias is an African member of family Araceae, the same family as Arisaema, the genus of the Jack-in-the-pulpit and the green dragon of our local flora.

Another member of this family is the skunk cabbage (shown), which likewise has its flowers at the base of a thick finger-like stalk wrapped in a leaflike spathe. The key to getting past the overwhelming diversity of flowering plants is to study their families.

I can’t leave my aquarium without showing off its present star.

I know, I know, this angelfish is not wild colored, but when I decided to add the species to the aquarium this one, then tiny, appealed to me. Beautiful, yes, but with personality, if you can believe me. And still a food hound despite having leveled off in its growth.

Culver Seedling Survived

by Carl Strang

One thread of investigation from earlier this year followed the early growth of a mysterious seedling that appeared in the middle of winter in a swampy spot at Culver, Indiana. The seedling proved to be a common privet. It soon was overtopped by the large leaves of surrounding skunk cabbages, and I was curious as to whether it would survive. I returned in the last week of October, and after digging carefully through the leaf litter found the seedling.

Ligustrum seedling OC1b

It was alive, and like nearby mature shrubs of its species still had green leaves that late in the season. I was interested to find that the surrounding skunk cabbages already had prepared their flowering structures.

Skunk cabbage OCb

These will complete their development and begin blooming in late winter, an early sign of that season’s doom.

Mystery Seedling Grows

by Carl Strang

I paid a quick visit to Culver, Indiana, over the weekend, and had a few minutes to visit my mystery seedling. It has been largely overtopped by skunk cabbages.

Seedling 16MY 1b

You may see it as a tiny plant between the big skunk cabbage leaves in the middle of the photo. Here it is close up.

Seedling 16MY 2b

I continue to think shrub, and took a look at the nearby shrubs, seeking a match. One possibility was this:

Seedling candidate 3b

Though this candidate and the seedling continue to remind me of the bush honeysuckles, these were not flowering, and their bark was not the shredded wheat pattern of the Lonicera I know.

Seedling candidate 5b

The leaves also show more width toward the tip than I am accustomed to seeing in honeysuckles.

On a related point, the cress I mentioned in earlier posts was flowering on May 16, and proved indeed to be bulbous cress as Scott N. suggested.

Bulbous cress b

The late blooming date, white flowers and habitat are conclusive.

Culver Seedling Check

by Carl Strang

 

I was back in Culver, Indiana, over the weekend, and stopped by the little skunk cabbage seep to check on the seedling that appeared there in February. Here is its April 25 appearance.

 

seedling-25apb2

 

It proves different from the herbaceous plants I noticed nearby a month ago. Those are not quite flowering yet, but appear to support Scott’s (of the Handlens and Binoculars blog) suggestion of one of the Cardamine cresses, probably C. bulbosa, the bulbous cress.

 

cardamine-bulbosa-maybe-1b

 

It has smooth stems, the flower buds look like their petal color will be white,

 

cardamine-bulbosa-maybe-4b

 

it will be flowering later in the spring, and this species is listed by Swink & Wilhelm as an associate of skunk cabbage and of marsh marigold, the latter of which was blooming nearby on April 25.

 

marsh-marigold-b

 

As for the mystery seedling, its leaves are different in shape and venation pattern from those of the Cardamine, and had an opposite arrangement along the lengthening stem. Furthermore, the persistent cotyledons, which always have been relatively thick and large, have me thinking shrub, now, rather than herb. Could it even be (gasp of disappointment) a bush honeysuckle (Lonicera sp.)? Some of those were present, and one of the reasons they are so successful at displacing our native plants is their extended growing season. I don’t think it is usual for their seedlings to appear so early, though, if the one I am following should prove to be a Lonicera.

Seedling Update

by Carl Strang

 

A month ago I described a seedling  that surprisingly had germinated in February, among skunk cabbages in a spot at Culver, Indiana. In late March I was able to return and check on developments. The skunk cabbage leaves were unfurling all around.

 

skunk-cabbage-march-2b

 

The seedling had begun to produce some small leaves, but in this still cold season there had not been a leap in growth.

 

seedling-march-b

 

Nearby a few plants were growing that are likely candidates for the seedling’s species.

 

seedling-species-maybe-2b1

 

Their leaf color and texture were consistent with the seedling, but they don’t belong to a species I know well. I’ll continue to follow this story. This is how I learn to recognize plants at all stages.

Culver, February

by Carl Strang

 

Over the weekend I visited my parents back in my home town of Culver, Indiana. It is located in Marshall County, one of the second row of counties south of the Michigan border, and is south of South Bend. The climate there is a little warmer than in northeast Illinois, but not by much. Still, I hoped for signs of spring on a Saturday afternoon walk. I reached the town park.

 

beach-lodge-b

 

Whenever I see the Beach Lodge, in my mind’s ear I hear the sounds of pinball machines, the steel balls bouncing off bumpers and ringing bells. I feel the grit of sand and recall memories of summer odors. On this day, though, the beach was empty of sun bathers and swimmers. A couple of deer had come out of the adjacent woods onto the beach on both previous nights, then turned back.

 

deer-tracks-culver-2b

 

Lake Maxinkuckee still was frozen, though the edges had melted so that in most places there was just a thin skim of new ice. Sand still was piled where the expanding lake ice had bulldozed it earlier.

 

maxinkuckee-ice-edge-b

 

A single ice fisherman had found a way onto the thicker ice away from shore.

 

ice-fisher-4b

 

It turned out he had gotten there at the beach. You can see the tracks of his sled on the sand as he sought a place where thicker ice reached the edge (the tracks are highlighted here because I am facing the sun).

 

ice-fisher-tracks-1b

 

Here is where he took his first steps out.

 

ice-fisher-tracks-2b

 

I went on to the woods, which belong to the Culver Military Academy and are known locally as the “Indian Trails” as they contain footpaths connecting the academy to the town. Near the lake is a small swampy area, and there I found the sign of spring I sought: skunk cabbage flowers.

 

skunk-cabbage-2b

 

These are renowned for their ability to metabolize enough heat to grow through snow and cold soil, bringing their flowers within reach of insects that are activated by the warmer early spring days. But I also found something unexpected.

 

february-cotyledons-b

 

A seedling! I couldn’t identify the species, but clearly a seed had sprouted in February. I don’t remember seeing such a thing this far north before, but maybe I just hadn’t paid close enough attention. It wasn’t jewelweed, which can grow in such places but germinates later and has wider cotyledons. Skunk cabbage? I don’t know. I filed it away as another of those mysteries that sit in the back of the mind as inquiries to be attended, perhaps, later.

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