Black Snakeroot in Winter

by Carl Strang

Black snakeroots are woodland members of the carrot family Umbelliferae that are common in northeast Illinois but easily can be overlooked because of their inconspicuous flowers.

Here is one in bloom. The species are similar, and my tentative identification of this one is the Canada black snakeroot, Sanicula canadensis.

Here is one in bloom. The species are similar, and my tentative identification of this one is the Canada black snakeroot, Sanicula canadensis.

As it happens, the winter form of this plant likewise does not stand out so much from other woodland species, for instance the white avens, which also produces bur-like fruit clusters.

Black snakeroot plants in winter. Don’t exactly jump out at you, do they?

Black snakeroot plants in winter. Don’t exactly jump out at you, do they?

Up close, though, the umbels of fruit clusters have an appealing form. They are smaller, rounder and tighter than in the avens.

The hooked bristles are much like those of other plants which latch on to passers-by for dispersal.

The hooked bristles are much like those of other plants which latch on to passers-by for dispersal.

Some leaves persist, at least into mid-January when these photos were taken.

When intact and spread out, the leaves are palmately lobed or divided.

When intact and spread out, the leaves are palmately lobed or divided.

I found signs that birds have some interest in the seeds.

That interest seemed limited, though, as the birds only took advantage of plants bent close to the ground. Those still erect were left alone.

That interest seemed limited, though, as the birds only took advantage of plants bent close to the ground. Those still erect were left alone.

 

River Bulrush in Winter

by Carl Strang

Today I have one final winter botany chapter to shake out of the bag. River bulrush has had two years of good growth in the stream corridor marsh at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

Many stems protrude through the ice in this winter scene.

Many stems protrude through the ice in this winter scene.

This is a curious rush, as it mainly grows vegetatively. I have not yet seen it flowering. In winter the thick but soft, triangular stems are strong enough to remain standing.

The snow did not drive them down.

The snow did not drive them down.

Here a single stem retains some leaf bases.

Here a single stem retains some leaf bases.

That marsh filled with water over the winter, and to the extent that it retains that water, the river bulrush will be inhibited from a similar amount of growth this year.

Elderberry in Winter

by Carl Strang

American elder, or elderberry, is a shrub with a fairly broad ecological range, though it usually wants its feet somewhat wet.

The large flower clusters produce many small black berries.

The large flower clusters produce many small black berries.

In winter it often takes the form of a cluster of stems.

The overall profile often is vase-like, vaguely reminiscent of ocotillo.

The overall profile often is vase-like, vaguely reminiscent of ocotillo.

The stems have unimpressive tips.

The stems have unimpressive tips.

The thick twigs are covered in lenticels. The paired buds will produce compound leaves. ]

The thick twigs are covered in lenticels. The paired buds will produce compound leaves. ]

Cut-leaved Teasel in Winter

by Carl Strang

When it comes to winter botany, some plants essentially vanish, others can be difficult to connect to their growing-season form, but then there are what I call cognates, the species that are so unchanged from their summer shape that we have no trouble recognizing them. Cut-leaved teasel is one of these.

The basic form of the head was established when it was flowering.

The basic form of the head was established when it was flowering.

Teasel in bloom

Teasel in bloom

The stems retain their spines in winter, and the leaves show their divided form.

Not a huggable plant.

Not a huggable plant.

Not huggable indeed, and one of our most undesirable invasive plants.

Hispid Sunflower in Winter

by Carl Strang

Our wild sunflowers are composites that mostly are perennials with flower heads somewhat reminiscent of, but much smaller than, those of the annual garden sunflower. The hispid sunflower grows in savannas to open woodlands.

As you can see, the disk portion of the head is minuscule compared to that of the garden species.

As you can see, the disk portion of the head is minuscule compared to that of the garden species.

The rays are lost in winter, of course. The heads expand a bit as the seeds mature.

The heads remain less than an inch across.

The heads remain less than an inch across.

Note the curling, narrowly pointed bracts on the undersides of the heads. The sandpapery roughness of the upper stem is just visible on the far right one.

A few of the opposite leaves are retained.

A few of the opposite leaves are retained.

This species forms colonies that can become several feet across.

Purple Coneflower in Winter

by Carl Strang

One of our most striking prairie plants is the purple coneflower.

Purple coneflower, rays just starting to expand

Purple coneflower, rays just starting to expand

The stem is strong enough to remain up through the winter, but the leaves are gone.

The overall impression is a naked stem with the seed head at the top.

The overall impression is a naked stem with the seed head at the top.

The spiky looking head, an inch or more in diameter, remains the distinctive feature of purple coneflower in winter.

I like the twisted stem of this plant.

I like the twisted stem of this plant.

The seeds are long gone, most of them probably taken as food by goldfinches. In my garden I have found that some seeds survive, and are capable of dispersing at least 20 feet.

Chicory in Winter

by Carl Strang

Chicory is a common Eurasian plant that grows in open areas with some disturbance. Its blue flowers are easily recognized in summer.

The heads, composed of many disk and ray florets, demonstrate chicory’s membership in the composite family.

The heads, composed of many disk and ray florets, demonstrate chicory’s membership in the composite family.

Chicory stems are strong enough to stand up to winter snows.

Here is a cluster of chicory, illustrating the branching pattern.

Here is a cluster of chicory, illustrating the branching pattern.

Up close, the persistent receptacles have an uneven, untidy look.

They remind me of a series of ineptly tied and fraying knots.

They remind me of a series of ineptly tied and fraying knots.

Like us, chicory is standing up through this long winter, and will bloom again when the weather warms.

Tall Boneset in Winter

by Carl Strang

It’s time to look at another Eupatorium in winter. This genus of herbaceous plants in the sunflower or aster family is relatively rich in our area, including the joe-pye weeds, white snakeroot, and a few species referred to as bonesets. Tall boneset can be found in savannas as well as prairies and meadows.

Here’s one in bloom. Most members of this genus have white flowers, though a few have pink or even blue ones.

Here’s one in bloom. Most members of this genus have white flowers, though a few have pink or even blue ones.

In winter the calyces are relatively large, and persist for a while.

Tall boneset winter top. The seeds have dispersed.

Tall boneset winter top. The seeds have dispersed.

The leaves, with their few teeth concentrated in the ends, likewise hang on for a time.

It also remains clear that the leaves do not have distinct petioles, the blades narrowing down to where the leaf joins the stem.

It also remains clear that the leaves do not have distinct petioles, the blades narrowing down to where the leaf joins the stem.

I am especially struck by those large, few-lobed calyces that make this plant stand out in a winter botany array.

White Wild Indigo Senescent

by Carl Strang

Most prairie plants are readily found in winter. After all, where is a prairie plant going to go? Well, there are exceptions, and the white wild indigo is one of them. By mid-January their tops are gone from where they grew, the result of an active abscission process that releases them from the persistent roots.

Here is white wild indigo in bloom.

Here is white wild indigo in bloom.

Those flowers produce seed pods which remain attached, and it is thought that when the plant top comes loose it can be blown over the ground and scatter seeds from the split pods. As the plant senesces in autumn, it becomes an unusual blue-gray color.

Senescent top. White wild indigo also grows in savannas.

Senescent top. White wild indigo also grows in savannas.

The color change is progressive, the leaves first turning a peculiar shade of green.

Here is a branch in mid-change.

Here is a branch in mid-change.

White wild indigo is a most unusual and remarkable legume.

Sneezeweed in Winter

by Carl Strang

Sneezeweed is one of many yellow-flowered composites that bloom in late summer into autumn.

The ray flowers have interesting, 3-parted tips and are shorter in proportion to the bulbous disk than many similar species.

The ray flowers have interesting, 3-parted tips and are shorter in proportion to the bulbous disk than many similar species.

The name implies a traditional use as a cold remedy, but I have not run across a confirmation of this. Sneezeweed grows in wet to mesic prairies and wetland edges.

By mid-October the plant’s top has begun to senesce.

By mid-October the plant’s top has begun to senesce.

The rays drop off, the yellow centers become brown as seeds ripen.

By late November, seeds have begun to fall off, leaving the white buttons of their bases.

By late November, seeds have begun to fall off, leaving the white buttons of their bases.

The simple leaves curl and brown, collapsing against the stem.

The stem itself becomes strongly ridged.

The stem itself becomes strongly ridged.

And another winter botany chapter is complete.

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