Photos / Sounds

What

Common Morning-Glory (Ipomoea purpurea)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

October 6, 2023 09:33 AM EDT

Description

This patch of multicolored morning glories was rambling in the grassy strip between one of the back parking lots at NKU and a drainage ditch. The multiple shades of pink caught my eye, because I more commonly see plain white Calystegia blooming around here (and indeed, there was some mixed in with these morning glories).

Photos / Sounds

What

Braun's Spikemoss (Selaginella braunii)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

August 2023

Description

Because you never know when you'll have a sudden need for a plant with microphylls and sporangia (and because living fossils are cool), I planted Selaginella braunii in my dry shade bed. This species is native to China, but over a decade or so, it has spread into a nice little patch in my Kentucky flowerbed. It is obviously enjoying the summer weather, since it is currently covered in strobilil (the little cone-like reproductive structures at the branch tips). Look closely and you can see the round, brownish sporangia (spore producing structures) between the leaves of each strobilus.
You can clearly see some of the most distinctive traits of Selaginella here. The leaves are dimorphic (literally meaning "two shapes", but in this case, really two sizes). They are also in four ranks (rows) -- the larger leaves sticking out to the left or right sides of the stems, and the smaller leaves in two rows along the tops of the stems. This is a unique set of foliage traits: if you see a plant with dimorphic, four-ranked leaves, you have a Selaginella.

Photos / Sounds

What

Poor Man's Umbrella (Gunnera insignis)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

March 11, 2005 09:55 AM CST

Description

2005, Northern Kentucky University's Costa Rican Natural History course. We spent an hour or two at Volcan Poas, hiking up the main trail to see the crater lake. I was most impressed by the giant Gunnera near the Visitor's Center. This was common in the area and much larger than the plants I'd seen at Finca de Quetzales. Homo sapiens (5' 8") for scale.

Photos / Sounds

What

Red Cigar (Costus pulverulentus)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

March 8, 2005 10:33 AM CST

Description

2005, Northern Kentucky University's Costa Rican Natural History course. Spiral gingers were common along the forest trails at Punta Marenco, but finding one in bloom was a bit more challenging. This species appears to be advertising for hummingbirds.

Photos / Sounds

Observer

m_whitson

Date

March 6, 2005 04:08 PM CST

Description

2005, Northern Kentucky University's Costa Rican Natural History course. The open area around the cabins and lodge at Punta Marenco -- and the margins of the forest edging it -- hosted a variety of interesting flowers and little animals.
This saddleback caterpillar was munching on some sort of large, ornamental monocot (maybe Dracaena). It was perhaps 1/2-3/4" long and the only one I saw.

Photos / Sounds

What

Star of Bethlehem (Hippobroma longiflora)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

March 7, 2010 02:55 PM CST

Description

2010, Northern Kentucky University's Tropical Ecology course. There was perhaps a 10 minute hike through tropical forest (if you didn't stop to botanize) between Lodge Punta Marenco and the beach. The trees right along the beach hosted all sorts of interesting little animals and epiphytes, including these "star-of-Bethlehem" flowers (growing at the base of a coconut palm, I think).
As a botanist, my first thought upon seeing these exotic blooms was, "Hawk moth pollination syndrome! Hawk moth pollination syndrome!!" Sadly, I never saw the moth.

Photos / Sounds

What

Chamberbitter (Phyllanthus urinaria)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

October 6, 2023 03:18 PM EDT

Description

Fun weeds in the campus flower beds! The beds around the Health Innovation Center have had all sorts of annuals and exotic perennials planted in them. Those often fade away, but leave exotic weeds behind. In this case, two species of Phyllanthus were cohabitating. Those aren't common here in chilly northern Kentucky, though I've stomped on many hiking the weedy fields of Florida.
Phyllanthus urinaria is the upper sprig of plant. Key traits are the lack of full-sized leaves along its main stems, the very short fruiting stalks, and the rather warty/textured fruit.
Below is P. tenellus, another weedy species, differentiated by the long stalks leading out to its smooth fruit.

Photos / Sounds

What

Mascarene Island Leaf-Flower (Phyllanthus tenellus)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

October 6, 2023 03:18 PM EDT

Description

Fun weeds in the campus flower beds! The beds around the Health Innovation Center have had all sorts of annuals and exotic perennials planted in them. Those often fade away, but leave exotic weeds behind. In this case, two species of Phyllanthus were cohabitating (P. tenellus & P. urinaria). Those aren't common here in chilly northern Kentucky, though I've stomped on many hiking the weedy fields of Florida.
Phyllanthus tenellus is the lower sprig of plant. Compared to our native P. caroliniensis, it has long stalks leading out to its fruit and lacks full-sized leaves along its main stems. Above is another non-native species -- P. urinaria -- with short fruiting stalks, warty fruit, and more closely spaced leaves to distinguish it from its weedy cousin.

Photos / Sounds

What

Domestic Cat (Felis catus)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

June 2020

Description

My parents tried for years to scale down their cat collection, but despite getting the neighborhood stray (and a few neighbor's cats) spayed, kittens kept appearing in the front yard. The fluffier one was dropped off when she old enough to evade capture, and was never tame enough to handle. She's joined by wandering tomcat that eventually just stayed. Both were suspicious of people but made charming driveway ornaments.

Photos / Sounds

What

Beach Vitex (Vitex rotundifolia)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

August 30, 2023 06:13 PM EDT

Description

While surveying the NKU campus for interesting pollinators today, I was surprised to find several low-growing Vitex shrubs with an unusual mix of simple and trifoliate leaves. It was late and they were shaded, but the blooms had still managed to draw in a few bees. This was a new species to me, and I'll be interested to see how winter hardy they prove to be here.

Photos / Sounds

What

Cylindrical Blazing Star (Liatris cylindracea)

Observer

terrikoontz

Date

August 18, 2023 10:35 AM EDT

Description

1) Closeup of blossom
2) Middle stem & leaves
3) Lower stem & leaves
4) Plant in context.

Photos / Sounds

What

Lilac Chaste Tree (Vitex agnus-castus)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

August 2023

Description

I have two chest-high Chaste Tree seedlings in my front lawn, volunteer offspring of a deep purple tree from Mississippi. One is light purple and the other is pale pink, thus demonstrating the wonders of genetic recombination.
They are chemical-rich and nonnative, so the foliage isn't very useful to my wildlife, but they do have the advantage of producing copious, nectar-rich blooms late in the summer when not much else is available. My bees, little butterflies, and even some dayflying moths approve.

Photos / Sounds

What

Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

May 2014

Description

I started with a single plant of Viola sororia 'Freckles' that didn't last long in my flowerbed, but it set seed and now I have them scattered through my flowerbeds and intermixed in my lawn, right along with the purple wild-type V. sororia.
These spotted flowers are lovely and have the extra nerd value of probably demonstrating the effects of jumping genes. As a flower bud develops, if a transposable element or jumping gene inserts itself into the purple pigment gene of that cell, it turns it off. As that cell divides to form new cells, they, too, will have nonfunctional pigment genes. Cells that weren't affected by a jumping gene will produce purple pigment normally, and so you end up with a patchy flower.
From a wildlife perspective, these plants seem to act just like my normal purple violets. Bees like the flowers, certain caterpillars like the leaves, and ants carry the seeds everywhere.

Photos / Sounds

What

Red-shouldered Hawk (Buteo lineatus)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

July 2023

Description

This feather was resting in the lawn along my back woods. My co-observer and I thoroughly examined our find. She got the details on scent, texture, and flavor, but unfortunately provided no notes. I measured it at 4" long. Cat for scale.
Even though it is more grayish than brownish, my hypothesis is that it came off the hawk that's been hanging around my place this summer. It sheds more than I expect, but then it does get picked on by all the smaller birds.

Photos / Sounds

What

Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

September 28, 2012 11:58 AM EDT

Description

Before the Emerald Ash Borers came through, there used to be large ash trees all through the woods along the pond at the Campbell County Envrionmental Education Center. Green Ash and White Ash were the two most common species, and they have very different-looking fruits (called samaras: one-seeded, winged fruit). These are the fruits of Green Ash, and they have a much longer seed than White Ash, and the seed projects well out from the wing. I always thought these looked a bit like canoe paddles. Healthy ash trees make a ton of fruit, and both chipmunks and goldfinches will happily eat the seeds.

Photos / Sounds

What

Carpenter's Groundcherry (Calliphysalis carpenteri)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

August 2019

Description

A single flower or fruit from Calliphysalis looks very much like a Physalis flower or fruit, but how they are connected to the plants is the key ID trait. In Calliphysalis, the flowers and fruits are typically in clusters of 2-4, whereas Physalis flowers are always solitary. If you dug up the plant (but please refrain from harassing the Calliphysali -- they're rare), you'd see another difference. Calliphysalis is a perennial with a fleshy taproot, while our perennial Physalis species have spreading systems of rhizomes.
The plant pictured here was one I grew from seed, and was probably the descendant of plants originally collected in Mississippi.

Photos / Sounds

What

Northern Catalpa (Catalpa speciosa)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

July 23, 2023 01:57 PM EDT

Description

I thought the depressions along the midveins of Catalpa leaves were domatia until I stopped to observe a tree and saw ants all over the leaves. The depressions, which from above look like yellow flecks along the midvein, are extrafloral nectaries, secreting sugar water to bribe ants into serviing as security guards. The ants then eat things like young Catalpa Sphinx caterpillars.

Photos / Sounds

What

Geometer Moths (Family Geometridae)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

July 2023

Description

Now that my sumac (Rhus glabra) flowers are fading, browned clumps of stuck together flowers are visible in the thinning inflorescences. One of the larger ones had the tail end of a caterpillar sticking out of it. I gently opened the clump of silked together flowers and exposed a yellow inchworm that was probably 10-15 mm long. I have commonly seen tiny (4 mm) yellow inchworms wandering from flower to flower and delicately eating the anthers. I'm thinking this must be what they do as they get larger.

Photos / Sounds

What

Spotted Jewelweed (Impatiens capensis)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

July 2023

Description

I've always wondered why I have so many jewelweed plants out in my woods every year when it seems like they only have a few blooms. They're annuals, so where is all the seed coming from with so few flowers? It turns out, they're sneaky.
Like violets and Virginia Snakeroot, jewelweed makes cleistogamous flowers that self-pollinate in bud and never open. It also makes showy, chasmogamous flowers that outcross, relying on bees and other pollinators to pollinate them.
Why do this? There are pros and cons to different reproductive strategies. Outcrossing is expensive, requiring advertising (showy petals) and refreshments (nectar) for pollinators. The benefit is genetically variable babies that will be well prepared to take on a challenging, variable environment. On the other hand, if a plant is isolated (no potential mates nearby), small (little energy to spare), or very well adapted for its environment, self-pollinating is a cheap way to reproduce and still end up with many healthy offspring, even if they are practically little copies of the parent.
Jewelweed has the best of both worlds. Clusters of showy buds at the top of the plant will open into showy blooms, where they are well positioned to catch the eyes of pollinators. Lower down on the plant, each leaf has a single, tiny green cleistogamous bud develop above it, leading to a source of seeds not reliant on the whims of pollinators. Small plants may even skip making showy flowers altogether.
Pictured here is a chasmogamous bud, a pair of nearly mature fruit, and the remnants of the explosive dehiscence (aka ballistic dispersal) that gives the genus its name. (The fruit are so impatient to get their seeds out there, they could just explode...).

Photos / Sounds

What

Narrow-leaved Paleseed (Leucospora multifida)

Observer

r_brennan

Date

June 27, 2023 04:31 PM EDT

Photos / Sounds

What

Long-leaved Groundcherry (Physalis longifolia)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

June 22, 2023 01:43 PM EDT

Description

I was delighted to find two different native species of perennial Physalis volunteering among the flowers at the Lakeside Commons Educational Gardens. It was a wonderful opportunity to get a few comparison shots of key identification features.

In my experience, Physalis longifolia is the most common Physalis species in Kentucky, and probably in the eastern US. It is a perennial, and at a glance, looks hairless. Closer examination will show short, sparse, antrorse (forward or up-the-stem pointing) hairs on the stems, petioles, and pedicels. The flowers usually have very dark and relatively solid spots in the throats. I usually call this spot type "smudgy" -- it's like someone used chalks or pastels to color in spots.

After the first three photos of the species, I have shots comparing P. longifolia to P. heterophylla, our next most common species in Kentucky. Of the two species, Physalis heterophylla generally has broader leaves. It also has more and longer hairs that are divergent (stick out straight rather than being pressed against the plant) and they are usually glandular (with knobby little ends full of sticky, toxic chemicals). The flowers of P. heterophylla also have dark spots, but they are usually more "feathery" than the spots of P. longifolia and bleed out into the veins of the flower, like someone used a watercolor brush to spread them.

Photos / Sounds

What

Clammy Groundcherry (Physalis heterophylla)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

June 22, 2023 01:43 PM EDT

Description

I was delighted to find two different native species of perennial Physalis volunteering among the flowers at the Lakeside Commons Educational Gardens. It was a wonderful opportunity to get a few comparison shots of key identification features.

Physalis heterophylla is a common Physalis species in Kentucky and throughout the eastern US. It is perennial, and at a glance, looks softly fuzzy. Closer examination shows long, dense, divergent (outward-pointing rather than pressed against the plant) hairs on stems, petioles, and pedicels. These hairs are usually (but not always) glandular, with knobby ends full of chemicals. The flowers usually have dark brown, "feathery" spots in the throats that bleed out into the veins, like someone used a watercolor brush to spread them.

After the first two photos of the species, shots compare P. heterophylla to P. longifolia, our most common Kentucky species. Of the two, Physalis longifolia generally has more slender leaves. It has fewer, shorter hairs that are antrorse (pressed against the plant and pointing forward or up-the-stem) and not glandular. The flowers also have dark spots, but they are usually "smudgy" -- like someone used chalks or pastels to color them in -- rather than "feathery", and don't strongly bleed out into the surrounding veins.

The last two photos show where P. heterophylla's common name, the "Clammy Groundcherry", comes from. Clammy refers not to being cold, but to being sticky, as you might imagine a moist amphibian could be. The chemicals in the glandular hairs, which cover almost the entire surface of the plant, are a bit gummy in addition to being toxic, and the soft, sticky leaves will stick to your hand or your jeans if you press gently. This is not a feature meant to be amusing to passing botanists, but is an anti-herbivore defense.

Photos / Sounds

Observer

m_whitson

Date

June 2023

Description

Gah!! I was observing what looked like a cute, fluffy, small (just under 1/2") bumblebee when it lit on a leaf and extruded mouthparts that look like something out of Aliens. I thought bees were supposed to have short mouthparts. These look just about as long as the bee's body. Fascinating, but just a little bit creepy...

Photos / Sounds

What

Wood Anemone (Anemonoides quinquefolia)

Observer

vvoelker

Date

May 2023

Photos / Sounds

Observer

m_whitson

Date

May 2023

Description

My Amsonia patch is swarming with pollinators, and the majority are bees. These little longhorned bees are some of my favorites.

Photos / Sounds

What

Snake's-head Fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

April 2023

Description

One of the joys of having long established flowerbeds (and active populations of ants) is to see what comes up in the lawns each spring. This guinea-hen flower was a surprise. The bulb catalogs would have you believe these are easy, but mine have proven finicky about habitat. That's why I always plant bulbs in at least three different places around the yard, hoping to win the microhabitat lottery. These seem to like moist, rich soil and a little shade.
The tesselated bud reminds me of a cone shell. The interesting angular bumps near the base are even vaguely shell-like, but actually mark the locations of nectaries within the flower. Despite dull coloration, the unusual structure and bold patterns make these flowers well worth a closer look.

Photos / Sounds

What

Wild Comfrey (Andersonglossum virginianum)

Observer

marypcarney

Date

May 2, 2023 03:20 PM EDT

Photos / Sounds

What

Yellow Anemone (Anemonoides ranunculoides)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

April 2023

Description

These little woodland cuties support my "plant in three places" rule. When I try a potentially finicky new plant in the garden, I aim to plant some in several different microhabitats, hoping at least one will be perfect. The bulb companies make these little woodland anemones sound carefree, but out of about 25 bulbs I scattered around the yard, I've only ended up with two thriving clumps of plants. They're charming though, so digging all the holes was worth it.

Photos / Sounds

Observer

m_whitson

Date

February 3, 2023 03:36 PM EST

Description

I have my Bio 302L students at Northern Kentucky University to thank for this fun find. This amazing bacteria colony grew out of a water sample taken from the Lakeside Commons pond, directly behind the Campbell County Cooperative Extension offices. On 1/17, water and a little sediment was collected from the edge of the pond. On 1/19/2023 my microbiology students diluted a sample and spread plated it onto glycerol yeast-extract media, which is selective for gram-positives such as actinomycetes. This colony grew quietly on a 0.01 mL plate that had been forgotten in the fridge. Actinomycetes often have strange colony morphologies, so that's my guess on an ID for this. Neither I nor my colleagues have seen a colony like this before.

Photos / Sounds

What

Bare-bottom Sunburst Lichen (Xanthomendoza weberi)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

July 2020

Description

This cheerfully bright little lichen is growing on the trunk of a black walnut (Juglans nigra). The dichotomous branching makes me think of little colonies of coral.
This is a relatively common lichen in my area that from a distance looks like someone lightly sprayed a tree trunk with tangerine orange paint. It's usually on rather exposed trees. This walnut, for example, is in my lawn right at the street and is several meters from any other tree, so its trunk gets a lot of sun and airflow.

Photos / Sounds

Observer

m_whitson

Date

August 2022

Description

At last! I got a good look at one of these amazingly well camouflaged little insects. This one is sitting on a Calycanthus leaf.

Photos / Sounds

Observer

m_whitson

Date

August 2022

Description

Over 10 years ago, I planted a Japanese Woodland Peony at the edge of my woods. It blooms every couple of years, but usually doesn't set fruit. The blooms are simple and elegant and white. It's the fruit and seeds that are wildly colored. This fruit is old, but the inside would have been brilliant red right after it opened. Bright contrasting colors associated with fruit, like red and blue, are often an adaptation to attract birds for dispersal. The method used by this peony is particularly interesting because the red "bait" structures are unfertilized ovules. Viable seeds are blue.
Most plants trying to lure birds into dispersing their naked seeds use arils (often an expanded placenta) or simply colorful patterns on the seeds to encourage the birds. Peony fruit, with their mix of colorful ovules and seeds, are odd.
There actually aren't many studies on seed dispersal in peonies, and while the color and structure of the fruits and seeds suggest bird dispersal, so far, there is little evidence that birds play a major role in peony seed dispersal.

Photos / Sounds

What

Red-spotted Purple (Limenitis arthemis ssp. astyanax)

Observer

m_whitson

Date

August 2016

Description

When I first started putting out watermelon rinds for the butterflies, I kept it simple: rind + patio picnic table. The butterfly response was strongly positive. These four Red Spotted Purples were the most I'd ever seen at one time. However, the rinds dry out fast in the late summer heat, so now I try to keep them in a dish with a little water.