February 20, 2019

Helpful journals, guides, tips from iNat users

There are so many wonderful resources that people have created and posted on iNaturalist, but they aren't always easy to find. Even worse, I can't always find my way BACK to them after finding them in the first place. My understanding is that eventually people can add links to their guides, etc. on Taxon pages, but we don't have that feature yet.

In the meantime, this is a random collection of helpful journal posts, tips, species guides, etc. that I have found. They are in no particular order, and it's a work in progress:

From @nathantaylor
- he’s also written numerous other guides, plus provided a helpful hub to find them. Find the hub here:
-Journal on dandelions

Several from @pfau_tarleton
- identifying Agalinis in Texas

- iNaturalist Tips

- Guide to anemones

- gopher vs. mole signs

- Bumblebees of Texas https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1QSxFBZwkPC72SXanNB4xkzEtU6WhhFLHue7eOHeobV0/edit#slide=id.p
- Guide to Zelus - (Assasin Bugs)https://docs.google.com/presentation/d/1D5J7yHZxF1yTIiqbBd8_Pyl3GA24x4dAYYvBtJ-Ihq4/edit#slide=id.p

Several helpful ones from @bouteloua
- https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/bouteloua
- http://www.cassisaari.com/inaturalist-tips-tricks/
- https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/bouteloua/19288-identifying-solidago-altissima-solidago-canadensis

Two by @lanechaffin (and he has others, too: check out his journal posts)
- https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/lanechaffin/20907-identifying-ash-trees-in-texas

This one on identifying some often-confused trees with compound leaves
- https://www.inaturalist.org/journal/lanechaffin/20638-id-these-sometimes-difficult-trees

These are the ones I've written so far:


Cedar Elm or Winged Elm

American Elm or Slippery Elm

Introduced Elms: Chinese Elm and Siberian Elm


Sesbania, Riverhemps, and Bladder Pod

Find a taxa
ie https://www.inaturalist.org/taxa/62832-Sapindus for Soapberries

Posted on February 20, 2019 16:00 by lisa281 lisa281 | 2 comments | Leave a comment

February 02, 2019

Privets in the sanctuary, oh my!

We had six Master Naturalists working out in the Heard Sanctuary today, pulling up about 600-700 linear feet of barbed wire in the sanctuary. It was actually more fun than it might sound, since the weather was good, the company of other Master Naturalists is always great, and we got to see some interesting plants, insects, and fungi. We did get into a spirited (but not heated) discussion of the various types of privet growing out there. Parviz has been working hard on getting all the privets out of the sanctuary, but today we were working in a section that he hasn’t yet reached, so we had several samples under discussion. I felt pretty confident about Chinese Privet and Quihoui Privet, except how to pronounce Quihoui (kwee-WHO-ee, according to today’s research.) I wasn’t at all sure about Japanese Privet, though, as I’ve been calling all privets with large leaves Glossy Privet. After an hour or so in my FNCT, here’s what I’ve come up with:

All of the privets growing here are introduced invasives which have escaped from cultivation. They are shrubs or small trees, evergreen or semi-deciduous, and have opposite leaves. (The opposite leaf attachment is the first thing to check for if you suspect privet. See more about oppositely-attached leaves below.*)

Two common types of privet have glabrous twigs and large leaf blades, 2.5-6" long. These are both evergreen.
• The first of these is Glossy Privet, Ligustrum lucidum. It can grow to be a tree up to 30 ft. tall, or occasionally taller. Glossy Privet leaves are large, 3-6" long, with 6-8 or more distinct veins on each side of the midrib. The leaves are glossy and hairless. Glossy Privet leaves taper to a narrow point and the petiole (stalk) of the larger leaves is up to 3/4" long. In the flowers, the tube of the corolla equals the lobes in length.
• The second of the large-leaf privets is Japanese Privet, L. japonicum. It is a smaller shrub or small tree, usually not much more than 10 ft. tall. The leaf is somewhat smaller than that of Glossy Privet, up to about 2.5 -4" long. Leaves have only about 4-5 indistinct veins on each side of the midrib. The leaf shape is less pointed than that of L. lucidum, and it has a shorter petiole, usually less than 1/2" long. (*New note: according to texasinvasives.org: Japanese Privet does not tend to escape cultivation, so maybe I haven't been wrong in calling the wild specimens of large-leaved privets I've seen Glossy Privet.)

Two other common types of privet have pubescent (fuzzy/hairy) twigs and small leaves. These are semi-deciduous, evergreen in mild winters.
• The most widespread invader is Chinese Privet, Ligustrum sinense. It is a shrub growing to about 12 ft. tall. Its leaves are 1 - 2.5" long and usually hairy along the midrib on the underside. The leaf shape is a rounded diamond or an egg shape. The flowers are in compact clusters, with the corolla tube shorter than the lobes.

• The other small-leaf privet is Quihou Privet, L. quihoui. The leaves are 1 - 2.5" long, dark green, usually oblanceolate (teardrop shaped, narrowest near the stem) and hairless on the underside. The leaf base tapers all the way to the twig, appearing to have almost no petiole. Flowers are in whorl-like, separated clusters at tips of branches and on paired side branchlets, forming into loose clusters. The corolla tube is about equal to the lobes.

After I finished the above, I happened to find a couple of handy guides to the privets at Texasinvasives.org. So I guess I could have saved myself the trouble, but I don't think I'll ever again get mixed up about these four privets! Each of these is a one page pdf: the first has pictures, the second a chart with more information.


*Privets are one of the few trees/shrubs around here (North Central TX) that have oppositely-attached leaves. Here's the acronym we use for remembering the most common woody plants with oppositely-attached leaves:
D - dogwood (in North Central TX, that would be Roughleaf dogwood.)
A - Ashes (around here, Green Ash, White Ash, Texas Ash)
M - Maple (around here, only Ash-leaved Maple, aka Boxelder Maple, or just Boxelder)
P - Privets
R - Rusty Blackhaw

Ashes and Boxelder both have compound leaves, so those should be easy to rule out. Rusty Blackhaw leaves have toothed margins, and privets have smooth margins, so that should be easy to rule out, too. Roughleaf dogwood does have smooth margins and simple, oppositely-attached leaves, like the privets. Dogwood leaves are thinner, and ours have a rough texture - hence the name!

Two other plants whose leaves resemble privets in shape and texture are the hollies: possumhaw holly (Ilex decidua) and yaupon holly (I. vomitoria). Just remember to check for the leaf attachment. Hollies have alternately attached leaves, rather than the oppositely-attached leaves of privets.

Posted on February 02, 2019 23:08 by lisa281 lisa281 | 3 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

January 01, 2019

The Elm Project, Part 3: Cedar Elm vs. Winged Elm

CEDAR ELM (U. crassifolia) vs. WINGED ELM (U. alata)
These two elms have small leaves, asymmetrical bases and (usually) double-toothed margins. These both can have corky “wings” on their twigs, so despite the name, you can’t identify a Winged Elm by these alone. However, Winged Elm usually has many winged twigs, while in Cedar Elm they occur mostly on young trees, and many large Cedar Elms have none at all. The ranges of these two overlap, but Cedar Elm’s range includes the eastern half of Texas, and it is much more common. (Cedar Elms are also popular as cultivated trees, but we’re mainly interested in the wild ones here.) Winged Elm’s range covers only the eastern quarter of Texas, so only part of North Central Texas. The trees range as far west as the East Cross Timbers region, which cuts through Denton and Tarrant counties.

1. The most sure-fire way of distinguishing these two is seasonal: Cedar Elm is the only native elm that flowers in the fall, and Winged Elm flowers in the spring. In North Texas, the small, round samaras of Cedar Elm are evident through most of September, and often hang on even later.
-- Here's an observation by @annikaml showing the autumn samaras of a Cedar Elm: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/16108932
2. Winged Elm produces flowers and seeds in the spring, around March, before the leaves appear. Winged Elm is the only elm in North Texas that has corky wings on branches AND makes its seeds in the spring.
3. Cedar Elm leaves tend to be somewhat smaller than those of Winged Elm. Cedar Elm leaves are also stiff and thick, while Winged Elm leaves are thinner and smoother on top.
4. The leaf shape differs somewhat: Cedar Elm leaves are more rounded or blunt at the tip, while Winged Elm leaves are pointed at the tip.
5. The flowers and samaras of Winged Elm, like those of American Elm and Slippery Elm, appear in the spring before leaves open. They are fuzzy on both front and back surfaces, as well as having fine hairs extending from the margins. The samaras aren’t tightly clustered like those of the Slippery Elm, but don’t droop on long stalks like those of American Elm either.
• Here’s an observation by @lshepstew showing the springtime samaras of Winged Elm: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/10521155

I’m working on a future journal dealing with the differences in twigs, buds, and flowers, but I’m still getting these sorted out. Hopefully in January!

Posted on January 01, 2019 22:29 by lisa281 lisa281 | 4 comments | Leave a comment

The Elm Project, Part 2: American Elm and Slippery Elm

AMERICAN ELM and SLIPPERY ELM are two that I've often had a hard time telling apart. They both have larger leaves than other elm species that grow here, but it isn't really possible to distinguish these two using leaf size. Slippery Elm is named for the slimy "slippery" feel of the inner bark. That's a fine clue, if you can get to the inner bark, but I usually couldn't. Most of the time, the main thing I was using to differentiate them was how rough or smooth the leaf surface was. Slippery Elm is supposed to feel rougher to the touch than American Elm, but this isn't always easy to determine. American Elm leaves are especially variable, with some leaves feeling much rougher than others, even on the same tree. I spent the first months of the summer rubbing hundreds of elm leaves without ever being entirely certain on species. I went back to the books and found that there are actually a number of clues that are simple and clear enough to make sense to me. And these clues do not involve touching the elm leaves at all. (¬‿¬)


1. Here's my favorite: the leaves of Slippery Elm have secondary veins that are frequently forked: most leaves will have more than two forked veins on each side. In American Elm, the veins are rarely forked: most leaves will not have more than one or two per side. This often can be seen clearly in pictures, so is more helpful than texture!
2. Other hints that suggest Slippery Elm rather than American Elm: leaves that taper abruptly to a very long tip, leaves that "fold" upwards along the central vein, buds that are dark rusty-red and downy.
-- Here's an observation by @sadawolk that nicely demonstrates the leaf shape, veins, and buds of a Slippery Elm.
3. The leaf shape of American Elm is oval in outline, widest at the middle, tapering to a sharp, pointed tip.
-- See this observation by @owenclarkin showing classic examples of American Elm leaves:
4. Both American Elm and Slippery Elm flower and fruit in the spring, before leaves appear. The fruit of an elm tree is a winged seed called a samara. In American Elm, the samara is elongated (longer than wide) and deeply notched. It is smooth and hairless on the front and back surfaces, but has fine hairs all around the margin. Slippery Elm has samaras that are round (about as long as wide) and are not deeply notched. They are hairless around the margins, but often have fuzz on the front and back surfaces, over the seed in the center. The samaras of American Elm are on long stalks that droop, while the samaras of Slippery Elm are in dense bunches, close to the branches.

• Here’s an observation by @sambiology showing the SAMARAS of an American Elm:
• Here’s an observation by @sadawolk showing the SAMARAS of a Slippery Elm:

• Here’s an observation by @sadawolk showing the FLOWERS of an Slippery Elm:
• Here’s an observation by @ilouque showing the FLOWERS of a American Elm:

In the third part of The Elm Project, I'll address the two elms with small leaves, Cedar Elm and Winged Elm.

Posted on January 01, 2019 22:21 by lisa281 lisa281 | 4 observations | 3 comments | Leave a comment

December 27, 2018

The Elm Project, Part 1

I think of the elms in our area as coming in three pairs: two introduced species, two species with large leaves, and two species with small leaves. All of them have leaves with toothed margins and asymmetrical bases, and have a “fruit” called a samara, a winged seed. Most have double-serrated margins, that is, each tooth has a break in it, making a second little “tooth.”

In this journal, I’ll address the two introduced species, Chinese (or Lace Bark) Elm, and Siberian Elm. These two differ from the four native species in a couple of ways. First, the leaves are only slightly asymmetrical at the base: often the shape of the leaf looks symmetrical, except that the central vein is off-center. Secondly, the leaves are quite smooth on the top. The leaves are usually toothed, but not double-serrated. The samaras are smooth, both on the surface and around the edges. They never have corky “wings” on the branches or twigs.

LACEBARK/CHINESE ELM (ULMUS PARVIFOLIA) This one is being planted a lot lately, but doesn’t occur here naturally. This tree is most easily recognized by its bark. It has a very distinctive "lacey" bark, flaky and mottled, often with orange-ish underbark showing through. The leaves are smooth on the top surface and are fairly symmetrical at the base, although sometime inequal. The leaves are typically once-serrate. Other than Cedar Elm, it is the only elm occurring here that flowers and seeds in the late summer/fall.
• Here’s an observation by @fratto of a Chinese Elm that shows both the distinctive bark and the leaf shape: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/18626389

DWARF/SIBERIAN ELM (U. PUMILA) This species is not commonly planted here. There are a few reported here, though, so I’m including it. These are small trees, with leaves similar to Lace Bark Elm: fairly symmetrical at the base, and once-toothed, and smooth on top. They flower and seed in the spring, have seeds that are completely smooth, and do not have the flaky bark of Chinese Elm.
• See this observation by @bob777 of a Siberian Elm

In Part 2, I'll address the two elms with large leaves, American Elm and Slippery Elm.

Posted on December 27, 2018 19:21 by lisa281 lisa281 | 0 comments | Leave a comment

December 15, 2018

Turkey Tangle Frogfruit

May, 2018

Sometimes my insistence on taking pictures of tiny, insignificant little "weeds" pays off. That's how, on a otherwise boring walk around a neighborhood of cultivated plants, I "discovered" Turkey Tangle Frogfruit. Maybe the plant is not that impressive looking, but that's the best name I learned all year! It's almost impossible to say it without smiling! The only problem is that I have NOT been able to find out WHY it's called Turkey Tangle Frogfruit. And someone is always asking! I usually just ask kids why they think it might be called Turkey Tangle Frogfruit! (See! I just love saying it!) Their answers can be pretty entertaining, but I would like to know the REAL story! If anyone knows, please share!!

Anyway, on to ID'ing these. The "flower" of frogfruit is very pretty, but so tiny that you have to get down there on the ground to even notice it. It's actually made up of many tiny, four-petaled, white or pink flowers around a dark center. After you've identified it once, it's very recognizable as frogfruit (or fogfruit, but that name is not as much fun!) However, it turns out there are several species of frogfruit, at least four that occur in North Texas. Turkey Tangle Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) is by far the most common, but Lanceleaf Frogfruit (Phyla lanceolata) is also fairly common. Two less common species, Diamond-Leaf Frogfruit (P. fruticosa)* and Wedge-leaf Frogfruit (P. cuneifolia) also occur.

The two most common types of frogfruit in North Texas are Turkey Tangle Frogfruit (Phyla nodiflora) and Lanceleaf Frogfruit (P. lanceolata):

In P. nodiflora (Turkey Tangle Frogfruit), the leaf is teardrop shaped (oblanceolate) with the widest part of the leaf beyond the middle, and the leaf is toothed only near the end, less than half the length of the leaf. In P. lanceolata, (Lanceleaf Frogfruit) the widest part of the leaf is near the middle, and the teeth start below the middle and cover more than half of the leaf.

Each of these common types of frogfruit have a less common type with a somewhat similar leaf shape. If the leaf is widest beyond the middle, it is most likely P. nodiflora, but you still have to rule out Wedge-leaf Frogfruit (P. cunefolia).

In P. cunefolia:
• the leaves are small and have only a few (1-3) teeth per side.
• the flower stalks are short: not much longer than nearby leaves, and often even shorter.
• The inflorescence (the little bunch of tiny flowers) is short and round, and large in proportion to the tiny leaves.

In contrast to P. nodiflora, where:
• the flower stalk is longer than the adjacent leaves, usually much longer.
• The inflorescence becomes long (cylindrical)

If the leaf’s widest part is near the middle, it is most likely P. lanceolata, but you still have to rule out Diamond-Leaf Frogfruit (P. fruticosa.)* Luckily, the leaf looks quite different.

In P. lanceolata:
• The ellipse shape of the leaf has a nice, even arc – with the widest part at the middle, tapering to a point at each end. The teeth cover more than half of the leaf on each side, from below the widest part to the tip.

In P. fruticosa:
• The leaf is NOT an even arc: it gets to its widest part before the middle, then tapers to the end. The leaf does not have teeth below that widest point. The leaf is often pleated (folded like a fan) and the teeth are also more spread apart (divergent) than in other species.

*USDA Plants database lists P. strigulosa as synonym for P. fruticosa https://plants.sc.egov.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=PHFR11

Posted on December 15, 2018 22:23 by lisa281 lisa281 | 3 comments | Leave a comment

December 06, 2018

Sesbania (Riverhemps)

In August, 2018, while visiting my parents in Nederland, Texas, I saw a really interesting looking plant growing in a ditch. It was at least 6-7 feet tall, with yellow flowers hanging in bunches. After driving by it several times, I talked my husband into stopping on the shoulder so I could jump out and take a quick picture. It came up on iNaturalist as “Rattlebush” (Sesbania drummondii.) It's a plant in the legume family, and has the pinnately compound leaves typical of these plants, but it's as big as a small tree. It clearly wasn't planted, so I wondered where such an odd plant had come from. On our drive to Houston a few days later, we saw these plants everywhere! I grew up in Southeast Texas, but I had never seen (noticed?) one of these before in my life! I had observed a Big Pod Sesbania in DFW area, and I soon realized these two were related. When I got back home, I found several more of both types of Sesbania. Next, I found a similar looking plant that turned out to be Bladderpod, Sesbania vesicaria, and soon I saw several more of those. Once these plants developed seed pods, I really loved them! Each had a totally distinct kind of seed pods - that's the kind of plant I like! You can definitely tell them apart, even in pictures! There are also several other species in the Sesbania genus, but those don't grow around here, and I’ve never seen them. So, I won't address them.

Here’s the rundown on these three:

All three:
Erect, non-twining, herbaceous plants with leaves even-pinnately compound, without tendrils or spines, growing up to 12 feet tall in a single year. The leaflets are entire and are not glandular-punctate. Flowers solitary or in racemes of 3-30 flowers. Fruits are non-segmented, several seeded.

If they have fruit (seed pods,) it’s easy!
The seed pods on Rattlebush (Sesbania drummondii) are about 2 - 3 inches long, 4-sided, winged, and typically have 3-7 seeds per fruit, while Big Pod Sesbania (S. herbacea) has seed pods that are much longer and narrower, do not have wings, and each pod has many tiny seeds. Bladder Pod (S. vesicaria) has seed pods that are about the same size as those of Rattlebush, but they are two-sided, without wings, and usually have 2 seeds per fruit. In Bladder Pod, as the seedpods mature, they separate into a thicker outside layer and a papery- thin, inside layer, which is also quite distinctive.

If fruit has not yet appeared:, the flowers are still quite recognizable: Bladder Pod usually has several flowers in short racemes, but sometimes the inflorescence is a solitary flower; flowers are reddish brown to orange or yellowish, often tinged with pink or red. Each flower is 6-9 mm long; usually there are 1-6 flowers per raceme, but occasionally up to 12. Big Pod Sesbania has yellow flowers, 2-6 per raceme. Rattlebush has yellow flowers, sometimes with red lines, 10-30 per raceme.

Posted on December 06, 2018 02:13 by lisa281 lisa281 | 5 comments | Leave a comment