RRHS Rock Plant Club 2022-2023 Competition's Journal

October 15, 2022

3 a Week: Are you up?

Hey naturalists!

I hope plant club has been fun so far! This is your unofficial club guardian angel speaking. I'm here to propose a new challenge. Or is it a challenge? It's actually quite easy.
What if you were to make three observations a week?

Not plants. Any organism. It doesn't matter whether it's a plant, or a mushroom, or a bug you found in your sink. Just find 3 things to take a photo of, and then put them on iNat. Simple.

Note that when I mean organisms, I mean wild organisms. So not some rose bush in a garden or your pet guinea pig (though I like guinea pigs <3). But it's probably just as easy to take photos of three wild organisms around you, so really not a problem.

The goal here is to just get you to look a little closer around you, search a bit more to see things you wouldn't normally see. Because sometimes it's those little things that bring happiness to us ;) Enjoy making those three observations.

3 observations a week. More if you want. But three is the baseline. Can you do it?

Posted on October 15, 2022 12:26 AM by arnanthescout arnanthescout | 1 comment | Leave a comment

September 30, 2022

iFind: Agalinis, the False Foxgloves!

Hey naturalists! I'm gonna make a quick post about the Agalinis since they're in bloom right now.

The Agalinis are known as False-Foxgloves, due to their passing similarity to the foxglove flower (Digitalis), an Old World species. Agalinis are a New World species, so they occur in completely different regions of the world. No way to mess that up! Well, unless you grow foxgloves here, maybe.

I saw some actual foxglove in England this summer, they were stunning. As for their similarity to Agalinis... I don't know, I guess they look somewhat similar?

There are very many species of false foxgloves in Texas, and they all look very similar. Around Austin, though, you only have to think about three, and there are some key differences that one can use to tell those apart:

  • Length of flowering pedicel ("stem" connecting the flower to the stem)
  • Length of calyx lobes (relative to entire calyx)
  • Orientation of upper corolla lobes (corolla refers the fused pink petals as a group)

(The terminology will be explained in the linked journal post)
There are several other features, but these are the ones I tend to use. If you want to get one of these to species, I would get a front and side view of the flower, and then the general form of the flowers and the stem. See this as an example. Manual focus is very helpful for the narrow forms of these plants. Or one could always use a paper or notebook as a backdrop.

This journal post does an excellent job of explaining the Agalinis in Texas. Focus on A. heterophylla, A. strictifolia and A. edwardsiana. The relative length of the flowering pedicel is very useful for distinguishing the first from the rest, and the shape of the corolla.

*Might update this post later

Posted on September 30, 2022 02:30 AM by arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 20, 2022

iFind: Zephyranthes, The Rainlilies

Rain lily season is still on but I need to make this journal post before it ends.

About the Rainlilies

The rainlilies are an interesting bunch.

For one, their genus name, Zephyranthes, roughly translates to "Flower of the West Wind". If you know Greek mythology, you'll know that Zephyrus was the God of the West Wind. Zephyrus was the gentlest of the 4 cardinal winds, and considered the harbinger of spring. Zephyr also tends to refer to a soft or gentle breeze.

Another thing is that the taxonomy has shifted quite a lot too. Our white rainlilies used to be in a different genus, Cooperia. Zephyranthes tubispatha, the Rio Grande Copper Lily, used to be in the genus Habranthus. However, recent work has combined most of the genuses into Zephyranthes. Though one thing that drives me nuts is the fact that they switched the species name for our two common white rainlilies:

WARNING: Incoming pedantic rant

They changed the one with drummondii to not
Why. You decide that this rainlily is named after Thomas Drummond. No, in honor of Thomas Drummond. And then decide, wait no the other one is now named after Drummond. WHY DIDN'T THEY JUST KEEP THE SPECIES NAME? It's just a confusing thing for everyone involved. Go though an old book and see Cooperia drummondii and go "Oh yeah that's probably Zephyranthes drummondii"
And then which one is the real Drummond's Rainlily?
The new one?
The OG?
OK. Change the genus name. I'm fine with that. Genetic studies and whatnot, relationships between organisms, that's taxonomy.
But pulling the species name out of one... and slapping it to the end of another...
...that is a recipe for pandemonium
Might as well name the other one drummondiana
At least then Drummond will now have two rain lilies named in his honor

Okay let's just move on...

Things to note/take pictures of

You only really need two photos to get a species-IDable rainlily:

  1. A photo in front of the flower, with the inner bits showing
  2. A photo of the side of the flower, with the stem (well actually it's a scape) in decent focus

That's literally it. The leaves might be helpful too, though they aren't always present. You could even get a photo showing both the top area with the stamens/stigma and the scape on the side. Anyhow, here's a good example observation for y'all.

Species Profiles

Zephyranthes drummondii - Drummond's Rainlily
Zephyranthes chlorosolen - Brazos Rain-Lily
Zephyranthes traubii - Traub's Rain-Lily
Zephyranthes candida - White Rain-Lily

Luckily for us, a biologist, Russel Pfau from Tarleton State University, has written a wonderful user-friendly guide on the white Texas rainlilies, so I can just link his guide here. The first two are pretty common around here, and the second two are things you should share in the comments below if you find them. Thanks Russell!

Here's an observation of mine showing a nice comparison between Z. drummondii and Z. chlorosolen:

Posted on September 20, 2022 12:39 AM by arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 19, 2022

I casually rant about the differences between Zizotes Milkweed and Silverleaf Nightshade

Adapted from a journal post of mine

Zizotes milkweed and Silverleaf nightshade. They look very similar, especially with the wavy leaf margins, fine hairs on the stem and leaves, etc. Doesn't help that they grow around the same time either.

Zizotes Milkweed has opposite leaves, typically coming out at right angles compared to the lower pair. The stacked leaves will create a cross shape:

The cross shape is best seen when looking from above

Silverleaf Nightshade has alternate leaves, which go at angles of 60 degrees or something like that. It also has little thorns on the stem.

See, no crosses!

Leaves on Silverleaf Nightshade tend to be long and thin-ish, like a lance - lanceolate leaves. Those of Zizotes can be lanceolate but are more often oval or ovate.

Some other factors to account for: Zizotes milkweed can take on a reddish/purplish tint sometimes, on the veins or even the entire leaves... I have not seen this on Silverleaf nightshade.

Lastly, the wavy edge (undulate margins) of Silverleaf Nightshade are very regular/organized... Each "tooth" is about the same size, and not super wavy.
Zizotes margins have no rhyme or reason - they can be there, or not. They can be big undulations, or small ones. Overall, the leaves are very chaotic.

From left to right: not wavy. very wavy. something in between?

The unbelievably variable morphology of this species makes it the hardest species of milkweed to identify (when not in flower, of course)... But there are always clues on every plant that will lead you to the money. It just takes experience.

Zizotes Milkweed will rarely occur in large groups, and rarely blooms in swarms like Antelopehorns, but don't underestimate its hardiness. In a way it is perhaps the weediest of our milkweeds, and if you stare hard enough, it will appear almost anywhere.

Zizotes has two bloom periods, one small spike around April, where it lulls a little over the summer, and then one right now in September. Go find them! Also... if you find any seedpods... do not hesitate to notify Aravind :)

Posted on September 19, 2022 06:39 PM by arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 16, 2022

iFind: The Ruellias!

Hello plant people!

In this series of posts, I will be highlighting species of plants that I know will be in season at this time, and information about them. Starting off with the ruellias!

Note: I am probably going to update these posts whatnot after I post them, so check back for new information.

About the Ruellias

Called Wild Petunias but they aren't Petunias so that's a LIE; they're named after Jean Ruelle who was a botanist. There are lots of plants named after botanists.
Most will have the flowers open for only one day and then they'll fall off by the end of the day.

We are fortunate to have a great diversity of Ruellia species, some of which occur nowhere else in the 50 states. Take a look at these BONAP maps for a view of all the species and the ranges/distributions.

Important things to note

Key diagnostic characteristics

  • Inflorescence structure - axilary vs panicle topping the stem
  • Leaf texture - waxy, hairy, fringe on margins?
  • Leaf shape, oval vs ovate vs lanceolate

Left: Red circle shows where the stem tops off with a multi-flowered inflorescence (group of flowers). This will grow into a branched structure known as a panicle. There are some flowers coming from the nodes too, but it's the panicle coming out of the main stem that's important.

Right: Large blue circle shows one of the flower buds about to come out. Note that they are coming out at the same spot where the leaves come out, known as the node. The nodes are marked with the small blue circles. This arrangement is known as an axillary inflorescence. While these flowers aren't on a stalk (sessile, botanically speaking), sometime the flowers will be borne on a stalk, like on Mexican Ruellia.

Quick and easy-to-understand illustrated glossary of leaf terminology for your convenience

Most of these characteristics can be captured and seen within 1 or two photos. I would do one showing the flowering structure (inflorescence), and one showing the leaves and their texture/hairs. For leaf texture it might be good to note that down, but that's probably a bit excessive.

Here's a few example observations to look at:
Example 1
Example 2
Example 3
Example 4

I will organize the species based on whether the flowers are axilary or in a panicle.

Flowers on a panicle topping the stem

This is the most common of the Ruellias. Well, most common around here... outside of Texas they, occur sparingly in a few other states and down south to Mexico. You wouldn't know living here in Austin though.
The flowers will rise above the leaves in a flowering stalk. Notice how the main stem continues upward and then branches out to form multiple flowers.

The leaves are very oval, with a waxy or glossy look to them. They have hairs (trichomes if I'm being pedantic) but they aren't very conspicuous or particularly dense.

Named after Sister Mary Clare Metz, botanist and professor at Our Lady of the Lake University (OLLU). She has an interesting story, see here for more information.

This species looks pretty much exactly the same as Violet Ruellia... except the flowers are white. Actually, the flowers are also significantly larger than Violet Ruellia so it's useful to have a ruler when taking photos... if you manage to find one. I would actually recommend measuring the calyx lobes though... more on that below.
Flower color is a relatively reliable way of IDing this one, though apparently there is also a white form of Violet Ruellia.
Which makes that common name A LIE!
Well it's mostly not a lie but still
A LIE!!!
Anyhow... Apparently this one is also endemic to Texas, around the Edwards Plataeu. Yes, the Edwards Plateau is very important in Texas botany.

Oh, I forgot how long the corolla was compared to Violet Ruellia... hold on, let me check Shinner's and Mahler's real quick.
...there we go!

R. metziae: corolla (fused petals) 5.5-6.5 cm long, calyx lobes 10-15 mm long when in flower:
R. nudiflora: corolla to 4-5 cm long, calyx lobes 15-20 mm long when in flower
Page 214 of Flora of North Central Texas, found here: https://fwbg.org/research/brit-press/illustrated-flora-of-north-central-texas-online/

So I actually found this species recently, but I wasn't convinced it was R. metziae. So I did a little field research (for fun) and measured the corolla and calyx length for several plants, some R. nudiflora and others supposedly R. metziae. And the results were insane. The Ruellias with white flowers were all significantly larger than those with purple flowers. The calyx lobes were even crazier:

I plucked a Violet Ruellia flower just to make a point

It's not even close! The calyx lobes were almost always reliably longer for R. metziae, by 5 millimeters... which doesn't sound like a lot but it really is.
Here's the calyx with a ruler beside it:

Of course, these are only a few flowers, but I checked several plants so it's no fluke. I highly recommend reading this observation's notes for more information.

All in all, I would highly recommend checking the length of the calyx lobes with a centimeter ruler.
Here's detailed descriptions of both species:
Ruellia metziae
Ruellia nudiflora

Another difference it that this species has long decurrent leaf bases (see the link for more info). What does that mean?

See that long "stem" that I pointed out with the bracket? That's known as the petiole, the part where the leaf connects to the base. Notice how long it is, maybe even half the length of the leaf it's part of! Decurrent is what you see in the red circle, outlined by the purple lines, where the leafy bits of the leaf extends down the petiole. Long decurrent leaf base. The leaves are also a longer sort-of elliptical/oblong shape, and might even look lanceolate. Check the illustrated leaf glossary if you need to check what those mean.
If you look at the Violet Ruellia leaf image above, you can see how the leaves have a much shorter petiole and are more oval/short.

Also note both this one and Violet Ruellia have their flowers on a flowering stalk above the rest of the leaves (aka "terminating the main stem in panicle-like inflorescence")

I initially thought this one was just rare here and occurred more commonly further west of here, but turns out it also only occurs in Texas and further south to Mexico.

This one, like Metz's Ruellia and Violet Ruellia, also has its flowers coming out on a flowering stalk rather than from the leaf nodes (axilary flowers). However, unlike the other two, the leaves are not glossy/waxy, but more of a matte look, similar to Drummond's Ruellia. The leaves are less oval in shape, more tapered towards an ovate/deltoid shape.

The flowering stalk is also densely covered in fine white hairs (canescent).

This species is particularly rare in the Austin area, so if you find it that's a real treat! On iNat there are previous observations seen to the west, in Barton Creek and Emma Long Metro Park.

Flowers coming from the node (axillary)

This is a nonnative species from Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central/South America
It has been widely used as an ornamental and escaped from cultivated, where it is established in several southern states. Considered an invasive in some places, particularly when it gets into riparian areas (areas near water).
Due to the many horticultural cultivars, the leaves can vary quite a bit are distinctly lanceolate (lance-shaped)

Notice how the flowers, while on a stalk, still come out of the leaf nodes

sometimes they even tend to look almost grasslike
(there are several cultivars)


I see this plant every now and then in nurseries

Named after the great botanist Thomas Drummond, who also has a lot of other plants named after him
hold on was he a botanist
let me check
ah yes https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Drummond_(botanist)

there are a lot of Drummonds so they get easily mixed up
Drummond's Ruellia in a Texas endemic - aka, it occurs nowhere else but Texas
as you can see on BONAP.

mostly limited to Edwards Plateau and extending a bit up north to Dallas

From my experience it tends to like shady areas
The leaves are quite distinct:

Ovate, rounded on one end and pointed on the other. They're covered in a lot of very fine hairs, which makes them have a fuzzy feel.
The flowers also come out at the leaf nodes (where the leaf attaches to the stem) rather than coming out as a stalk from the top like Violet Ruellia.

Hairy Ruellia looks similar to Violet Ruellia, but much less common
In fact... I've just realized I've only ever seen it once
However, the leaves are distinctly hairy as the common name actually got that right
Particularly, it has a tell-tale fringe on the leaf margins (edge of the leaf), which is a dead giveaway.

If you find this species near Round Rock please tell me :)

Posted on September 16, 2022 01:33 AM by arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 12, 2022

Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them

Hey everybody!

During my time on iNaturalist, I noticed a lot of mistakes/misconceptions that beginners have when they first enter the site, so I've copied this over from my original post. In order to set yourself up for success on here, I recommend reading the introduction and the "Common Mistakes" section. If you want to explore the other stuff/links that's cool too!

Your unofficial club guardian angel,

First impressions matter.

iNaturalist isn't just a website to post your observations, but a community of people. It can be daunting at first, especially if you don't know the hidden manners and norms. Lots of people will post observations that will never get identified due to minor mistakes, and many get a bad impression and leave.

These images show some common hiccups with rookie users (I'll go over these in detail below): bad photo exposure, unfocused/blurry pictures (though this one can be persistent—my camera focus is evidence), taking photos of cultivated plants, unaware that they should be marked captive/cultivated and that iNaturalist is focused on wild organisms (this can frustrate people when their observations get marked as casual), taking photos of the whole tree/plant , but no closeup of leaves/flowers, By the way, these are all my photos from old observations. I was once one of you!

However, get past the newbie troubles, and you will find a knowledgeable and welcoming community, and a powerful tool that could change your life! This is here to help you get a good introduction.

Getting Good Photos for Documentation

Good photos are tantamount to good observations. It's not that hard to create good photos even from a phone camera... if you know what to do!

Making observations count: https://bushblitz.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/BackyardSpeciesDiscovery_Factsheet-2_Make-your-observations-count.pdf
Getting Great Plant Photos in iNaturalist: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/abisko-plants-and-phenology/journal/17621-getting-great-plant-photos-for-identification-in-inaturalist

These two resources are probably the most useful in my opinion. Some other resources (I'll probably add more):

Official iNat guide: https://www.inaturalist.org/pages/getting+started
How to Make Research-Quality Observations in iNaturalist: https://www.segrasslands.org/recording-species-in-inat-website
Random Tips: https://www.inaturalist.org/posts/5360-tips-for-making-inaturalist-observations

Common Mistakes and How to Fix Them

I've noticed a lot of common errors by users that eventually dissuade them from using iNaturalist. For the sake of all of us, I'll address them below. Fix these hiccups, and I guarantee you will get more ID's and enjoy iNaturalist better!

1: Taking pictures of cultivated plants—without knowing the norms for that

This is probably the most common. People will take picture of ornamental flowers in garden beds, planted trees, potted succulents. That's completely fine! Sometimes I'll find an interesting cultivated plant and want to know what that is.

With these plants, however, you should mark them captive/cultivated, so that they'll be casual observations. iNaturalist is focused on wild organisms, and a plant in a garden placed there by a human is not Research Grade material. If you're confused on what counts as captive/cultivated, iNaturalist has definitions and examples here:

In terms of identifying that unknown plant in your garden, you can always use the iNat AI to help. You just won't be able to verify those observations with other people, since most identifiers don't identify Casual observations.

2: Photos for the same plant spread out in multiple observations.

Unknowing users who take multiple pictures of plants (which is good!) often post each photo in its own observations. This can happen when you drag multiple files into the uploader, which puts them all into the same observation, and don't realize you can (or should) put multiple photos in an observation.

With the web uploader, you can drag and drop the photos on top of each other so they go into the same observation. You can also drag separate observations on top of each other to combine them into one. For observations that have already been created, see this forum guide.

3: Blurry/Unfocused/Overexposed photos

While technically there's nothing wrong with these, it is definitely a lot more difficult to ID things if it's hard to make out details.
In terms of blurry/unfocused photos, there are some ways to deal with this. If the plant is moving due to wind, let that die down before taking a shot, or if the wind is relatively weak hold it with one hand to keep it steady. For plant parts that are just fine and thin, which will cause the camera lens to focus to the background instead of the foreground, you could put your hand behind the plant so it focuses closer up (or use a piece of paper, or a notebook). If you know how to manually adjust your camera focus, that helps a lot.

Sometimes a plant will be "contrasted" (maybe sunlight hits some leaves but not others, or half of a flower), and that'll cause the camera to adjust the exposure to either the bright area and make everything else really dark, or to the dark area and make the bright area really bright. I make sure to keep my lighting relatively even (all bright under sunlight, or all dim). If I have a problem with exposure I'll usually huddle over a plant with my shadow so that the light is all even.
On taking plant pictures at night... it's preferable to take pictures during the day and not at night, unless you have a reason to do so, like observing a night-flowering plant. Using flash can help, but I don't have much experience with night photography and so cannot help much here.

4: Photos of the entire plant (the whole tree or bush), but without any close-ups of leaves or flowers... or photos of just the flower.

Overall images showing the entire tree/plant can be helpful for showing the habit of a plant (whether it is low growing or standing, a vine or shrub or tree), but they usually don't show enough to reach a definitive ID.
Similarly, a photo of just the flower is great for normal photography, but if you want a species ID you'll probably need more.

When taking pictures of plants, Here's my rule of thumb: flowers from the top and side, leaves (maybe 3-8 in a photo), and the entire plant. This is usually enough for an identifier to get a plant to genus, at the least.
If you want to be really thorough, you can do the bottom side of the leaf and the bark as well.
In addition, I'll photograph anything unique or unusual features about the plant. Does it have thorns or other prickly things on it? Is there fruit or seedpods? These can be helpful for identification.

NOTE: Some plants require more specific features to be identified. You can usually figure that out by asking around the community or checking identification guides—here's a hub for some of those.

If an user corrects you, or marks an observation casual, don't take that personally! Most of them are just trying to help you learn these hidden "rules". Usually when I correct users or point mistakes out I make sure to keep my tone friendly so you don't misinterpret my feelings. Others might not, and tone can be hard to convey in just words. Keep that in mind!

Other Tips

  • A good way to learn how to make good observations are to look at other people's observations. After all, there are plenty of veteran users who have stellar observations!
  • Make observations wherever you can—walking to a class during school, around the parking lot of a supermarket, etc. The more observations you make, the more experience you'll get.
  • Sometimes it isn't obvious if a plant is a vine or a shrub, which can confuse identifiers, so add in the description "vine" or something of the like.
  • If there are multiple plants/organisms in the photo, it helps to write in the description which one you want identified.
  • For info about geoprivacy obscuring observations (If you want to obscure observations near your house, for example), location and time metadata, getting photos to the website uploader, and other technical things, see this journal post: https://www.inaturalist.org/projects/rrhs-ecological-survey/journal/60932
  • I HIGHLY recommend reading this for broader advice on how to get more identifications on your observations: https://forum.inaturalist.org/t/how-to-get-identifications-for-your-observations/26429

I also suggest that you do not start identifying plants until you are well versed with them—say maybe 100-200 observations—but to try and give it a shot. When you see what it's like from the other side, you'll understand much better how to improve your own observations!

If you have questions or concerns about iNaturalist, contact me by tagging me to an observation (@arnanthescout ) or messaging me on iNat!

Feel free to add comments below!

Posted on September 12, 2022 01:02 AM by arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comments | Leave a comment

September 09, 2022

Introduction: Your Unofficial Club Guardian Angel

Hello there plant club people!

I'm Arnan, aka @arnanthescout! I was the old Naturalist's Branch president last year, and helped revive this club after it went dormant during the Covid years. Even though I'm now an RRHS alumni and a current UT freshman, I still float around in the ether to check in with the officers, and on iNaturalist to help guide y'all. Hence, I consider myself your Unofficial Club Guardian Angel ;)

I'm here to help smooth out your beginner's experience on here. iNaturalist can be quite complex, and it can be especially confusing and daunting for new users. I've been on iNaturalist for several years now (since Spring 2020), so I can help y'all correct common beginner mistakes, explain some of the unspoken norms, assist with some of the technical stuff, or direct you to people who can help you. Not to mention I can also teach you a lot of the local Central Texas flora :D

I'd highly recommend following this project's journal posts (on project homepage - Your Membership --> Receive project journal notifications? --> select "Yes") as in the future I'll post useful information that'll both assist your new user experience and alert you to seasonal flora to find when they're in season.

If you ever need any help or have any questions feel free to message me on iNat! I might be busy in college sometimes but I will always be here on iNat for y'all.

Posted on September 09, 2022 07:26 PM by arnanthescout arnanthescout | 1 comment | Leave a comment