Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Environmental Adventure Day

Naturalist extrordinaire Frank Rouse from Holliday Park is teaching about a Black Rat Snake.

Sorry for the lack of blogging lately, but I have been extremely busy because yesterday, Tuesday, April 29th, was our Environmental Adventure Day! This is a event for Franklin Township Schools in Indianapolis. Our awesome twenty-one presenters taught a huge variety of topics like snakes, birds, the water cycle, bees, wildlife rehabilitation, wildflowers, trees, orienteering and the list goes on and on. Teachers have an opportunity to visit five stations with their class. The weather was great, though a little chilly, and a good time was had by all. Below are some shots from the special day!

Shane Gibson from Bradford Woods teaching Nature's Adaptations to Ms. Geimer's class. They are playing the game Quick Frozen Critters learning about predator and prey interactions.

Southeastway's own Miranda Sears was so dedicated she came in on her day off to help with EAD. She is teaching Ms. Sutherlin's class about Mammals.

Outreach Naturalist Jay Powell is looking for treasure with Ms. Sommer's class.

Mary Hayes, State Coordinator for Project Wild is showing Ms. Sommer's class a millipede they discovered under a log.

Jackie Hill from the Franklin Township branch of Indianapolis-Marion County library discussed the book "Wolves, Chickens and Pancake Fun". A student from Ms. Sutherlin's class is leaping to catch a pancake.

A giant, giant thank you to all the presenters who came out for our day. We could not do it without you! Thanks to: Kathleen Prough, Elizabeth Schleicher, Jeff Ward, Amy Dirks, Jenny Woolsen-Helrigel, Miranda Sears, Bill Pfeifer, Mary Hayes and Scott Salmon, Rachel Quigley, Joe Schmid, Shane Gibson and his staff Sheryl and Matt, Brittany Wierda, Roy Ballard, Karen Johnstone, Jay Powell, Jackie Hill, Frank Rouse, Jerry Wheeler, Jeff Jones, and Michelle Manker and Amy Hodge. A special thanks to volunteer Norm Lauffer and Park Manager Chris Martini for directing and helping with set-up and take-down.


Friday, April 18, 2008

Myrmecochory: Trout Lily

Trout Lilies (Erythronium americanum) are a beautiful spring wildflower that dot the forest landscape with bright yellow blossoms. Their common name comes from the leaf which is covered with brown spots like the speckled body of a trout. Another common name for it is Adder's Tongue.

A nice grouping of the Trout Lilies at Southeastway Park
Below is a close-up of the leaf, with its crude fish-shape and brown speckles like that of a trout.

Trout Lily leaf
The Trout Lilies blossom has delicate sunny yellow petals that gently curl back exposing the anthers. Each flower has six tepals, comprised of three petals and three sepals. The petals are entirely yellow, while the sepals are yellow on the front and brownish on the back. The flower will close each evening and open up in the warm morning sun. A trout lily may take as many as seven years to become a mature plant from a seed. Only plants with two leaves will flower that year.

Trout Lily with its gorgeous yellow blossom

What is most fascinating about the Trout Lily is its seeds are dispersed by ants, a process called myrmecochory. The seeds have a fleshy structure attached to the outside of the seed called an elaiosome. The elaiosome is rich in oils that contain lipids and proteins. The ants will carry the seed to their nest to feed the larvae the elaiosome. The seed is then discarded in their waste pile which is rich in nutrients for the seed. This symbiotic relationship benefits the ant in the form of food, but it also benefits the plant as well. The seed is dispersed to limit competition, but it is also protected from rodents who would most likely eat the seed if it was left under the plant. Also, the seed is placed in a nutrient rich area in the ants nest, giving it a great head start. Other plants that have elaiosomes are Wild Ginger, Bloodroot, Dutchman's breeches, and Twinleaf.

An ant dragging a seed by the elaiosome. Photo from Northwoods Wiki.

A close relative of the Trout Lily is the White Fawn Lily(Erythronium albidum) or Dogtooth Violet. It looks just like the Trout Lily, but its tepals are white.

White Fawn Lily

The intricate workings of nature have always been intriguing to me. Hopefully you will be lucky enough to witness an ant carrying its elaiosome this spring! I know I will be watching for them.


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bloodroot and Dutchman's Breeches

Another spring wildflower that is a favorite of mine is Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis. Such a gorgeous flower, but it doesn't tend to stay around very long. It has a delicate white blossom with petals that are easily knocked off in a substantial rain. I love how the leaf of bloodroot curls around the base of the flower. It is a member of the Poppy Family, Papaveraceae.

And below is why it is called Bloodroot. The root when broken looks just like it is oozing blood. Native Americans would use this for ceremonial paint and to dye cloth. The chemical, sanguinaria, fights plaque and is used in some tartar-control toothpastes and mouthwashes, like Viadent.

Some of my friends might think that digging up this root was just another excuse for me to get dirty!

Another member of the Poppy family that is blooming right now is Dutchman's Breeches. The flower gets its name from the odd-looking blossoms that are arranged on a leaf-less stalk. They look like pantaloons hanging on a clothesline. The scientific name is Dicentra cucullaria. Dicentra means "two spurred" and refers to the two legs of the pantaloons and cucullaria means "hooded".

Bees will burrow down into the flower opening, at the base of the flower, trying to reach the nectar and become dusted with pollen that they will carry to the other flowers.

Hopefully you will be able to get outside soon and enjoy some of these beautiful spring wildflowers!


Thursday, April 10, 2008

Mustards Aren't Always Yellow...

The mustard family, Brassicaceae or Cruciferae, is a family of flowering plants to which many of the spring wildflowers belong and some of our more healthier vegetables, broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage. Cruciferae is an older name for the family and means "cross-bearing". It refers to the four-petaled flowers that resemble a cross. Here is one of this family that I spoke about in an earlier post, Harbinger-of-Spring, otherwise known as Salt and Pepper.

Harbinger-of-Spring, Erigenia bulbosa

Another great member of this family is Purple Cress, Cardamine douglassii. It has delicate lavender flowers. It is a beautiful flower that is sometimes overlooked.
Purple Cress, Cardamine douglassii

Cutleaf Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, is another interesting member of the mustard family. The term "wort" means plant, so toothwort basically means "toothplant." Named so for the tubers or roots on the plant that are nubby and white and look like teeth. It was also believed to heal toothaches. It's former scientific name was Dentaria, another reference to teeth("dent" means tooth).

Cutleaf Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata
Below is a nice closeup of the flower, showing the resplendent white petals.

A very small member of the mustard family is Spring Draba or Whitlow Grass, Draba verna. Whitlow Grass is a weedy introduced species that can be found commonly in lawns and waste areas. The tiny plant is only about three and a half inches tall. The flowers are minute, only 4 mm at the widest point. But wait just one second, you might be thinking, mustards are supposed to have four petals and this one looks like it has eight. Well, actually, it does have only four. Each of the four petals are notched, just giving it the illusion of eight petals. I personally think the flower is quite lovely, even if it is a weed.

Whitlow Grass, Draba verna, photo from Flickr

And, the scourge of the earth, a plant I am constantly at war with and losing. Garlic Mustard. This plant is so prolific, spreading its seeds everywhere and choking out wildflowers all the while. (It is not in bloom right now. I pulled that picture from the internet.) Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata, was introduced by the pioneers, who brought it from Europe to season their stews. At Southeastway Park, we will be having a Garlic Mustard pull on April 26th from 12-2pm. Anyone is welcome to join in. Please call the park office to let us know, so we can have plenty of supplies on hand, (317) 861-5167.

Garlic Mustard, Alliaria petiolata


Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Fabulous Fungi-Scarlet Elf Cup and Devil's Urn

I have been trying to learn fungi, lately, and it has been a interesting and fun challenge. The few I have found recently have great names like Scarlet Elf Cup, Sarcoscypha coccinea. As you can see from the picture above, it is bright red and cup-like in shape. It is also minute, a little larger than a dime. They are commonly found around maple trees, which are plentiful at Southeastway Park. They are only found in the spring, so now is the time to look! The genus Sarcoscypha means "fleshy cup". The second part of the scientific name, coccinea means "scarlet".
I had stumbled upon another Sarcoscypha when I visited Clifton Gorge a while back. I had seen it once before at Eagle Creek Park, near Lilly Lake. I had hit a dead end on the identification and had asked the help of a knowledgeable and humorous fungi guru, Tom Volk. If you want to learn a lot about fungi and have some fun doing so, I would recommend his website. I found out from Tom that the one below was either Sarcoscypha dudleyi or Sarcoscypha austriaca, but the only way to tell them apart is by the spores. So Sarcoscypha sp. it will be! This one differed from the Scarlet Elf Cup by the size of the fungus; it was about two and a half to three inches in size.

Another great "cup" fungus, that is out this time of year is the Black Tulip or Devil's Urn, Urnula craterium. I prefer the second name, it just sounds more ominous. Below is a look down into the depths of the Devil's Urn. (I feel like I need to add a wicked laugh for the full effect.) If you blow very gently on the inside of the urn, the spores (called ascospores) will puff out, looking like smoke.

And below is a cool side view. This mushroom is saprobic, feeding on decaying wood. These were found on a stick buried under some leaves. They prefer very moist soil and cottonwood, oak or aspen wood.

And to add to the excitement of my find, one of the urns was full of tiny spiders. So fitting for a Devil's Urn! The little guys had just hatched out and can be seen in the dark area inside the cup.

If you find a Devil's Urn, Tom Volk is collecting them and would appreciate you sending him the dried specimens. More details are at his website.


Sunday, April 6, 2008


A favorite wildflower of mine is Hepatica. I was able to take a few pics of these while I was hiking at Clifton Gorge near Yellow Springs, OH, recently. It is such a beautiful, delicate flower with colors of white, pink, lavender and blue. The one above with the blue shade was my favorite. I attempted to take a picture of one that was a unique candy cane color, white with swirls of pink throughout the petals. But as all newbie photographers know, sometimes the lighting, wind, etc... does not cooperate and all I got were blurry blobs of pink. The hillsides were practically alive with splashes of color made by the generous sprinkling of these beauties. It made for a very peaceful and restorative walk. You can view this flower at Holliday Park and at the Eagle's Crest Nature Preserve at Eagle Creek Park.

Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa) gets its name from the dark leathery leaves that grow up from the base of the flower and are three-lobed like a liver. "Hepatic" means like the liver in color and shape. Well, I haven't viewed any livers lately, so I will have to take their word for it. Below is a shot of the plant showing one of the leaves. Pioneers believed if a plant was shaped like a body part, it was put on earth to cure that body part. So they believed this plant was a great cure for jaundice, hepatitis and other liver ailments.


Tuesday, April 1, 2008

New Species Discovered In Indianapolis

Breaking News! A new species has been recently discovered in Eagle Creek Park by scientists. Sightings of this rare specimen have been reported for months, but finally photos with clear distinguishing marks have been found.

This new discovery, named the Duck-o-dile (Consumus muchcarbus), has already raised cause for alarm. An elderly woman was recently hospitalized after trying to feed the creature. It did not physically hurt her, the animal was actually quite docile, but caused her to collapse from exhaustion. Mrs. Ima Berder, reported feeding the Duck-o-dile white bread crumbs on a recent visit to the park. In her statement to authorities, she said "I just couldn't keep up, it kept following me around, quacking at me and crying big tears, wanting more bread."

The Duck-o-dile can be recognized by its stocky brown body, webbed feet and large toothed snout. It can swim quite well, but has some difficulty walking due to the weight of its enormous head.

Authorities are watching this species closely. Though not a problem at this time, if the Duck-o-dile population spreads Indianapolis could face future bread shortages throughout the city.StumbleUpon