Botanical prints of threatened flora

For those of us who find beauty in plant forms, the botanical illustrations available online are an always-blooming visual pleasure. Here are two that came my way via a mention in today’s Botany Photo of the Day.

First, a gallery of members’ works on the site of the The American Society of Botanical Artists, well worth a visit. There are only a couple of examples for each artist, but you can follow links to websites for many of those represented.

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Detail, Mountain lilac or Greenbark ceanothus (Ceanothus spinosus), watercolor © Chris Chapman. Source [this is a frames page, click on artist’s name in list at side].

Also, the ASBA has made available online nearly all of a touring exhibition called Losing Paradise? Endangered Plants Here and Around the World.The exhibit is at The New York Botanical Garden through July 25 2010, and at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in DC, August 14th through December 10th.

This ASBA blog has about thirty of the 44 artworks featured in the exhibition (another is added every few days), and each is accompanied by the text from the exhibit catalog: a description of the plant and its situation, and commentary from the artist. (Elsewhere, the ASBA also plans to post all 125 pieces that were submitted for the exhibit, with shorter text; only about a dozen are up now.)

Here are a few samples from the blog. The images on the page are thumbnails, be sure to look at the much larger versions.

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Detail of Painted trillium (Trillium undulatum), mixed media, © Anne Marie Carney, US.

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Detail of Royal catchfly (Silene regia), watercolor © Heeyoung Kim, US.

A perennial wildflower of the US Midwest; its bright red flowers are pollinated by butterflies and hummingbirds.

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Detail, Marsh gentian (Gentiana pneumonanthe), watercolor © Gillian Barlow, UK.

Marsh gentian is being studied all over northern Europe, mainly because of its fascinating relationship with the rare Alcon blue butterfly (Phengaris alcon). Adult Alcon blues lay their eggs on the outside of marsh gentian flowers, and when the larvae hatch, they emerge inside, where they begin to feed on the flower. After molting 3 times, these caterpillars chew through to the outside of the flower, then lower themselves to the ground on a “silken thread”. The caterpillar awaits the arrival of a Myrmica ant, which adopts it and carries it back to the ant’s nest. There it is fed by the ant colony through the fall and winter, growing quite large. In spring it forms a chrysalis, then emerges and exits the colony as quickly as it can to avoid being killed by the ants.

Actually, it’s even odder than that…

The larvae emit surface chemicals (allomones) that closely match those of ant larvae, causing the ants to carry the Alcon larvae into their nests and place them in their brood chambers, where they are fed by worker ants and where they devour ant larvae.

When the Alcon larva is fully developed it pupates. Once the adult hatches it must run the gauntlet of escaping. The ants recognise the butterfly to be an intruder, but when they go to attack it with their jaws they can’t grab anything substantial as the newly emerged adult butterfly is thickly clothed in loosely attached scales.

Over time, some ant colonies that are parasitized in this manner will slightly change their larva chemicals as a defense, leading to an evolutionary “arms race” between the two species.

The Phengaris alcon larvae are sought underground by the Ichneumon eumerus wasp. On detecting a P. alcon larva the wasp enters the nest and sprays a pheromone that causes the ants to attack each other. In the resulting confusion the wasp locates the butterfly larva and injects it with its eggs. On pupation, the wasp eggs hatch and consume the chrysalis from the inside. [Wikipedia]

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Alcon blue butterfly (Phengaris alcon). Source.

Since the butterfly lays its eggs right on the flower, it may be serving the gentian as a pollinator, if it visits more than one plant.

Below, the Santa Cruz Cypress.

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The endangered Santa Cruz Cypress, Cupressus abramsiana, is found only in the coastal Santa Cruz Mountains of central California, where it grows in gravelly, sandy soils above the fog belt, with chaparral and other evergreen species. This tree, once abundant, succumbed over the years to vineyard and home development, and road building. Only five populations totaling a few thousand individuals remain, all within a 15-mile stretch of the coast. It was Federally listed in 1987. It is still threatened by competition with non-native plants such as pampas grass and French broom, insect infestation and hybridization with other cypress species.

Visit the ASBA blogspot to see the rest of 30 or so. The catalog of the exhibit, from which these texts are excerpted, is on sale for $29.95 + s & h.

Wild strawberries

It’s been a cool wet spring here in the Siskiyous, but on June 9 we found wild strawberries with dead-ripe fruit.

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Irresistible! The fruits were tiny, maybe half an inch in diameter, and didn’t want to separate from the leaves so we each ate one leaves and all. Very juicy and red, sweet, but the intense strawberry flavor I expected to find wasn’t really there. Maybe it’s been enhanced by horticultural selection? Or I got one that wasn’t too tasty? I don’t think a store-sized berry could be so ripe as these were, without being a shapeless blob.

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As to species, this plant could be either the woodland strawberry (Fragia vesca) or the Virginia strawberry (F. virginiana). Both are found all across North America, and are hard to tell apart. In common parlance, the name “wild strawberry” is applied rather indiscriminately to these two species. A third bearing strawberry in North America is F. chiloensis, the beach strawberry, Chilean strawberry, or coastal strawberry, native to the Pacific Ocean coasts of North and South America, and also Hawaiʻi. Migratory birds are thought to have dispersed F. chiloensis from the Pacific coast of North America to the mountains of Hawaiʻi, Chile, and Argentina.

A hybrid of F. chiloensis (for size) and F. virginiana (for flavor) was first made in 1840 in France and this lineage replaced F. frascaand Musky strawberries (F. moschata) as the commonly cultivated strawberry. But people harvested them long before they cultivated them, and one source says that it was “probably during this time that they acquired the name strawberries from the practice of threading them on straws whilst harvesting them,

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Photo source.

or possibly from the term ‘streabariye’ used by the Benedictine monk Aelfric in AD995 to describe the st[r]aying habit of the runners. Certainly the name strawberry was used long before the practice of placing straw around the fruiting plants became widespread.”

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Some wildflower identification resources for the non-botanist

In working to identify wildflowers that we’ve photographed, I’ve found several good sites. (Having never studied botany, I’d have to learn a lot in order to key them out, so these are all strictly amateur identifications based on our field guides and information on the web. But I do go beyond simply looking for flowers that resemble what we’ve seen; I try to examine all the species found in our area, compare foliage, habitat, and prominent flower features such as stamen color.)

One site I recommend, especially for flowers of the Pacific Northwest, is Turner Photographics Wildflowers, where “[o]ver 7,000 wildflower photographs by Mark Turner are available… as stock photography…” While one may not reproduce the photos without permission/payment—this is how Mr. Turner makes his living, so respect that— they are a great resource because he has enabled the user to search by flower color, flower type, genus, and family. You can also browse photos by the month in which they were taken.

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“The photos were created throughout the Pacific Northwest and in other parts of the United States and Canada. Most are from locations in Washington or Oregon. Every plant pictured is identified by Latin and common name.” Since many wildflowers have wide ranges, you may find this site helpful even if you’re flower-watching in another part of the US or Canada. And just browsing these fine photographs is really a pleasure.

Moreover, each species has a range map, links to more information such as the USDA’s site, and a summary description:

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The CalPhotos site at UC Berkeley has a lot of photographs, “251,866 photos of plants, animals, fossils, people, and landscapes from around the world”. Once you’ve got a genus or species in mind, you can often find a variety of photos here to compare. For Indian paintbrush, Castilleja genus, there are 677 photos (there are 46 species native to North America, and 17 native to Oregon, according to one source). The photos are arranged by species

However, in a tradeoff for the size of this image database, the identifications are those provided by the photographers. “We cannot guarantee the accuracy of the identifications of the plants in this collection of photos. Many of these photos have been contributed by native plant enthusiasts who were not trained as botanists. Occasionally we discover that the plant in a photo has been incorrectly identified by the photographer, though usually the genus is correct. Typically identifications at the genus level are fairly reliable for this database. Nevertheless, mistakes do occur.” And the photos are copyright by their original photographers.

I used all three of these resources linked to above, trying to identify which Indian paintbrush we saw on May 22.

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But I’m still not confident. We’re going back for another look tomorrow. Does it have the “sticky foliage and inflorescence” that Turner says Castilleja applegatei has? Stay tuned.

Threshing grain at the historic farm

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Here’s the old-style threshing of the grain at Hanley Historic Farm, Oregon; the beautiful golden “stooks” of gathered and bundled grain stalks appeared in an earlier post.

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These stooks of hand-cut wheat, composed of bundles each tied with a stalk of wheat, sat out for weeks drying, and waiting for the Harvest Day Event on September 4, when the draft horse enthusiasts and old ag machinery collectors would join forces.

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First the big placid draft horses made their way down the field, stopping to let workers with hay-rakes pitch (that’s “pitch” as in “pitchfork”) the stooks up onto the wagon, seen in the first picture. Once the wagon’s full, it heads back to the “home” end of the field.

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There, the old threshing machine awaits, attended by half a dozen or more other people who will fork the grain from the wagon onto a moving belt.

But first, line up the wagon next to the working area.

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Then the horses are unhitched and led away; I thought perhaps this particular team did not like the noise of the machine, which was considerable. In 1900 or whenever this machine was made, a farmer’s team would probably be accustomed to the machine after a couple of acres had been worked, and would wait–––or two wagons could be used, hitching the team to an empty wagon to continue collecting the grain while the full wagon was threshed.

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The entire machine is long, with belt-driven parts to move the unthreshed grain into the whirling blades that knock the grain off the stalks. The next step separates grain from chopped straw or chaff.

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It may be a machine, but it is fed one fork of grain at a time.

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Streams of grain and chaff are blown through long pipes: the chaff into a pile, the grain into heavy cloth bags.

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As on every farm in the history of the world, there’s work for kids old enough to know the routine.

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The filled bags are hand-sewn shut.

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Once these threshing machines came into use, horses provided the power for only some of the work. The thresher itself ran from a steam, or later gasoline, engine powering the main belt. This day, a more modern machine was used for the Power Take-Off (PTO) to the thresher.

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Here you can see the power belt, and the chopping teeth that actually do the threshing.

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Although the chaff is just being blown onto a pile in the background here, it is not a waste material, but would be used for bedding in stalls during the winter. Mucked-out straw would be used for fertilizing fields or maybe the kitchen garden area. These days, commercially produced wheat straw is used for decorative interior panels, making ethanol, soil amendment, animal feed (treated with urea, and with nutrients added, yuk), paper, and packaging. Many new uses are being examined. And of course, it’s still good for animal bedding.

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Our view of early machine threshing on this day didn’t show what hard work it would have been, when many acres of grain had to be gotten in before the weather changed, when teams of horses brought a continuous supply of grain to the people feeding it to the machine, and the labor of bending to sew bags and then tote them away never stopped. But, unlike a lot of physical work in the industrial age, it was not what you did 50 weeks a year. There’s a pride in getting it done

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and those too young to take part look on, eager to be old enough.

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And when the belt stops moving, the old hands find a spot in the shade.

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Remedies for poison oak, poison ivy

I’m as allergic to poison oak as anyone I know; I’ve “gotten” it even from contact once removed, from the coat of a dog, someone else’s hand or jacket. The swelling and itching is very bad: eyes swell shut, skin won’t tolerate clothing. I’ve found two things that work better for me than anything else.

For the itching, take antihistamines. These work also for relieving the itching of mosquito bites.

For the swelling, and to make the poison oak lesions dry up and go away faster, try Neutrogena’s Body Clear Body Scrub. Put it on the affected areas generously and gently (do not scrub) and let it sit for 3 or 4 minutes before rinsing. One application usually is enough; if not repeat after a few hours. The active ingredient is salicylic acid, 2%, meant to dry up oily skin, but for me it has been extremely effective at reducing swelling and itching, stopping “weeping” from the lesions, and making them heal in perhaps half the usual time. I expect that other preparations with similar content of salicylic acid would work too, as long as no other ingredient irritates the poison oak blisters, but this is the only one I have tried. I keep a bottle just for poison oak season, year after year.

The active ingredient that causes the allergy is urushiol, and as far as I know it is the same in all three species of poison oak and ivy, so this remedy should help in all cases. The fact that the condition is an allergy, not a case of “poisoning,” explains why reactions vary among individuals and even in the same individual. A person previously non-reactive can develop the allergy after any number of exposures.

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor, nor do I have any financial interest in Neutrogena.

Images below from Wikipedia: left, glossy new spring growth of Western or Pacific poison oak (Toxicodendron diversilobum, also called Rhus diversiloba. Brand-new spring foliage is sometimes crimson.
Right, the attractive fall colors.

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