24 de noviembre de 2022

The Notanist's Guide to Understanding Floras and Dichotomous Keys

To be continually revised
Notanist: A portmandeau of "not" and "botanist." It means exactly what it sounds like it means.

To describe a plant with words is like describing a piece of art with words.

Describing and referring to a artwork with words. By themselves, the words are meaningless gibberish. Only by looking at the artwork does one start to understand what the words mean. Yet words can also describe things that are not obvious at first sight, deeper things that one would not have noticed before, and garner a greater appreciation for the piece at hand.

Describing and referring to a plant with words. The words are difficult to interpret by themselves. Ideally one would have the actual plant in front of you, but that is not always practical, so images serve as a substitute. Although, in a similar way that you cannot truly portray a vase or sculpture in images, you can never really portray a plant in images. It's always best to experience it for yourself. With proper documentation, you can get close, though.

Ok. So imagine a gallery of Monet's impressionist water lily paintings. See them? Alright. Imagine describing each and every one of those paintings in words. And then a step further: imagine telling someone how to tell those paintings apart using just words. And then putting that all in a book.

That, in essence, is what a flora book is. What you are trying to do is to look at painting, look back through the book, and determine through all that writing which painting you are looking at. Indeed, it's a difficult task. However, with the points that I outline below, I hope that it becomes even just a little more manageable for you.

Tip 1: Don't overwhelm yourself. Start small.

I would not recommend starting out with Flora of North America. There is often such a large amount of species that you will quickly be overwhelmed. Even US state-level might be too much, depending on how big or ecologically diverse aforementioned US state is.

Work first from a smaller local flora book; I use Flora of North Central Texas. Once you feel comfortable, work up to something larger. Exceptions would be any groups or genera with relatively few species. It's easier to start working from several local species than a dozen or so nationwide.

Tip 2: Have a botanical glossary on you. With illustrations/images. And maybe a few other sources to check vocabulary.

There is no way a layperson would be able to read a flora book. Botanical terms practically consist of a completely different language!

As confusing as it may seem, there is a purpose to this language, which is to make keys, descriptions, and other botanical works considerably more concise. Think of the terms as shortcuts: "pedicel" instead of "stalk holding flower to stem," rachis instead of "that stem-like part which runs through the center of the compound leaf." Concise words versus botanical charades. To the student of botany, though, they present a great obstacle in deciphering keys and descriptions.

Solution: have a good botanical glossary on you, preferably one with illustrations if you're just starting out. A picture is a thousand words, so they say. Botanical terminology is significantly easier if you have an image of the part which said term corresponds to. I use Plant Identification Terminology: An Illustrated Glossary by James G. Harris and Melinda Woolf Harris. In addition to the traditional alphabetical glossary, terms are also sorted by category (leaf shape, stem indumentum, inflorescence types) which I find rather convenient. In lieu of an actual book, the GoBotany website has an online pictorial glossary one can use.

It's useful to have multiple sources to refer to. Sometimes a term will have multiple definitions. Pubescent can refer to having short, soft hairs, or having any kind of hairs. As with finding out the meaning of any sort-of word, look at the surrounding words and sentence for context in order to determine the definition.

You may need multiple sources to get an understanding of the definition of a term. This could include a normal dictionary and Google. Images are always helpful if you can find good ones.

Tip 3: Working from a larger flora? Simplify the key; rule out unlikely candidates

This applies to field guides as well. Start by eliminating species that are not known to occur in your area. I use BONAP (Biota of North America Program) maps, which organizes county-level maps by genus, so it's easy to determine which species in a genus occur in your county. The USDA plants database also has maps with its species profiles as well (you can zoom in on the maps to show county). With the USDA site you could also go to genus and check subordinate taxa maps, although I prefer BONAP for that. Also, if your flora book has a page with distribution maps for species, prioritize those as they will probably be more accurate than the other two mentioned.

Once you know what species occur in your area, you can focus on only those species in the key, which makes things more manageable. For example, where I live only C. involucrata, C. leoicarpa, and C. pedata occur, so in the FNA key I can focus on those three rather than all 9 of them.

Tip 4: Don't understand? Take your time. Work couplet by couplet, word by word.

Sometimes you will grasp a couplet immediately. Sometimes... you won't. If you encounter the latter case, reread the couplet, with your botanical glossary. There's no need to rush through it... relax, take your time. Know what the words mean. Though understanding the meaning of the words is not always enough, which leads me to my next point...

Tip 5: Know which character corresponds to what on the plant

In other words, know the plant's morphology. Where is character X on your plant?

A short explanation of characters and character states:

  • Character: anything that can have more than one form/variation. Examples: Petal color, inflorescence type, leaf shape
  • Character states: things used to describe a character state. Examples: Red/white/light pink, panicle/cyme/raceme, ovate/deltoid/lanceolate

Leaves lanceolate
Character is the leaves, character state is lanceolate

Sometimes, the petals are a lie; they're actually sepals! In all seriousness, though, it's difficult to understand whether the bracts on a plant are auriculate or lanceolate if you don't know which part of the plant is the bract.

A flora book with illustrations may be of great help here, especially if you're just beginning. Look at images of other plants in the genus. Reading the genus description might help too. It will get easier with experience.

Tip 6: A key often has multiple ways to distinguish taxa in a couplet. Use the ones that work best for you.

If a key is being annoying then it'll just reference one character (like seeds...), and if you don't have that on the plant, you're kind of stuck. Nicer keys will have multiple character-character state pairs, aka multiple ways to distinguish a taxa. Use whichever way works best for you. In an ideal world, one would be able to use multiple characters to distinguish a taxa. However, if one part of a couplet confuses you, or is practically impossible to tell with images or even with the plant at hand (because of phenology), then look at the other ones. Focus on what you can understand.

Tip 7: Referencing images: iNaturalist observations, herbarium specimens and other images can be accurate, but not always. Check them with literature, take them with a grain of salt.

Misidentifications happen, whether on iNat or in the herbarium, and that is something to be aware of. Take them with a grain of salt: check those "examples" with the literature. If working from iNaturalist observations, find an observation from an botanically-experienced user, someone who does understand floras and dichotomous keys. Those are significantly more likely to be accurate.

Herbarium specimens can be more accurate with identifications. Also, they are often pressed/arranged such that you can see everything you need for identification e.g. top/bottom of leaves, calyx or phyllary details, pedicel or peduncle length relative to something else. Specimen sheets are often available to view online at various websites. Take advantage of those too.

Tip 8: Synthesize: rewrite the key in your own words and images

This is all about making that knowledge in the flora book your own. Write out the differences between commonly confused taxa, explain the meaning of the botanical terms. Draw out pictures on the margins showing what "hirsute" or "puberulent" mean. I can not emphasize this enough. Transform the key into something that you can understand.

Tip 9: It comes with time. Be stubborn, eventually you will get it.

It took me approximately 2 years to "get" floras and dichotomous keys. It won't happen overnight. Be meticulous and stubborn. I will do anything in my power to get a plant to species, if possible.

When overly frustrated with something, shelve it and return to it later. After some breathing time and some more key-wrangling experience, you might just get it.

Ingresado el 24 de noviembre de 2022 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

15 de noviembre de 2022

The Forester

Adapted from an unfinished journal, during my expedition to Philmont in 2019
When the seed was planted. I will forever be grateful to that forester I met at Philmont.

Eventually, the area greened over, and we arrived at Head of Dean. The staff came out to greet us, and after having us set our pack line by the staff cabin went ahead with the porch talk.

Here at Head of Dean there was only one main activity: the COPE challenge. Specifically it’s a team-building course where you have to work together to complete a set of challenges. This wasn’t the first time I had heard of COPE. I remembered that some of the summer camps in Texas offered a COPE course as well. However, I never knew what they did in depth—I just thought it was some high-intensity obstacle course or something like that.

And then, there was the forester. We were in luck, for, as one of the blackboards on the porch said, Head of Dean had their own forester that could educate crews about forestry in Philmont. I also had little idea what forestry was. Weren’t they those people who did conservation in the forest—managing sustainable logging and starting controlled burns to clear out brush?

Honestly, neither of these I was at first particularly excited for. Nonetheless, it’s Philmont, so these were things I probably weren’t going to do often. So you know, why not?

We set up camp on a slanted campground situated on a hill, which meant that we were going to have to sleep with some problems. Gravity would cause you to lean towards the area that was slanted further down, which makes things a bit uncomfortable when sleeping in the backcountry. Usually I pitched my tent with our feet facing the bottom of the hill, because that would keep me or my tentmate from leaning over the other. But that also meant that I would keep sliding down towards my feet, so I still had problems.

(Philmont flat, as they call it)

The forester was at our campsite when we were setting up so that he could talk to us while we ate lunch. Since this was the lunch that we traded out during Dean Skyline, we had to cook it on the stove, which took more time that just opening meal bags, but we had plenty of time to spare. The cooked meal that was supposed to be on day two was a hearty pot of beef stroganoff, which was filled into everyone’s bowls or cups. As we sat around the fire ring and ate our lunch, the forester began to talk. He started by showing us five or so different photos of the same patch of forest. I think the first photo was dated around the late 1800s, showing a group of ponderosa pine trees on the bare needle-covered ground. The next few photos showed how the patch of forest evolved. One of the photos showed much of the pines removed from logging. However, as the time passed within the photos, new brush began to grow from the ground, slowly making the forest denser and denser. By the time we reached near present day, it was nearly impossible to see the ground because of all the brush covering the ground.

There was one main reason for this buildup of brush: fire suppression.

When settlers began moving into the area, fire became a serious danger to them, destroying their settlements and killing people. Before, it was hard to suppress fires, because it took a long time for firemen to reach the fire, and extinguish it. Firemen would have to create a fire line, which was a line that was cleared of brush and flammable material to stop the fire from spreading further. but as technology improved, there were newer, more effective ways to douse fire—better gear, roads for faster transportation, dropping water on top of them with planes. Fires were quickly suppressed before they gained a large hold on the forest.

However, this created another problem. Fire normally helps clear out the lower brush in a forest, which helps add nutrients back into the soil and keep things “organized.” If you can’t throw your brushy trash away, just burn it to the ground, right? Normally the pine trees would be expected to burn too, but pine trees actually self-prune themselves by cutting off sap flow to their lower branches and leaving those to die; basically like cutting off your arm by strangling it with a tourniquet. Pine trees do this so that they keep their more flammable branches off the ground and away from brushfires. And because of their thick bark and sap, the pine trunks don’t catch as easily as the surrounding brush. Nature really nailed their adaptations with pine trees. The forester explained that as fires became less commonplace, new plants and brush began to crowd out the forest, growing unchecked by fire.

The forester pointed to a chubby, light needled, Christmas-tree-like conifer nearby. This was a white fir tree. Normally it grew at higher elevations, but due to fire suppression spread down to here. And unlike the pine trees around it, its branches grews straight from the ground up. Of course up in colder climates and higher elevations fire was less of a thing, so there was no need to kill off your lower branches. Which also meant if that thing caught on fire, guess which branches it was going to spread to?
Once the fire spread to the branches of the pine trees, it could easily spread from tree to tree. So the firs, along with other brush, made up a giant tinderbox of a forest. Think of a bit of oil dripping slowly into a bucket until it’s overflowing the brim, ready to be ignited with one spark. Which happened in the Ute Park Fire.

From https://www.pinterest.com/pin/694609942503019732/

The consequences were devastating. Many acres of forest were burned down before the fire was contained, and Philmont was literally burned through the middle. With such a mass of wood and flammable material, the fire burned like a giant fireball through the forest. It was a disaster.
After the fire, the forester explained how to prevent such a fire again, they began to clear out the lower brush and some trees. He pointed out a few trees in our campground; they were marked with blue graffiti. These were going to be cut down to make the forest less crowded. Much of the wood would be sold and shipped out of Philmont to be manufactured or processed. This was also why Philmont encouraged crews to build fires to help get rid of the excess of flammable material.

When the forester was finished, I gave him a few questions on tree identification. The talk about pine trees and firs reminded me of some species that I learned about many years ago at a few national parks during a road trip. So I asked about the difference between a ponderosa pine and a lodgepole pine. I don’t remember exactly what he said, but it was along these lines.

“Well, the main difference is that the ponderosa pine groups its needles in groups of three.” He picked up a grouping of needles on the ground to show me. “Lodgepole pines have their needles in groups of two. Lodgpole pines also grow at higher elevations than ponderosas, so you won’t find any down here. Lodgepoles also have shorter needles, only one or two centimeters long.”

This fascinated me, and I continued to ask more things to fill up my conifer identification knowledge. I also learned the difference between white fir and douglas-fir. Mainly, white fir’s cones dissolved on the ground, so there were none at the bottom of a white fir tree, but on a douglas fir, the cones would be on the ground and have these little hairs or “mousetails” sticking in them.

A Doug Fir. Not from the trip. I was still plant-blind then.

(I later learned that Douglas-fir is not a true fir. I don't remember whether he told me this)

But the thing that intrigued me the most was probably the answer he gave when I asked the difference between a spruce and fir tree.

“The best way to figure out whether a tree is a fir or a spruce is to *shake hands with it*. If you shake the hands of a fir tree, you’re going to get blood pricks all over your hand, because spruce needles are very sharp. But those of a fir tree are soft and more flexible, so they won’t hurt your hands.”

You heard that right: you can shake hands with conifer trees to determine what type of tree they are. I quickly put it to the test; I put my hand on the branches of the white fir he pointed to earlier and gave it a nice shake. And surprisingly, it was extraordinarily soft! It was almost like touching cooked spaghetti. At this point, I went absolute tree-maniac and decided I would shake the hands of any nearby trees just to see if they were fir or spruce trees.

Before the forester left, he also gave one last very important piece of information. When someone asked him what kinds of trees he’s seen in Philmont, he briefly mentioned seeing a blue spruce tree.
Hold on, a blue spruce?

According to the forester, blue spruce trees were literally blue. How blue? “It’s not like blue-green, it’s just blue,” he said. “You’ll know it when you find one.”

And so started my obsession to find a blue spruce tree in Philmont. My mind was caught on the thought of finding a beautiful, blue spruce tree in a forest of green pines. Unfortunately, they weren’t the most common tree around, so I would have to watch carefully in my surroundings.

I wrote down an entire key based off of everything I learned from the forester. I didn’t have a pen or pencil, because my only one fell through the floorboards at Indian Writings (poor pen!). So I asked Mr. Shelton for a pen so I could remember what I learned.

When we had finished, I ran around camp for a while shaking hands with every tree I could find and identifying them by their species. Which wasn’t unusual for me. When I was young, I was so obsessed with butterflies that I learned how to identify almost every prominent butterfly in the Central Texas area. Still now I can point out basically every species except for those in the skipper and hairstreak family (which seem small and boring). Only this time, I wasn’t just identifying trees, I was shaking hands with them too. What a change.

This is where the account ended. I later remember being on the trail, reaching out to shake hands with a pine, when I tripped over something and fell flat on the ground. Yes, I was very obsessed with this. After that incident, I was a bit more careful to watch my step.

Ingresado el 15 de noviembre de 2022 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario

04 de noviembre de 2022

Tips on Photographing and Identifying Asteraceae, Symphyotrichum in Texas

The reputation of identifying Asteraceae is evident with the use of the acronym DYC. Properly done though, one may get enough information from photos to determine a species ID.

The draft treatment of East Texas Asteraceae from Flora of East Texas is one of the most up to date treatment on Texas Asteraceae so far, and available online at no cost. I gratefully acknowledge George Yatskievych for bringing this to my attention.

There is also FNCT, also available online at the BRIT website, which has illustrations for many species that may come in handy. If one is lucky enough to have one on hand (and skilled enough to interpret it), Correll and Johnston's Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas may also be a useful resource.

I would highly recommend using a good botanical glossary with these - lacking such a resource one may utilize the GoBotany pictorial glossary and any other online resources that may be of use. Multiple glossary sources may need to be consulted. It may be useful to rewrite the information in a way that is useful to you.

Regarding photography: it is front of the flowers that everyone takes pictures of... yet very often it is the phyllaries behind those ray and disc flowers that are most important. As such, a clear photo of the side of the flower is of great value. This can be difficult for thinner, smaller plants. One may need to use manual focus, a macro lens, or both. Flower array can be useful: isolate a branch for a clear photo, and maybe one showing the overall form.

The size of the flowers can make things easier or harder. Smaller phyllaries are way harder to take photos of.

Leaves are important. Note different sizes/forms, sessile or petiolate, margins, texture. Abaxial and abaxial sides (top and bottom), if you wish to be sure. Show where the leaves are attached to the stem to show the petiole (or lack thereof).

Seed heads are useful, if you can capture them in detail. Brush aside a few seedheads to reveal the achenes.

While one may not be able to prepare for all the Asteraceae one may come across, reading and synthesizing information on the taxa of interest before going out to document them will give you a clear idea of what to photograph. Learn it as you go along.

Ingresado el 04 de noviembre de 2022 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 1 observación | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

25 de octubre de 2022

Quick notes on Sida abutifolia and Sida spinosa - to be developed

May develop more, for now just shorthand

Character: petiole relative to leaf pedicel
SA: petiole as long as or often longer than nearby petioles
SS: petiole shorter than nearby petioles

Character: Habit
SA: spreading habit, along the ground
SS: erect habit, on upright stems

Character: spine-like projection under petiole near the base
SA: absent
SS: present

Character: number serrations/teeth on margins (maybe do a count?)
SA: 8-10 teeth per side maybe more I haven't checked
SS: idk 20ish usually a heck ton

Character: Size of teeth (which is )
SA: Larger by some degree
SS: Smaller by some degree

Character: Leaf shape
SA: at most maybe 3x longer than wide
SS: generally much longer than wide, maybe 4 or 5x?

Further investigation needed

Ingresado el 25 de octubre de 2022 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

19 de septiembre de 2022

Ruellias in Central Texas, Put Simply

Adapted from somewhere else
Corrections are appreciated :)

About the Ruellias

Ruellias are sometimes called Wild Petunias, but they aren't Petunias so that's a LIE! They're named after Jean Ruelle, who was a French botanist and physician during the Renaissance Period. There are lots of plants named after botanists.
Most, if not all, will have the flowers that open for only one day—they open in the morning and fall off by the evening.

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

Species Matrix

For those wanting to review in a glance. To be finished

Ruellia nudiflora Ruellia metziae Ruellia occidentalis Ruellia simplex Ruellia drummondiana Ruellia humilis
Inflorescence arrangement Terminal Terminal Terminal Axillary Axillary Axillary
Peduncled/stalked or sessile Peduncled Peduncled Peduncled Peduncled Sessile Sessile
Leaf shape Oval-ovate Oval-ovate-lanceolate Ovate, verging on deltoid Lanceolate-linear Ovate Oval-ovate
Leaf apex Rounded, sub-acute Rounded, sub-acute Sub-acute, often coming to a point; sometimes rounded Acute, often narrowly acute Acute to sub-acute Sub-acute to rounded
Stem & leaf indumentum Essentially glabrous; glabrescent Essentially glabrous; glabrescent Short-pubescence - canescent Essentially glabrous Short-pubescence Long-pubescence - pilose; margins cilliate
Corolla color Purple White, sometimes pale purple Purple Purple, pink, white, probably more (due to cultivars) Purple Purple to pale purple

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 if you live within Austin or Dallas or anywhere in Texas deep within its range.
The flowers will rise above the leaves in a flowering stalk, which is known as a terminal flower arrangement. 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. Essentially they are glabrous; they can have some hairs (trichomes if I'm being pedantic), but those hairs aren't very conspicuous or dense.

This species is 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 pseudo-endemic to Texas, around the Edwards Plataeu. Yes, the Edwards Plateau is very important in Texas botany. It also occurs south into Mexico. There are a lot of pseudo-endemic plants species which have populations only in Texas and parts of Mexico.

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 14-20 mm long when in flower:
R. nudiflora: corolla to 4-5 cm long, calyx lobes 10-15 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, has a terminal inflorescence, with 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. This is due to the presence of pubescence on the surface of the leaves. The leave blades are less oval in shape, more tapered towards an ovate/deltoid shape, wider towards the base and often coming to a pronounced point at the apex. They are also broader, generally about x1.25 or x1.5 longer than wide.

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. It is 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, but typically 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 in Texas.

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. Note that they are practically sessile: no stalk/pedicel/peduncle, just coming straight out of the leaf axils.

Hairy Ruellia looks similar to Violet Ruellia, but much less common
However, the leaves are distinctly hairy as the common name actually got that right. Well, actually the top of the leaves can lack hairs,
Particularly, it has a tell-tale fringe on the leaf margins (edge of the leaf), which is a dead giveaway.

Ingresado el 19 de septiembre de 2022 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

30 de agosto de 2022

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

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. Silverleaf nightshade has thorns on the stem, while Zizotes is unarmed.

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.

Ingresado el 30 de agosto de 2022 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 5 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

14 de abril de 2022

Rudimentary Notes on Scutellaria Parvula

Will expand this later, check in FNCT and other sources. I have never seen this species before, so take this information tentatively.

S. drummondii and S. parvula can appear to have similarly sized corollas, and both have longer white hairs on the calyx. Normally it appears that the size of the corolla relative to the calyx is smaller when looking at S. parvula, but other characteristics should be used to verify this species.

The length of the flowering pedicel relative to the calyx
For S. parvula, I've noticed that the flowering pedicel is much more prominent than that of S drummondii. The length of the flowering pedicel is about the same as the length of the calyx. On S. drummondii, the pedicel is inconspicuous and the flowers appear almost to be sessile.

The molted speckles on the corolla
The dark speckles or dots on S. drummondii appear to remain restricted to the white part in the middle. For S. parvula these speckles will more often than not reach outward to the edge of the two front corolla lobes.

The shape of the leaf base
According to Flora of North Central Texas (pg 778-779), S parvula can be distinguished via the leaf base, which are "subcordate to truncate" compared to "rounded for tapering bases" for S. drummondii (and S. wrightii)

Petiole (or, in this case, lack thereof)
S. parvula has sessile leaves, S. drummondii has petioled leaves, albeit winged petioles (leaf tapers and extends along the petiole to the stem).

Ingresado el 14 de abril de 2022 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

27 de marzo de 2022

Scutellaria drummondii vs Scutellaria wrightii

I find these two species can sometimes get confused in the Central Texas area... I myself didn't really understand these two very well, but I have a basic understanding of how they can be differentiated.

What to take photos of

To get the best evidence to ID these two, I would recommend taking a photo of:

  • a clear side/lateral shot of the flower, with corolla, calyx and stem in focus.
  • an overall shot to show the habit of the plant

Differentiation via the texture of the calyxes

S. drummondii will have long hairs, noticeable pubescence on the calyx ("spreading-pubescent or pilose" as Shiner and Mahler's Flora of North Central Texas says). S. wrightii will have short hairs; any pubescence is inconspicuous to the naked eye ("short-pubescent with inconspicuous hairs").

Left is S. wrightii; right is S. drummondii

This is my preferred method to distinguish these two species. However, if the calyxes are very out of focus it can be near impossible to tell.

Differentiation via the shape and orientation of the corolla

S. wrightii usually has a noticeable curve at the base "like a little pipe". The lower half of the corolla also remains very narrow, before it rapidly expands outwards. This also causes the corolla to be flexed upwards, so that it projects perpendicular to the calyx and almost vertical in orientation.
S. drummondii appears to lack this feature, projecting close to horizontal from the stem, and widens more gradually from the base, forming a sideways V-shape.

Differentiation via the size of the corolla relative to the leaves

This is from my own personal observations, so take this information with a grain of salt.
S. drummondii tends to have a corolla size that is not much larger than the surrounding leaves—at most I would say 1 1/2 times larger.
S. wrightii appears to have a corolla size that can often exceed the size of the leaves by a lot. This might be because the leaves at the end of the stems are younger and smaller than the base, and the large flowers tend to be clustered near the top. Or that since the corolla curves upward, it tends to extend up past a leaf node (or even two). Flowers further down the stem can be more proportional in size to the leaves. But often when looking at the plant, especially when well into bloom, the flowers really tend to dominate the scene.

Differentiation via the habit

When the plant is mature, the stems of S. wrightii are often densely clustered together, forming a tighter clump than S. drummondii does. S. wrightii is also a perennial—a woody perennial. On older plants, there will often be dead stems from previous seasons still visible. S drummondii is an annual, and, as far as I have seen, does not form woody stems.

Differentiation via surrounding soil

Alone this may not be a definitive ID feature, but it is a good clue.
S. wrightii is a inhabitant of poor, dry soils, often rocky and surrounded by bits of limestone. The soil color will usually be quite light in color. Apparently it can also be found on sandy soils as well. S. drummondii is less picky and will grow in clay and loam soils as well as sandy and limestone soils. You will probably not find S. wrightii growing on clay or loam... perhaps that's why it remains mostly limited to the Edward's Plateau... though its range does stretch upwards towards Dallas and Oklahoma.

Example observations:
S. drummondii:
S. wrightii:

https://fwbg.org/research/brit-press/illustrated-flora-of-north-central-texas-online/ - Dicots: Fabaceae to Zygophyliaceae, page 778

Also with the amount of times these can get mistaken for Texas Sage (Check out the Dave's Garden plant file!) I should add in a separate note about how to distinguish those too, but I can do that later.

Ingresado el 27 de marzo de 2022 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 4 observaciones | 3 comentarios | Deja un comentario

16 de marzo de 2022

Smilax bona-nox vs Smilax rotundifolia

This is a quick post to remind me of how to distinguish these two Smilax species. With Smilax rotundifolia, it's less of a case of finding characteristics to look for, but more of looking for characteristics that would rule it out.

Differentiation via thorns on leaf nodes

Smilax bona-nox will have thorns at leaf/tendril nodes (Smilax glauca will also exhibit this characteristic). Smilax rotundifolia will not. If there are thorns at the leaf nodes, then it's NOT Smilax rotundifolia.

Differentiation via leaf margins

Smilax bona-nox has prickles along the leaf margins, which I suppose is where it got its common name "Saw Greenbrier." On some specimens this can be quite obvious, while on others they exhibit no prickles at all. However, prickles on the leaf margin will rule out S. rotundifolia. It is good practice to check multiple leaves for any prickles.

Both of these have prickles on the margins, but on one it's more obvious than the other.

Smilax rotundifolia often has a "minute roughness" on the leaf margin. This is one of the best characteristics to look for... though it can be hard to see or photograph. Not every S. rotundifolia plant will exhibit this, but it is pretty consistent. Besides prickles, S. bona-nox margins will be completely smooth to the touch, and can also have a "cartilaginous edge" - a cream colored border.

Minute roughness - though this is S. tamnoides, not S. rotundifolia

Note: S. tamnoides, the bristly greenbrier, also exhibits this minute roughness, so always check to see if you can find the needle thin, black prickles so you don't mix those up too.

Differentiation via leaf petiole color

Smilax rotundifolia tends to have pinkish coloration on its petioles, while Smilax bona-nox will have green petioles. If a specimen exibits a pinkish color on the leaf petioles, that is a good reason to lean towards S. rotundifolia

Differentiation via leaf shape, texture, etc.

I do not think these characteristics are as reliable as the other ones, but will list them anyways.
Smilax bona-nox leaves can have a three-lobed appearance. This can be more or less prominent on specimens, but if the plant is distinctly three-lobed that rules out S. rotundifolia.
Smilax bona-nox will also have "tougher, leatherier leaves," while Smilax rotundifolia has a brighter shine to it. Young leaves of both species tend to look shiny though so this probably applies better with mature leaves.
Smilax bona-nox often have light splotches on its leaves. Seldom will you find this on S. rotundiflolia, if at all.

(Note: update on angular vs terete stems)

Differentiation via number of seeds in berry

Smilax bona-nox will consistently have one big seed in each berry
Smilax rotundifolia will have 2-3 seeds per berry

Example observations:
S. bona-nox
S. rotundifolia

Set of observations with disagreements between these species: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations?ident_taxon_id_exclusive=125677,60746&order_by=votes&place_id=1&verifiable=any


Ingresado el 16 de marzo de 2022 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

26 de enero de 2022

Giliastrum spp.

Common in Texas:

  • Bluebowls (Giliastrum rigidulum)
  • Splitleaf Gilia (Giliastrum incisum)
  • Bluebowls (Giliastrum acerosum)

Distinguishing these taxa

G. rigidulum and G. acerosum will tend to have a deeper blue corolla, size around 10mm overall.
Both will have deciduous basal leaves that are not persistent.

G. acerosum occurs further west, In Trans-Pecos and the Plains., leaves acerose or needle shaped with thin linear divisions
G.rigidulum limited to the Edwards Plateau area, leaves are NOT acerose and divisions of the leaf are broader.

G. incisum has distinct basal leaves that are simple or "deeply serrate," size of corolla 4-7 mm

Key: https://polemoniaceae.wordpress.com/giliastrum/


Ingresado el 26 de enero de 2022 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 1 observación | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario