Sassafras albidum

Lauraceae Laurel Family including Spicebush, Cinnamon, Camphor

Different leaf forms on the same tree and a spicy-fruity taste are characteristic of a Sassafras tree. One of its former specific epithets (second part of a Latin name) was variiafollium, a great descriptive word. I don’t know what albidum (white) has to do with anything.

Chewed fall leaf with 3 main veins and 3 lobes.

Shoots (twigs, buds, leaves). Two more distinctive characteristics make Sassafras easy to identify in the winter. The twigs are green and the lateral shoots extend out beyond the terminal shoot.

Lateral shoots are longer than the center shoot.

Below left: the winter terminal bud sometimes has silky hairs. Middle: bud scales on the terminal bud starting to open in spring with smaller lateral buds over a raised leaf scar. Right: Bud scales open further and show some bracts that will be below the flower cluster (inflorescence). The bud scales will fall and leave scars showing one year’s growth. Sometimes I snip a twig and watch it grow.

Below left: A leaf scar has confluent vascular bundles (xylem: water pipes and phloem: sugar pipes) so close together they look like a line. Bud scales dropped off and left behind bud scale scars. Young bark eventually cracks with rust colored fissures (right).

Flowers: The dioecious flowers bloom before the leaves mature. Its fun to see which trees are male and which are female because they are on different plants. Below left: Bud scales open to reveal some accrescent involucre bracts (a whorl of bracts that continue to grow larger) and a cluster of young flowers 4-15-19. Below right they continue to grow and new leaves start.

Male flowers (below) are clustered in a loose raceme (the lower flowers open first). Six tepals (sepals and petals look the same) are below the 9 stamens in two whorls. Three inner stamens have nectiferous glands (bumps with nectar inside). The leaves are just starting to open.  4-30-12

Female flowers on a different tree (below). I did find these female flowers but forgot to go back and look for the fruit. I enlarged a single flower on the right. Six tepals (it looks like 7 because one is the stalk and one is really long) are beneath the superior ovary of the pistil that hasn’t started to grow into a fruit. It is surrounded by six yellow stamenodes (sterile stamens). The style (wavy neck) and stigma (tip that will receive the pollen) are easy to see.

Leaves finally open. The bracts and bud scales are still there.

Below right: leaves form a mosaic, spread out so each individual leaf receives the maximum amount of sun. There are 3 different forms: one lobed, two lobed (mitten) and three lobed. Even the tiny mitten shape (lower right) has 3 main veins.

Fall leaves turn a shade of salmon that appeared on some of the younger leaves (left above). I wonder what likes to chew on them. It is a distinctive chew that eats the softer parts between the veins.

Fruit: The ovary becomes a single fleshy green fruit, a drupe with one seed, that will turn blue when ripe on top of a bright red stalked cup.

Star Flower

Lysimachia borealis formerly Trientalis borealis Myrsinaceae or Marlberry Family. Formerly in the Primrose Family

When spring comes, I search for this graceful plant on the forest floor. The earlier name (Trientalis) “triens” means 1/3 of a foot in Latin and describes its low herbaceous (non-woody) habit. Borealis indicates a Northern plant. It’s new genus name, Lysimachia, just refers to its relatives. If I were to name this plant, I would use elegant as the species descriptor. Maybe Trientalis elegans.

Roots, rhizomes. I often find colonies, so I assume most plants start from rhizomes or underground stems held in place by their roots that absorb water and nutrients.

Leaves: this plant is unusual for me because the leaves radiate out but each single leaf is not the same length. In the fall the leaves are still different lengths. I thought they might have started at different times and would end up the same length. I love that they don’t. There is even a tiny one that curls under the flower at an odd angle (left).

The leaves have pinnate veins arranged like a feather with secondary veins coming out of the midvein. Another detail I noticed when I drew it: the side veins arch over to the next vein along the margin: anamatosis.

Sepals and Petals. Each individual flower usually has 7 sepals, 7 petals. The sepals are placed in between the petals instead of behind a petal.

Starflower and bud

In the photo below (left) there are only 6 petals. Note the word “usually” above. I relish the variable number of petals, refusing to fit into our human definitions. It must be so hard to draw or photograph one perfect picture and write one definitive description for the id books. And plants evolve and change. Hard for the taxonomists but interesting for us observers.

Six petals

Stamens and Pistil. Below: Stamens with filaments and yellow anthers surround a round green ovary with a long style with a tiny stigma on top. Seven stamens arranged with each stamen in the center of a petal. Of course, there is a term for this: antepetalous. They could be in front of the sepals: antesepalous. After the anthers ripen and release pollen they curl down (right).

Fruit. A capsule splits along seams to disperse seeds and looks like a squished volleyball.

Two more shots of this radiating pattern as it decomposes and get eaten.


Arisaema triphyllum Araceae/Arum/Aroid Family including Skunk Cabbage (see species post), Wild Calla, Golden Club, and tropical arums (see Araceae post).

A friend gave me one of these plants (from many) growing in the damp areas of her yard. The illustrations are from my sketchbooks.

Anastomosing veins along the leaflet borders (see below)

Underground: I don’t often see the underground parts of plants I choose to draw because I don’t want to pick them. I was delighted when my friend helped me dig up my gift and let me see what was happening beneath the ground. Below left: The corm at the top of her trowel was surrounded by deciduous contractile roots. A corm is an underground storage organ at the base of the stem which is why a clone of this perennial will bloom next year. A new corm is formed on top of the old corm and the roots will contract to pull the plant back down into the soil.

Shoots (Stems and Leaves): The leaves emerge from protective sheaths that look like snake skins. Their shapes are from another world.

First the leaves and then the spathes.

Leaves: each trifoliate leaf is a compound leaf with 3 leaflets arranged so that two of the leaflets form a straight line and the third is perpendicular to that line. Note the poison ivy leaf (below right), I photographed on the same day, has the same arrangement. There is one large tooth on the margins of the lower leaves to distinguish it (among other things) but still something to notice. Pinnate veins that extend out from a mid vein loop around forming a border along the margins or edges. This is called anastomosing, seen better in my first picture, and helps identify this leaf.

Flower. This unusual flower is an inflorescence or a cluster of separate, stalkless florets attached to the lower part of a rounded fleshy axis (spadix). That’s Jack. The florets are protected by a spathe (the Pulpit) that wraps around and overhangs Jack.

A female Jack with no space at the bottom of the spathe. (See below)

The spathe (above) has various colors and patterns that some use to describe a few sub-species. A. triphyllum ssp.triphyllum is the one most common; A. triphyllum ssp.pusillum has a solid colored spathe (maybe the middle image?); and A. triphyllum ssp.stewardsonii has a ridged or fluted spathe that I haven’t seen. These will be fun to (try and) find next year and make me look closer.

The flowers are dioecious. The male and female clusters are on different plants. But… an individual plant can change sex in the next season depending on the amount of carbohydrates manufactured and stored in its corm. Females take more energy to reproduce, are larger, and have two leaves. The males are much smaller and have only one leaf. If a female plant had a tough year and couldn’t create enough stored resources for next year, she might revert to a he.

Below: onepetiole (leaf stalk) and peduncle (flower stalk) of a male plant.

Jack leaves1
A male Jack-in-the-Pulpit.

Below: one of my favorite photos I found after learning about male and female Jacks. The larger female (left) has two leaves and a much smaller male (right) has only one leaf.

Large female Jack (left) with two compound leaves beside the smaller male (right) with one leaf.

Below: The male flower has a tiny opening at the bottom of the spathe, blocked in a female flower, so it will trap the pollen. When I enlarged my photo, I saw a little space (red arrow) at the bottom of the male flower. Fungus gnats, attracted by a fungal smell, lay their eggs in these plants thinking the larvae will have something to eat. When they find they have made a mistake, they are trapped in the female plant so they can spread pollen on the stigmas. But they can escape through the tiny hole in the male plant and maybe carry pollen to another female Jack. From: Wild Flowers of the NE, by Carol Gracie.

Right: The male flowers only have stamens and don’t need sepals and petals. I didn’t see a female flower. By the time I knew to look it had already formed fruit.

Fruit: The spathe and leaves wither as the fleshy berries develop, turn green and finally red when ripe.

Sweet Fern

Comptonia peregrina (L.) Coult

Myricaceae Bayberry Family including Bayberry Myrica pennsylvanica (below)

This native is not sweet nor is it a fern but does have a wonderful aroma when green leaves are crushed. My favorite time to find Sweet Fern is in winter when the curled dried leaves are still attached (marcescent). They won’t drop off until new leaves come in spring. The male pollen catkins have already formed and are ready to open when the time is right.

Sweet Fern Drawing tallerRoots/Stems: It forms colonies of clones from underground stems or rhizomes, can be a pioneer plant in disturbed areas and fixes nitrogen which nourishes poor soil. See below.

Shoots (stems and leaves). The leaves do look like fern fronds with pinnate lobes along a midrib (pinnatifid), but it is a woody, flowering shrub that reproduces with seeds and not spores. Below left: the young shoot has very hairy stems (twigs) attached to a smoother older stem with obvious white dots or lenticels (pores on a stem).

Below: The leaves can have beautiful fall color: greens, golds, browny reds and purples.

Sweet Fern Fall.png

Flowers: This plant is usually monoecious, with separate male and female flowers on the same plant. Because it is wind pollinated (anemophilous) the flowers don’t have to be conspicuous to attract a pollinator. You must look carefully to find them.

Male Flowers: Below left: Immature male catkins in the winter along with last year’s curled marcescent leaves. Catkins or aments (I’m not sure what the difference is) are also called spikes (no flower stalks) because it is a unisexual inflorescence or cluster of florets with no petals (apetalous) along an axis. Right: A little later the catkins relax and droop, so the fringed protective bracts can spread open to release pollen. 4-2-10. Then they fall as a unit.

Female flower: Left below: 4-23-10 The female flower cluster is just below the male flower (on the same plant) and above the new leaves. Several red 2-pronged stigmas peek out of protective bracts where the pollen will land.

Fruit: sometimes called a bur, it has turned green (above right). This will ripen into a brown bristly fruit protecting several nutlets.

Below left: A sketch of Bayberry, a relative I found in the fall on Block Island, that also fixes nitrogen, has aromatic leaves when crushed but a waxy fruit instead of a bur. I’m not sure what was on the underside of the leaf but I liked the colors. Right: Fruit 3-20-19.

Clover nodules

Nitrogen fixing: Nitrogen in the atmosphere is not available to plants. Nitrogen fixation converts nitrogen into ammonia, so plants can absorb it. Several plants fix nitrogen and contain symbiotic bacteria, called rhizobia, within nodules in their root systems.  When the plant dies, the fixed nitrogen is released, making it available to other plants. Many legumes also fix nitrogen. Right: I dug up a clover and found these nodules on the roots. White Clover Trifolium repens in the Fabaceae or Legume Family.

More pictures of Sweet Fern with aments and marcescent leaves. Spiral comes to mind.


Sanguinaria canadensis L.Poppy family (Papaveraceae) including Celandine Chelidonium majus, Bleeding Heart Dicentra eximia. 

A friend gave me some Bloodroot plants from a huge patch in her beautiful garden. This early spring flower takes advantage of sunlight before the top canopy leaves expand. I planted her gifts in my tiny condo yard and hope to “resee” new Bloodroot shoots next year. But I’m not much of a gardener. They are native but I haven’t found these plants in the woods near me.


Name: Sanguinaria, from Latin sanguis meaning ‘blood’, the color of the sap. Sanguine is still used today for an optimistic temperament. Canadensis, means ‘of Canada’ or probably a northern plant. Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) is the Swedish botanist who popularized the binomial nomenclature (naming a plant species only using two Latin names). Before Linnaeus more Latin descriptive terms (polynomial) were for scientific names. Each time a similar plant was discovered another Latin term was added to differentiate it. Very confusing. The “L.” at the end of the name indicates Linnaeus was the author or named and published this plant name in his Species plantarum first published in 1753. The name hasn’t changed since then. Yay!

Root system (rhizomes and roots) /Shoots (stems and leaves). Below: New growth coming out of the underground rhizome (stem) supported by roots that absorb water and nutrients. A basal leaf blade wraps around the petiole (stalk) of a single flower as it begins to open.

Below left: the “blood” red of a cut rhizome. Right: a cut petiole looks like a tiny murder scene.

Leaves open into twice lobed shapes.  The number of large lobes varies. Below: The palmate, netted venation is more prominent on the underside. Even the veins “bleed” if you cut them.

  • Palmate venation: like your palm. The major veins start from one place.
  • Pinnate venation: like a feather. The side veins grow out of one major midvein.

Flower (sepals, petals, stamens, pistil)

Sepals: Members of the poppy family usually have inconspicuous sepals. You will see them in bud but when the flowers start to open, they drop off immediately (caducous).  The duration of the calyx (all the sepals) is described in old botany books using more precise words.

  • Caducous or fugacious: falls off when the petals expand. (Bloodroot).
  • Deciduous: falls off right after fertilization. (Mustards).
  • Persistent: remains after the flower is fertilized and stays attached to the fruit. (Tomatoes, Strawberries).
  • Marcescent: persistent and looks shriveled or dried up. (Persimmons, Beech leaves).
  • Accrescent: persistent and continues to grow larger after flowering. (Hickories).

After I read this, I looked through my photos found one bud with sepals still attached. (red arrow/below left). Right: petals still closed but sepals gone.

Petals don’t last very long either. Bloodroots have a variable number of petals similar to the variable number of lobes on the leaves. They are also different lengths. Usually there are about 8 petals that sometimes look square (below left). 4-26-18. I wonder if they will evolve to be more consistent. It makes it hard for the identification books that count petals. Those pesky plants.

Stamens (filaments stalks and anthers to hold the pollen). After noting sepals and petals I look for the third whorl of a flowering plant: the male parts (stamens). Bloodroot rewards pollinators with pollen, not nectar. It has several distinct stamens with a defined filament and anther. They are basifixed with extrorse dehiscence. What? the anthers are attached to stalks at their bases (not in the middle like lilies) and open to release pollen away from the pistil. Canada Mayflower has introrse anthers that release pollen towards the pistil (see previous species post). Introrse, extrorse… Maybe a song.

Bloodroot adaptations guarantee the next generation vegetatively from their rhizomes in addition to both cross and self-pollination. The stigma ripens before the anthers (protogyny) which are flat for easy access and encourages cross pollination from another plant (above left). This creates genetic diversity. If the flower has not been pollinated by an insect, the stamens will begin to turn up in order to release pollen on its own stigma, that has ripened (above right). Self-pollination will cause a clone to grow but better than not being pollinated.

Reproductive parts of plants can ripen at different times to help prevent self-pollination.

  • Protandry: the anthers ripen before the stigma is ready to receive pollen
  • Protogyny: the stigma receptive before anthers release pollen

A few more great words:

  • Gynoecium: all the pistils, carpels, or female parts in one flower.
  • Androecium: all the stamens or male parts in one flower.

“Gyn” comes from the Greek word for woman or wife and “Andro” from the Greek word for man or male. And “ecium” is from the Greek word for house. In ancient Greece men and women lived in different houses. Variations of these words are used to describe the reproducive process and parts of plants.

Pistil: The center or 4th whorl is the female part of the flower where the fruit will form. The ovary narrows to a short style and 2-lobed stigma. The light green ovary is topped by a light-colored blobby stigma (below left). The petals and stamens fall off because they aren’t needed any more (middle).  The ripened ovary gets larger, the style (neck) lengthens, and the 2-lobed stigma darkens after fertilization (right). 5-3-18.

Fruit: The ripened ovary becomes a fruit protecting the seeds. A Bloodroot fruit is called a capsule because it isn’t fleshy and dehisces (opens) to release the seeds. Left: the capsule is fusiform (spindle shaped or narrow at both ends). 5-21-18. I cut across the pistil to show the 3-parted ovary filled with seeds. (right below).

Left: I was anxious to see the seeds and opened the capsule that weren’t ripe yet (left below). 5-3-18 They finally ripened (right) 5-23-18.

Seeds: The seeds have fleshy elaiosomes attached (below). From the Greek for “elaion” for oil and “soma” for body. Ants take the seeds to their nest, eat the elaiosomes and remove the seeds to their garbage area or away from the nest. Ant dispersal is called Myrmecochory. Myr’-me-co-cho’-ry. This one does not roll off my tongue.

Blood seeds






Taraxucum officinale Asteraceae /Compositae Including Common Thistle

Dandelion drawing

Dandelions spread out over cracks in the pavement and gravel parking lots as if they were at the beach. The one I drew had unusual colors on some leaves, probably dead or dying because cars kept running over them. Like fall leaves, I assume those colors are usually disguised by chlorophyll when the green leaves are creating sugars. New leaves and flowers continued to form anyway. I love to study this tough plant because I can find plenty, pick, pull apart, and nobody cares. Most of the life cycle can be seen on the same day. Lots of wierd words, beautiful patterns and plenty of questions for next year.

Adaptations: It attracts pollinators with a compact cluster of bright yellow flowers used for a landing place and provides pollen and nectar rewards that help with cross pollination. It can also self pollinate and produce clones by apomixis or create seeds asexually. Even after a mowing, the meristems (where new growth happens) are below the blades so dandelions will just come back with a shorter stature. This lactiferous plant produces a white bitter latex that herbivores probably don’t like. No wonder they are so successful.

Shoots (Roots, Stems, Leaves) The long tap root can create new plants from fragments, store food over winter, and contract to pull the plant below ground level. Basal leaves with lion’s teeth (Dent de lion) form a rosette at the top of the root. This radiating pattern and big teeth give maximum exposure to the sun. Leaves are extremely responsive to their habitat and climate. There are many wonderful terms used to describe their variable shapes, colors and hairs. (See below)


Inflorescence: The other family name, Compositae, is more descriptive than Asteraceae because what looks like one flower is really a composite of individual flowers (florets).

Bracts: What looks protective sepals is a whorl (involucre) of bracts that are not sepals but “extra parts” attached to the entire flower cluster. Below left: Two whorls of bracts spreading to reveal the petals. Right: bracts on the left protect an unopened flower while bracts on the right protect a flower that opened, closed and will open when fruits are formed.

Petals and Stigmas: Yellow petals that attract a pollinator are easy to see.  Stigmas receive pollen when ripe and are also easy to see, but you need to make an effort. Below left: yellow petals unfold. Middle: stigmas start to appear. Right: a closeup of the stigmas, like ram’s horns, covered with pollen coming up through fused anthers.

Individual florets. Left below: 2 florets. Five ray or ligulate (ribbon-like) petals that fuse but I can see 5 notches at their tips. They form a tube with one side lengthened that wraps around 5 fused anthers (pollen holders). Inside the tubes are 5 filaments (stamen stalks). The style (pistil neck) lifts the stigma through the anther tube filled with nectar and spreads open ready to receive pollen.  The hairy pappus, that some call the sepals, will help disperse the fruit. The inferior ovary is below all the other parts.

Fruits. Left below: A cluster of several fruits (cypselas) attached to the receptacle (swelling on top of the flower stalk). Right: Individual fruit. A flared pappus lifted by a thin beak on top of one cypsela that was the ovary.

Below left: the receptacle, that looks like a pitted golf ball, still has some cypselas stuck to it. Right: a ribbed cypsela with teeth that point up (muricate) to help the fruit stay in the ground.

One day I went out right after it rained. The water made the radiating shapes formed from hairy pappus, beaks and fruits easy to see at different stages. Right: the receptacle with all the fruits dispersed and surrounded by old bracts.

Name: Taraxacum from a Persian word for bitter herb and officinale means it was used pharmaceutically. Asteraceae comes from the word for star. Dandelions are divided into a subfamily called Lactucoideae and a tribe called Lactuceae or Cichorieae (sources don’t agree) that includes Chicory. They all have only ray flowers and not disk flowers.

Dissections: when I cut across some of the buds I found some wonderful progressions. In the left image, I see new flower clusters about to open. On the right in the same picture, the petals are shriveled, there is more pappus and the ovaries are turning green on top of the receptacle. The right image has the fruits forming. On the right the ovaries/fruits are yellowish and on the left they are much darker and ready to disperse.

Words describing Dandelions.

The more I learn about Dandelions, the more I want to start over next year to “resee” this complicated plant. I think I like my new word “heteroblasty” best.

Heteroblasty: obvious developmental and seasonal changes in form and function including color and indumentum (hairiness) that occur over the lifespan of certain plants. In a word, or two words: “very variable”.

Stem: the tiny stem anchors a rosette of basal leaves alternately attached at nodes with very short internodes (between the nodes).

Leaves: variable because of heteroblasty, I just picked a few descriptive terms:

  • Runcinate: large teeth with tips that point down (lion’s teeth).
  • Pinnatifed: teeth attached to the midrib like a feather.
  • Oblanceolate. Lanceolate means lance-shaped, longer then wide with the widest part below the middle. If you add “ob” it means the widest part is toward the tip. “Ob” is used as a Latin “reverse”.
  • Apices (leaf tips): rounded, obtuse, acute or acuminate (come to a tiny point).
  • Hairs: indumentum means hairy but there are all kinds of hairs: glabrous (smooth) or glabrate (almost smooth) to sparsely villous, pilose, or villosulous. Villous means long, soft, often bent or curved but not matted. Villosulous means little villous. Pilose is straight spreading hairs.


  • Acaulescent or stemless. What looks like the long stem is really a flower stalk or peduncle, like a Pink Lady’s Slipper. More specifically, a hollow scape (leafless flower stalk).
  • Receptacle: thickened top of a flower stalk where the florets are attached.
  • Bracts: specialized leaves attached to a flower. Each flower head is subtended (next to) two unequal rosettes of bracts.
    • Involucral bracts are a group of bracts shaped like a rosette.
    • Phyllaries (Individual bracts) often used to identify asters.
    • Calyculi outer layer of bracts, little bracts are called bractlets.
    • How bracts unfold: appressed (pressed against but not joined), recurved (bent back), or reflexed (bent back and down).
    • Scarious (thin, dry, membranous, not green)

Inflorescence or cluster of individual florets. Other terms I found:

  • Terminal capitulum: compact flower head. 
  • Pseudanthium (Greek for “false flower”) sometimes used for Asteraceae head.

Individual florets

  • Sepals: some say the hairy pappus forms the sepals. It is white to cream-colored or yellowish to sordid with barbellulate (minutely barbed) bristles. I like the word sordid for a color.
  • Petals: each ray floret has a corolla (all the petals) of five united petals with one side lengthened and notched.
  • Perfect florets: both male (stamens) and female (pistils) parts on the same floret.
  • Stamens
    • Anthers: 5 fused into tube where stigma pokes through.
    • Filaments: 5 hidden in the tube.
  • Pistil including ovary, style/stigma
    • A single style (neck) comes up from the ovary and branches into a 2-parted stigma that bends around like ram’s horns to receive pollen.
    • Ovary will become the fruit.

Fruit: A botanical fruit is a ripened ovary and not necessarily sweet.  An achene is a dry fruit that doesn’t dehisce (open). An achene in the Asteraceae Family is called a cypsela. It looks like a seed because the wall of the ripened ovary surrounds and protects a single seed. When ripe, the beak lengthens to help the wind grab the pappus and disperse the cypsela.




Pink Lady’s Slipper

Cypripedium acaule Orchidaceae Family and Cypripediodeae Sub-Family called slipper orchids.

Cyp drawing

Apart from being so beautiful, native Pink Lady’s Slipper orchids evolved to attract specific pollinators by fusing and expanding various parts. Botanists have used many terms to describe the complicated and unusual flowers. These words are fun for me if they help me notice new details. But not to say to anyone. They just get annoyed.

Abstracts. Sometimes I just wanted to enjoy shapes, colors and lines.

Vegetative Parts: Roots and Shoots (Stems and Leaves)

Roots. Many orchids are tropical epiphytes (upon a plant) that aren’t parasites (living on another organism and taking nutrients from it). Temperate orchids are terrestrial with their roots in the ground. The long white roots have a mycorrhizal and beneficial association with many fungi in the same habitat.

Leaves: Left below. The subopposite, paired basal leaves have plicate (folded) veins. Sub means almost. One leaf is inside the other and not simply opposite at the same node. The shape is ovate (kind of oval) and the edges are entire (smooth). Right: a new shoot. 5-9-12

Stems? Below left: a mature orchid with a bent flower stalk (scape). I also find many straight flower stalks of different heights all of which, I assume, help these orchids reach for optimum light in a forest with dappled shade.

So where is the stem? The genus name, Cypri, comes a Greek reference to Aphrodite, and pedium refers to a Greek word for sandal. Acaule means stemless. The botanical definition of a stem is the plant part that bears the leaves. What looks like a stem on a Lady Slipper is the leafless scape. The real stem is tiny and located between the two basal leaves. It continues underground as a rhizome (an underground stem). Other slipper orchids that do have leafy stems are cauline and not acaulescent. Left below: Showy Lady’s Slipper Cypripedium reginae and (right) Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubsescens, both at the Garden in the Woods in Framingham MA.

Flower: bracts, sepals, petals

The flower is bilaterally symmetrical like your face: the same on both sides and different top to bottom. It is also resupinate. The lip or “slipper” starts out on the top but twists 180 degrees. I’m not sure when it twists. It seems to be upside down early on. There are some non-resupinate native orchids where the lip stays on top like Grass Pink Calopogon tuberosus (below right) at the old Wellesley College Greenhouses. The “attractive” lip, that draws in a pollinator, is up and the column (explained below) is down.

Here is the hard part for me to see. A Lady Slipper is a monocot usually with 3merous parts or divisible by 3. I couldn’t figure out what was what until I read that a green bract tops 3 sepals and 3 petals. A bract is a term used to describe parts connected to flower that aren’t sepals, petals or leaves although some can be leaf-like. But I still couldn’t see 3merous parts.

Sepals: one sepal, that hangs down behind the petals, is really 2 fused sepals (connate, synsepalous). The third sepal, the same size as the two fused ones, is just below the bract. I smile as I think about humans struggling to make plants fit into human descriptions and categories.

Petals: Inside the sepals, 2 longer, thinner, twisted petals have similar colors. The third petal is a large inflated pink pouch called a lip or labellum. It has a vertical slit with the edges rolled in, so a hefty pollinator is needed push its way inside guided by the darker veins. Directional hairs and in-rolled edges prevent the pollinator from leaving that way but light reveals a second exit near the top of the pouch (below).

Cyp2 labels ps

Flower Reproductive Parts: Stamens and Pistil

Column: Orchids have fused two filaments (stamen stalks) and the style/stigma (top parts of the pistil) into a column. Two round, sticky wads of pollen (pollinia) sit on top of the column. But where is the third stamen? It is a sterile stamen (no pollinia) called a staminode that partly covers the exit. A sticky stigma, or flap, attaches to the column. I never saw it on the Pink Lady’s Slipper. The ovary (where seeds are formed) extends out from the column under the bract and behind the fused sepals.

pink column ps_edited-1

Hairs are (glandularpubescent). Pubescent means hairy and glandular means there are tiny little blops on top of the hairs (above).

I did see that stimatic flap (I think) behind the staminode of a Large Yellow Lady’s Slipper (below right). The bract is further back than the one on a Pink Lady’s Slipper and looks more like a small leaf. The entrance is not a slit but a round hole.

A pollinator must wedge itself between the stigma and staminode and maybe drop off a wad of pollinia it brought from another plant. Maybe it will pick up some sticky pollinia on the way out. If the pollinator is too big to get out by that smaller exit, it is trapped and will die. It needs to be big and strong to shove its way in but not too big to get out. Did you get all that? This evolved strategy is mind boggling to understand and even harder to describe, much less see.

Fruit and Seeds. If the flower isn’t pollinated it will not form fruit, so I often find the bract after the flower has fallen (below left). I did find a few that had been pollinated and forming fruit (a capsule) from the ripened ovary. The other flower parts wither because they are no longer needed (below right). A capsule is a dry dehiscent fruit that opens to release many tiny seeds.  They have no endosperm or nourishment to feed them before they create green leaves. But they get help from the fungal (mycorrhizal) relationship to start growing before the plants can feed themselves. I have never opened a capsule to see the seeds because I didn’t want to pick any.

Some helpful words used to  describe orchids.

  • Scape: flower stalk with no leaves
  • Resupinate: to twist upside down.
  • Column: fusion of the reproductive organs (stamens and pistil). The filaments (stamen stalks) and style (pistil neck) are fused and the ovary extends out behind the column.
  • Stigmatic flap: the stigma is a flap on the column where the pollinia can be scraped off.
  • Pollinia: a waxy ball of pollen. It is not loose and powdery inside an anther that opens (dehisces) to release ripe pollen.

Fox Grape

Vitis labrusca L.          Vitaceae or Grape family

Fox Grape Drawing

The grapevines I follow grow in disturbed man-made altered habitats. I think mine is Vitis labrusca, one of several native grapes, because there are tendrils or flower clusters opposite almost every leaf. This was hard to see until later in the season.

Vitis id ps

Name. The Vitaceae or Grape Family includes climbing vines with forked tendrils and a fleshy fruit (berry). This grape is native and very aggressive. Vitis is Latin for vine. Some describe a woody vine as a liana. Labrusca means the foxy, musky odor of wild grapes, not foxes, and is an ancestor of Concord grapes. The L. after the Latin name means Linnaeus named it and the name hasn’t changed.  Yay!

Shoots (stems, bark, buds, leaf scars). Below left: Stems are striate and thickened at nodes (where buds are attached). Winter buds are collateral (more than one bud), and globose. One on top is starting to open so not round anymore. A crescent-shaped leaf scar is left by last year’s leaf. Right: New leaves on older peeling stems are surrounded by last year’s tendril.

Tendrils. Grape vines have tendrils that are touch-sensitive and wrap themselves around anything it can find, including itself. When a tendril reaches something solid,  specialized cells elongate on the opposite side so it can curl around that object. This adaptation means the grapevine doesn’t waste energy creating its own support, like the trunk of a tree, to help its leaves to reach for the sun. These tendrils get more interesting all during the season.

vitis tendril spice
Twining around a Spice Bush Twig 3-20-17

Leaves start out softly hairy and pinkish before they turn green. I assume this helps the plant’s new leaves not get eaten when they are young. I couldn’t stop taking pictures.

The lower surface (abaxial) continues to be hairy (pubescent) and the hairs are tangled and wooly (tomentose) as the leaf matures.


Inflorescence. Below: The flower cluster is a panicle, a loose cluster of branched, stalked individual flowers (florets). The mature leaf is shallowly lobed with shallow teeth, another clue it might be a Fox Grape. It has lost its hairiness on the top (adaxial) surface. Adaxial, abaxial: I find those terms impossible to remember even when I look up the Latin meaning.  Ad means away or down, and “ab” means toward. That doesn’t help. I need to look at the “underside” of a mature leaf next year to make sure it is tomentose. This will help me get an accurate identification.

Viits flower buds

Sepals and Petals. The perianth (both sepals and petals) is unusual. Below left: Flower buds are formed by fleshy petals and not sepals which are tiny or not there. Right: 5 thick petals curl up from the bottom and drop off.

Stamens and Pistil. Individual florets can be male (staminate) or female (pistilate) on different plants which might make them dioecious. But there are other combinations: nonfunctional stamens on female flowers, non-functional pistils on male flowers or both functional stamens and pistils. Some describe this as subdioecious or almost dioecious. I will look closer next spring. I only found staminate flowers (below) and no pistilate flowers that would form fruit.

Fruit/Fall Leaves. Left below: I finally found one plant with some grapes. 7-6-18. Unfortunately, I missed the female flowers and when I went to find the fruits again they were gone. But now I know where to look next year. The fruit is a berry, fleshy with 2 or more seeds. Right: The leaves turn color in the fall and you can see how they climb and take over.

Associates. Left: a gall I think made by a midge. A plant gall is formed when something causes the plant to grow in an abnormal way. I don’t know what caused the odd coloration on the right.

Abstract Closeups. I was attracted to the colors, textures and patterns everytime I saw this plant and had a hard time selecting only a few images. And what are those green blobs on the edges of the teeth in the bottom left image?




Common/Bull Thistle

Cirsium vulgare Asteraceae/Compositae

Cirsium smaller

I collected (with difficulty) a dead thistle near some trashcans behind a greenhouse. This non-native is differentiated from native thistles by decurrent spines that grow down the stem and reflexed (turned down) spiny bracts at the base of the flower heads. I love the visual aspects of this plant, the complexities of its morphology or structure but don’t like to touch it, an obvious survival adaptation.

Ecology: provides seeds for granivores (consumers of grains and seeds) if fruits are left. Pollinators get nectar and pollen, but it is aggressively invasive. It can be a ruderal or first to colonize bare land disturbed naturally, or by agriculture and development.

Left above: Eastern Bumble Bee (Bombus impatiens) has a black head, a black bald spot on its yellow thorax, and a yellow stripe on its abdomen (8-19-18). Right: Sweat Bees (Halictid sp). Skinny pale stigmas poke up between darker fused anthers that hold pollen.

Roots and Shoots (stems, leaves and hairs). A biennial that establishes a deep tap root with a rosette of leaves in the 1st year (below left). The stem is very short between the radiating leaves. In the 2nd year when the stem lenghthens to produce flowers and fruits, the leaves are deeply divided into lobes that end in spines. (right)

Hairs: Pubescent is the overall term for any kind of hairs. This is what happens when you “look closely” the way Gleason and Cronquist do (see Resources page): “decurrent leaf bases, copiously spreading-hirsute to sometimes arachnoid; lvs strongly spiny, pinnatifid, the larger ones with the lobes again toothed or lobed, scabroushispid above, thinly white tomentulose to green and sometimes green and merely hirsute beneath.” Looking up most of these words (I know “or” “and” and “the”): Hirsute: coarse or stiff but not pungent, often bent or curved hairs, coarser than villous but less firm and sharp than hispid which is sometimes pungent. Pungent is firmly sharp-pointed, especially if thereby rendered uncomfortable to the touch or grasp. Arachnoid: cobwebby, with relatively long and tangled hairs. Scabrous: rough to touch, due to presence of short, stiff hairs. Tomentulose: diminutive of tomentose or tangled or matted wooly. These definitions are from the G&C Glossary.

So… very variable hairs (below).

Cirsium hairs smaller

Flower: I was consistently visiting a field on a restored farm waiting to see the thistle flower on a tall, 2nd year shoot (among other things). After I saw the buds, I knew the flower would open soon. On my next visit I was devasted to find a mowed field. Luckily a friend had this flower blooming along her road in Maine with several stages on the same shoot.

Cirsium stages

Inflorescence: The upper stems terminate in what looks like a single flower sitting on top of a flower stalk (peduncle). However, it is really a cluster of individual flowers (inforescence) called florets. They are all disk or tubular florets and not ray or strap florets, like a dandelion. I can’t see all the parts because they are packed so tightly and the top edge of each tube divides into 5 thin pink lobes to give it that distincitive look (below).

Flower parts: bracts, sepals, petals, stamens, pistil

Bracts: an involucre (whorl) of spiny bracts that surround the inflorescence. The lower ones are reflexed or turned down.

Sepals: some think these bracts are the sepals because they protect what seems to be an individual flower. Because the infloresensce isn’t one flower, some say the sepals are the hairy stuff (pappus) on individual florets that helps disperse seeds.

Petals: 5 thin pink lobes on top of 5 fused petals that form a tube.

Stamens: I could only see the fused anthers around the style (if I looked closely) and stigma of the pistil. The filaments (stalks) are hidden in with the pappus.

Pistil: the ovary, attached to the receptacle, will ripen into the fruit. The style or neck emerges from the pappus and lifts the pointed stigma to recieve pollen.

Left above: I dissected a thistle flower cluster on 9-1-18. At the top of the peduncle or flower stalk is the swollen receptacle where all the ovaries of the florets are attached beneath the hairy pappus.  The pink petals are at the top with thin stigmas poking out of fused anthers. Right: a drawing of a typical thistle floret.

Fruits/Seeds The ovary wall (pericarp) ripens around one seed and forms a fruit called an achene, a dry fruit that doesn’t dehisce or open to disperse its seed. An achene in the Asteraceae family is called a cypsela. It is a fruit that looks like a seed. The hairy pappus helps with wind dispersal (anemochory/ a-nem’-o-chor-e). Anemo (Greek for wind) Chore (Greek for spread).

Below: If you look closely you can see little white coccoon shapes attached to some of the hairy pappus clumps. They are the small cypselas ready to disperse when the wind comes along. Some clumps of pappus have already lost their fruits.

Thistle hairs achene psps

Below: closeup of 2 cypselas, one topped with pappus.

Cirsium seed

Taxonomy/Naming History

Cirsium, the genus name, is from the Greek word for ‘swollen vein’, because thistles were a medicinal remedy for this problem. Vulgare is from Latin meaning ‘common’. It is split into a sub-family and an even smaller group called a tribe. Sources don’t agree about this but I like to see the connection between an artichoke and a thistle.

Family: Asteraceae/ Compositae; Sub-family: Carduoideae- Artichokes Cynura; Tribe: Cynareae-Bull Thistle Cirsium vulgare. 

Globe Artichoke Cynura cardunculus.


What we eat is the bud. More specifically, a little bit of the peduncle (flower stalk), the soft pads inside the bracts surrounding the flower cluster, and the receptacle (the heart) where all the florets are attached. The choke is the pappus.

A Few Favorite Words:

Ruderal: first to colonize disturbed bare land

Arachnoid: cobwebby

Cypsela: an achene in the Asteraceae family.




Pignut Hickory

Carya glabra 

Juglandaceae Family including, Shagbark Hickory, Black Walnut, Butternut…

One of my favorite spring finds is a Pignut Hickory winter bud opening in the dry upland woods of Southern MA. It looks like a strange tropical flower with huge petals. I have to be on my toes because it only lasts like that for a short amount of time before I see it is really a group of compound leaves. One friend describes these buds at this time as “hands coming out of ruffled sleeves”. There are beautiful color transitions between soft purples, salmons, golds, yellow greens, gray greens and many more.

My drawing below looks like a bird. What seems to be its wings (or “petals”) are accrescent bud scales. What?

Pignut smaller

Top left below: Reddish bud scales continue to grow (are accrescent) after they open. That’s why they look like petals but their purpose is not to attract a pollinator. The bottom picture shows compound leaves expanding out of the bud scales that will soon drop and leave bud scale scars at the base of this year’s new shoot.

Twigs and Winter Buds. In winter (left below) terminal and lateral buds protect new growth to come. They are located above leaf scars and covered with imbricate (overlapping) bud scales. Right: a closeup of the smaller lateral bud above a shield-shaped leaf scar where last year’s leaf was attached. Inside the leaf scar are vascular bundles (dots that that form a smile) where xylem (water pipes) and phloem (sugar pipes) close off during winter. Bud scale scars form concentric circles where a terminal bud had dropped its scales and indicates the growth of one year. The little white dots on the twig are the lenticels that allow for gas exchange through a protective epidermis or outer layer.

Bud Scales: There is an extension of one of the bud scales that looks like a tiny leaf (below). I found one in the fall (left) and another in the late winter (right).

Bark is the protective outer layer on woody plants. A new inner layer of bark (phloem) is formed each year but the thickness of bark remains the same. Different bark patterns are formed when a new layer of wood (xylem) increases the girth each year (annual rings) and the bark stretches, cracks, peels, or sloughs in various patterns to stay the same width.  Left below: this twig has 3 different locations where terminal bud scales dropped so I can see the growth of 3 different years. The twig gets fatter and the color changes slightly each year as new layers of wood and bark are formed. Right: a mature Pignut Hickory bark breaks into vertical furrows but is not as shaggy as a Shagbark Hickory.

Leaf Stalks: (below) the pattern of leaf stalks (petioles) radiating out at different angles shows the alternate attachment that spirals around the twig. The thickened leaf base (pulvinus) is the same shape as the leaf scar. Left below: spring petioles are maroon and the buds are small. Right: fall lateral and terminal buds are larger and easy to see above each leaf stalk. 10-7-18. The color has changed too.

Compound leaves have separate leaflets attached to a rachis above the petiole where it is attaches to the twig. A Pignut Hickory has 5-7 leaflets that are odd-pinnate or arranged like a feather along the rachis with a terminal leaflet. There are no buds at the base of leaflets in a compound leaf. One more term (arghhh): if the leaflets have a stalk it is called a petiolule (try to pronounce that one). I love this stuff. On a mature Pignut Hickory the petiole, rachis and underside of the leaves are primarily glabrous and not hairy: Latin name (glabra). However, I can see a lot of hairs on the margins or edges of younger leaves (left).

Flower: The flowers are wind pollinated (anemophilous). I have to make an effort to see them because they don’t need to attract a pollinator.  Male and female flowers are separate (imperfect) and appear on the same tree (monoecious). The pendulous staminate (male) catkins (a cluster of stalkless, florets sometimes called a spike or ament) appear at the base of a new shoot. They hang from a peduncle (flower stalk) often in groups of three. Each little bump on a catkin is a bract  or scale that protects several stamens until the spring catkins lengthen and the stamens ripen to release pollen. 5-16-12

Carya flowers smaller

Left below: The female spike (stalkless flower cluster) appears at the top of a new shoot. 5-26-12. Right: 6-3-12. Surrounded by a whorl of bracts (involucre) they will eventually become the fruits.

Fruit: A botanical nut is a seed inside a thin, hard shell (the ovary wall) that does not have to dehisce or open to release the seed before it can start to grow. But a Pignut has another layer called a husk formed from the involucre of bracts on female florets. The fruits are mostly pear-shaped and hairless. The seed inside the nut is, I guess, only fit for pigs. In the picture below I can see the pervious year’s dark brown husk, the tan unopened nut with the husk gone, and the opened nut where something has enjoyed eating the seeds. 4-15-18

Carya fruit

Favorite new words

Accrescent: increases in size with age

Pulvinus: thickened base of a leaf stalk

Anemophilous: wind-pollinated

Petiolule: stalk of a leaflet