Golden Banner

Golden Banner
Golden Banner (Thermopsis rhombifolia var. rhombifolia)

 

Golden banner (Thermopsis rhombifolia var. rhombifolia) is another of my rescue plants. This member of the legume family (Fabaceae) is closely related to lupines (Lupinus) and wild indigo (Baptisia).

A species of the high prairies in xeric and badlands habitat, golden banner occurs from Saskatchewan to Alberta and south along the east slope and foothills of the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming, to the Spanish Peaks in Colorado, and into Utah in the Uintah Mountains. I did not find the plant there, however. Where I found golden banner was along an abandoned railroad grade in Wisconsin some 900 miles east of its Rocky Mountain home. How it got to Wisconsin is unknown but the yellow pea-like flowers are attractive and bloom very early in the spring so if it were introduced the reasons are not hard to understand.

Average height of the golden banner plants is about one foot tall with one to several leafy stems coming from points along the rhizomes or from a caudex. The leaves are composed of three leaflets like a clover. The leaflets are rhombic in outline, dark green with prominent venation. At the base of each leaf on the stem are two rhombic-shaped stipules. The bright, clear yellow pea-like flowers are on short loose spikes of about seven to ten flowers. On the banner petals are a few small purple-brown freckles. The seed pods have an interesting crescent shape and may be smooth or with minute soft hairs.

Golden banner is a slowly growing plant and it has taken mine almost 20 years to spread thinly across the grassy wildflower garden where it grows with liatris, smooth blue aster, little bluestem, smooth scouring rush, gray sagewort, monarda, and dwarf bilberry. My plants have never produced viable seeds. Golden banner can be propagated by rhizome divisions taken in mid-summer and planted in a loose well-drained potting soil until the plants are growing strongly at which point they should be planted into their permanent location.

Wild Cucumber

Wild cucumber seedling
Wild cucumber seedling

 

A wild cucumber seedling, one of many, sprouting this week in my gardens. Soon this plant and the others with it will be extending long vines with tendrils grabbing onto branches and fence wires for support. Starting in July each plant will produce hundreds of small white star-shaped staminate (male) flowers on long spikes and several dozen pistillate (female) flowers. The staminate flowers produce pollen abundantly and both male and female flowers are rich in nectar and sweetly scented. The plants will be a center of activity for many kinds of bees, wasps, butterflies, and moths.

Wild cucumber (Echinocystis lobata) is in the family Cucurbitaceae which includes the gourds, melons, and squashes. Although it produces spiny, bitter inedible cucumbers with interiors like miniature loofah sponges and at times becoming a weedy vine, this wild plant has a place along the edges of my gardens.

Documenting Local Biodiversity: Conocephalum, the great snakeskin liverwort.

Conocephalum conicum, the great snake liverwort.
Conocephalum conicum, the great snakeskin liverwort.

I first saw the great snakeskin liverwort back in the spring of 2003 in my west 40. A few years ago while mapping seeps in the woods there I came across what was probably the original plant and several other large colonies growing in around seeps. The flora and geology of freshwater seeps is of particular interest to me.

Description
The great snakeskin liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) is probably one of the easiest liverworts to recognize. Its shiny, dark green to yellow-green, large thallus, 16 to 20 mm wide and 12 to 25 cm long, with large coarsely hexagonal scales, each with a raised pore, across the surface are distinctive characteristics and easily observed. A line of two or three rows of parallel linear scales form a sort of mid-vein down the middle of the thallus. On either side of this row are scales diverging obliquely from the middle out to the edge. The thallus forks periodically giving the whole plant a branching appearance. The underside of the thallus is covered with numerous purple rhizoids that anchor it to soil and other moist substrates.

Having said that, in light of a new species delineation I now have reasons to doubt my original identification but the matterĀ cannot be settled yet (see below “Another species of Conocephalum?“).

Habitat and Plant Communities
The great snakeskin liverwort is distributed across the northern hemisphere except in the extreme Arctic and grows in moist shaded places or sometimes full sun along creek banks, in seeps, and on moist rock outcrops where soil and water chemistry are mildly base-rich to neutral.

The specimen pictured above grows along the margins of and on high spots in a slow seepage that periodically dries up during the summer. It is located in mixed deciduous-coniferous forest composed of black ash (Fraxinus nigra), aspen (Populus tremuloides), red maple (Acer rubrum), yellow birch (Betula allegheniensis), white spruce (Picea glauca), beaked hazel (Corylus cornuta), mountain maple (Acer spicatum), and tag alder (Alnus rugosa). Associated bryophytes seen with it are Rhizomnium punctatum, Thuidium delicatum, and Climacium dendroidium. Associated vascular plants include golden saxifrage (Chrysosplenium americanum) and naked miterwort (Mitella nuda). Soils where the seeps are located are glacial outwash in origin with a fine sandy loam texture and contain quartz, feldspars and other alumino-silicate minerals from basalt, gabbro, slate, sandstone, graywacke, banded iron formation, gneiss, and granitic rocks. In general, the soils tend towards an acidic pH and are low in calcium carbonate but soil and water chemistry in seeps can be radically different from the surrounding upland soil.

Seepage where in early April where Cc occurs.
Seepage site in my woods in early April 2011 where Conocephalum conicum occurs. With the ice and patches of snow there’s still a bit of winter left

Wildlife Importance
While often eaten by slugs and snails liverworts, or for that matter mosses and lichens, are not usually thought of as host plants for moth and butterfly larva. In the case of the great snakeskin liverwort there is a group of small, primitive moths, the Micropterigidae, whose larva feed almost exclusively on it.

Chemistry
When the thallus of Conocephalum is gently rubbed between the fingers a fragrant mushroom odor is emitted. The odor is from volatile aromatic terpenoid compounds which are being investigated for potential medical uses.

Another species of Conocephalum?
Conocephalum conicum was for a long time thought to be the only species in the genus Conocephalum and the only member of its family Conocephalaceae. Recently, a new species has been identified and named Conocephalum salebrosum (Szweykowski et al. 2005). It differs from C. conicum on several characters. After reading Szweykowski et al. (2005) and Long (2010) it appears that C. conicum may be restricted to Europe while C. salebrosum is more widely distributed. So who knows? Perhaps the great snakeskin liverwort growing in the seeps in my western 40 are actually C. salebrosum. Then again it could be C. conicum. The answer to this will have to wait until April or May when the snow melts and ground thaws. Then I will be able to collect good specimens for inspection. When I find out I’ll post an update.

Next biodiversity post: Another lungwort lichen, Part 1

References
BBS Field Guide online pages

Long, D., 2010. Conocephalum conicum/salebrosum, Great Scented Liverwort/Snakewort in Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland – a field guide. Atherton, I., Bosanquet, S., and Lawley, M., editors. 2010. British Bryological Society 2010. Latimer Trend and Co. Ltd, Plymouth, England.

Schuster, Rudolf M. 1953. Boreal Hepaticae, A Manual of Liverworts of Minnesota and Adjacent Regions. The American Midland Naturalist (Vol. 49, No. 2, March 1953).

Szweykowski, J., Buczkowska, K., and Odrzykoski, I. J. Conocephalum salebrosum (Marchantiopsida, Conocephalaceae)- a new Holarctic liverwort species. Plant Systematics Evolution (Vol. 253, 133-158).

Documenting Local Biodiversity: Ptilidium pulcherrimum, the most beautiful liverwort

Ptilidium pulcherrimum with sporophytes.
Ptilidium pulcherrimum with sporophytes.

Winters are long where I live so I spend a lot of my indoor time reading about plants, fungi, lichens, and small wildlife like spiders and crustaceans. Eventually spring arrives and I get to test my new knowledge.

Last spring, on trees and fallen logs along the edge of the tamarack swamp, I found some interesting non-vascular plants. These are liverworts or hepatophytes, moss-like plants but not closely related to mosses. One liverwort that caught my attention is Ptilidium pulcherrimum, one of the leafy liverworts in the order Jungermanniales. Leafy liverworts have three sets of leaves (other liverworts are merely flattened stems). The first two sets are arranged laterally in one plane along the stem, the third set is on the ventral side of the stem. Upon first inspection this plants leafy-ness is not obvious as everything about the plant is small. When I first found it the Ptilidium was in its sporophyte phase and looked like a mass of small black-capped mushrooms popping up through stubby mosses. After viewing it through the camera lens I realized it was not a fungus but a liverwort.

Ptilidium pulcherrimum with sporophytes.
Ptilidium pulcherrimum with sporophytes.

Description
P. pulcherrimum forms a thin tufted mats of pinnately branching stems covered in small, deeply divided overlapping leaves (1.8 to 2.4 mm wide). Plant color is usually green or sometimes tawny brown when exposed to bright sunlight. The roundish, black spore cases are held on thin almost translucent green stalks. These later split open along four seams and the spreading sections look a bit like flower petals.

Habitat and Plant Communities
P. pulcherrimum is common in the coniferous forest region of Minnesota and can be found on a variety of substrates including moist basaltic rocks, on the bases of trees in conifer swamps, and on moist decaying logs and stumps usually with other high humidity preferring liverworts, mosses, and lichens.

Miscellaneous
The species epithet “pulcherrimum” for this tiny plant is from a Latin word meaning “most beautiful”. This seems a more appropriate name than the so-called common name “naugahyde liverwort”. The word “liverwort” is in reference to the resemblance of some species to liver lobes hence the name which means “liver herb or plant”. The word “hepatophyte” also means “liver plant”. In Britain, P. pulcherrimim is known as the “tree fringewort”.

Next post: Conocephalum, the great snakeskin liverwort.

References
BBS Field Guide online pages

Long, D., 2010. Ptilidium pulcherrimum, Tree Fringewort in Mosses and Liverworts of Britain and Ireland – a field guide. Atherton, I., Bosanquet, S., and Lawley, M., editors. 2010. British Bryological Society 2010. Latimer Trend and Co. Ltd, Plymouth, England.

Schuster, Rudolf M. 1953. Boreal Hepaticae, A Manual of Liverworts of Minnesota and Adjacent Regions. The American Midland Naturalist (Vol. 49, No. 2, March 1953).

Documenting Local Biodiversity: More than deer at the bird feeder

Tag alder swamp, a habitat with a high diversity of plant  and invertebrate species.
Tag alder swamp, a habitat with a high diversity of plant, fungi, lichen, and invertebrate species.

Over the years I’ve kept a checklist of the plants, animals and other life forms on the land where I live. To date I have documented 341 native vascular plants (PDF File), including four Minnesota listed rare species, in the fields, woods, and wetlands. About 50 non-native species occur primarily as weeds in my gardens or as cultivated grasses and clovers in my pastures. The list of birds while short does contain 72 species so far most of which are resident in the state. If I go back and work on my phenology notes, a project for the cold winter nights, I think I could add a few more bird species. The number of other vertebrate species on the list is pretty close to expected but could grow if I find more mice, moles, and shrews (6, 1, and 2 species, respectively) or fish (just 10). The invertebrate list is still generalized but I expect to add several new aquatic invertebrate species to it in the next few months.

Springtails on water.
Springtails on water.

My list of other small plants and plant-like organisms, the mosses, liverworts, lichens, and fungi, is not very complete either. So far I have identified 31 genera of fungi and 23 to species. Of the lichens I have identified 26 genera and 30 species. There are many other lichens that I can pick out as different but at this time have no idea what genus they are in let alone species.

Cladonia Lichens and Polytrichum Moss
Cladonia Lichens and Polytrichum Moss.

Lately, I have been focusing on documenting the moss (Bryophyta) and liverwort (Hepatophyta) flora on my land. My checklist is up to 24 moss species and 20 genera and 7 liverwort species and 7 genera. A drop in the bucket when one learns that there are 358 species of mosses and over 175 species of liverworts just in Minnesota. Considering how difficult identifying these plants to species can be or even to genus I feel glad to have gotten this many. Some genera like Sphagnum are easy to distinguish from the rest of the mosses but keying a Sphagnum to species is challenging. Many of the liverworts can be even more confusing. While none of my finds have made breaking news (not yet, anyway) I still want to present them to the public. A few of the mosses and liverworts on the checklist might represent range extensions within the state. Although these range extensions are hardly earth-shaking documenting them does contribute to our general knowledge of species diversity and habitat needs and preferences of those species.

Eight species of small plants and fungi growing at the base of a black ash tree in the tag alder swamp.
Eight species of small plants, algae, and fungi growing at the base of a black ash tree in the tag alder swamp.

So, I am starting a series of posts called “Documenting Local Biodiversity”. It will be about the plants, fungi, and animals that live on my land and in other places nearby. The first ones in the series will be about two liverwort species, a group of small plants with a tremendous number of species that occur worldwide. There will also be posts on trees and shrubs, wildflowers, fish, reptiles, and amphibians, insects, spiders and other invertebrates. And, when I get some better/new camera equipment, posts on birds and mammals.

Next post: Ptilidium pulcherrimum, the most beautiful liverwort.

Bird Nest in Willows
Bird Nest in Willows

References

County Atlas of Minnesota Mosses. Joannes A. Janssens and The Minnesota County Biological Survey, Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, State of Minnesota (May 2000).

Boreal Hepaticae, A Manual of Liverworts of Minnesota and Adjacent Regions. Rudolf M. Schuster. The American Midland Naturalist (Vol. 49, No. 2, March 1953).