Sunday, February 19, 2012

Winter Field Trip

So after writing about the 'Winter Weeds' around my house for a couple of weeks I decided to take a walk through a nearby meadow to see what's still standing.  For me the closest meadow is Rock Meadow, in Belmont, MA.  This erstwhile farm has been conservation land for the town of Belmont since 1969.  With decreasing maintenance budgets over the years this area was undergoing succession with open meadows being closed up with a variety of native and non-native, invasive species.  This severely  degraded its value as a bird nesting habitat and reduced it general value as a recreational space.  In 2005 the Friends of Rock Meadow worked with the town in securing funds to do a renovation.  Most of this work was completed between 2007 and 2009, with the removal of many invasive plants, clearing shrubbery from the meadow and improving trails.  So with map in hand I set out to see what interesting plants I could find...

The burrs on this Burdock catch the afternoon sun
as easily as they do to a passing hiker.
The first plant I came across was Burdock.  This old world introduction is a common weed of waste spaces, but its strong structure helps it persist in the winter landscape.  The burs on the seed pod are hooked which help them attach to passing animals, thus dispersing the seed to a wider area.

Next I walked by a thicket rich with Red Twig Dogwood.  I am assuming these are the native Cornus sericea (formerly, C. stolonifera), even with leaves and flowers some of these species are difficult to tell apart.

The Red-twig Dogwood was easily identified among
all the other brown branches in the thicket.

Large sections of Rock Meadow are consistently wet.  These areas are easily identified by their large populations of Cattails.  There are two common species in the Northeast, one with broad leaves and one with narrow (Typha latifolia and T. angustifolia, respectively).  I did not investigate which was present, or if both were there.

One of the wet areas in Rock Meadow that is home to Cattails

Steeple Bush, just upstream
of a wet meadow.
Steeple Bush (Spiraea tomentosa) is another native spirea.  Unlike the Meadowsweet I have growing at home, the flowers of Steeple Bush are held in tightly erect panicles.  Also I found it here, Steeple Bush prefers moister soils.

While not a true pre-Colombian native species, Queen Anne's Lace has become naturalized throughout North America.  Even without its flower petals, this plant still has a presence in the winter landscape.  

The bare bones of Queen Anne's Lace

The few remaining seeds on this Little Bluestem
still catch the  winter sunlight.

Little Bluestem is a widespread native grass.  It seems to look its best growing on really poor soils and is often seen growing along the highway.  In richer soils it gets tall and floppy.  In the fall and winter it can be picked out by its orangy appearance and the way that the fuzzy seeds catch the light.

One plant I almost passed right by was this Tower Mustard.  It just looked like some sticks poking out of the ground.  On closer examination I noticed the dimpled membranes that once held the seed in an alternating pattern.  I didn't know this plant at first, but I looked in my copy of  'Weeds in Winter' and it led me to the mustard family.  After that, I was able to locate the species by referring to my copy of Newcomb's.

The seed pods of Tower Mustard still show
the impressions of the seeds they held.
The opened seed pods of Evening Primrose
 look like dried flowers.

Evening Primrose is a plant that is easy to recognize in its dried form.  When I walked by I realized that I knew this plant, I just could not remember its name.  The stiff, four-parted seed capsules on the tall, upright stems are unique and hard to forget.  I quickly flipped through the field guide until I found a drawing that matched this plant dead on.

I'm pretty sure this is Sweet Everlasting.
Had I used my nose as well as my eyes I would no for sure.
After returning to the path I looked down and saw another familiar plant.  There was a single stem of what I believe was Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtussifolium).  However, it could also have been Pearly Everlasting (Anaphalis margaritacea) which also has woolly stems and leaves and persistent papery bracts.  Crushing a flower would have told me which, Sweet Everlasting has a sweet, tobaccoy scent, while Pearly Everlasting has no smell.  Also, the bracts of Sweet Everlasting have a dingy tone, while those of Pearly Everlasting are reported to stay white (forever?).

As I moved into a shadier area, a large patch of Raspberry vines became evident.  These stood out as a purple mass of branches against an otherwise dull brown background.  Closer examination showed the little red thorns on the purple branches.  A couple of years ago I attempted to ID some raspberries but was quickly overwhelmed by the possibilities.  Right now I will just appreciate their contrast to the shades of brown.

Raspberries of some sort; the thorns are too small to be Blackberry

When I first saw these berries I thought this might be an Arailia of some sort.
A little research indicated that this was actually Carrion-Flower.
Carrion-flower was a surprise find as I was heading back to the parking lot.  Most of the members of the genus Smilax are rather unpleasant to deal with, like Catbriar (Smilax rotundifolia), with its tangle of thorny branches.  Carrion-flower, S. herbacea, on the other hand, has few, if any, thorns and only grows to about 8' in length.  As its common name indicates, the flowers have an unpleasant scent.

While Rock Meadow has been cleaned up of many of its  invasive species, some still remain.  In the winter months Winged Euonymus is easily recognized by the little wing-like projections along its stems.  Another common invasive is Black Swallowwort.  It can be recognized by the remains of its seed pod that looks like a dried leaf.  This vine is very hard to eradicate since it will resprout from small fragments of roots left behind after pulling or digging.

The arrow in the photo points to some of the wings
on this Winged Euonymus.
The old seed pods on this Black Swallowwort looks kind of like those of Milkweed.  In fact these are both members of the Asclepiadaceae family.

1 comment:

Forest Keeper said...

I have really been enjoying the recent posts on winter identification. of native plants. This is actually very helpful and is an aspect of plant ID that not many folks consider.