A Most Brassicaceous Goose-chase

The human female is back at work on the BBBB (Big Book of Boring Botany) and has reached the “D” portion of the mustard family. Let’s see how she gets on with the little surprises I’ve lined up for her today.

Having dealt with Descurainia, she has turned her attention to Draba. These are usually small plants with a rosette of leaves at the bottom and little white flowers up top. Sorting the species out involves looking at the fruit shape, counting stem leaves, and looking closely at the hairs on various parts and seeing how many rays or branches each little hair has.

Definitely requires magnification.

You can see the human female’s scribble on this sheet:

She’s trying to justify her annotation, just on the extremely remote off-chance that someone else will ever care enough about these weeds to look at this sheet again and care what she thought.

Time for a wild goose chase!

She has come up with an identification for this sheet…

But when she looks in the database, the record for this accession number is not a Draba at all, it’s a mustard called Erysimum asperrimum, collected on the same date in the same county and by the same collector. So now she has to go and find that sheet and see if it was entered with the wrong number while this one was somehow not entered at all. (She has found a number of old sheets that were never computerized.)

Ehehehehe! She couldn’t find the other sheet in the collection, so maybe it doesn’t exist and the computer record is for the Draba sheet after all and was just put in with the wrong name. (Student workers have been known to just bring up a previous record and not edit it completely or correctly.) Before she changes anything, though, she is going to check whether the Draba was perhaps computerized with the wrong accession number. She’s doing a search for the collector’s field number, 36980.

Hmm. Looks like the collector has another specimen with the same collection number, something in another family in another county. Now she’s going to have to go find that specimen and make sure it wasn’t put in with the wrong field number.

And there it is! It’s a Bernardia (in the spurge family) from Val Verde County, and it has the exact same field number as the Draba. Old Victor L. Cory used the same number twice, which is a no-no. (At least he used them. His sometime-collecting-partner, H. B. Parks, frequently didn’t bother with a number at all.)

It’s getting later and later and more and more obfuscated. She was due home for dinner a while ago and has been scurrying from one end of the collection to the other for twenty minutes now, trying to sort this all out and leave for the day. Quick, woman! Make a decision!

Or else just leave it for now.

After all, I can always just add this mischief to what I have planned for tomorrow!

>|: [

“C” is for “Cardamine”—And Also for “Chaos”, Part II: So Many UFOs (Unidentifiable Flowering Objects)

I was having so much fun watching the gradual unhinging of the human female as she tries to make sense of the local Cardamine that I decided to carry the mischief over for another day.

Today’s goal is to see that she has the absolute worst specimens to deal with.

Ehehehehe! Let’s see how she does with this:

Great Frigga’s Corset, that’s an ugly specimen! Did someone just grab something out of the compost heap and plop it on the paper? I had to look at the label twice to make sure it hadn’t been collected by my oafish “brother” Thor. I thought only he was capable of such an utter lack of finesse! Is it even actually Cardamine? The world may never know!

Another disaster of a collection!

It’s part of a group of most atypical Cardamine specimens. They all have simple (as opposed to compound or divided) leaves, and most seem to hail from Ottine Swamp, formerly a squishy place in Gonzales County and now a part of Palmetto State Park. Note that Gonzales County is part of the area to be covered by the BBBB, so she HAS to figure out what these are!

And look! Whatever it is, there is more of it.

There are several possibilities. A. These are depauperate (poor) individuals of a native usually-compound-leaved species such as C. pensylvanica. B. These are a species not recorded for Texas. They do key to C. longii in the big Flora of North America book.

This one is a dead ringer for C. longii:

But what would a species of “Tidal marshes, mud flats, tidal shores of rivers, shallow water, swampy areas, shady rocky crevices covered at high tide; 0-10 m; Fla., Maine, Md., Mass., N.J., N.Y., N.C., S.C., Va.” be doing in a dampish part of Texas? Or could it be another cryptic Asian species introduced some time in the last century?

T. J. Crovello didn’t know what it was in 1975 and no one knows now.

There is another possibility. This could be a species undescribed and new to science. It wouldn’t be the first one the human female has tripped over by accident. Proving something is new is a long, complex process, and I’d like nothing better than to watch the human female crawling all over wet bits of Central Texas trying to find a small mustard with teeny white flowers among the millions of other small spring plants with teeny white flowers, all the while knowing that Ottine Swamp, as such, no longer exists.

Or–and I like this possibility the most–maybe she’ll decide that it’s a new species and do all the work and publish it and twelve different botanists will immediately leap upon her in print and point out that it’s something dead common the rest of the world has known about for ages. Yes, let’s go with that scenario.

What’s that old saying? “When you hear hoofbeats, don’t look for zebras”? By all means, human female, go after those zebras…

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“C” is for “Cardamine”—And Also for “Chaos”, Part I: That Which Is Hidden Will Be Made Manifest Eventually…If She’s Lucky

The human female is back at the herbarium and is now in the midst of the mustards that begin with “C“.

She has determined unequivocally that her previously-designated “Problem Child” specimen is, in fact, Cardamine bulbosa.

That is the LAST thing she will be sure of today!

There are a lot of Cardamine species (not as many as Arabis Boechera, but enough). Most of them have divided leaves and white flowers. Except, of course, for the ones that have pinkish or purple flowers and/or simple leaves.

The perennial species more or less sort themselves out neatly. It’s the little weedy annual ones I’m enjoying watching her struggle with. She’s peering at hairs under the microscope. Are there any? Multitudes or just a few? Long enough to be “hirsute”, or merely “pubescent”? And are the leaflets decurrent on the rachis or not? And while we’re at it, are the seeds in one row in each locule, or two?

She’s developing a decided squint, and I’m no longer sure that her eyes aren’t moving independently of one another…

And here’s my new favorite plant:


You see, there is a whole cluster of species that closely resemble one another, but some have straight stems, some have zig-zaggy stems, and some have stems which are only slightly ziggy. Or maybe zaggy. Some stand upright; some flop about a bit. Some have a basal rosette of leaves and some do not. A few years ago, some clever person (not the human female) figured out that the sort of atypical, floppy ones that appeared to be weeds from Asia did not actually belong to any of the named species. They’re their own thing, henceforth dubbed Cardamine occulta (for “hidden”, given that they were hiding in plain sight.)

Since the notion of C. occulta is a new one, pretty much all of the herbarium sheets of it everywhere are “hiding” under other names—such as C. debilis, which turns out not to be a good species at all. The human female doesn’t have any good references to go by, and there aren’t published keys that include it and differentiate it from all of its kindred. So is that sheet up there C. occulta or not? (And if not, is it C. flexuosa or C. pensylvanica?)

She feels that if she could just have one confidently identified C. occulta to use as a mental yardstick, she could get this mess sorted out. She has emailed one of the authors of the paper that described C. occulta to ask if he’d be willing to look at some scans or good photos. *I* have also emailed him, letting him know that if he answers her, she will no doubt pester him with a million further cruciferous questions, and advising him to route her missive straight to the trash folder.

I just love watching her hopeful face fall each day as she opens her inbox and sees that no help is forthcoming…

That “Problem Children” folder is filling fast.

>|: [

I Have Mustard Up the Energy for More Botanical Mischief

Miserable Midgardian history is repeating itself. That is, the human female is back at work on the BBBB (Big Book of Boring Botany). This time, her beady eyes are turned toward the Brassicaceae or Mustard Family.

She thinks this is going to be much easier than the Asteraceae or composites were. It’s a much smaller family, for one thing, and the salient features of each species are generally much larger than those of the “stoopid daisies” (her words, not mine.)

Poor, foolish mortal.

What she doesn’t know is that I identify with the mustards in a way I didn’t with the composites. Many of the local species are Not From ‘Round Here (said with a Texas drawl). They’re aliens, like myself. A good few are considered weeds, unloved and unappreciated for their many fine qualities. Many also contain sulfur compounds, which gives them a mischiefy, peppery taste. Oh, yes. I think I can do a lot with these!

Take, for example, this very handsome Rapistrum rugosum.

When it first showed up in Texas a few decades ago, folks thought it was just another variety of Brassica, the genus that includes all the cultivated cole crops (cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli, kale, kohlrabi, Brussels srpouts, etc.) By the time they had figured out that– nope!–it was a highly prolific invader, it was too late. It’s everywhere in the spring. Miles and miles of yellow roadside. I like this plant! It’s hearty and obnoxious and hard to get rid of. It’s even called bastard cabbage! In fact, I like it so much that I’ve taught it how to flower in the fall as well, just to look at it some more and get some more seeds into the soil. It does resemble Brassica, though, so the human female is going to have to go through every sheet of Brassica to see if there are any Rapistrum lurking among them. Spoiler: There will be…

Actually, she has to look at all the Brassica sheets anyway, because what used to be B. kaber is now Sinapis arvensis, so those will all have to be annotated. Oh, and half of everything that used to be its own species is now just a variety of B. rapa. To separate the species of Brassica, one has to look at the leaf bases (are they auriculate or not?) and peer at the hairs under a microscope. It goes without saying that I have instructed a cadre of herbarium-specimen-eating beetles to nosh freely on some of the sheets so that the parts she needs won’t be present. Amazing, isn’t it, that the chemicals in mustards that are feeding deterrents for pests of live plants act like magnets for dry-specimen munchers? It’s one of the things I like most about this planet—there are so many organisms that I can always find one to do my dirty work!

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Brassica starts with “B“. She’s got to start with “A“, so today she’s looking at Arabis. (Not to be confused with Sibara, which is Arabis backwards. Oh, those rascally nomenclators!) Ehehehe! And…Here we go! She has just stumbled on to another of my fun little surprises.

This is Arabis canadensis:

Or IS it???

Arabis canadensis is now in the genus Borodinia, so that would require an annotation on the sheet and a change to the specimen database. EXCEPT, Mister Mike Henderson, you misidentified your plant from the get-go. The human female isn’t 100% sure what it is at the moment, though she suspects it belongs to Cardamine. She has started a folder labeled “Brassicaceae Problem Children“, where it will languish until she gets to Cardamine and sees if her hunch is correct.

And that is not the only problem with this specimen. The record in the databse is flagged in red because this location is impossible. Texas has two hundred and fifty-four counties, but De Soto isn’t one of them. But there is a De Soto, Texas. Now she’s got to stop and try to figure out where this thing is actually from, with nothing to go on but road numbers.

(so much later) Google Earth to the eventual rescue. It’s from DeSoto Parish in Louisiana. At this rate, she’ll be a good deal older and grayer by the time she hits “C“.

But first there is the rest of “A” to deal with. I had a word with the Brassicologists (Cruciferists?) and convinced them to move a bunch of other species of Arabis to Boechera. Boechera is a lovely little genus, with one hundred and nine species in the North American Flora. Of course, finding two botanists who agree on just which Arabis need to be moved—or even whether Boechera is a good genus at all–is impossible. The human female is left to plod through journal articles with such lovely titles as “Boechera or not? Phylogeny and phylogeography of eastern North American Boechera species (Brassicaceae)”

(later still!)

After much wallowing, she has amended the database to reflect current generic and specific placements.

Anything in green has been changed. Want to know the fun part? She fell down this Boechera rabbit hole and none of these records represent plants in the area the BBBB is meant to cover. The database has been improved and nomenclature brought up to date on the herbarium sheets, but the endeavor has contributed nothing to the book!

Oh, my magnificent mustards, I do love you so!

>|: [

The Last Victory She Will Ever Have

Colder weather and an ugly, snotty cold are keeping the human female indoors today. She has plenty of productive things she could be doing–working on then next manuscript for the BBBB (Big Book of Boring Botany), emptying the dishwasher, attacking the dust rhinos under the sofa, catching up on correspondence, doing some stitching, or even working with her silly stamp collection. But is she doing any of these things? No. No, she is not.

What she is doing is playing games on her tablet. The game of choice today seems to be Qwirkle. It’s a tile-matching game and, ordinarily, she’s actually pretty good at it. She has been known to trounce even the Hard Robot:

Ehehehee! She just put down her tablet to go blow her nose again and brew herself another cup of hot tea. I have taken the liberty of improving the AI that runs her game. The next time she plays, she will find that the robot opponent always gets exactly the tile it needs to score big on its next turn if she leaves even the smallest opening. I have also fixed it so that she will have multiple, mathematically extremely improbable, instances of having two of the same tile in her hand in any game she plays. Sometimes she’ll even have two pairs at the same time, meaning she’ll effectively be playing with four tiles instead of six.


Ehehehehe! She hasn’t won a game since! Her self esteem is as much in tatters as her phlegm-riddled upper respiratory system. Idunn’s Little Apples! She’s switching to word games! And she has started with the sort of crossword puzzle with no clues, only a few letters revealed, leaving the solver to figure out what all the blank spaces are.

Oh! She has solved it! Without too much trouble, actually:

That should be a nice pick-me-up, don’t you think?

Or it would be, if I hadn’t tinkered with the site so that, no matter how quick she is, she always gets the same score.

There, there, dull mortal. Finish your tea and watch some stupid Tik-toks. I think that’s more your speed.

>|: [

“X” is for “Xanthisma”–and Also Xtensive Aggravation and Xistential Xhaustion

Here we all are, back out a the herbarium. Today’s victim focus of study is the genus Xanthisma. Yes! We have reached X! This is another DYC (Damned yellow composite.) They tend to have toothed or pinnatifid lower leaves and bristly pappi. (Don’t ask what that is. You don’t want to know. Nothing salacious, just boring as Thor.)

(These stoopid plants are another nomenclatural mess. They were originally part of a big catch-all dustbin of a genus called Haplopappus or Aplopappus, and some of them were in Machaeranthera before landing in Xanthisma. And, while the species of Xanthisma found in East Texas (and thus included in the BBBB) Xanthisma texanum, is easy to pick out, there’s a fair amount of variation in how it looks, and the botanists have been arranging and rearranging the different forms as various varieties and subspecies for decades.

Still, the latest treatment of the species, in Flora of North America, has them divided up in such a way that the varieties can actually be told apart and occupy more-or-less non-overlapping regions of the state.

All of this means that the human female is going to spend all afternoon peering at each sheet under the microscope determining whether the portion of the expanded part of the phyllary above the widest part of the phyllary is longer than wide or wider than long

I can scarcely contain my excitement.

(several hours later) The specimens really did sort fairly neatly into varietal piles, once she threw out the misidentified sheets of Clappia suaedifolia, Croptilon hookerianum, and two different species of Bradburia that I had weaseled in amongst the actual Xanthisma.

Odin’s Eyepatch! What have we here?!

This specimen is Xanthisma spinulosum (formerly Machaeranthera pinnatifida and Haplopappus/Aplopappus spinulosa). But that species isn’t supposed to be in East Texas. If it is, that will mean adding it to the BBBB, which means that the human female and her colleagues will need to come up with a description of Xanthisma as a whole (not just X. texanum), a key that separates X. texanum from X. spinulosum, a description of X. spinulosum, and another distribution map. Then they’ll have to go back to both the artificial key to genera and the key to the members of Tribe Astereae and rewrite and make sure this species will actually key out. This will probably involve re-writing the key, since the character used to pull X. texanum out of all the other composites is not found in X. spinulosum. Oh, and there is more than one variety of X. spinulosum, so they’ll have to figure out which one this is before they do all that.

Let’s have a closer look at the label, shall we?

The label says this is from Galveston County, which is to the south of the Big City to the South, right on the coast. Hmmm. That is WAY out of the normal range of X. spinulosum. Weirder things have happened, but the human female is going to look up this Loma Alta place and double check that collection location.

By Idunn’s little green apples! Looks like there are two Loma Altas in Texas, neither one of them in Galveston County. BUT, that’s not conclusive since there WAS an Alta Loma in Galveston County. A look through the big, online repository of herbarium specimen data turns up that no other institution has a duplicate of this specimen, so that’s no help. BUT a search by date of Victory Cory’s whereabouts in October of 1935 reveals that he collected a handful of other things in McMullen County on the date in question…

Soooo. Is the county right and the town name wrong? Or is the town name right and the county wrong? To include the plant or not include the plant?

Ah. That reminds me, human female–it’s time to order your migraine prescription again…

>|: [

The Light at the End of the Tedious Tunnel

The human female has been working extra hard on the BBBB–Big Book of Boring Botany. She’s been at it forever, but she is down to the last few genera of the Asteraceae. Sigyn has accompanied her to the herbarium today, for moral support as she edits the keys and descriptions, checks the identifications of the herbarium’s thousands of specimens, and updates the giant spreadsheet of what-grows-in-which-county.

Why am *I* here? I’m here because I don’t trust the human female not to drag my sweetie into danger, what with unaccounted for Europium (II) fluoride laying around, two functional -80 C freezers, hundreds of lockable cabinets (some of which open only with great reluctance), ink, plant presses, the occasional stray bat, and not one but two paper cutters. The herbarium can be a savage place.

Let’s get this over with. What unsuspecting group of Composites are we torturing working on today? The human female says it’s a group called Wedelia. Doesn’t that sound like something a podiatrist would prescribe a greasy, foul-smelling ointment for? As in, “The human female doesn’t wear sandals because her feet are frankly terrifying. She has Wedelia, you know…”

Apparently there are two species of Wedelia in Texas, but only one in the area the human female has to write about. Now, if only the botanists could figure out what its name is!

The plants have suffered under a number of names over the years.

What was once Wedelia hispida was re-nomenclated Wedelia texana, but then some fellow by the name of Strother decided that it was the same species as one found in Mexico, just a slightly different, more hairy variety.

Look at all of the annotations on this one poor sheet! Not only have the plants been treated Wedelia, they’ve done time as Zexmenia, too, which the human female says you can find spelled Xexmenia sometimes. Just to keep things interesting.

Want to know something scary? All of that argle-bargle up there is the work of the human female. She typed the original label, then kept annotating the sheet as the nomenclature suffered the whims and vagaries of one expert after another.

But it looks as if all of these will be Wedelia acapulcensis Kunth var. hispida (Kunth) Strother–at least for the time being.

Well, all except this one.

It’s not a Wedelia at all! It’s a Calyptocarpus! The original collector got that right, but then someone (innocent whistling) scrawled a totally different and unrelated name on it and shoved it into a Wedelia folder. Note the lack of long flower stalks and the shorter leaves. Note the smaller flower heads and the different pappus. Note the excessive amount of herbarium tape used in the mounting thereof, as well as the absolute dearth of habitat information good old Victor L. Cory provided.

Great Frigga’s Corset! For some reason, there is a whole naughty cluster of Calyptocarpuses (Calyptocarpi?) in this folder.

Some of them were in the wrong genus, then the right one, and then the wrong one again, before being annotated today. I simply can’t imagine who would make such a mess, ensuring that the human female has to stop, double check their identities, annotate the sheets, correct the database, and file them in the appropriate folders. Who would go to such lengths to make sure the human female’s work proceeds at the slowest possible rate?

It gives the human female something to do. I like to think of it not as wasting her time, but as habitat enrichment.

I’m sure she’ll thank me later.

>|: [

A Veritable Treasure Trove of. . .Stuff

Five years ago and more, I wrote about the building in which the human female spends so much of her time. The herbarium is housed in an ENORMOUS metal building well away from campus. The parking lot is a notorious dumping ground for cast-offs of many ilks. I don’t believe I have shown, however, just what sort of junk is stacked up inside…

The herbarium occupies only a small portion of the building. The University’s large collection of preserved animals occupies a roughly equal footprint, and the rest of the building is storage, a Magnet Research Lab, and various other engineering/mechanical/fabrication endeavors. The strange noises–and at times odors— which emanate from the other spaces are practically infinite in number and provide “habitat enrichment” for the human female as she labors away at the Big Book of Boring Botany.

There is an inordinate amount of flotsam and jetsam stored in the hallways between areas. I am particularly intrigued by this collection of gas cylinders.

They are properly capped, stored upright, and secured with a safety chain, but they have been sitting here for eons and no one seems to be doing anything with them. This raises several questions. Does anyone check on them? Does anyone know how many there are supposed to be? If there is one full of helium, would anyone miss it if I took it home and used it to make the felines make funny squeaky noises?

Great Frigga’s Corset! What have we here? Someone has left a random package here, free for the swiping all unopened and unloved. And it’s from the human female’s old nemesis, the Vendor Who’s Responsible. I thought the days of mysterious packages from various vendors were over!

Norns’ Nighties! Look at that ship date! March 9, 2020, from Beantown Chemical Corporation. Whatever it is, it has been sitting here for nearly a year and half! No doubt it was left here when the university locked down for the plague and has been utterly forgotten about. Hmm. Does the packing slip say what it is?

Europium (II) fluoride

I have no idea what that is, what it’s used for, or whether I should be standing on this box…

I know from sabotaging the human female’s various chemical exploits over the year that the first thing to do is to look up the Safety Data Sheet for this chemical. Let’s see what it says.

As I understand it, that is pretty standard stuff. I mean, powdered sugar has about the same warning–and we saw last week that nothing happened to my sweetie when she actually all but rolled in the stuff. Perhaps this Europium (II) fluoride is not so bad after all. Let’s see what else it says.

No information available. Three of the scariest words in the scientific lexicon. Basically, no one knows how big of a fire or explosion it will make, or whether it goes “boom” if you hit it or if there are sparks around.

Pardon me if I skedaddle…

>|: [

Because “Aster” Was Too Easy To Spell

Sigyn and I have accompanied the human female to the herbarium again. She has finished her labors with the difficult genus Solidago (goldenrods) and has turned her attention to Symphyotrichum, another large and difficult genus.

For the 99.9999% of the world that does not speak (or care about) botanese, these are the plants known as Asters. Formerly, these plants were in the genus Aster, but someone decided that was too easy to spell and to pronounce and that it would be much, much better to come up with a name that was less accessible to the unwashed masses. (Whether professional botanists are more washed is up for debate. They do spend a lot of time playing in the dirt.)

Many of the Asters in this part of Midgard are perennials with narrow leaves and white flower heads. Sorting them out can be tricky. I suspect that most botanists don’t even try to tell them apart. Instead, they view each herbarium sheet and each newly described species with a carefully-practiced Thoughtful Look and a non-committal, “Ah, yes. Quite so.” No one wants to admit that they really have no clue. This is how names such as “Symphyotrichum oolentangiense*” arise and go unchallenged.

Today the human female is checking all of the specimens of Heath Aster, Symphyotrichum ericoides (literally, “the Symphyotrichum that looks like a heather”, since Erica is the slanty name for some types of heather) to see if they are correctly identified.

This one is actually fairly distinct among the white-flowered asters, since it has a multitude of closely-spaced small heads, tiny upper leaves, and “phyllaries that are tipped with a small white or clear spine.**” Whatever that means.

She has five folders of these to go through, paying close attention to make sure that no specimens of S. falcatum, which has slightly larger leaves and flower heads, have crept in. Just to keep her humble, I’m going to do a little magical mischief and make sure that a good few have characters that are midway between the two.

Eehehehehe! She found another one of my little jokes.

Not only is this NOT S. ericoides, it’s not even a Symphyotrichum! It wasn’t collected in the area that the Big Book of Boring Botany (BBBB) is meant to cover, so she could just forget about it, but because she is who she is, it is going to eat at her and eat at her until she figures out what it actually is.

See how easy it is to derail a work session in the herbarium? The specimen is from far west Texas, an area she’s more than passing familiar with, but the specimen is so old and brittle that a thorough dissection isn’t really possible. It’s not even certain what the original flower color was. It’s yellow now, but what was it originally? And how did it end up in the S. ericoides folder?

Ah. That’s how. The label says Leucelene ericoides and someone at some point just assumed that was the same as Aster ericoides, now Symphyotrichum ericoides. But again what should it be?

Oh, now, human female this is cheating! She has summoned up a website that has data and images for thousands and thousands of herbarium specimens. Since this one was collected by a fairly famous botanist, there’s a good chance that there is a duplicate specimen out there that might be correctly identified. Hmm. Looks like there are several that were databased as, you guessed it, Leucelene ericoides, but that is no help. Oh! No, wait! Here’s an image of one that was annotated to Chaetopappa ericoides. She says that makes more sense, since Chaetopappa is a valid genus and C. ericoides a valid species.

Checking the local herbarium database, it looks like there are some in the collection.

This folder has all species of Chaetopappa except C. asteroides, C. bellidifolia, and C. effusa, so they should be in here.

Great Frigga’s Hairpins!

This is one that the human female collected! Shame on you, woman, for not recognizing it at once!

And look over here! Just to make your day a little more complicated, here’s another whole folder, one that is just C. ericoides.

Now you’ll have to assemble them all into this solely-ericoides folder and add “ericoides” to the list of species not in the “everything but” folder. And because you’re you, you’re going to have to look through all of them and make sure the identifications and names are up to date!

Ha! Look at this one. What a runt.

Hmm. Looks like the great botany god Lloyd Shinners used the name Leucelene ericoides for this specimen as well. It’s not like him to have made an error. Perhaps Leucelene is merely an older name for Chaetopappa?

And what about the ones like this that were labeled Aster leucelene? And where does Aster pilosus from the Shinners-annotated sheet figure in? Was that a misidentification, or is it a another synonym? I do love to watch her pointy little head spin around! Time to consult the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s PLANTS Database of plant names, classifications, and distributions.

Hmm. That can’t be right. It’s an open public resource! Better try again.

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Ehehehe! Human female, what did you do to get yourself banned?! Try it again. Perhaps the third time is the charm.

And there is the shiny cherry on the sweet mischief sundae! Not only can you not look it up, you can’t ask anyone else to do it for you!

What? You’ve run out of time today, with two folders of Symphyotrichum ericoides left to check? Tsk, tsk. Looks like you’ll have to pack everything up and come back another day, won’t you? By then I will have a completely new rabbit hole for you to stumble into.

>|: [

*There’s actually nothing wrong with the epithet “oolentangiense”, which refers to the Olentangy/Oolentangy River in Ohio. It just looks silly.

**And because I’m a right b@st@rd, you can be sure that not all the phyllaries will be spine-tipped. Maybe just one on each head. Or every other head…

Botanical Hair-splitting

The human female is wasting precious spring sunshine cooped up in the herbarium, beating her head against more plants. Today’s puzzles involve the genus Solidago.

This is the genus for goldenrods, and there are a LOT of them. Over the years, different experts have taken vastly different approaches to sorting them all out, a process which the plants themselves have responded to with the asteraceous equivalent of a loud, wet raspberry.

Armed with a key, several websites, and multiple folders of specimens, Sigyn is ready to help the human female out.

Oh, and a hand lens. A hand lens is of paramount importance, especially when dealing with the members of Section Triplinerviae (the ones with three main nerves in each leaf), since identification to species often requires observation of the tiny hairs on the stems, leaves, and flowers.

The human female is banging her head (both metaphorically and literally) over the plants formerly treated as Solidago canadensis. According to the leading Solidago expert (who is currently examining his life choices now that the human female has found his email address and has been peppering him with questions) the way things actually are is a bit different than what was presented by the Flora of North America in 2006. If I understand it correctly (and there’s no guarantee I do because all of this botanicobabble goes in one ear and out the other), the Texas plants formerly included in S. canadensis are actually S. altissima because S. canadensis does not reach Texas. These plants have hairy stems, and the flowering portion can be long and narrow or wide and pyramidal. With a good specimen, identifying the species–and even the variety–is usually doable.

Behold Solidago altissima L. var. pluricephala M. C. Johnston

Of course, I’ve arranged for the human female to be confronted with a plethora of intermediate and/or atypical specimens, such that identification is bit more of a problem.

This one had the top of the stem mowed/ bitten/ broken off, causing all of the branches below to become floriferous. How should she interpret the inflorescence? Who knows!

It’s also missing the lower stem and roots, which is no help at all.

Oh, marvelous. This one doesn’t have an inflorescence. She’s pretty sure it’s not even a Solidago

Hooray. Another specimen for the “unknown” folder filed at the end of the entire collection.

Wait a minute… Sigyn says this one is MUCH hairier than the others.

It turns out that there is another species of Solidago which is very similar to S. altissima, but which is very, very hairy. It is found mostly in West Texas, but it pokes its head up in the far western part of East Texas, which means the human female and her co-authors have to include it in the BBBB.

It’s called S. juliae, after the namer’s wife (whom the human female met once upon an eon ago).

What about this one, though?

It’s S. juliae, too. Don’t pat the human female too hard on the back for identifying it, though. There was a good, fertile specimen by the same collector from the same spot on the same date, which is how she knows. Turns out, there are a LOT of S. juliae hiding in the “S. canadensis” folders. In the middle of the state, where the ranges of S. altissima and S. juliae overlap, it can be difficult to tell slightly less-hairy juliae from slightly extra-hairy individuals of altissima. When that happens, I’m fairly certain the botanists just flip a coin before writing the label.

Great Frigga’s Hairpins! Here’s another problem child. It looks like S. altissima, but the leaves are super-skinny and they don’t have any teeth on the edges. Whatever could it be?!

The human female has just resorted to emailing her tame expert a photo of this goober to get his opinion. And the verdict is… Solidago altiplanites, the high-plains goldenrod, at the edge of its range up on the Oklahoma border.

And now that she has annotated all of the Texas altissima/juliae/altiplanites specimens and recorded all the label data in her humongous database, she has turned her beady eyes on S. gigantea which, truth be told, looks a whole lot like S. altissima, except that the stem below the flowery bits is glabrous, which is a fancy way of saying, “bald.”

You can see that the human female has penciled on a little note that the plant has “stipitate (stalked) glands”, which has her very exited. Those little glands among the flowerheads, so the Flora of North America says, are typical not of S. gigantea, but of S. lepida, a species of western North America, east to far west Texas and the western edge of the Great Plains. What is it doing in Brown county?! And here’s another supposed S. gigantea with glands aplenty. And another! And another! All the way east to the county next door! It’s amazing! It’s a huge range extension! It’s worth a paper! She’s annotating specimens right and left, down to variety! She’s emailing her expert again and letting him know of her fantastic discovery!! Does he perhaps want to borrow the specimens and study them so he can amend his Magnum Opus Solidagorium before it goes to print?

Snort! The expert has adroitly burst her over-enthusiastic bubble by informing her that, in the years since the Flora of North America’s treatment of Solidago was published, it has become common knowledge that S. gigantea frequently also has those little stalked glands. The only actual S. lepida in her whole pile is from the very western bit of Texas, where it has already been recorded.

Now she has to erase all her annotations and correct her database. She’s got to correct the one S. lepida, too because it’s variety salebrosa, not var. lepida. How humiliating!

Mortal, this is why Asgardians have the old saying, “Never count your chickens before they rip your lips off.”

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