nature

Agalinis navasotensis–Scientia Versus Tempestate

It is a lovely early fall day. The sun is shining and it’s not brutally hot. The calendar has rolled past the third week of September, so it is time for that annual botanical adventure, checking up on the rare Navasota False Foxglove, Agalinis navasotensis that the human female discovered. We are all headed to the outcrop in the next county over to see how many there are and how they are doing.

(a bit later)

Things actually look pretty good. There is a lot of grass this year, since the summer was wet. The human female and two other plant nerds have counted over 100 plants in flower.

A good year, if not great. The usual fall flora is in evidence too. The blue sage is open for butterfly take-out dining.

Or is it dine-in? Except the lepidopteran is not sitting down. How does it work with bugs anyhow?

It took a bit of looking, but we found the little cacti again.

The plant nerds have located the endpoint stakes of a sampling transect that was run in 2006 and are going run the transect again so they can compare results.

That’s the human female up there at the top of the outcrop. If you could see her any more clearly you might be turned to stone. You’re welcome.

Ugh! This science is tedious! Every half meter along the line, we have to note what is touching the line between 0 and 0.5 meters, between 0.5 meters and 1.0 meter, between 1.0 and 1.5 meters, etc., all the way up to the canopy. I think that at most of the points along line we are going to have…grass. It’s not in flower, so we won’t be able to write down what kind it is. Grass. Grass. Grass. And we have thirty meters of this to do? The plant nerds will be at this all morning and I will die of boredom. Time for a little excitement!

And here it comes! I’ve noted before that, while I cannot really control the weather, I can certainly nudge it along. (You don’t grow up around my stoopid brother Thor without picking up a few tricks.) So I think I will take advantage of the forecast “chance of precipitation” to see how dedicated botanists conduct a transect in the pouring rain.

Vera quaestio est quousque perstent antequam cladem agnoscant.

Norns’ nighties! They are actually doing it. The human female is crouched under a car windshield sunshade, trying to keep her notes dry, her partner is completely exposed, holding the height pole, and a third intrepid plant nerd is marking a GPS record of groups of Agalinis plants. Everyone is soaked to the skin and I am laughing so hard at the human female slipping in the mud that I almost fell down myself.

Sigyn and I, of course, are under a magic umbrella spell and are perfectly dry.

(later)

The botanists and all available paper being sodden, they have decided to call it a day and not set up a second transect. Farewell outcrop! We shall see you again in the spring, perhaps.

(later still)

This is what the human female’s notebook looks like–after drying out a bit!

The notes themselves are barely legible.

I am grudgingly impressed, though. Her cheap little ballpoint did a pretty good job of not running.

When all typed up, the transect results look like this:

Prope est ut si quid agerent sciebant.

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Another Sign That Autumn Is Upon Us

There’s another way I can tell that it is autumn. It’s migration time! The last hummingbirds are tanking up on nectar for their long journey south, wild geese will soon be honking overhead, and we are experiencing the annual running of Carassius auratus subsp. caseus.

This species of small fish returns to the same spawning grounds every year. Nature is cruel, though. Not all of them make it home. Sigyn and I have just encountered one such on our walk this morning.

It must have been a very good jumper to have made it here.

I know it’s sad, dearest, but it’s all part of Nature.

Great Frigga’s Hairpins! There’s another one!

Oh, now my sweetie is really upset. Come along, love. Let’s go home and eat something pumpkin spiced and talk of more pleasant things.

(later)

I know! We can log on to the Fat Bear Week website and see who won this year. My money was on good old 151.

What a prodigious embonpoint! You can see that the migrating salmon that didn’t make it just ended up as plump, chunky, huggable bear.

Hmm. I wonder if something similar happens with C. auratus subsp. caseus?

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A Neenering We Will Go, Part II: What Passes For Fall Color

We are walking back along the Neener Path. Sigyn is exclaiming about the “fall color” we are beginning to see. Now, this part of Midgard doesn’t get the blazing reds, yellows, and oranges that other parts do, but she is very cutely appreciative of what we do get.

There is just a hint of red in the Virginia creeper and the holly berries.

The shining sumac is having even more success.

We will have to remember to come back to look at it again later, since it should just get brighter and brighter as the season wears on. By the time the leaves start falling, it will match my sweetie’s outfit entirely. As it is now, she’s the brightest thing on this path.

In addition to red, there is a good deal of one particularly garish shade of pinkish purple. I speak, of course, of the beautyberry berries.

It clashes with everything!

The insides of the fruit are a rather disappointing yellowish hue. I really wish the color went all the way through, because then you could do useful things with the berries, like dye some fabric that would look hideous on the human female, or else just leave some berries in her chair to dye the seat of her shorts in lurid fuchsia spots. Pants acne!

This same color, watered down, is actually pretty common around here in the fall. The human female would say its because certain classes of anthycyanin pigments are found in a number of plants and… Blah, blah, blah–snore! Shut up and look at the flowers.

The morning glories are the same kind as the ones back at the house.

Even some of the stemmy bits are purplish.

Some of the fall-flowering beans take the color even lighter. This fuzzybean (Sigyn, did YOU name it?) does it,

and so does this tick-trefoil.

Those little beany flowers are only barely pinky-purple. We will have to come back when more of them are in fruit, because–if I remember correctly–the fruits are covered with tiny hooked hairs that cling onto everything. If I can get the human female in a fuzzy sweatshirt and off balance, one good nudge should serve to get her covered head to toe with botanical velcro bits.

Oh–here we are with the bright shade again. This is the human female’s beloved false foxglove.

That she can’t get in focus to save her life. Well, actually, it’s not her plant–that’s the one that grows on the outcrop in the next county over. This is just its more common, more glamorous cousin.

It’s like a little, pinky-purple sorting hat.

And that appears to be the end of the fall color for today. There are plenty of leaves falling, but they’re doing it without changing to anything but brown.

Some of the leave are quite large.

I’m not sure where this huge burr oak leaf blew in from; I haven’t seen one anywhere around here.

And here is the champion of all!

Not the largest sycamore leaf I’ve ever seen, but certainly big enough to make a decent party tent for someone Sigyn’s size. But no, sweetie, I don’t think you should carry it home as a souvenir. It’s a little breezy today, and if you hold that leaf up, it’s going to soar like a kite and take you with it! If you really want it, make the human female carry it.

The neighbors already think she’s weird.

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A Neenering We Will Go, Part I: Greeting Old Friends

Now that is is definitely fall and the temperatures have cooled a portion of a smidgen of a little bit, the human female is more likely to shift herself out of her chair and go for a walk. Today, she and Sigyn have decided to go see what’s what along the Neener Path by the Big, Ugly Apartments. We haven’t been down that way in a while, so I’m a bit curious myself to see if anything interesting is going on.

Ah. I think this will be a morning of seeing things we’ve seen before in other years. Sigyn calls it “Saying Hello to Old Friends.” I call it “It’s October and There’s Ragweed, What Did You Expect?”

Look at all that pollen! I’ll be sure to give this stem a good flick as I dismount, just to make sure the human female can appreciate its devotion to anemophily.

Some of the composites are better at keeping their sneezables to themselves. Bitterweed, for instance, contents itself with flowering eleven months of the year and making cows that eat it give bitter milk.

Horseweed just likes to get tall and poofy and seed itself into people’s yards.

Late-flowering thoroughwort (a ridiculous name!) is rather similar visually, though the plants have larger leaves and the flowers are white enough and dense enough so that it’s almost ornamental.

I’ve still made sure it drops tons of seeds in the human female’s yard every year, though.

Mistflower is more well-behaved. All it does is make patches of blue in shady spots.

Sigyn wants to pat it and cuddle it because it looks like “fuzzy fireworks”. Botanical fact: The fuzzy, threadlike bits are the styles in the tiny flowers, not the petals. There. Don’t you feel smarter?

The climbing hempvine is related and has flowers that are made the same way.

It likes wet spots and thinks the ditch along the Neener Path is a good place to be.

Peppervine is also abundant here. Sigyn likes the berries when they are unripe and pinkish.

I prefer them when they get all plump and inky black.

I still say we should sneak some into the human female’s breakfast. Sigyn says we should be nice and just dangle.

Hmm, what else is here? Ah, yes. Plenty of woolly croton. Another fuzzy thing Sigyn likes to cuddle.

I’m sensing a sunggle-pattern here. But since I am also one of the things she likes to snuggle, I am not complaining!

Well, huh. I take back what I said–not everything blooming today is something we’ve seen along this path before. This one is new:

The human female says this is something called “shoreline seapurslane”. Sigyn says the flowers look like “little stars.” I say the silly thing is about one hundred and thirty miles north of fitting its common name…

So here we are a the turn-around part of our walk, though we can stop and look at more things on the way back and–

Great Frigga’s Hairpins, Sigyn! Stop right there!!

Somewhere, there is a female persimmon tree with ripe fruits, and you nearly stepped in the big pile of seedy raccoon poop!

The human female is getting that look in her eye. If the trees in the woods have ripe fruit, the trees closer to home might have ripe, delicious fruit too. I suspect our next walk is going to be in our very own neighborhood…

(to be continued)

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A Gentle End to a Busy Week

I realize you haven’t seen my beloved’s beautiful face this week. How remiss of me! I shall leave you, then, with this sweet portrait of my darling Sigyn and the little friend she made in the garden today.

Little inchworm, any way you measure it, my sweetie is perfect.

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Too Hot For a Walk, But Apparently We Are Going Anyway

Newsflash, mortals. It’s summer, and it’s hot outside. Oh, the calendar says it’s still “spring,” but when the Heat Index is 106 F, it’s summer, no matter what equinoxes and solstices and tropics of whatnot say.

Still, Sigyn and the human female are keen to go walking whenever the female can drag her bloated carcass out of bed early enough to get going before the day changes from “balmy” to “humid inferno.” Believe me, as a Frost Giant, I’d prefer to do anything else, but I can never be sure Sigyn will make it home safely without my protection, so I usually tag along. Here, then, is a random assortment of images from walks around the neighborhood.

Sigyn makes new friends wherever she goes. She’s about to make a new one right outside the front door.

Look up, Sweetie! It’s one of those rolly-uppy isopods with the many strange Midgardian names.

And here is a very juicy slug!

Hmmm. Has the human female already had breakfast? ‘Cause I bet it’d go down easy…

Some of the slugs are black and velvety-looking. This one’s out for a stroll slime.

Black-velvet Leatherleaf Slug photo - lejun photos at pbase.com

I made a video! Great Frigga’s hairpins! I just looked that one up and it’s an exotic invasive! You go, funky little foreign slug! Come to our house and eat up all the human female’s flowers!

This red-eared slider turtle is a little shyer.

It says it is perfectly happy sitting in the pond by the Large Ugly Apartments all day and has no interest coming out on the bank to get acquainted.

Ugh! It really is annoyingly hot out here today! Sigyn, why don’t you greet your little floral friends and then we can go home and get out of the heat. Maybe have ice cream for lunch…

The lilac chaste tree in the front yard is looking pretty good.

Especially when you recall that I keep inviting the neighbors to butcher it periodically!

The leaves smell very good and it’s not a bad place for a dangle.

The crape myrtles are in full bloom as well. Whenever there’s wind or a good rain, the flowers fall off and make for what Sigyn says is a “very festive sidewalk.”

Many of the wildflowers are done for the year. This cut-leaved evening primrose is still prettifying the roadsides, though.

Looks like there’s some horseweed in there too.

Keen-eyed Sigyn has found the buttonweed in someone’s lawn. It looks like bluets, but the flowers are a LOT bigger. And furrier.

On the other hand, this purslane has flowers like its cousins, the cultivated, showy moss-roses, but the flowers are a lot smaller.

The human female says you can eat it. No, human female. YOU can eat it. I’m not in the habit of snacking on lawn weeds.

You can eat this one, too. Make yourself a nice salad of the leaves and add in some of the fruit when they show up.

You’ll like them—they look like tiny yellow tomatoes and are only a little bit poisonous.

And your noshing on them will eventually leave more ice cream for the rest of us.

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A May Neener Perambulation

The human female and Sigyn and dragging me out on another Neener Walk. Didn’t we just go?

My innocent question was met with a mixture of scorn (the human female) and gentle reproof (Sigyn.) Apparently, things happen quickly in late spring, with the early spring flowers winding down and the summer flowers just appearing on the stage. It is therefore some sort of moral imperative that we take the trail down by the LUAs (Large, Ugly Apartments) and make note of what we see.

Oh, well, as long as it’s for science. (insert eye-roll.)

The highlighter-yellow false dandelions have been up forever.

And so has the bur clover.

The human female says it has been a good year for dogshade. It’s in all the ditches. Sigyn says it looks like lace.

Thistles are old hat. Be careful, my love. You are up very high and they are very prickly.

Greenbriar is also nothing new. This one is just about to bloom

The farkleberry has nearly finished flowering. If I didn’t know it was related to blueberries, I’d think it was kin to lily-of-the-valley. The flowers look a little alike.

No, human, don’t bother me with the slanty Latin name or start harping on monocots and dicots. I don’t care, and you know it.

The venus’ looking-glass has been out for a good bit. It’s tall enough that the human has to lift Sigyn up to get a good view.

The daisy fleabane started early this year and is gong strong.

We should take some home with us, Sigyn. The human female has some itchy bites she says are from fire ants, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if she actually had fleas…

This cut-leaf evening primrose has yellow flowers which turn orange as they fade.

I suppose that’s mildly interesting.

I remember the dayflowers from previous years. They’re such an alarming color.

Ah. The spiderworts are up. The human female really likes them.

The brown-eyed susans showed up last month.

And so did the tickseed.

Have you noticed, Sigyn, that all of those yellowy orange composites are always EXACTLY the same color? With blue flowers, there is usually some variation in shade, but nope, these are all the same. That can’t be natural… I don’t trust them.

So where is the new stuff? Things we haven’t seen already this year?

All right–the prairie gentians are new. I will give you that.

Sigyn is squeeing! She thinks she has found “an itty bitty teeny tiny one.”

The human female says no, it’s a centaury, and that it’s a cousin of the gentians. That’s right, human. Take all the fun out of my sweetie’s delight with your tiresome pedantry. No wonder you never get invited anywhere.

I don’t remember seeing this before. If I did, I forgot it.

Go on, Sigyn. Ask her what it’s called. Ehehehe! Look at her waffle and stutter! She can’t remember what its name is! She says she always confuses Mecardonia and Lindernia and can’t remember which one has yellow flowers and which one has white. Woman, you are losing it, and we all know it.

What about this yellow one?

It’s on a small little shrub with shreddy bark. The human female is calling it “St. Andrew’s Cross.” What a ridiculous name. I swear she makes this stuff up.

Odin’s eyepatch! I’ve needled the human female enough that she is barking back at me! “Fine,” she is saying, “If you don’t want to learn anything about botany, show me what you are interested in. What did you see this morning that you liked?”

Glad you asked! I thought this mushroom was neat.

Might have to put some in the next batch of spaghetti sauce…

And this. This makes me very happy.

Because it means somewhere, there is an annoying, cute–possibly even squeaky–stuffed animal that has had its puffy guts ripped out.

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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.

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*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…

A Very Pleasant Blue and Purple Walk

The weather has been, by any measure, absolutely lovely lately. Cool nights, moderate days, sun, and enough showers to keep the flowers watered. And in order to enjoy the flowers, we are out for a walk along the Neener Path.

As I’ve pointed out before, though she likes red and yellow flowers best, such as this Cut-leaved Evening Primrose…

…Sigyn has a keen appreciation for blue and purple as well, so that’s what she wants to look for today.

The Henbit has been up since January.

Sigyn says sometimes you just want to lie in a patch of flowers that look like fuzzy sock puppets.

There is an extraordinary abundance of Lyre-leafed Sage this year. The flowers range from nearly white to medium purple. In spots, it almost looks as if we have bluebell woods.

This specimen has an extra-bendy stem.

Spring is a good time for various entities of a leguminous nature. This is Deer Pea Vetch.

Sigyn thinks the little fruits look “just like tiny snow peas.” She’s not wrong.

Loki Weed–Sorry, Loco Weed looks a lot like vetch to me, but the human female says it doesn’t have any tendrils.

I know this one–Baby Blue Eyes.

The human female is physically incapable of getting one of these in focus.

Sigyn, look! Did you know there were Blue Hats here?

Oh, right. My bad. I forgot. We renamed these …Star-leaved Cobalt Puffs.

Ow! Great Frigga’s Hairpins! Sigyn, my treasure, I love you with all my heart, but your cute little squees are not always easy on the ears. What did you find that has you so excited?

Oh! Violets! The human female says it’s more usual to find these in the woods. I guess there are woods on the other side of the boundary fence and this side of the path gets quite a bit of shade. Where are the leaves, though? The ones with three leaflets belong to Bur Clover.

Ah. It’s very pleasant here, isn’t it? While you and the humans continue to exclaim over the posies, I think I’ll take a little rest before we head home.

The moss is a bit dry, and its capsules are a bit pokey, but it’s still cushy, and it always feels good to get the helmet off. Wake me up when it’s time to go home.

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The Tiny Treasures Are Up! (Nearly Wordless Wednesday)

A few days of warm sunshine have brought the spring wildflowers up for reals. Sigyn is beside herself with joy and has gone out to revel and frolic, suitably equipped.

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