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Showing posts from 2010

Prairie Poem

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Oh proud prairie Oh fertile shroud Rooted in the black depths of antiquity Spotted and swaying with varying degrees Of blue, green and golden pleasures A symphony of silent strength Where wind and grass collide To worship open expanse In you I confide
Between the prayers of a Pleistocene sky The pressure of ice And the loft of loess I walk in silent search Of anything That can exist so freely As these erupting spirits of bloom In concert with birds, time Motion and tune
Oh my miserable heart diced to bleeding pulsing squares Roads and crops Dust and barbed wire stares Pitted with rust That stain more red than ignorance My imprisoned prairie soul Dig deep Into ancient soils And find the us In what remains Of the plows crumbs And the cattle's waste Find the starry night So far away And let us sleep Together Under it And remain

Carex aureolensis

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It was just about a year ago when I first heard of Carex aureolensis.While walking with a fellow botanist he asked if I had noticed it in the Cyperaceae volume of the Flora of North America (vol. 23).I had not.He then informed me that it had been split out of Carex frankii, a species I had seen throughout eastern North America and in which I had never noticed much morphological variation.I believe my reaction was typical of most biologists upon hearing of taxonomic change in a group thought to be stable.My lips tightened, my heart rate increased and my vision became unfocused as my brain slammed into a low, deeply contemplative, gear.After a few minutes of test driving the idea in my head, I said with a slow and worried countenance “I don’t know if I buy that”.Trail talk is cheap.When I got home, I hit the index of FNA vol.23 and thumbed my way to page 519.Sure enough, there it was.I read the description, habitat and comments then flipped to the key characters. It all sounded legit; l…

The Dichanthelium Series: Dichanthelium lanuginosum

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This is the most commonly encountered Dichanthelium in the eastern United States.Correspondingly, it is the most generalist species of Dichanthelium in the eastern United States.It has 26 synonyms that loosely represent its range of morphological and geographical variation.It is often lumped with D. acuminatum.In Michigan, Wisconsin and the Chicago region, it is erroneously referred to as D. implicatum (a travesty that won’t soon be rectified and that largely hinges on the cult of personality). The sheaths are pubescent with short uniform hairs. The vernal stem leaves (biggest leaves on the stem) are oriented nearly 90 degrees from the stem. The adaxial leaf surfaces can range from glabrous to villose to velutinose; consistency is found at the population level. The spikelets average around 1.6mm long. Ligule length is the strongest character.Unlike D. acuminatum (to which it is only distantly related), D. lanuginosum has a uniformly long (2.0-4.0mm) ligule.It also lacks the ciliate lea…

The Dichanthelium Series: Dichanthelium praecocius

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There, beneath the big grasses of the prairie, nestled next to triple-canoed violet fruits, aborted Scleria achenes and the tumbled tops of Agrostis hyemalis is a grass that no one sees.It is small.It is hairy and dirty. The stems emerge tangential, node, soon bend geniculate but not quite erect.Hairs are ubiquitous but sparse enough to collect dirt; char in good years. Vernal panicles elongate and expand moments before the axillary inflorescences; a novel trait for the genus.Lodicules pump like steam engines as the flags of gynoecium and androecium unfurl to disperse and collect anemochorous wares. Spikelets fall short of D. villosissiumum and rarely exceed 1.9mm length.Its ligule further distinguishes it from D. villosissimum and D. acuminatum into which it has been lumped as of late. The ligule is much too long for this (exceeding 1.0mm) and has a unique shape in that the central hairs are shorter than the marginal ligule hairs. Home in the prairie, beneath the big grasses where vol…

A Botanist

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A botanist is a natural historian. A collector of facts and events that he employees in the speculation of one's influence on the other. A botanist listens as the ancient seas of the Ordivician tell stories 450 million years old.He can feel the impact of an asteroid 65 million years ago, smell the soot from increased volcanism, and give witness to the subsequent diversification of mammals and angiosperms. In his mind, he can not only see the glaciers of the Pliestocene melt and distribute the great soils of the Midwest, but he can smell the tundra and hear the Mammoth’s call. He sees anthropogenic fires, the hypsithermal, the prairie pennisula, the bloody sword of DeSoto and John Deere's polished plow. He tries desperately to explain how today's mistakes and yesterday's blindsightedness form the inevitable consequences of tomorrow. And as the perpetual inaction of society oozes onward, he need only think of glaciers and oceans, extinctions and speciations, and the ever…

Visit the latest Berry Go Round

The latest edition of the famed Berry Go Round is blooming across the internet. Click here and read about Orchids, Trillies and many other spring time goodies!

Winter Mosses (2009-2010)

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Every winter, as the cold grip of dormancy overtakes our vascular flora, my attention is turned from phanerogams to cryptogams: bryophytes to be specific.While I am still a fogged in amateur, I am starting to hear voices in the mist.I’m seeing patterns and struggling less.Here is an example of how tricky moss identification can be.The two moss specimens below were collected from the margin of my driveway. Accustomed to the macroscopic, my eyes failed to pick up on the subtly dramatic differences.What I assumed to be one “thing” was indeed two, each as evolutionarily relevant as a Blue Whale or a Dawn Redwood.Here is a closer look. The specimen on the left is Weissia controversa.Barbula unguiculata is on the right (they are reversed in the first photo).Notice how much narrower the leaves of Weissia are compared to those of Barbula.The capsules of Weissia are also shorter.Having trouble seeing the leaf differences?Here they are after being wetted. Both species are abundant throughout the …

Rafinesque and the Resurrection of Polygonum bicorne

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Constantine Samuel Rafinesque was a strange man. I can’t stress that enough. When you look him up on Wikipedia you quickly realize that he was different. His name is preceded with such erudite appellations as polymath, autodidact and polyglot, besides the more familiar terms of botanist and zoologist. But this post isn’t about Rafinesque, or at least not directly so. Indirectly, it has to do with his eyes and what they saw. You see, where others missed the trees for the forest, Rafinesque perceived entities hidden deep within morphologies. Ever the avid publisher, he described many of these entites as taxa (usually species) new to science. Since his death, the oscillations of botanical treatments and nomenclatural innovations have alternately celebrated his insights and condemned his indiscretions. Few authors have had as many taxa bounced in and out of synonymy for so many decades. Polygonum bicorne, the focus of this post, is a fine example of this.
Rafinesque described Polygonum bi…

Strolling the Remnants: Sand Prairie Conservation Area

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My work through the Institute of Botanical Training takes me all over the Midwest. In 2009, I was working on a contract in southeastern Missouri that was about an hour from Sand Prairie Conservation Area. An admirer of prairies of all kinds, I visited the site twice over the season and would like to share my observations below.

Visit One: April 17:



A chilling spring breeze blows across the sand prairie.

Sun-warmed sand dislodges, rolls and re-accumulates as it gradually exposes and conceals scattered pebbles in this sandy scene.

Small dune-like hills stabilized by vegetation subtly gradate into expansive flats. The surrounding landscape speaks of the early Holocene winds and braided waters of glacial outwash that are responsible for the sandy deposition. A sprinkling of sand islands scattered within a matrix of wet forests of the Mississippi floodplain. Here, inches in elevation separate desert from swamp.

Weathered gray stems spinning in the wind draw solar systems in the sand.

The sten…