Category Archives: Ozark Hills

Walking and learning about the Ozark Hills

Tracking Tree Flowers

Most people think of redbuds and dogwoods, when tree flowers are mentioned. Those are big and showy.

Most trees don’t have big, showy flowers. They have small flowers. Some have small flowers and catkins.

Around here, the silver maples bloom first. Their clumps of red cup flowers burst after a few warm days. They often get frozen, but seem to be cold hardy.

The next tree flowers belong to the elms.

slippery elm tree

This slippery elm tree grows along a gravel road.

Slippery elm is common on my hills. It is one of three listed for Dent County. The other two are American elm and winged elm.

slippery elm tree flowers

Slippery elm flowers do have red on them. There is a definite green calyx under the red. The flowers are wind pollinated so the pistils have large stigmas that reach out into the air to catch pollen floating by.

There were American elms on my hills. They have died.

I think there are winged elm along the road. It tends to be a small tree in fence rows. I’m still checking for it.

Elms bloom before putting out leaves. I use leaves to identify trees. Elm blooms as a group are easy to spot. The kind is not, for me.

I should have spotted and labeled these elms last summer or fall. Leaves fell before I got to the elms.

elm tree

This is a magnificent elm tree. It grows near a parking lot at ShawneeMac Lakes Conservation Area. Once the leaves come out I will know what kind of elm.

There is a lovely elm at a local conservation area. Getting a picture of the tree was easy. So was the bark. Not even my hook stick could reach the branches.

I was in luck. The tree is next to a parking area. I pulled my truck up under the tree and climbed into the bed. Not high enough. The cab roof worked.

So I now have pictures of the winter tree, bark, buds and flowers of this elm. Which elm is it? I’ll find out this summer when the leaves come out along with the seeds.

My stick was long enough to snag a branch of elm tree flowers along my road. I’m pretty sure this is a slippery elm, but will wait for the leaves. The flowers were a different color, so I suspect is isn’t the same elm as the other one.

elm tree flowers

These flowers are definitely elm flowers. They are very pink ones and different from the slippery elm flowers.

March weather this year is a yoyo. Warm and cold fronts kick each other back and forth every few days. Warm days tempt the trees to break bud. Cold days warn them to wait.

Several trees have labels on them. I’m waiting for them to bloom. Their buds are swelling. Every week I need to go by and look or I will miss these tree flowers.

I don’t want to wait another year for my pictures.

Spring Robins Arrive

Robins aren’t really migratory birds. Their populations shift south in the winter and north in the spring. Spring robins move north ahead of the migrants.

My clues for spring are the return of the vultures, the bluebirds and the spring peepers. Robins are usually counted as harbingers of spring, but only fun to watch for me.

These red-breasted birds never used to visit here. Then one or two came by. For several years flocks have moved into the pastures for a few weeks, then moved on. None seem to stay for the summer.

spring robins flock

A flock of robins is fun to watch. Each one stands up so tall. They hop from place to place. The flocks can be a few birds to a dozen or more.

Looking out the kitchen window toward the bird feeder, mourning doves are the common sight most of the time. They line the tree branches shortly after dawn and wait for the tray of seeds to come out.

Since the seeds don’t arrive until after sunrise, the doves become impatient and begin searching the ground for those dropped the day before. The ground seems to move as the birds are so close together.

These birds too were rare the first few years here. A couple of pairs decided to give the place a try. Now I can count an easy eighteen most mornings.

When the spring robins arrive, many of the birds walking across the lawn are not doves, but robins. These are a bit larger, browner and stand more upright.

one of the spring robins

Robins spend a lot of their time on the ground. their feet say they are perching birds.

The pastures too are scenes of moving robins. They search around the clumps of grass looking for unwary bugs. They like to do their searching before the chickens are turned loose.

The spring robins usually show up about the beginning of March. Spring is usually moving in by then, the ground thawing, the bugs emerging.

The birds must be hardy as winter isn’t ready to depart. The first daffodils are blooming so snow is in the offing.

March does mean the cold winter surges are short lived. Spring returns with warmer temperatures luring the creatures and plants to awake for the year.

Learning Botanical Families

Like animals are sorted into animal families, plants are sorted into botanical families. These are based on the flowers.

As I struggle to identify the wildflowers I come across, I’ve tried to learn the different botanical families. A few are fairly easy.

botanical families include Asteraceae

A common Asteraceae flower head has a disk of tiny flowers surrounded by ray flowers that look like petals. Not all Asteraceae flower heads have ray flowers. They all do have the tiny disk flowers.

The Asteraceae includes flowers like daisies, dandelions, sunflowers and pussy toes. All have masses of tiny flowers squashed into a single head on a disk.

The Asclepiadaceae have complex flowers with five petals, five hoods and pollinaria (packets of pollen). Common milkweeds are butterfly weed, swamp milkweed, purple milkweed and green milkweed.

botanical families include Asclepiadaceae like butterfly weed milkweed

Butterfly weed milkweed, like most milkweeds, attracts lots of butterflies, beetles, bees and wasps. The flowers have five backswept petals, five wells of nectar and five horns pointing into the wells. The sizes and colors can vary, but all the flowers have this basic pattern putting them into the same botanical family called Asclepiadaceae.

Other families were more difficult for me to recognize. Then a friend loaned me a book “Botany In a Day” by Thomas J. Elpel that goes through most of the families and explains how the flowers are arranged in each family.

Family by botanical family I am plowing my way through this book. It is easy to read and understand, just filled with information that takes time to absorb.

Then I found Elpel includes edibility and medicinal information for plants within each family. It is mostly the medicinal uses and many are ones I would never want to try after reading the descriptions.

Botanical families found in Botany In a Day

The book “Botany In a Day” includes keys to the various botanical families and pages about each family along with edibility and medicinal information. It’s written for Montana but many families occur in the Ozarks too.

The edibility is what I am interested in. I do pick and eat a number of wild greens. Lamb’s quarters is a favorite. Pokeweed, chicory, plantains and chickweed are other tasty treats.

The problem with these plants is where they grow: disturbed ground such as gardens and roadsides. I need to know about edible ravine plants as the Carduans in The Carduan Chronicles will be sampling and eating some of these.

This book is a step to finding plants for the Carduans. The first step is identifying the plants out in the ravines.

Back to poring over “Botany In a Day” and learning the botanical families. Then I can identify the plants and find which ones are not only edible, but tasty.

Paradoxa Native Plant Walk

Sunday afternoon was a pleasant escape from cleaning up after six inches of rain with the high water that followed. Paradoxa, the Rolla chapter of the Missouri Native Plant Society, held a winter tree identification walk.

Finding trees is easy in the Ozarks. They tend to be big and hard to miss. Over the winter most trees are bare trunks and branches.

For someone like me who depends on leaves and flowers to identify a plant, bare trunks and branches are daunting. Where do you start?

tree barks

Bark helps identify a tree in winter. The Osage orange bark (left) is yellow with long ribbons intertwined. Shagbark hickory (center) has long, thin plates of grey bark. American elm (right) looks like well worn gray pavement.

As the Paradoxa group wandered around looking at the different trees, several important things to look for became obvious. First was bark.

All trees have bark. Take a closer look at the bark. Bark is not usually smooth and featureless. Bark has color, texture and furrow patterns. The combinations help identify the tree.

terminal tree buds

Terminal buds are another help in identifying a tree in winter. Osage orange (left) has small buds on a big bulge. Post oak buds (center) have shingled scales and a gang of buds. Shagbark hickory (right) has a single large bud with two scales, one on each side. This bud is starting to open.

A second characteristic is the terminal buds. When a tree goes dormant in the fall, it makes leaf buds covered by scales on its branches. The one on the tip of a branch or twig is the terminal bud.

Some buds have many small scales giving the bud a shingled look. Others have two scales, one on each side.

Some trees have a single terminal bud. Other trees like to have groups of buds.

Paradoxa plant group

Two retired forest service men led the Paradoxa group on their winter tree identification walk.

The Paradoxa group looked at the bark and buds. Some were easy like the black walnut. Others were hard.

Where do you go for the hard ones?

One place is the winter tree guide published by the Missouri Department of Conservation. The Missouri Trees guide has the bark and buds in it.

Paradoxa group hiking

The Paradoxa group includes people of all ages. Many are Master gardeners or naturalists. All are interested in Missouri native plants.

The more interesting place to go is on a guided walk like the one Paradoxa held on Sunday. Everyone on the walk is interested in Missouri plants. Each person knows a different set of plants.

As we walked along, we made comments about the different trees. Those who recognized the tree helped those who didn’t spot the best ways to identify it in the future.

The Missouri Native Plant Society has chapters like Paradoxa in many parts of Missouri. Anyone interested in Missouri plants will find joining the groups helpful and fun.

Botany Season Begins

Officially the season is winter. Officially the pastures are paved with dry, yellow grass and the hills with bare limbs. Botany season has begun anyway.

No wildflowers are blooming yet. Even tiny corn speedwell is waiting this year. There has been warmer weather, but no moisture.

botany season begins with river birch

One of the special sights over the winter is the tree bare of leaves so the trunk and branches show. This river birch has so many fine twigs giving it a brushy look.

Storms are forecast and touted as bringing rain, sleet, snow and mixtures. They track north of the Ozarks. We stay in the severe drought belt.

This week we have hopes. This week the rain, even a scattering of snow has moved through here. There is mud in low places.

Green leaves line the road. Dead nettle and chickweed are shaking off their winter survival settings. Pasture grasses are stirring and sending up a few new green shoots.

botany season willow tree

This willow is a small tree. It’s twigs and buds are yellow and hairless. Which willow is it? There are eight to choose from. I will wait to see flowers and leaves.

This doesn’t sound like good botany season timing. Nothing is blooming. Things are barely growing.

I walked out to look at the willows and plants nearby. River birch catkins are swelling as are black alder catkins. If the weather stays warm enough, the catkins will bloom within two weeks.

The willows are a mixed bag. They are shrubs to small trees that like water such as the nearby cold water spring fen. Each year I go out to try to identify the different ones growing there. Each year they defeat me. I know there are four or five of the eight species found in Dent County growing there.

willow buds

Willow buds are long and narrow, alternate. This willow has hairy twigs and buds in off white. Other buds are red or yellow or brown. Most have no hairs.

This year I am going to identify these willows.

A willow has male plants producing catkins and female plants producing seeds. The plants usually appear similar except for the flowers.

Some willows bloom before leafing out. Other willows bloom as they leaf out. A few bloom after leafing out. All the leaves are similar, long and narrow with a single strong vein down the center.

botany season willow shrubs

These willows are only shrubs. They grow thickly in one area making it look red with their twigs and buds. Which willow are these shrubs? Eight possibilities. I will wait.

The key to identifying these willows is visiting them several times over the spring. I need to see the flowers and the seeds. I need to see the leaves, bark and twigs. Most importantly I need to keep my records of which willow is which straight.

I now have bark, twig and bud pictures of each different willow, I think. Each has its little folder. The first one should bloom about the time the river birch blooms.

My botany season has begun.

Search For Silence Brings Quiet

Noise seems to be everywhere. At times it is overwhelming, leading to a desire for silence, an absence of all the noise.

I have never heard silence, that total absence of sound. Doing so seems an impossibility for any person able to hear. Perhaps someone who is deaf can hear total silence, I do not know.

Silence is one of those things people say they want to hear. In this technological world companies make ear covers to keep out all outside noise. I’ve never tried a pair of these, but have no doubt they work.

nature brings quiet

Several years ago I found this place to sit. The redbud tree has grown. The hillside is above me. The creek is below me. It is a quiet, restful place to sit where time seems to suspend itself.

Even with these silence is not truly possible. There is an old story that, if you hold a large sea shell to your ear, you will hear the ocean. You don’t. You hear the sound of your blood coursing through your ears. These ear covers can’t keep out this sound.

Discounting this, there is still the sound of your breathing. The brain seems wired for sound and can generate clicks and roars, that ringing in the ears to keep silence at bay.

Ozarks can bring quiet vistas

Once spring arrives in the Ozarks, the hills become a place of daily change as wildflowers grow and bloom, trees leaf out, their greens shifting through the summer until they color for fall.

Instead of attempting to find silence, seek quiet. The problem isn’t noise, but the overabundance of noise. Consider the ordinary house.

I’ve walked into houses and heard the television playing to an empty room, the radio blaring elsewhere, computers or other devices spewing music. No one is listening to any of these. They are background noise to keep silence at bay.

trees and clouds bring quiet

Overhead the leaves move in the breeze casting changing shadow patterns on the ground. Above the trees the clouds can make fantastic shapes. Both can let the mind feel quiet.

Even if these devices are turned off, other motors hum. Refrigerators, freezers, water pumps, air conditioners, heaters, all the devices we depend on for our lifestyles rumble along in the background.

In the rural Ozarks a big storm can drop the electric lines. All the motors cease. Intense quiet seeps through the house.

Nerves relax. Muscles relax. Ears strain. Then comes the sigh of relief. A clock is ticking. It’s quiet, not silence, quiet.

creek sounds bring quiet

The sound of water gurgling down an Ozark creek is restful. Watching the creek can let me spot a snapping turtle or a mink. The simple sounds of wind and water make the mind feel quiet.

For people used to noise, this quiet can become disturbing. There is supposed to be noise, the brain says.

Me? I relished the quiet. I reveled in this quiet. My nerves seemed to relax. My mind let the quiet seep in bringing calmness with it. The resuming hum of the refrigerator, when the electricity came back on, was an intrusion and resented as well as appreciated.

Most of the time quiet must be sought out away from houses or barns or roads. It’s there, out in the woods where the sounds are bird calls and wind. Even better is a snowy field. Snow seems to hush all sounds but the whisper of wind.

I will never find true silence. It’s not what I want. Quiet is preferable. Quiet to hear the world live, the mind think, letting stress seep away.

Savor some of the sights and sounds of the Ozarks in Exploring the Ozark Hills.

Ozark Seasons Reflections

After living up near Lake Superior where winter arrived in October and stayed until April, the Ozark seasons had great appeal. All four seasons showed during the year, but none were extreme. Waist deep snow for six months would not be missed.

In the North, the cold is dry. The air is sharp, bracing. Snow comes in many varieties. Each layer settles and is covered by the next. Sometimes ice even appears in clear air sparkling like diamonds drifting around.

Ozark seasons winter

For those who have lived in snow country, the big impression from this picture is cold. Setting the shivers aside, snow makes a tree look so dramatic.

Ozark cold is a damp cold. It slices through jackets dousing you in ice water. Snow and ice storms blow in, drop layers and blow elsewhere. Rarely does the ice or snow stay for more than a few days as warmer air arrives to turn them into mud. Temperatures creep up only to drop again with the next storm.

Spring in the North arrives around the middle of April with the break up of river ice. It slowly spreads green across the landscape. Sudden, severe frosts can arrive even in June.

Ozark seasons spring

Early spring leaves have a blue tinge in their green. The ephemeral plants shoot up quickly from stores of food in their roots. Other plants are slower to appear making the green carpet sketchy.

Spring, my favorite of the Ozark seasons, doesn’t arrive in the Ozarks. It argues with winter for weeks. A single day can be wintry in the morning and spring in the afternoon or vice versa. These arguments can erupt into thunderstorms.

Ozarks spring can be a few weeks long. The wildflowers appear. The trees leaf out. Or spring can seem only a few days long to be replaced with hot, summery days making the spring wildflowers trip over each other in their hurry to bloom and set seed.

Northern summers don’t get very hot. Highs in the eighties are a heat wave. July is the prime time. August brings fall and night frosts again.

Ozark seasons summer

Green is everywhere over an Ozarks summer. Over the summer the green changes shades and mellows until late summer green has a yellowish tinge to it.

Summer in the Ozarks stretches from sometime in May to August. So much happens over an Ozarks summer, there seems to be little time to stop and admire the hills. The plants and animals charge ahead at full speed.

Every plant is its own shade of green making the hills a collage of light to dark green mixed as though tossed for salad. Heat makes leaves droop. Humidity smothers plants and animals. Thunderstorms gather the humidity into towering clouds then drop it accompanied by pyrotechnics leaving the air so full of moisture animals almost need gills.

Ozark Seasons fall

Nothing announces fall in the Ozarks like the blazing crimson of the sumacs. It seems to glow.

One day toward late August, it is fall. The day before was summer. Now the day has a cool fall feel, the night has a frost sharpness, although it doesn’t frost.

Sumacs blaze crimson. Virginia creeper and poison ivy hang red garlands from the trees and wrap their trunks with color. The year is winding down in a mad flurry of wildflowers and activity as birds migrate, raccoons and woodchucks fatten up for hibernation and storms change from puffy cumulus clouds to sheets of stratus clouds.

One cycle of the Ozark seasons is over and winter comes again.

This is an essay draft for the upcoming Ozarks book. Exploring the Ozark Hills explores the seasons through individual topics and is available now.

Ozark Winter Hiking

It snowed. There’s only an inch of the white stuff. And it’s January, not February. Still, I need to see what my ravine setting is like in the snow. Winter hiking is the plan.

The problems with winter hiking are the cold and wet. Both are very discouraging to me. A warm stove and a good book are so inviting.

Enough of that. I have to go out exploring before the Arctic front moves in. Both cold and wet can be dealt with.

winter hiking trail

The tractor road weaves between the trees. All is covered with snow giving the trail a lonely, bare look. It has a stark beauty as I hike into the ravine.

Clothing layers are a first line of defense. Long johns. Flannel shirt and jeans. Vest. Hoodie. Snow suit.

I see people walking in the cold without hats on. A tremendous amount of body heat is lost through your head. Hats are a must for winter hiking.

Cold feet are sure defeat. When feet get cold, they start hurting. The cold spreads up the ankles to the legs. The toes are ice cubes.

Snow calls for pack boots. Plus wool socks.

Carduan rocks

The landing rock ledge for The Carduan Chronicles stands hard and cold under a layer of white fluff. Apt as the crew is presently watching their first snow storm.

Next are the gloves. My hands are small so gloves are difficult to find. Those sized for women’s hands aren’t made for rugged use. Men’s sizes are too large. A double layer of jersey gloves works, if the air isn’t too cold.

Gloves have another aspect for me. I take a camera with me and intend to take pictures. Gloves are clumsy. Jersey gloves are easy to take off and put back on.

Digital cameras are another problem for winter hiking. They do not like being cold. If the temperature drops into the teens, the camera moves inside the snow suit.

Finally I am suited up. It only took fifteen minutes. I am stiff. The pack boots are heavy and clumsy.

I open the door and set off. The going is slow. Through the gate, across the bridge and out to the pastures.

winter hiking trees

Winter trees are dark, bare skeletons of branches. A dressing of snow resting on the branches adds contrast and eases the starkness.

Snow blankets the ground. Snow highlights tree limbs. Most creatures are tucked away trying to keep warm so the world is quiet.

A pileated woodpecker hammers on a tree. A large hawk swooshes by overhead. A barred owl flees from under a rock ledge.

The air is crisp. Bits of snow drop to the ground. I walk through a winter landscape straight from a picture on a card.

Winter hiking takes lots of preparation. It’s worth it.

My Ozarks Home

This year will make twenty-five years for me here in the Ozarks. I have been looking through photographs and reminiscing about my Ozarks home.

A photograph is flat. It can’t show anyone the smells, feel or sounds of being out walking in the Ozarks. A photograph does trigger my memories of when I took the picture. Words can try to add depth to that picture.

stumps in mist on my Ozarks home

This pile of stumps was at the base of the hill pasture when I first saw the pasture, relics of when the pasture was cleared sometime in the past. They are slowly disappearing.

One of the wonderful things about living here in the Ozarks has been the opportunity to go out walking away from people and their noises. There are still times when such noise is not heard here.

I read how many people, especially young people must have their digital devices, must share their every experience right then. I pity them.

Leaving those devices behind lets me think my own thoughts, see things in my own way, get in touch with myself.

spider on web

Late summer and early fall is the time of large spiders. These orb weavers favor pathways stretching their web from one side to the other. They are almost invisible. The first warning is focusing on a large spider hanging at eye height just before stepping into the web.

My local library had a book display for those wanting to learn yoga or mindfulness or other stress reduction technique. Walking the hills and pastures of my Ozarks home does this for me. Even better is sitting still in a special place looking up the hill or down to the creek, listening to the wind, the water, the birds and the insects.

I do take one digital device with me out on my walks. My camera. I take pictures not so much to share with others as to let me revisit my walk other days. This is wonderful on those cold, cloudy, dreary days of winter.

Most of my pictures are of the plants for my botany project. Some of these are beautiful. Many others are of my goats, chickens and cats.

my Ozarks home creek

The creek runs the length of the place. In some places it is narrow and runs quickly. In others, like here, it spreads out into broad pools.

Then there are those from around the hills and pastures. They range through the seasons. They are panoramas and close ups. Each has a story to tell about being here at my Ozarks home.

As I looked through my photographs, I did come to want to share them with others, to show others why my Ozarks home is so special. Slowly a book is coming together. I plan to have it finished by this fall.

Helpful Curious Kids

Anyone familiar with goats knows both adults and kids are playful and curious. They get into everything they possibly can.

Curious kids are especially prone to leaving havoc behind them. Their small size makes turning things over to check out the inside mandatory.

This winter I have three kids and a half grown doe. The four form a formidable gang.

two curious kids

Two of my curious kids stand plotting their next move. One stunt they haven’t managed yet is to turn over a bucket of oats only because the bucket is out of reach.

The youngest was a very late kid, born November 1. She will be up for sale next month.

The next twins are from late last spring. These two are saboteurs. When I first went to advertise these spotted beauties for sale, one promptly broke a front leg.

The leg healed nicely. So I tried again to advertise the pair. They promptly came down with a virus and happily spread it to the entire herd.

The herd is now well. The kids are fine. I should again advertise these kids for sale, but am hesitant. What disaster will they cook up next?

Agate is my half grown herd addition. She is very spoiled. At almost a year old, she still gets a small bottle of milk morning and evening.

curious kids gang member

High Reaches Spring’s Agate is bigger now and thinks she is one of the big goats. Still, she loves to play and get into things with the other younger kids.

Before the present cold spell, I put the goats out during the day for a few hours. This lets the boys have the run of the barn lot and small pasture. It lets me clean out the barn, make repairs, do whatever is needed.

The herd is not impressed. The pastures have little to offer them. Drought has robbed them of the usual thick grasses. Winter has robbed them of browse.

I wanted to go out walking. The herd wanted someone to follow. I went down to the small gate into the pasture to find curious kids playing with something.

What was it these curious kids were playing with? It didn’t look like a fallen tree branch. They ignore the rocks scattered from when the new electric pole was put in.

The kids made me curious. I went out to take a look.

This was the last week of December. Deer don’t shed antlers until January. Except this year they are early. Still, I never find sheds.

sheds curious kids found

Antlers are very impressive when you hold them. They are heavy. The tines are sharp. The tines feel smooth. The base area is rough.

Thanks to those curious kids and a very large buck deer I’ve never seen, I now have a lovely matched set of ten point antlers.

Christmas Fern Polystichum acrostichoides

Lace and ferns seem to go together. Fern fronds like on the Christmas fern have such graceful arches, a great mound of green. I went around the curve of a hill and found a wrinkle where water runs after a big storm lined with large ferns. It became a favorite place to go just to admire these beautiful plants.


Polystichum acrostichoides Schott

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Dryopteridaceae

Christmas fern sori

Sporangia: A fertile leaflet has a double row of circular sori under it. These have 64 tiny ball-shaped spores under them. The spores well and turn brown as they mature turning the entire underside of the leaflet an orange brown.

Christmas fern leaf

Leaf: Each compound leaf has twenty to thirty pairs of leaflets arranged alternately. Each leaflet has a prominent ‘thumb’ sticking up near the petiole. A long, single leaflet tips the petiole. Each leaflet has forked veins and toothed edges. Many of the fronds have the usual leaflets half way up then have a series of smaller, more triangular leaflets. These are the fertile leaflets with sporangia under them.

Christmas fern petiole

Stem: Clumps of petioles come up from various places on the rhizome. Each green petiole is grooved. The base has hair-like brown scales which look like scattered hairs higher up. The petioles can be two to three feet long.

Christmas fern fiddlehead

Fiddlehead: These appear in early spring. They are light green, an inch across and covered with silvery scales that look like hairs. These turn brown as the frond unrolls past them.

Root: The perennial root is a rhizome.

Habitat: This plant prefers light shade and moist places. It is common on the slopes of ravines and wet weather water courses.


Christmas Fern

Christmas fern plant

In the fall Christmas Fern leaflets turn dark green, become shorter and lie flat on the ground. These fronds stay green all winter. They were gathered and used as Christmas decorations giving the fern its common name.

During the spring and summer, Christmas ferns are among the showiest Ozark ferns. They can form large linear colonies along fold on hillsides where rain water gathers. They line the slopes of ravines and higher sections of ravine floors. They like moist areas but not wet ones.

The ‘thumb’ on the leaflets is a definite identification when coupled with the thick, green petiole. Ebony Spleenwort also sports these ‘thumbs’ but has a thin, wiry petiole and is much smaller.

Christmas ferns are available commercially. They are easy to grow in the right places. They grow well in pots.

Finding Ferns In the Ozarks

Finding ferns in the Ozarks means leaving the lacy, arching sprays of fronds picture of ferns in the market. Some Ozark ferns look like that, but most don’t. Many are much smaller as well.

Ferns do have leaves. Familiar plants like spicebush have buds that split open and tiny leaves expand out of them. Ferns unroll their leaves from fiddleheads.

fern fiddlehead

Fiddleheads begin as tiny bumps. They seem to unroll as they grow taller. Tiny leaves expand as the fiddlehead unrolls past them until the entire frond is there looking much too big to fit into such a tiny package.

There are people who eat some kinds of these fiddleheads. They can make you feel ill, if you eat very many.

finding ferns walking ferns

Walking ferns use their leaf-like fronds to ‘walk’ new plants across the rocks. Look in damp places such as ravines or open hillsides of moist bluff rocks to find them.

Once fern leaves unroll, they look very different from one another. Walking ferns have triangular leaves with long tips that reach over to start new plants. Maidenhair ferns have leaflets like tiny fans. Grape ferns and bracken have a single lacy leaf. Christmas ferns look like small commercial ferns.

Most fern leaves have two parts. One is the stem or rachis. This can be covered with hairs, wide or narrow, cordlike or winged, green or red.

finding ferns Christmas ferns

Christmas ferns look much like the ferns people think of. Each of the leaflets on the fronds has a little thumb sticking up near the stem or rachis.

Leaflets attach to the rachis. These can be alternate or opposite. Some are simple and others lobed or even divided multiple times into fine lace.

Finding ferns means looking in different places. Many do prefer moister locations. Christmas ferns like the sides of ravines. Walking ferns like wet bluff rocks. Grape ferns prefer the floors of ravines.

finding ferns cut leaf grape fern

Three grape ferns call Missouri home. These have a single frond and a stalk topped with tiny ‘grapes’ that split to release spores. This is a cut leaf grape fern.

I have always liked ferns and have done my best to notice the various ferns around on my hills. The difficulty has always been to identify the various ones. Some are easy. A few have defied my attempts for years.

finding ferns maidenhair ferns

Maidenhair ferns have circular fronds. The dark,cord like stalk or rachis has a partial ring with compound fronds sticking straight out. Look for these in moist ravines and along streams and wet weather creeks in shady places.

Now I am trying my luck finding all the different kinds of ferns found in Dent County. According to Yatskievych’s Flora of Missouri, Volume 1, there are 22 known to occur here and 9 more possibles. So far I’ve found 9 of the known, 3 of the possibles and have 3 unknowns.

Droughts are hard on ferns. My holiday wish is for the drought to break. Even though few plants are actively growing over the winter, the soil would stockpile that water for next spring when I can renew my quest of finding ferns.

Winged Sumac Rhus copallinum

I suppose many people would chop down the winged sumac on the hill. We do now and then when it gets too tall and thick. But the hill there is too steep to do much else, the sumac is pretty especially in the fall and the praying mantises love it for laying their eggs. So the sumac stays.

Rhus copallinum L.

June to July                                                  N                                 Family: Anacardiaceae

winged sumac umbel

Flower: Branches end with terminal clusters of flowers forming a drooping cone. Each yellowish white flower is tiny, an eighth of an inch across with five petals and five stamens. The calyx under the flower has five triangular lobes that spread out.

winged sumac flowers

Leaf: The alternate leaves are compound with seven to twelve leaflets. The first pair of leaflets is the shortest and they get bigger as they go toward the tip and can reach three inches long. The center stem is winged. The edges are smooth. The leaves are not hairy.

winged sumac leaf

Stem: New stems are hairy. Older stems lose the hairs and become woody with a smooth gray bark dotted with lenticels or raised spots. The stems often branch forming leggy shrubs. Most are five to six feet tall, but can reach 20 feet.

winged sumac under leaf

Root: There is a perennial taproot and rhizomes.

winged sumac bark

Fruit: The single seeds have a red, fleshy coating and are hairy. The red darkens over the winter, if the seeds are not eaten.

winged sumac bud

Habitat: This plant likes sunny, drier areas such as prairies, old fields and roadsides.

winged sumac berries

Edibility: Fresh berries can be steeped. The tea must be filtered to remove the hairs.

winged sumac in summer

Winged Sumac

Dwarf Sumac, Shining Sumac

winged sumac in fall

Early in fall Winged Sumac turns brilliant, glowing scarlet. As it tends to form large colonies, this can be quite spectacular to see. Over the summer the colony is dark green.

There are several sumacs. This one is easy to identify by the winged stems joining the leaflets.

When the flowers open, the air hums from the many insects moving between the clusters. The flowers are too small to see unless you are very close. From a distance the cluster changes from green to off white. The flowers are very engaging to the insects as you can get close enough to examine the flowers without disturbing the busy plying of the bees, wasps, flies and beetles.

The tea from the berries has a slightly lemony taste. The tea is often called Indian Lemonade, although the Indians called it Quallah. It is good plain or sweetened. It does have to be filtered as the hairs are small and stiff and ruin the drink. A good measure is two cups of berries per quart of hot, not boiling, water. This can be adjusted to taste. Dried berries (not old berries off the bushes) can be used.

Enjoy more about the Ozarks in Exploring the Ozark Hills, a book of nature essays and photographs.

Thimbleweed Anemone virginiana

Thimbles are still around, but many people don’t know what they are now. Still, thimbleweed seed capsules don’t really look like my thimbles. They have so many little hooked beaks sticking out. That would never do in sewing as the material would snag.

Anemone virginiana L.

June to August                                                         N                     Family: Ranunculaceae

thimbleweed flower

Flower: Each stem has a single terminal flower. There are five greenish to white sepals and no petals spreading out to three quarters of an inch across. The sepals have a narrow base, flare out and taper to a shallowly lobed tip. There are three lobes. The edges curl upwards. The center of the flower is a mound of green pistils surrounded by a base of stamens.

thimbleweed side flower

Leaf: Most of the leaves are basal. A single whorl of two or three leaves occurs about half way up the stem. Each leaf is deeply lobed into two or three sections sometimes seeming to divide the leaf into leaflets. Each lobe has two or three shallow lobes. The edges have large, coarse teeth. The lobes and teeth have sharp points. The leaf is on a long petiole with scattered hairs.

thimbleweed leaf

Stem: A single stem or several grow up from the root to a height of one to two and a half feet. It is unbranched although second stems can go up from the single whorl of leaves. The stem is round, green with scattered hairs.

thimbleweed under leaf

Root: The perennial root is a rhizome.

thimbleweed stem

Fruit: The mound of pistils increases in size and can approach an inch long, half that wide. It is thimble-shaped and each pistil sticks out as a little beak. In fall the seed head becomes a mass of wooly hairs attached to the tiny seeds.

thimbleweed fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers light shade and good soil. It is drought tolerant, but prefers moister conditions. It grows along roads, in ravines, along streams and in open woods.

thimbleweed open fruit


thimbleweed plant

Although the basal leaves of the Thimbleweed are large and distinctive, the plant often goes unnoticed until the tall stems go up and the flowers open. The leaves are a study in threes: three leaves in a whorl, three large lobes per leaf, and three shallow lobes in each large lobe.

The flowers can be mistaken for no others. The flower sits atop the stem with white sepals spread wide. Since the stamens are long and numerous, they give the flower a bushy look.

For weeks after the sepals have fallen away, the thimble remains. It gains in size. For those who learned hand sewing, a thimble was essential to protect the index finger from the needle. The thimble of the Thimbleweed is the right size and shape.

In the fall the thimbles become a fluffy mass. This generally begins on one side of the thimble and spreads until the entire thimble breaks apart. The wind pulls the mass apart as separate seeds fly away.

This is an interesting plant and easy to grow once established. Several of them would make nice foci in a shady bed. The plants do like some open ground around them.

Long Leaf Bluet Houstonia longifolia

It’s easy to overlook the long leaf bluet flowers in the spring as they are small, the plants are small and delicate. Once spotted, that delicacy makes them easy to identify and worth watching for in other places.

Houstonia longifolia Gaertn.

April to July, rarely fall                             N                                 Family: Rubiaceae

Long Leaf Bluet flower

Flower: Irregular clusters of flowers branch out of stem tips. A few flowers open randomly at a time. Each flower has a stalk as long as the flower, about half an inch. The flower has a cup-shaped, green calyx with four teeth around the base. The flower is a half inch long tube that splits into four or five lobes that spread out flat a quarter inch across. This flower can be white to purplish pink and is covered with hairs. A flower may be a pistillate one having a pistil and shriveled stamens or have several stamens and a shriveled pistil.

Long Leaf Bluet side flower

Leaf: There can be a basal rosette, but this is usually gone before the plant blooms. Opposite leaves line the branches. More small branches of leaves come from the leaf axils. Each leaf is green, half to an inch long and less than a quarter inch wide.

Long Leaf Bluet leaf

Stem: Each crown puts up numerous stems. The stems are green with four angles, branches and can reach ten inches tall. The upper branches have terminal flower clusters.

Long Leaf Bluet under leaf

Root: The perennial root is a crown with fibrous roots.

Long Leaf Bluet stem

Fruit: The seed pod is a globular, two sided capsule with several seeds in each side. This turns brown and dries so the capsule splits to release the seeds.

Long Leaf Bluet fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers sunny, drier places and can be common in prairies, open woods, pastures and roadsides.


Long Leaf Bluet

Slender-leaved Bluet

Long Leaf bluet plant

Walking along this plant catches attention due to the number of flowers on it. Long Leaf Bluets are a leggy plants. Everything about them is slender, the leaves, the stems and the flowers.

The stem is less than an eighth of an inch in diameter. The leaves are about an eighth of an inch wide. The flowers are a quarter of an inch across. This leaves the plant looking delicate and leggy although it’s less than a foot tall.

The flowers usually look light pink to white. These show up well against the dark green leaves. The many clusters are full of buds so lots of flowers open each day.

Long Leaf Bluets are moving into rock gardens. They are easy to grow from seed and return bigger every year. They are not fussy about soil and don’t mind a bit of dryness.

New Jersey Tea Ceanothus americanus

This is one wildflower I overlook until I smell the flowers. This is strange as New Jersey Tea is a big plant. The ones I see are often overshadowed by surrounding, bigger plants and tend to spread wide instead of getting tall. it is a plant worth looking for.

Ceanothus americanus L.

May to November                                       N                                 Family: Rhamnaceae

New Jersey Tea flowers

Flower: Branch tips are surrounded by clusters of white flowers. Other clusters come from leaf nodes. Each flower is barely a quarter inch across with 5 sepals, 5 petals, 5 stamens and a pistil on a stalk, all white. The flowers are fragrant.

New Jersey Tea flower umbel

Leaf: Leaves line the stems and are mostly alternate, but can be opposite. Each leaf is egg-shaped on a short petiole. Three big veins go out from the leaf’s base. The tip is rounded. The leaf is dark green with scattered hairs on top and light green with prominent veins and short hairs on the bottom.

New Jersey Tea leaf

Stem: Multiple stems come up from the root. They branch and can reach three feet in height. The stems start out light green turning yellowish and becoming woody especially at the base as they get older. The younger stems are hairy.

New Jersey Tea under leaf

Root: This perennial has a taproot.

New Jersey Tea stem

Fruit: There are 3 seeds inside a three lobed pod. These turn brown and dry when ripe splitting open to eject the seeds forcefully enough to travel several feet.

New Jersey Tea Fruit

Habitat: This plant likes sunny places. these can be drier areas such as prairies, fields, roadsides and edges of woods.

Edibility: Many animals eat this plant. The leaves can be dried and used for tea. It has historical medicinal uses.


New Jersey Tea

Wild Snowball

New Jersey Tea plant

Walking along the rich, sweet scent of New Jersey Tea alerts the walker to the presence of the plant. It is easy to spot with its white flower clusters looking like a stockpile of snowballs waiting to be used.

Shortly before the revolutionary War, the colonists boycotted English tea. This was a popular beverage. The leaves from this plant were used as a substitute for tea giving it the common name of New Jersey Tea.

The plant can be fairly large, reaching three feet tall and as much or more side. The foliage is attractive. It does convert some nitrogen into useable form.

The flowers are present for several months although the clusters are fewer in number and look a little ragged as the season progresses. The seed pods are interesting to look at as the clusters of them are as big as the flower cluster they replace.

Once established, the plant increases in size each year. It is drought resistant.

Pale Leather Flower Clematis versicolor

Finding and photographing a Pale Leather Flower vine in bloom can be challenging. Finding is the easy part as it is fairly common in places it likes to grow. Photographing can be difficult as the vines are often mixed into other vines such as virgin’s bower, yellow passion flower, cat briar and wild yam.

Clematis versicolor Small ex Rydb

May to June                                                  N                                 Family: Ranunculaceae

pale leather flower side flower

Flower: The flower is on a long stalk from a leaf node. It is formed from four sepals fused together in an egg-shape with the large end attached to the stalk. The small end opens up with the ends of the sepals curling out and back. The upper end of the flower is purple. the lower end is white or greenish white. A mass of stamens is inside the flower surrounding several pistils.

Pale Leather Flower flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves have long petioles and can be single or compound with 3 to 5 leaflets. All leaves or leaflets have smooth edges. They form a long oval with a short, tapered, rounded tip. There is a midvein. The other veins form a net lighter in color than the dark green leaf. The underside is light green.

pale leather flower leaf

Stem: Young stems are green and twine around anything nearby. Older stems turn reddish and woody. The stems are ridged. The vines can be fifteen feet long and generally bunch up over another plant rather than running the entire length. The stems put out numerous branches.

pale leather flower under leaf

Root: The perennial root is a rhizome.

pale leather flower stem

Fruit: A ball of seed pods, each like a tall hat with an extra long peak, contains the seeds. These mature and break open the now dry pods to spread a long fluffy line out to get caught by the wind.

pale leather flower fruit

Habitat: This plant likes shady, moist places such as open, low woods and ravines as well as roadsides near these places.


Pale Leather Flower

Leather Flower

pale leather flower plant

Pale Leather Flower vines spread across low growing vegetation and fences. It’s rare for them to go up into trees. The vines can twine but often only sprawl.

The flowers are easy to spot on vines growing along the roads. A single vine can have dozens of flowers on it. The flowers are unusual in both shape and color compared to other plants growing nearby.

Pale Leather Flower is available commercially. The leaves are a nice shade of green. The vines would grow well on a trellis or wire fence. The flowers bob and dance in any breeze on their long stalks. The seed pod groups are interesting to look at.

Self Heal Prunella vulgaris

Looking down on a Self Heal flower head makes identification easy. No other plant has flowers with this lovely shade of lavender in this arrangement. Even better is the long blooming time so the pleasant experience of spotting one of these plants comes in many places many times over the summer.


Prunella vulgaris L.

May to September                                       N                                 Family: Lamiaceae

Self heal top flower

Flower: A terminal flower spike keeps lengthening to extend the blooming season. Whorls of calyxes with small bracts circle the spike. Each calyx cup can be green to reddish and has lines of hairs on the edges. Each hosts a single flower. The flower has an upper lavender lip forming a hood and a lower white, fringed lower lip with two small lavender side lobes. The outer part of the top hood has spiky hairs up the center.

Self Heal flower

Leaf: Opposite leaves are wedge shaped. The lower leaves are larger and have partially winged petioles. The upper leaves have short petioles and finally are sessile. Each leaf has blunt teeth along the edge and scattered very short hairs on top and underside.

Self Heal leaf

Stem: A single central stem can reach 12 inches. The stem has four sharp angles making it square. The angles can have lines of short hairs. The stem is usually green but can have reddish angles.

Self Heal under leaf

Root: The root is a short, perennial taproot. There are fibrous roots and short rhizomes.

Self heal stem

Fruit: Four seeds develop in each calyx cup.

Habitat: This plant likes low, moist areas such as ravine floors and stream banks. It favors disturbed areas like old fields and roadside ditches.

Edibility: This plant has a long history of medicinal use and has been shown to have both antibacterial and antiseptic qualities. The leaves can be eaten fresh or cooked or brewed as tea.


Self Heal

Heal All

Self heal plant

Self Heal is found in one variety or another almost world wide. It is a smaller plant I usually find along the creek bed. But other plants show up in many diverse places as long as they are near moisture.

Most often the plant is spotted because of the lavender hoods sticking out as seen from the top. Since the plant is rarely over a foot tall, the rest of the flower is visible only by getting down and looking.

Toward fall the up to six inch flower spikes have browned. A few flowers may still ring the top. The seeds are hidden down inside the brown cups.

There is an idea that the brown, stiff calyx cups act like springboards in the rain. A drop of rain hits the top pushing it down. When it rebounds, seeds are tossed out to land a short distance from the mother plant.

Virginia Knotweed Persicaria virginiana

When I first noticed Virginia Knotweed, I thought the flowers never opened very wide, but stayed as these half moon, white bits on a long, dark cord. The flowers are small and easy to ignore. One day I noticed a flower looked different and found this plant has lovely, small, white flowers.


Persicaria virginiana Gaertn.

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Polygonaceae

Virginia knotweed flower

Flower: White flowers are spaced out along the end of the stem which has thinned to form a tough cord. Each flower is small, a quarter of an inch across, with four petals, four stamens and two pistils. They open a few at a time in a generally base to tip order.

Virginia knotweed leaf

Leaf: Alternate leaves are dark green on top and lighter on the underside. The lower leaves have petioles that become shorter as the leaves are higher on the stem. The leaves are thick with a strong midvein, covered sparsely with short hairs. They have smooth edges and are broadest in the middle and taper to a sharp point.

Virginia knotweed under leaf

Stem: The green stems can reach four feet long, half of which is lined with flowers. They start growing up but the flowering portion arches over. Each leaf node is wrapped with a thin tissue surrounding the petiole base and the stem. This is tan and papery. It has several long bristles that stick up from the top lying along the stem. The stem and the rest of the ligule are covered with short hairs.

Virginia knotweed stem

Root: The perennial root puts out rhizomes producing clumps of plants.

Fruit: The flower closes to form a half moon, eighth of an inch long, dark brown seed capsule. The pistils persist turning stiff and hard with a curved tip making a beak.

Virginia knotweed seeds

Habitat: This plant likes growing in the shade in moister areas such as roadsides near ravines and ditches, stream banks, low woods and bluff bases.


Virginia Knotweed


Virginia knotweed plant

Virginia Knotweed is a late grower along the roads. Once it gets started, it forms masses of large leaves up to six inches long.

The long flower stalks are very thin, like dark, stiff string. The flowers look like little, white beaks scattered along its length. Since they have this shape both before and after blooming, an open flower can be a surprise.

The flowers are small, but a lovely, glistening white. They open for a day, then close.

Once the seeds form, the long stems show their usefulness. They move in any breeze, even that created by a passing creature. The seed beaks stab into fur or cloth. The seeds seem to jump off the stem to get carried off. This is the source of one common name.

The plant favors shady spots. It is difficult to photograph as the flower stems are so thin and the flowers so small. These disappear into the background unless it is a solid, dark one like a stump.

The plants grow from rhizomes so they tend to grow in colonies. The colonies get larger each year as the roots are perennial. This can leave an area thick with the plants shading out other wildflowers and grasses, although taller plants like goldenrod grow up through them.

Yellow Giant Hyssop Agastache nepetoides

Yellow Giant Hyssop is a strange looking plant. I noticed it as a tall candelabra scaffold of branches tipped with bottle brushes. This second year of looking at it is bringing out the skeletal beauty of the plants.

Agastache nepetoides Kuntze

July to September                                       N                                 Family: Lamiaceae

Yellow Giant Hyssop flower

Flower: Each branch is tipped with a flower spike. The individual flowers have green cup, 5 pointed lobed calyxes. They are in dense whorls on the spike. A few flowers open each day seemingly at random. The flower is tubular, less than half an inch long with rounded lobes at the end. Two lobes are on top. two lobes are on the sides. A single wider lobe forms a lower lip. The flower is listed as yellow but is usually creamy white, turning yellowish as it ages. there are four stamens and a pistil split at the end.

Yellow Giant Hyssop flower spike

Leaf: Leaves are opposite with long, up to two inches, grooved petioles. The leaves are twice as long, up to 6 inches, as wide with coarsely toothed edges. The leaf top is green with indented main veins. The under side is light green and covered with short hairs.

Yellow Giant Hyssop leaf

Stem: One main stem can reach 7 feet tall. A few branches go off oppositely from about half way up the stem. All the branch stems arch out then straight up. The stems are square, have four sharp angles, are light green, feel scratchy and are stiff.

Yellow Giant Hyssop under leaf

Root: The perennial root is fibrous with rhizomes.

Yellow Giant Hyssop stem

Fruit: Four seeds develop in the base of each calyx. they turn deep brown when ripe.

Yellow Giant Hyssop seeds

Habitat: This plant likes light shade and good soil with adequate moisture. It grows in open woods, along streams and roads.


Yellow Giant Hyssop

Yellow Giant Hyssop plant

Yellow Giant Hyssop might seem hard to miss because it is so tall. It is easy to overlook because the plants are so open. The flower spikes are long but only a few flowers, all short, open at a time so the spikes can appear to be thick branch tips. The color of Yellow Giant Hyssop is a medium green that blends into a background often much more colorful with brown-eyed Susans or boneset or white snakeroot.

Once noticed, Yellow Giant Hyssop catches the eye every time it is in the vicinity. As there are rhizomes, established plants can be part of small colonies.

The stems feel hard and stiff. They are brittle. The branches snap off the main stem, if pulled down a short ways. The main stem can be snapped off by the wind and the remaining part will send up a new main stem and branches.

I see these plants most commonly along the roadside. They can grow in open areas as overgrown pastures but are more common under trees along ditches.

Spearmint Mentha spicata

So many items come with spearmint flavoring: gums, mouthwash, chewing tobacco, candy and more. All this flavoring comes from a plant that now grows worldwide, first as a crop, then as a naturalized citizen.

It’s fun to come across this plant and easy to identify it due to the smell. You can chew on a leaf, but beware it’s potency.

Mentha spicata L.

June to October                                           I                                   Family: Lamiaceae

spearmint flower

Flower: Flowers occur in spikes at the ends of branches. These spikes can reach several inches in length. The individual flowers are in whorls around the spike. Each white, pink or lavender flower is tube-shaped with five lobes at the open end and a five l pointed lobed calyx around the base. Four stamens are spaced around and lie along the tube. A single pistil with a split tip sticks out of the center of some of the flowers.

spearmint umbel

Leaf: Opposite, sessile leaves have numerous teeth with their pointed tips bent toward the leaf tip. The leaves are longer than wide, darker green on top than underneath and have indented veins giving them a wrinkled look. The tops have no hairs although there may be a line of hairs along the midvein on the under side. Whole or crushed the leaves have a strong, minty odor.

spearmint leaf

Stem: The green stems have four angles and are squared. They often lie prostrate but can grow erect up to two feet tall. There are usually no hairs on the stems. Every leaf node can put out roots.

spearmint under leaf

Root: The perennial root is fibrous with rhizomes.

spearmint stem

Fruit: The plant spreads vegetatively through rhizomes and rooting at leaf nodes. Some of the flowers do produce seeds with four tucked into the calyx of the flower.

Habitat: This plant prefers growing in shallow water in full sun along stream banks, springs and ponds.

Edibility: Spearmint is used as a flavoring in many foods and medicines. The leaves can be used for and in tea.


spearmint plant

Spearmint is smelled before it is seen. The minty odor surrounds the patch and crushing the leaves increases it many times.

Much of the time Spearmint grows low to the ground, less than a foot high. It likes to grow in four or five inches of water. The plants grow so densely, few other plants grow in the area covered.

When conditions are favorable, Spearmint spreads aggressively. Most of the spread is due to rooting at the leaf nodes. The rhizomes can grow out a foot or more putting up new branches every few inches. Since the rhizomes are below the ground a little, they withstand drought and cold weather.

Spearmint is used for various foods such as mint jelly or in mint icing. The leaves make a strong tea. The crushed leaves are supposed to have an antiseptic effect. The tea is used to soothe the stomach.

A leaf can be picked and chewed on. The intensity builds quickly spreading around the mouth. It soon is like a strong mouthwash.

Too much of the juice can be toxic.

Dodder Cuscuta ssp

Although Dodder vines grow throughout the spring and summer, they are most noticeable in late summer into fall. The yellow or orange vines draped over other plants in sometimes thick blankets is eye catching. The long, thin, waxy stems do earn their common name of witch’s hair.


Cuscuta ssp

June to October                                           N                                 Family: Convolvulaceae

dodder flower

Flower: Groups of flowers open along the stems throughout the blooming time. The flowers can be insect pollinated or will self pollinate. The flowers are white. They have three to five sharply pointed corolla lobes, depending on the species. These lobes can curve inward or flare slightly.

dodder side flower

Leaf: If rudimentary leaves are present, they are alternate. Any leaves present are reduced to flaps. They have the same color and look as the stem, containing no chlorophyll and are incapable of photosynthesis.

dodder stem twining

Stem: Annual, thin, white to yellow to orange, waxy stems twine around and sprawl across host plants. Periodically hastoria or suckers pierce the host plant stem to divert sap into the dodder stem. Stems can be several feet in length.

dodder stem suckers

Root: The seed puts out a root which withers away when the stem finds a host plant or a few days pass even if no host plant has been found.

Dodder fruit

Fruit: The seed capsules are globular and turn brown at maturity. The seeds can be spread by wind or water.

rope dodder fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers full sun and moist areas but will grow wherever host plants grow. Each dodder species can parasitize more than one species of plant.

dodder plants blanketing host plants


Field, Buttonbush, Compact, Rope, Common, Pretty,

Smartweed, Hazel, Cusp, Witch’s Hair

dodder plant on sedges

All Dodders are parasitic producing no chlorophyll themselves. If the germinating sprout doesn’t find a host plant within a day or so, it will die.

Dodder vines are like long, thin spaghetti with a waxy coating. Different species vary in color but fall in the white to yellow to orange range. The mass of such color can be striking.

Some of the Dodders can be identified in the field. Rope Dodder forms thick coils of stems, flowers and seed capsules. Buttonbush Dodder has four lobes in its flower. Most require careful study of the flowers under magnification so they are treated as a group here.

The different Dodders may have a preferred host plant but are not confined to that one plant. That makes identification by the host plant unreliable.

Dodder can overwhelm the host plants and kill them.

Giant Ragweed Ambrosia trifida

Every year I watch the giant ragweed start to grow. It lines the road. It surrounds the barn. It fills the barn lot and adjacent pasture. Its population gains every year.

The pollen spikes start growing. They get six to ten inches tall lined with green balls. When the green balls open, releasing pollen into the air, the boxes of tissues get set out around the house.

By mid September the spikes are only brown stalks. The pollen is gone for the year. Now the seeds scatter across the ground promising a new, bigger crop of giant ragweed next year.


Ambrosia trifida L.

July to September                                       N                                 Family: asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Heliantheae

giant ragweed male flowers

Male flowers

Flower: There are separate male and female flowers. The male flowers are in hanging bundles on a spire. One main and several auxiliary spires can come from the tips of each branch. The female flowers are tucked into swirls of bracts at the base of the spires. The flowers are wind pollinated.

giant ragweed female flowers

Two female flowers

Leaf: Opposite leaves are rough, green on the upper side, slightly paler on the under side and covered with very short hairs. Many of the leaves have three lobes but can have five or none. Main veins run out each lobe. The leaves have long petioles that can be winged. each leaf can reach twelve inches long and eight inches wide.

giant ragweed under leaf

Stem: The thick, ridged stem can reach 12 feet in height. It has branches. The stems are light green, rough to the touch, stiff, hollow and have lines of short hairs. The bases of tall stems thicken, become woody and can be three inches in diameter.

giant ragweed leaf

Root: The annual roots are fibrous around a taproot.

giant ragweed stem

Fruit: The seed is tan with an ovate base. the top has a main rounded spike surrounded by a ring of lower, rounded lobes.

giant ragweed fruit

Habitat: This plant prefers full sun, good soil and moisture. It is not particular and grows in a wide variety of places especially disturbed ground and pastures.

Edibility: Cattle, goats and deer eat giant ragweed. The seeds have a tough coat but can be eaten.


Giant Ragweed

Great Ragweed, Horseweed, Buffalo Weed

giant ragweed plant

Giant Ragweed is considered a noxious weed in some states. it does tend to form dense colonies once established in an area. It is the most abundant ragweed.

The plants are annuals and produce lots of seeds. These germinate in mid to late spring. The seedlings grow rapidly often in dense stands, many of which die from the competition.

Although, under ideal conditions, Giant Ragweed can to 12 feet with stalks three inches in diameter, tough enough to require a saw to cut them, many times the plants are cut or grazed or mowed off. The plants then put out new branches quickly reaching two to three feet and blooming. Even six inch plants will put up single spires.

As are other ragweeds, Giant Ragweed is wind pollinated. Each plant produces tremendous amounts of pollen. This is a major cause of hayfever in late summer.

Bees still visit Giant Ragweed male flowers to gather pollen. They may knock some pollen down on the female flowers, but do not visit them. They leave the pollen spikes heavily laden.

Archeologists find caches of Giant Ragweed seeds at various sites. The seeds are tough but do contain edible oils. Few birds can eat them due to the tough shells.

Spreading Aster Symphyotrichum patens

When blue daisies like the spreading aster begin to bloom, fall is close behind. This aster is common along the roads now along with Drummond’s Aster, Azure Aster and New England Aster.


Symphyotrichum patens G.L. Nesom

August to October                                       N                                 Family: Asteraceae

                                                                                                            Tribe: Astereae

spreading aster flower

Flower: Flower stalks grow out of leaf nodes. They can branch and tend to be long and slender. Each one has a single flower head at the end. The cup holding the flower has numerous, small, pointed, hairy, green bracts with purple tips. These lie smoothly but make a jagged top of the cup. Sticking out of the cup are 15 to 20 rays lying flat and making a flower head almost two inches across. The rays are blue to purplish blue and often lighter on the first half and deeply colored on the outer half. The central disk flowers are yellow.

spreading aster side flower

Leaf: Only stem leaves are present when the plant blooms. These alternate leaves are sessile and have two projections that clasp the stem and a tapered, slightly rounded tip. The edges have no teeth or lobes. Both top and bottom are covered with short hairs which go around the leaf edges too.

spreading aster leaf

Stem: The branched stems can reach four feet. They attempt to grow upward, but usually curve down toward the ground. The green stems are hairy.

spreading aster under leaf

Root: The perennial root is both rhizomes and thickened fibrous roots.

spreading aster stem

Fruit: The seeds are purplish brown footballs.

spreading aster seeds

Habitat: This plant likes full to partial sun growing in pastures, open woods, glades, prairies and along roads.


Spreading Aster

Purple Daisy

spreading aster plant

There are several blue to purplish blue daisies blooming in late summer into fall. Spreading Aster can be identified by the leaves clasping the stems and the hairiness of the stems.

These blue asters are among the first blue aster to bloom along the roads. The two to three foot long stems arch over the ground with several long flower stalks sticking out. the flowers open one or two then several at a time.

Smaller butterflies such as buckeyes, red admirals and skippers visit the flowers.

Once the flowers are pollinated, the rays wither. The seeds develop and brown with the threads sticking out of the enclosing cup. There can be buds to blooms to seeds on the same plant at the same time.

Although small, the flowers are delicately pretty. The plants are fairly drought tolerant. Seeds are available from a variety of sources.