Yesterday, ERA staff spent part of the sunny fall afternoon outside cleaning up trash and debris along the DuPage River in Naperville as part of The Conservation Foundation's Adopt-A-Stream program. This was our second clean-up in 2021 and we collected about 5 bags of trash from the area! To learn more about the Adopt-A-Stream program and clean-up events in your area, visit: https://bit.ly/3m4X59k
This week’s plant of the week is American Bladdernut, or Staphylea trifolia!
This interesting shrub is native to Illinois. It can be found in moist woodland habitats under a canopy of Oak, Sycamore, Maple, Birch, or Linden. Easily identifiable by the unusual three-sided seed pods, bladdernut also features interesting flowers arranged in drooping white clusters that are visited by a wide variety of pollen and nectar seeking insects, including honeybees and bumblebees. The seeds are also reported to be edible with a flavor profile much like that of walnuts—they can be eaten raw or cooked.
American Bladdernut can be utilized in landscaping as well! This fast-growing shrub would do well in a woodland planting as a screening shrub, where it is protected from direct sun and heat and where the soil remains moist but not wet. Bringing spring interest with its flowers and pollinator benefits, summer interest with unique trifoliate leaves, and fall/winter interest through the fascinating seed capsules, this plant is sure to be a great addition to your home landscape.
This week’s plant of the week is Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata).
The Shagbark Hickory is one of the few pioneer species known to colonize prairie grasslands in the early stages of forestation. An interesting tree that at maturity can reach over 100 feet tall, have a diameter greater than 25 inches across and live for over 300 years, Shagbark Hickory is almost immediately identifiable by its namesake bark that appears to be peeling like the outer skin of a banana.
Shagbark Hickory, in tandem with Oak trees, is part of what defines the northeastern region of Illinois as savanna. A savanna is what is known in ecology as an ecotone, a bridge between two greater ecosystems. In this case, that would be the bridge between a prairie grassland and a forest. A savanna is considered to be grassland that has tree cover, but still gets enough sunlight that penetrates to ground level. While Oak trees are the primary tree in savannas, regionally identified as Midwest Oak Savannas, Hickory Trees play a vital role.
Some traits of the Shagbark include being resistant to wildfire, tolerance of harsh exposure, and the ability to reach great heights above many of the under-canopy trees, such as redbuds, to which they provide the necessary cover during young growth. Shagbarks also provide nesting areas for the state and federally endangered Northern Long-Eared Bats, which are small enough to rest under the peeling sheets of bark during daylight hours. Other notable uses for the Shagbark Hickory include the nuts as a food source and the wood that is highly sought after by carpenters and builders for its hard density and tall, straight growth habit needed for large framing beams. This also lent to the nickname of ‘Old Hickory’ being given to former President Andrew Jackson, as he was known to be a tough, determined man, “as firmly rooted as a hickory tree".
This week’s plant is Physostegia virginiana, commonly known as false dragonhead or obedient plant.
This attractive native member of the mint family is right at home in landscaping beds where they get a lot of sun and moisture. It is also particularly well suited to rain gardens. The common name ‘obedient plant’ comes from an unusual trait that leaves the flower in whichever direction you point it towards. Alternatively, this plant slightly resembles another landscape plant, the dragonhead or snapdragon, leading to the other common name, ‘false dragonhead’. If you are planting an obedient plant in a landscape setting, be sure to give it lots of space as it tends to spread quickly when planted in a favorable site.
Aside from the playful flowers, attractive growth habits, and usefulness in the garden, one fascinating feature about this plant is the reproductive structures located inside the flower itself. When people visualize a flower, they tend to picture the pollen-producing organs in the center where a bee may land to collect food for the hive, typical of the compound flowers of the aster and sunflower family. The Obedient Plant, however, has other ideas. The male reproductive organs (anthers) and the female organ (stigma) are located on the top of the flower directly above a central lobed petal that acts as a landing pad for bees, moths, or other pollinators seeking pollen or nectar. Instead of being rewarded with pollen at the rear of the flower as is typical of many flowering plants, pollinators are rewarded with a sort of 'pat on the back' as the anthers dip down and deposit pollen on the back of its visitor while they crawl to the back of the tube-shaped flower seeking nectar. This ensures pollen is not gathered as a resource and will be accurately deposited on the stigma of the next obedient plant the pollinator visits.
Next time you visit a municipal park or see a rain garden, keep an eye out for these interesting plants and see if you can spot pollinators crawling in and out of the little tubular flowers!
This week we are returning to Organism of the Week. To celebrate the onset of the fall mushroom season, we are highlighting the Upright Coral Fungus, Ramaria stricta.
This fascinating-looking fungus is present throughout North America, where it feeds on dead trees of both coniferous and deciduous varieties. The fungus will digest the rotting wood until enough nutrients are available to produce a fruiting body. This fruiting body is what many people associate with mushrooms, even though most of the organism’s mass is hidden away as white silky threads known as mycelium. In fact, many fungi do not produce visible fruiting bodies; this has led to much debate over how many species of fungi may be out in the world waiting to be discovered.
Upright Coral Fungus is easily identified by its coral-like appearance - almost as if it were meant to grow alongside tropical fish in the crystal-clear waters of a hot sandy beach. The species name stricta refers to the tight upright and strict branching habit observed in this species. When young, the fungus appears as a light tan color but over time will harden and turn a darker brown and will have a slight orange tinge if grown on coniferous trees. The unique shape of this fruiting body increases the surface area of the spore-producing organs to best increase the chances of reproduction by increasing the number of spores produced at a time.
This fungus is not edible as it has an unpleasant odor and bitter taste. There is still much enjoyment to be gained from observing this species in the wild, where it is a welcome sight on trail walks.
Engineering Resource Associates, Inc. (ERA) is a consulting firm providing civil engineering, structural engineering, environmental science, and surveying.