Thursday, October 30, 2014

Balloon Vine

Balloon Vine, Cardiospermum corindum
Balloon vine, also known as Heartseed and Love in a Puff, is a continually blooming climbing vine with inflated capsules full of seeds and air giving it its common name. The species Cardiospermum corindum is considered an invasive species with possible exception to a subspecies in southern Florida. It is currently reported to be found in Texas, Florida, and Arizona. Its range includes parts of South America, Central America, Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands; however, it can be found in a number of other countries including India and the Galápagos, and there is debate on its native status in Africa. Some of the movement has been purposeful as medicinal and horticultural species while some movement can also be attributed to weather phenomenons such as El Niño.

Tangles of balloon vine found on the edge of a patch of prairie.
Of the Cardiospermum species, the most widespread distributed species are Cardiospermum corindumC. grandiflorum, and C. halicacabum which has resulted in their native statuses being highly debated. Current research points to C. corindum as possibly being native to both South America and southern Africa. As for its ecological role, balloon vine may play an important part in the life cycle of the endangered Miami blue butterfly. It may also be medicinally important in parts of Africa where the powdered dry roots are boiled and consumed for stomach pains, snake bites, and chronic body discomfort.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Wolf Spiders

Wolf Spider, Tigrosa spp.
With the exception of Antarctica, wolf spiders can be found on all continents of the world. There are over 200 species in North America alone. The females within this family spin a spherical egg sac which is then attached to her spinnerets. She drags the sac around until the spiderlings emerge which are then carried on the mother's back until they are ready to disperse. They do not spin webs with the exception of one genus. They mostly hunt at night, and like wolves, they hunt their prey on the move.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Aromatic Aster

Leaf-cutter Bee, Megachile spp. on Aromatic aster, Symphyotrichum oblongifolium
A native perennial autumn wildflower, aromatic aster can be found throughout a large portion of central and eastern North America. Other common names include fall aster, wild blue aster, and shale aster. These flowers reach about 50 cm (20 in) in height and bloom mounds of many-petaled purple flowers with an aromatic center. While often found in prairies, they are also common along disturbed sites. Aromatic aster tolerates dry, wet, clay, rocky, and well-drained soils as well as sun or partial shade. A number of pollinators are attracted to aromatic aster including various bees, butterflies, skippers, and beetles. The seeds are consumed by upland game birds and the leaves are occasional browse for a variety of mammals.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Sensitive Briar

Sensitive Briar, Mimosa spp. (likely Mimosa nuttallii).
Sensitive briar is a common name given to a number of Mimosa spp. with leaves that respond to touch. Generally, these plants have puffed, pink fragrant flowers on a woody, thorned vine. Most are commonly seen during summer, but a few species appear during the fall. As a member of the legume family, Fabaceae, their fruits are flattened pods similar to its pea relatives. The characteristic movement of the leaflets of sensitive briar is known as thigmonastic movement. A structure called the pulvinus is located at the base of each leaflet which can control water pressure. When touched, that pressure is lost causing the leaflets to collapse. Thigmonastic movement is believed to be a deterrent to herbivores as the leaves become hard to reach and the prickles and thorns are exposed.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Ongoing internet difficulties not completely resolved. I will hopefully be up and running again on Thursday. Sorry for any inconvenience!

Update: Unfortunately still having issues. I am going to work to resolve this over the weekend and hopefully have a post up and running next week. Thank you for your patience!

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Great Ragweed

Great Ragweed, Ambrosia trifida
Great ragweed is a native annual that can be found throughout most of North America. Also known as giant ragweed, it is the tallest of the ragweeds and can reach between 1 m (3.2 ft) and 4.3 m (14 ft) in height. The large leaves are opposite and contain lobes to help distinguish it from other plants. Commonly found on roadsides, in old fields, and in poorly drained waste areas, great ragweed is decently adaptive. It can tolerate drier conditions, but significant drought damages ragweed.

Goldenrod (Left) is often confused with Ragweed (Right)
 As with other ragweeds, giant ragweed depends on wind pollination. In addition to often being considered a weed as it grows where it is unwelcome, ragweed is a bane to many allergy sufferers; however, it once placed an important role in the survival of Native tribes. The nutritious seeds, which contain about 19% edible oil, were a main grain to many tribes. Archaeological evidence links cultivation of the species in the central Mississippi Valley before introduction of maize. Although the ancient grain has fallen out of favor, the leaves remain of interest as an astringent.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014


Goldenrod, Solidago spp.
A common fall wildflower, goldenrods can be found throughout North America. Of the over 100 species of goldenrod, about 50 species are located in North America. Each species, while similar in appearance, varies in height and habitat. Some are as tall as 1.8 m (6 ft) while other species hardly reach 30 cm (1 ft). A number of species can be found within prairies, but others prefer sandy soil, marshes, and bogs. Goldenrods are an important pollinator plant with bees, wasps, butterflies, moths, and flies relying on them for pollen while other insects reply on them for other needs as well. In the past, goldenrod has been used for medicinal purposes including treating tuberculosis, diabetes, arthritis, and gout. One particular species, Sweet Goldenrod, Solidago odora, was exported for licorice flavored tea in the nineteenth century and was the tea of choice for American Revolutionists.

More information on the historic role of goldenrod will come on my Sunday Google+ post.
Update: Post with additional information on Sweet Golden rod can be found here at the G+ post.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Filmy Dome Spider

♀ Filmy Dome Spider, Neriene radiata (Ventral)
The filmy dome spider is a small spider reaching a size up to 6.5 mm (0.26 in) for females and up to 5.3 mm (0.21 in) for males. It can be found in the eastern and central portion of the United States as well as parts of Europe. The filmy dome spider, Neriene radiata, matures faster than other dome spiders. One generation completes in less than a year with the immatures overwintering in their respective habitats. The eggs laid before winter do not hatch until spring. These eggs are fewer in number, but heavier than the eggs that are laid and hatch during the warmer months.

♀ Filmy Dome Spider, Neriene radiata (Dorsal)
Sheet weaver spiders create a sheet of web in a space between vegetation. There are often two sheets of webbing with the spider between it awaiting prey, but the filmy dome spider weaves a single sheet of webbing with loose tangles of silk above the sheet. Insects hit the loose threads and fall into the domed sheet below for the spider to capture. Though the technique works well for foraging, it does not prevent kleptoparasitism. Some spiders species such as Argyrodes trigonum will usurp the webs of dome spiders. The accidental introduction of the Palearctic spiderLinyphia triangularis, in North America also poises as a potential threat to sheet weavers due to kleptoparasitism.