Archive for the ‘Natural History’ category

Japanese Knotweed Male and Female Plants

September 9, 2013

by Steve Young

Today I accompanied Dr. Carl George from Union College into the field to look at the differences between male and female plants of Japanese knotweed, Fallopia japonica. Our first stop was an area in Glenville with multiple clones of the plants, one of them female and the others male.  What are the distinguishing characters?  Male plants have erect inflorescences with bright white flowers and bigger leaves. These characters can be seen driving by in a car. The female plants are usually smaller with erect and drooping flower branches which are not as bright, probably due to the winged tepals and darker ovaries not present in the male plants. The male plants have flowers with five white petals that are spreading outward. They have long white stamens that are longer than the petals and we did not see any pollen in the open anthers.  At the base of the flowers are tiny ovaries.  The female plants have large ovaries topped by a three-parted stigma and small staminodes at the base.  The five tepals are open when flowering starts and eventually three of them form large wings around the fruit.  The remaining two tepals remain small in size, become erect and, hidden by the wings, they enclose the fruit.  Today we saw four different populations of male plants, some of them large, but most of the plants we saw in the area were female.  This is a good time of year to distinguish the two sexes so take time to look at the clones in your area and see if you can distinguish them.


Here you can see the male plants on the right and the female plants on the left of a clone of sumac.


Notice the large size of the male clone with the erect bright white flowers.  Carl George examines the flowers.


The male plants also had larger leaves than the female plants.

photo 1

Notice how the female inflorescences also have drooping branches.


Here are young female flowers with five tepals about the same size and older flowers with three of the sepals developed into the wings that surround the fruit.

photo 3

Here are the upright male flowers with the long stamens sticking out.


The hollow stems have a groove above the branches and they arise in a spiral fashion up the stem.


A large male clone can be seen along a road in Pattersonville.  The erect inflorescences are easily recognized. Even though they are swarming with honey bees, Dr. George found there is no pollen reward and their pollen sacs are empty.

photo 4

Here is another male plant in downtown Albany not far from a stand of female plants.

Fallopia japonica Edwards east male (1)

The male plants are still easily distinguished in late September after the flowers fall because the upright branches remain while the female plants are still laden with white female flowers and fruits.


Video: Learn About the North American Orchid Conservation Center

December 10, 2012

The video is four minutes long.  Great things on the horizon to protect our native orchids.


Northeast Natural History Conference 2012 a Success

April 19, 2012

There were many interesting student and professional talks and posters at this year’s conference. The venue had rooms close together which made switching from one to the other easy, especially since we didn’t have to walk in from the front.The biggest challenge was the PowerPoint clicker ergonomics when speakers hit the forward button when they wanted to hit the laser pointer button.  When will projector companies ever figure that out?

For a list of the oral abstracts from the conference CLICK HERE.

For a list of the poster abstracts CLICK HERE.

NYFA judged the speakers for best poster, best student presentation and best overall presentation.  We will announce them on an upcoming post.  We look forward to 2013! – Steve Young.

The poster session and refreshment table.

New Phenology Apps Help Track Bloom Times and Global Warming

April 9, 2012

One way to track the change in climate is to record bloom times of plants over the years.  There are three Smartphone apps that allow you to do this.  One is called PhenoMap and it allows users to collect data using Flickr accounts.  Another is called Natures Notebook and it allows users to record plant and animal life cycle events like migrations and plant phenology.  You first have to register with the National Phenology Network. It is also available for Android phones. The third one is called Project BudBurst for Android (iPhone coming soon they say) and it also includes a game called Floracaching which is like geocaching but with plants! I would be interested if anyone plays this game and how it turns out. – Steve Young

A screenshot from the Floracaching website.

Publication: An Introduction to Our Native Bees

September 12, 2011

CLICK HERE to see an excellent and beautiful publication on the identification and natural history of our native bees. For those of you focusing on the pollinators as well as the flowers, this publication will help you understand the diversity and behavior of our native bees.

Staten Island Greenbelt Video. A Refuge for New York Flora.

August 25, 2011

This video presents the history of the Greenbelt and its importance on Staten Island. The Greenbelt is a refuge for many New York State rare plants. It provides an environment for plant enthusiast to observe many species on the extreme southern edge of our flora that aren’t seen elsewhere in the state. This video is included in a series of nature videos available on the website of the Protectors of Pine Oak Woods. CLICK HERE to see the videos. – Steve Young

Photo Show: Every Tree Tells a Story

May 2, 2011

The Cultural Landscape Foundation presents: Every Tree Tells a Story featuring extraordinary trees and tree groupings at twelve sites around the country and Puerto Rico. The show includes a history of the elms of East Hampton, New York.  For the website CLICK HERE.

Help Record Plant Phenology in New York With Project Bud Break

March 15, 2011

Now that plants are starting to flower (I have gotten reports of skunk cabbage and pussy willow) you can help record this natural phenomenon by using the New York-based website Project Bud Break. According to the website it is associated with a national effort, a network of citizen scientists that is being established in New York to observe the timing of flowering, leaf development, fruiting, and leaf drop in populations of common native trees and herbaceous species. This site will help observers to enter their data on the timing of important plant events through the growing season. Through time they can see the effects of climate change by observing the fluctuations in phenology of our native plants. To register for the site CLICK HERE.

Help record the flowering and fruiting of trees like the silver maple pictured here.

The History of High School Botany Education in America

March 8, 2011

Margaret Conover, a botanist from SUNY Stony Brook, has written an interesting overview of how botany has been taught in American high schools from 1800 to the present.  She states that just over 100 years ago nearly all high-school students studied botany for a full year and emphasis was placed on identifying local flora.

Later, the “Golden Age of Botany Teaching” and the nature study movement of the early 1900s had students studying all aspects of plants in nature. The state Board of Regents even had a botany exam (which you can take yourself on page 4 of her article).What happened to this emphasis on botany in high schools? Read her article and you will find out why it is so different today.  Why a student who omits the answer to every plant related question on the Living Environments Regents Exam could still receive a passing grade of 80% and what the forces are that have led to the decline of botany as a subject in high school.

She ends with a note of hope that people are working to cure the “plant blindness” that pervades high-school biology education. To read the full article from the Long Island Botanical Society newsletter CLICK HERE.

Marielle Anzelone teaches high schoolers about plants in the Bronx. Photo

An Ode to Naturalists and Their Discoveries

March 3, 2011

A recent New York Times article by Richard Conniff entitled “How Species Save Our Lives” heaps praise on naturalists and their discovery of species that have provided the many health benefits that we enjoy today.  I like his comments, “Were it not for the work of naturalists, you and I would probably be dead.  Or if alive, we would be far likelier to be crippled, in pain, or otherwise incapacitated.” And “When the new wave of emerging diseases comes washing up on our doorsteps, we may find ourselves asking two questions:  Where are the naturalists to help us sort out the causes and cures?  And where are the species that might once have saved us?”

He presents a good, and much used, reason why we must continue to explore the natural world and save species.   I also like his suggestion #7: “Learn to identify 10 species of plants and animals in your own neighborhood, then 20, and onward.” NYFA can help with that! To read the entire article CLICK HERE. You can also see his blog about species at The Species Seekers.

Learning about species at