The Tiniest Azalea

Alpine-azalea ( Kalmia   procumbens ) in fruit.

Alpine-azalea (Kalmia procumbens) in fruit.

One of the highlights of the botanical finds I had during this past trip to Newfoundland was the Alpine-azalea (Kalmia procumbens). This small shrub is a member of the Ericaceae that forms a cushion-like mound about 10 centimeters (4 inches) tall. Inhabiting northern, alpine regions around the world, it has tiny pink flowers tucked in between the leathery, opposite leaves. Like many of the plants I had wanted to see, I had missed this species in flower, but the fruits were just as cool. 

The compact growth form is known in botanical circles as a "cushion plant" growth form is found in alpine habitats across the world and across a number of plant families. These are actually masses of individual stems that grow very slowly and at the same rate so one stem is not more exposed than then another. This allows the plants to survive cold and harsh climates. Additionally, its tough leaf cuticles protect it from the cold winds that can dessicate the plants.

More details about this species can be found on Go Botany.  

Habitat for alpine azalea at Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve.

Habitat for alpine azalea at Mistaken Point Ecological Reserve.

An Unexpected Discovery

This past weekend, I spent some time volunteering on an ecological restoration project just south of Pittsburgh, PA. The goal of this project is to create habitat for forest birds through the removal of invasive shrubs such as Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii) and multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) and to replace them with native shrubs. During the work, I happened to glance down and a unique leaf happened to catch my eye--the leaf of the Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia discolor)!

This particular site is fairly degraded and it was quite the surprise to find one growing here. I searched around some more and only found this one plant. There was a second leaf next to this one that had been ripped off--perhaps from trampling by one of the volunteers. This species is considered a watchlist species in Pennsylvania and one that we currently track through the Pennsylvania Natural Heritage Program. 

The In Defense of Plants blog has a great post about the ecology and pollination biology of the species.

Nelle Ammons

A quick little post for International Women's Day. My coworker Scott Schuette and I were recently working on a checklist of the mosses of Erie County, PA and a number of the specimens we included were from a women named Nelle Ammons who worked in the region in the first half of the 1900s. I've become fairly fascinated with her and have spent some of my spare time researching her story. There's terribly little biographical information written about her and most of what I found was in the History of Botany in West Virginia book, coincidentally written by spouse's great-uncle.

Nelle was born on 1889 in Greene County, PA and did undergraduate and master's work at WVU and then got her PhD from Pitt. She then ended up as an instructor at WVU and spent nearly 40 years there retiring as a botany professor in 1959. She did a pretty amazing amount of botany work in the region and authored a number of papers and books.  I hope to dig more into her background in the near future.

Back to Basics: Sedge Workshop

A few weeks ago I attended the 3rd bi-annual (biennial???) Pennsylvania Botany Symposium, an event organized by a number of my colleagues. The first day of the event consisted of several workshops for botanists to learn about particular plant groups. I chose to go to the sedge workshop, as I've lost a lot of my sedge knowledge as I've transitioned from a field biologist to having a greater focus on conservation planning (=more inside time!). My friend Dwayne Estes from Austin Peay State University was the instructor for the class and I've heard great things about his sedge class before.

I really can't say enough good things about the class. Dwayne is an excellent teacher and was really able to convey a lot of knowledge.  This is especially true as he normally teaches this material as a five day class in North Carolina. One thing that was emphasized is the drawing of botanical structures to learn the differences between the different sections of Carex--something that is a lost art among modern taxonomists and is something I definately need to practice.