07 de diciembre de 2023

I am one with the Ligule League

Yes, I have become a grass person now.

On this forsaken day, I, Arnan Pawawongsak, declare my allegiance to the GRAMINOID SIDE 🌾😈🌾

Long I have resisted the power of the grasses, but all that changed during my REU this summer, when I obtained a whiff of blueberry scones from Silver bluestem, at Matador Wildlife Management Area (credit to wildlife biologist Hunter Hopkins for the tip-off).

All it took was one brief perusal of Gould's grass tome, one Plant Systematics class, and several trips to the Wildflower Center vegetation survey to learn the Dark Arts from Sean and Michelle... my fate was sealed.

I know several genera and some common species, but I'm learning fast. Never before have I experienced this power... resistance is futile. FEAR ME, NON-GRASS PEOPLE!!!

Ok, that was a bit over-dramatic. But the point has been made.

To be completely honest, all it took for me was the smell. Blueberry scones. Similar to how I got into trees, that was ponderosa pine. Although the tree hand-shaking episode played a big part too.

It all started when I was doing field work this summer for my REU with Dr. Charles H. Cannon and Claire Henley, on the last day of June, 2023. The wildlife biologist at Matador Wildlife Management Area, Hunter Hopkins (who kindly took us around the property and allowed us to sample the oaks) happened to mention this grass trivia as an aside, while we were working on a post oak-ish tree by the creek (which was also Hunter’s favorite tree).

The oak tree where it all started.

I didn't believe him at first. So naturally, I took a bunch of seed heads from one of the grasses, rubbed it between my fingers, and gave it a whiff.

Oh, wow. He's actually got a point.

The scent was sweet, a pleasant sweetness. Nothing you'd expect from such a humble-looking grass. The moment I got a whiff of that Silver bluestem, I was sold.

The ligule-leaved, spikelet-covered culprit. Actually, this isn't the one I smelled—I unfortunately did not capture that individual on camera. But this one was a nice looking Silver bluestem.

...Hunter actually didn’t say blueberry scones, it was some sort-of candy (SMARTIES candy?), but I personally found it smelled like blueberry scones. So that stuck.

Silver Bluestem, Silver Beard Grass, *Botriochloa laguroides* var. *torreyana*, synonym *Bothriochloa torreyana*, plant of many names... now and forever you will conjure the thought of freshly-baked blueberry scones.

And if you can't tell, I love blueberry scones.

Special thanks to Hunter Hopkins, wildlife biologist at Matador Wildlife Management Area, for tipping me off about the Silver bluestem thing; Dr. Robert K Jansen, professor at UT Austin, for going over grass morphology and Poaceae in Plant Systematics class; Frank W. Gould, for writing the Guide to Texas Grasses; Michelle Bertleson and Sean Griffin with the Science and Conservation team, for teaching me basic grass ID at the Wildflower Center, and; prairie_rambler or Cleveland Powell, iNaturalist grass master, for IDing my grasses and making sure that if I make any learning mistakes, they get corrected.

I would also like to thank the Flora of North America project contributors for their excellent labeled grass illustrations, which helps you figure out whether that bract you're looking at is a glume or a lemma, and Kelly Wayne Allred for writing the excellent article "Describing the Grass Inflorescence" back in 1982. Both have been very useful for learning and applying technical grass terminology.

Ligule League it is!

Publicado el 07 de diciembre de 2023 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 2 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

21 de noviembre de 2023

Fox squirrel shows addiction to mealy oak galls

14 October 2023, around 9 AM
UT Austin Campus, on boardwalk at the SW corner of RLP (Robert L. Patton Building). Cloudy day.

I was working on some class work before Genetics, and couldn't help but notice that every few seconds, a little thing fell from the live oak tree above me. They fell frequently, though at irregularly intervals from each other. It was almost comedic how each one tumbled off from the branches above, landing with a audible thud on the wooden planks before bouncing a few times more, before then rolling away to a stop on the planks or off into the adjacent landscaping.

While these projectiles from the sky likely posed no threat of injury to myself—unless perhaps I took one to the eye—I was rather uncomfortable about continuing my work with the possibility of one of these falling on my head, and didn't think that acorns would fall so frequently from the tree. I investigated one of the fallen projectiles, and noted that they were mealy oak galls.

I further noted that every single one of these projectile galls were half gnawed open. A quick visual search into the canopy of the live oak revealed the culprit: a fox squirrel.

Peculiarly enough, the squirrel seemed to have an addiction to these little galls. It would clamber its way to a branch with the galls, and then systematical rip each gall off the tree, gnaw on it for a second or two, and then promptly discard the half-gnawed piece to grab another gall, leading to the fiasco below.

Each piece I observed was gnawed such that the gall was chewed with the middle cavity exposed, but with the larvae inside missing. My presumption is that the squirrel was consuming the larvae inside each gall. I have not observed this behavior before but would be interested to hear if anyone else has.

Bad video:

Publicado el 21 de noviembre de 2023 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 1 observación | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

15 de noviembre de 2023

Seeps, Stairs, and Obi-wan conobea

I have long noticed that on the east side of UT Tower, there is a spot on the granite stairs leading up towards the xeriscape area that seems continually to leak water, running across the pavement and down the stairs.

At first I thought it was some leak from pipes underneath the building, but eventually I've come to believe that it is in fact a natural seep.
Seeps are places where water naturally oozes out of the ground. The City of Austin has a handout on seeps, which I'll quote:


Seeps may conjure images of dripping, moss-laden rocks along cliffs in a forest. But seeps can be a common occurrence in urban areas as well. Water moves through natural and urban landscapes below the surface, unseen until it is forced out of the ground by things like bedrock or impervious clay. When this happens, it creates a seep.

This is what I assume is happening here. Water takes the path of least resistance. My interpretation is that the water was flowing underground through some porous material—maybe loose construction gravel or sand, maybe something else—when it hit something impenetrable underneath, causing the water to leap to the surface. It seems that around Austin, the underlying geology (limestone, karstic features, clay and river alluvium/deposits) makes the area a prime place for seeps to occur. The handout previously mentioned lists a few geologic formations in the Austin area which create ripe conditions for seeps.

At the crook of the stairs where the water comes out, Obi-wan conobea (Leucospora multifida) has taken a spot. It's an annual forb that naturally occurs in seasonallly moist gravelly or sandy areas, areas with loose alluvium and a fair bit of moisture. It must be a prime spot for this species, since the plants seems to reliably return even after dying away from heat or frost.

However, Obi-wan seems to be a bit of an explorer, as beyond those natural areas he seems equally happy to thrive in those same conditions—in more urban environments. Stairs and any sort of "step" area are a favorite.

In other words, anywhere there's a rocky "step" at a right angle—a flat step, and a vertical face, be it the next step, the curb or the wall—and sufficient moisture... General Conobea will be there. He also has been seen up in more ludicrous spots, e.g. up of the rooftop of Patterson Hall.

I would be remiss not to mention the origin of this plant's common name—if the reader is not already acquainted with the tale as viewable in the previous link. The plant was named by a well-known Chicago-area botanist, Floyd Swink, who evidently had a sense of humor:

The derivation of the strange common name comes from a publication of Floyd Swink, who named this plant after a character in the movie Star Wars, although the publisher did not discover this until after his book was already published (John White, personal communication). Another common name for this plant is Narrow-Leaved Paleseed, which was undoubtedly invented by a botanist. A scientific synonym for this species is Conobea multifida.

All that aside, natural seeps are interesting microhabitats to search for plants. Often, unusual finds—plants which thrive in higher moisture soils—will occur in seep areas, an island of moisture surrounded by otherwise dry and exposed uplands. An excellent example are the easternmost populations of Primula meadia, the Eastern Shooting Star, which grow in the Canyonlands east of the Balcones Escarpment. Something to keep in mind.

Publicado el 15 de noviembre de 2023 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 1 comentario | Deja un comentario

10 de julio de 2023

Another typical backlog for the dedicated iNaturalist user...

I have so many photos in the backlog that I had to create a whole new photo album to keep track of them! These include photos from the field expedition to Panhandle Texas as part of my REU internship with the Morton Arboretum (note: that was an absolute blast). Our three-person team covered a lot of ground, from Monahans Sandhills State Park in West Texas to Quartz Mountain State Park in Oklahoma.

Of course, I will cull some of the not-so-good photos, since I tend to take more photos rather than fewer, but this is going to take hours for me to upload.

I'll get to them eventually, in the near or far future...

Also, I may have recorded a county record for Eryngium hookeri, at Matador Wildlife Management Area. I may upload that one sooner rather than later, with some encouragement. While I planned to collect a voucher for the population, research priorities and a surprise rainstorm distracted me from doing so. It is probably one of the furthest east records for that species, if confirmed. Thanks to Hunter Hopkins with TXPWD for showing us around!

Publicado el 10 de julio de 2023 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

23 de junio de 2023

Scout no more?

I may no longer be a scout, or at least officially under Scouts BSA, for long. My scout troop may not recharter next year.

In the wake of the pandemic, a lot of the local scout troops and cub scout packs have suffered. The scandal and legal situation with the then-Boy Scouts of America organization (which they have rightfully owned up to) probably did not help. I've heard that several troops and packs have dissolved altogether. Overall, the past few years has been a rough decade for scouting.

My own troop was by no means large, but it was close and tight-knit, like a family. When I joined, there was just a little more than 10 members. We grew to nearly 30, before the pandemic hit. Now, they have become top-heavy with older scouts, and have been unable to recruit new members. Of the remaining active members, most if not all will either age out at 18 or reach Eagle (several completed their projects earlier this year). They've planned a final summer outing as their last big "hurray," to go out with a bang. I will be unable to join them as I am currently doing a full-time internship at the Morton Arboretum, but I joined in on several of my fellow scouts' Eagle Projects.

Scouting was a large part of my identity. I learned basic skills—camping, tying knots, how to start a fire. I took the Leave No Trace principles to heart, and continue my obligation to help other people at all times. Scouting helped me find my interest in plants (see "The Forester"). It was the same year I did my Eagle Project that my interest in the local flora really kicked off. I wanted to reinvigorate some of the skills I learned. I practiced my Basketry merit badge by weaving baskets from the twigs of a local willow. I discovered the joy of wild dewberries and foraging. I made cordage from the leaves of an agave plant in my backyard. Realizing that the plants were not just background, that put things into a new perspective. And of course, iNaturalist played a large part in helping identify the basic components of my local flora and connecting me with other naturalists.

As an Eagle Scout, I can honestly say that Scouting made me the person I am today. Part of that past is vanishing. And I am changing, my identity growing, beyond the labels I used to call myself. But I will continue to consider "Arnan the scout" a part of my identity, and the username will not change. Here's to memories of day's past, and to hopes of a bright future.

We all change, when you think about it, we're all different people; all through our lives, and that's okay, that's good, you've gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all the people that you used to be.

Arnan, Botanistrum

Publicado el 23 de junio de 2023 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 1 observación | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

12 de junio de 2023

23 de mayo de 2023

Notes on Linum rigidum & Linum berlandieri with a focus on Central Texas

"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, timey-wimey stuff."

The situation with Linum rigidum and Linum berlandieri is a little wibbly wobbly with regards to differentiation and timey-wimey in regards to species circumscription. These species are closely related; L. berlandieri has been grouped under L. rigidum at certain points in time by certain authors (as L. rigidum var. berlandieri). Currently the two are treated as separate species but the process of distinguishing them is somewhat complicated as most of the distinguishing characters are not clear-cut between the two. Nonetheless I will try my best to cut down both the wibbly-wobbly and the timey-wimey using information from FNA (last edited in 2020), FNCT (1999), and other publications.

FNA = Flora of North America, page on Linum last updated 2020 (website: http://floranorthamerica.org/)
FNCT = Shinners and Mahlers Illustrated Flora of North Central Texas, 1999 (online PDF: https://fwbg.org/research/brit-press/illustrated-flora-of-north-central-texas-online/) - pages 788-792
MVPT = Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas, 1970 - pages 897-899

Current Species Circumscription

(According to FNA)
Linum rigidum Pursh
With 2 varieties:
Linum rigidum Pursh var. rigidum
Linum rigidum var. simulans C. M. Rogers
Only var. rigidum occurs in Texas.

Linum berlandieri Hooker
Synonym: Linum rigidum var. berlandieri (Hooker) Torrey & A. Gray
With 2 varieties:
Linum berlandieri Hooker var. berlandieri - widespread in Texas except W. Texas, spreading north to Nebraska, east to Louisiana and Arkansas, and west to New Mexico.
Linum berlandieri var. filifolium (Shinners) C.M. Rogers (same as Linum rigidum var. filifolium Shinners) - Central? and W. Texas, and Mexico (Coahuila)
(Distribution of varieties from USDA Plants Database, FNA, and MVPT)

In Central Texas, L. rigidum var rigidum and L. berlandieri var. berlandieri are most relevant. L. berlandieri var. filifolium may also be present, though this is only mentioned in FNA.


Here are the BONAP distributions for both species from 2014:

L. rigidum
L. berlandieri

Based on this, it would seem that in most of Texas, L. berlandieri is significantly more widespread than L. rigidum. The USDA Plants Database maps are similar (zoom in to show county-level distribution):

L. rigidum
L. berlandieri

Based on both maps, L. rigidum as currently defined is nonexistent in Central Texas. A quick check on SEInet, however, does show L. rigidum in Central Texas. Based on this, it seems better to assume that L. berlandieri is more common than L. rigidum in Central Texas—how much more common, I do not know.


Fruiting Capsules

This appears to be the only straightforward method to distinguish these two species (supported in MVPT, FNCT, and FNA).

L. rigidum has capsules which are elliptic (oval) in shape. The base of the capsule is rounded.
L. berlandieri has capsules which lean closer towards a triangular shape - ovoid (egg-shaped) to triangular-ovoid. The base of the capsule tapers abruptly to form a flattened base.

A closeup illustration of Linum rigidum capsule shape can be found on page 791 of FNCT (as Linum rigidum var. rigidum)

Another useful (though slightly less-straightforward) character is the thickness of the capsule walls.

L. rigidum has translucent capsule walls, "so thin that the dark seeds can be seen through them," per FNA.
L. berlandieri has thick, opaque capsule walls—or at least for Linum berlandieri var. berlandieri.
Linum berlandieri var. filifolium (which may or may not occur in Central Texas) apparently has thin-walled, transluscent capsules, per FNA. It is not said whether the capsule walls are thinner than Linum rigidum. However, this variety is very unique in that it contains greyish or purplish-colored sepals and a black stigma, which neither of the other species contain.

To be continued?

Publicado el 23 de mayo de 2023 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 7 comentarios | Deja un comentario

16 de mayo de 2023

Unusual Spigelias in Central Texas

Note: Most Spigelia plants in Central Texas are pretty clearly Spigelia hedyotidea. As far as I can tell the borderline plants are not as common, and occur in different habitat than typical S. hedyotidea. See bolded note on borderline plants.

My interest in these plants was sparked by this observation:

Spigelia is one of a few genera in the family Loganaceae which occur in Texas. There are three species of Spigelia in Texas:

  • Spigelia marilandica A.DC, restricted to East Texas
  • Spigelia texana (Torr. & Gray) A.DC., apparently endemic to Texas in the Gulf Coastal Plain
  • Spigelia hedyotidea A.DC. , occuring in the Edwards Plateau south to South Texas and Mexico

(Species distributions roughly determined through descriptions in Correll and Johnston's Manual of the Vascular Plants of Texas (1970) (MVPT), maps from the Biota of North America Program maps (BONAP), and data from the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF). For Spigelia texana, I referenced personal comm. with Bill Carr.)

The last two are of interest as they are both morphologically similar and closely related to each other according to a dissertation by Gould (1997), along with Spigelia loganioides (Torr. & Gray) A.DC. All three taxa used to be placed in the genus Coelostylis and have been shown to form a monophyletic group (Gould 1997). The taxonomic boundaries within this group have been debated. Some authors, such as Hendrickson (1996) and Hurley (1968), propose that S. texana and S. loganioides are conspecific i.e. the same species. However, while S. texana and S. loganioides are most morphologically alike (and in fact nearly identical in appearance), Gould determined using cpDNA and ITS sequence analyses that "S. texana is more closely related S. hedyotidea than to S. loganioides." Based on information from online databases such as GBIF, Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS), and Plants of the World Online (POWO), it appears that the three species are currently considered separate taxonomic entities as of May 2023, which Gould concluded in her paper, and which I will follow with.

Interestingly, Gould (1997) notes that there are populations of S. hedyotidea in Central Texas which appear to share vegetative characteristics closer to S. texana, although this is not elaborated on. Gould does not mention whether those populations were sampled in her analyses, but for each population, morphological characters were measured and recorded, although the data was not shown in the paper. Voucher specimens were deposited at TEX/LL, so I may look at some the S. hedyotidea vouchers from population sampled in the study fall of this year.

A good explanation of the morphological differences between the two can be found Gould's (1997) discussion under both Spigelia texana and Spigelia hedyotidea:

  • S. hedyotidea has a shorter "bushy" growth habit (5-15(-19) cm) compared to S. texana ((10-)20-45(-50 cm) [numbers with dashes indicate uncommon extremes]
  • S. hedyotidea has leaves which are much smaller than those of S. texana;
    Mid-stem leaves for S. hedyotidea are (1.2-)1.5-3.0(3.5) cm long and 0.3-1.0(-1.3) cm wide & shorter than the internodes;
    Mid-stem leaves for S. texana are 3.0-5.5 cm long & sometimes longer than the internodes.

  • S. hedyotidea has leaves that are generally thicker and slightly coriaceous (leathery), often with the presence of minute papillae (think dots on a tongue) on the upper surface to create a scabrous look, although sometimes glabrous as well. S. texana will have thin, membraneous leaves without any papillae/roughness, except occasionally along the margins.
    Note 1: In the shade, S. hedyotidea can exhibit membraneous leaves as well.
    Note 2: In herbarium specimens, S. hedyotidea leaves tend to get wrinkled when dry; those of S. texana dry flat

  • S. hedyotidea is "profusely scabrous" on the stems and leaves; S. texana is glabrous except for papillae at the nodes.
  • S. texana usually produces a "pseudowhorl" of 4 leaves (4 leaves attached to one node) under the inflorescence. S. hedyotidea can do so, but rarely does.
  • The corolla tubes of S. hedyotidea (ca. 4 mm wide at throat) are apparently slightly wider than those of S. texana (1-3 mm wide at throat).

Henderson's paper provides excellent illustrations which detail some of these differences on page 97 of the online version at the Biodiversity Heritage Library (BHL). Note that Henderson considers S. texana under S. loganoides, but the two are so morphologically similar (differing only by corolla length and allopatric distribution) that the illustrations remain useful.

S. hedyotidea is the most variable species and thus is the cause of most confusion between the two.

The Spigelia observation which I first mentioned above was located in Travis County along the River Place Trail, within the Balcones Canyonlands region of the Edwards Plateau. The plant exhibits characteristics similar to that of Spigelia texana. Most notably, it contains a whorl (or "pseudowhorl" as called in the literature) of 4 leaves on one stem, underneath an inflorescence. It also contains leaves which are less thick and more membraneous in texture.

"Pseudowhorl" of 4 leaves underneath an inflorescence

The location of this plant seems to fit better with S. texana than with S. hedyotidea. The plant's location is very close to a creek and in a shaded woodland area.
MVPT describes the habitat for S. texana as "wooded slopes and floodplain woods along rivers," and in both Gould and Hendrickson in wooded creeks and riparian forests.
S. hedyotidea occurs "in open gravelly soil and among boulders... about breaks or in prairies" according to MVPT. Gould and Hendrickson describe its habitat similarly: "open, gravelly, sandy clay loams, dark-soiled prairies... limestone bluffs on generally dry soils." However, they also add that it occurs on "shaded woodlands, river banks, and rocky creekbeds," which is completely different from the first set of habitats.

I took a quick hike down to locate the plant or others with similar characteristics at River Place, and made a few findings.

I noticed that the plants were all growing on shaded sloping ground around the creek. This is the same habitat which S. texana is described to grow in, although if accounting for Gould and Hendrickson, S. hedyotidea can also occur in similar environments. The leaves seemed notably large; midstem leaves of the two specimens I observed both surpassed 4 cm in length, which is significantly beyond the normal range noted for Gould, Hendrickson, and the MVPT. I admit that I was biased towards more closely observing plants that were larger in aboveground growth, so this may be skewed towards the upper extreme. A better method would have been to measure the mid-stem leaf length on all plants for a better picture, which I did not get to due to both limited daylight and time that day. Other notable features of leaves were that they were indeed noticeably thin and membraneous rather than coriaceous. The plants overall appeared glabrous on the leaves and stems, though this seemed to vary and I didn't check with my loupe on all of them. Not everything was similar S. texana, though; I did not detect the presence of a pseudowhorl of 4 leaves on any plants I found.

It is clear that these plants occupy a different niche than what I will call the "typical" S. hedyotidea, which tends to occur in areas with more sunlight (ranging from out in the open areas to partial shade) and tolerate drier soils. The question, for me at least, seems to be whether or not this variation falls under S. hedyotidea.

There are a few hypotheses here:

  • It could be attributed to variation under Spigelia hedyotidea. S. hedyotidea is quite variable in appearance. Henderson notes that plants have "longer internodes, less coriaceous... and often larger leaves" in shady areas, as well as appearing "smooth and membraneous" like S. texana. Gould also cites this variation as well. According to both authors, these plants would probably fall under S. hedyotidea.
  • It could possibly represent S. texana. If keyed out through MVPT, these plants would likely be considered S. texana, although that information is from 1970 and is thus more outdated than the more recent literature.
  • It could be something else, maybe an intermediate between the two.

I think studying morphology under S. hedyotidea specimens analyzed Gould's paper would likely clear this up best, as those specimens are tied to genetic analyses which supported the recognition of the three former Coelostylis species as they are. Considering Gould's paper, which appears to be the most recent treatment, these plants would fall under variation of S. hedyotidea, so unless there is a newer update in the taxonomy, S. hedyotidea would be a safe bet. For more cautious individuals, it may suffice to leave the plants at genus.

I have created a set of observations using the observation field "Similar observation set" under the value "81436857_ct_spigelia" so that Spigelia plants exhibiting similar leanings toward S. texana can be easily found and studied.

Borderline Spigelia plants will likely occur in Central Texas, and will likely (1) occur in shaded areas with ample moisture, along creeks and waterways and in bottomland areas (2) exhibit leaves that tend to exceed 3 cm in length and 1 cm in width (3) have thinner leaves that appear smooth and membraneous rather than rough and coriaceous and (4) contain a pseudowhorl of 4 leaves under the inflorescence.

To be frank, the identification of these plants is not so important, whether they are ID'd as S. hedyotidea or remain at genus level; rather it is important to recognize this variation exists so that it can be further studied. I may dive some more into these specimens, but I would encourage anyone interested to provide useful observations or do further study on these plants, for example:

  • Morphological measurements of leaves, surfaces, other characteristics from these plants
  • Tracking and adding borderline individuals to the observation set

REFERENCES (to be updated)
Gould 1997 https://www.proquest.com/docview/304373809?fromopenview=true&pq-origsite=gscholar
Hendrickson 1996 https://www.biodiversitylibrary.org/page/9303086#page/98/mode/1up
Correll and Johnston 1970 MVPT

Publicado el 16 de mayo de 2023 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

14 de mayo de 2023

Bill Carr's Travis County Flora

After the update with the NPSOT websites, the page (https://npsot.org/Austin/TravisCountyFlora/Travis%20County%20Flora.html) I usually use to access this has vanished, so I found a web archive version to use for now:

It might just be hidden in some other spot of the website but I cannot find it as of now.

Publicado el 14 de mayo de 2023 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

16 de abril de 2023

BRIT - Native American Ethnobotany Database

Happened to stumble across this gem of a resource created by BRIT:

Gives you the tribe, uses of the plant, and literature citations as well! I have always found it somewhat difficult to trace ethnobotanical claims, so this is a neat resource for exploring ethnobotanical uses of our plants.

Publicado el 16 de abril de 2023 por arnanthescout arnanthescout | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario