Category: Ranunculaceae

  • Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne)

    Delphinium tricorne

    Not a common plant around here, but locally abundant. The shockingly blue flowers and palmate leaves are distinctive: nothing else remotely like these Larkspurs is blooming in early spring. These plants were part of a large colony in the woods near Mayview State Hospital, where they were blooming in April. The pictures were taken on film in the year 2000, and sat forgotten in a box of slides until recently.

    Dwarf Larkspur

    Gray describes the genus and the species:

    DELPHÍNIUM [Tourn] L. LARKSPUR. Sepals 5, irregular, petal-like ; the upper one prolonged into a spur at the base. Petals 4 (rarely only 2, united into one), irregular, the upper pair continued backward into long spurs which are inclosed in the spur of the calyx, the lower pair with short claws. Pistils 1-5, forming many-seeded pods in fruit. — Leaves palmately divided or cut. Flowers in terminal racemes. (Name from Delphin, in allusion to the shape of the flower, which is sometimes not unlike the classical figures of the dolphin.)

    D. tricórne Michx. (DWARF L.) Root a tuberous cluster; stem simple, 1.5-9 dm. high; leaves deeply 5-parted, their divisions unequally 3-5-cleft; the lobes linear, acutish; raceme few-flowered, loose; flowers bright blue, sometimes white, occasionally numerous; spur straightish, ascending; pods strongly diverging. — W. Pa. to Minn., Neb., and southw. Apr., May.

  • Lesser Celandine (Ficaria verna)

    Ficaria verna

    Formerly known as Ranunculus ficaria, Lesser Celandine is a European import that is rapidly colonizing our stream valleys. Only seven years ago we wrote that it was “not very common around here except in a few stream valleys,” but since then it has popped up a number of other places where it was previously unknown. These particular flowers were blooming in Bird Park, Mount Lebanon, where the plant was not to be found in 2015, but has since established some sizeable clumps and is rapidly becoming a notable feature of the early-spring flora.

    Ficaria verna
    Photographed April 12.

    Gray describes the genus and the species:

    RANÚNCULUS [Tourn.] L. CROWFOOT. BUTTERCUP. Annuals or perennials; stem-leaves alternate. Flowers solitary or somewhat corymbed, yellow, rarely white. (Sepals and petals rarely only 3, the latter often more than 5. Stamens occasionally few.) — (A Latin name for a little frog; applied by Pliny to these plants, the aquatic species growing where frogs abound.)

    § 1. FICÀRIA Boiss. Roots tuberous-thickened; sepals 3; petals about 8, yellow, with a free scale over the honey gland.

    R. ficària L. (LESSER CELANDINE.) Glabrous and somewhat succulent; leaves basal on long stoutish petioles, ovate, rounded, deeply cordate, subcrenate; flowers scapose, 2 cm. in diameter. (Ficaria Karst.) — Wet places, occasional; Mass. to D. C. Apr., May. (Introd. from Eurasia.)

  • Autumn Clematis (Clematis terniflora)

    Photographed September 5.

    A garden ornamental that has made its escape into the wild, this vine has not yet become an invasive pest here, but is fairly common now in vacant lots and other unexpected places in the city. It covers itself with little white flowers (usually four-parted, but with a fair number of five-parted variants) in late summer, with occasional blooming branches up to frost. These plants were growing wild on a bank in Beechview, where they were blooming in early September.

  • Doll’s Eyes (Actaea pachypoda)

    A close relative of Black Cohosh (Actaea racemosa), this plant has smaller round tufts of white flowers. But its most striking feature is these berries, white with black pupil-like spots. Doll’s Eyes is certainly a descriptive name, but perhaps Insane Muppet Eyes would be even more descriptive. (The bright magenta stem adds a certain something.) This plant grew in Bird Park, Mount Lebanon, where it was fruiting in late August.

    Do not eat the berries. They want to kill you. Can’t you see it in their eyes? Another name for this plant is “White Baneberry,” and you should take the “bane” part seriously.

    Gray describes the genus and the species:

    ACTAÈA L. BANEBERRY, COHOSH. Sepals 4 or 6, falling off when the flower expands. Petals 4-10, small, flat, spatulate, on slender claws. Stamens numerous, with slender white filaments. Pistil single; stigma sessile, depressed, 2-lobed. Seeds smooth, flattened, and packed horizontally in 2 rows. — Perennials, with ample 2-3-ternately compound termina! raceme of white flowers. (From aktea, actaea, ancient names of the Elder, transferred by Linnaeus.)

    A. álba (L.) Mill. (WHITE B.) Leaflets more incised and sharply toothed [than those of A. rubra]; raceme ellipsoid; petals slender, mostly truncate at the end, appearing to be transformed stamens; pedicels thickened in fruit, as large as the peduncle and red, the globular-ovoid berries white. — Rich woods, flowering a week or two later than the other [which flowers in April and May], and more common westward and southward.

  • Early Meadow-Rue (Thalictrum dioicum)

    Long stamens dangle and wave in the breeze, identifying this this as a male plant. As the species name implies, this species has dioecious flowers (from Greek meaning “two houses”): that is, it bears male and female flowers on separate plants. The female flowers are little upright greenish clusters, but the male flowers are more common and more charming. In spite of the common name, Early Meadow Rue seems to prefer woods to meadows; this one was growing on a rocky hillside in the Squaw Run valley in Fox Chapel, where it was blooming at the beginning of May.

    Gray describes the genus and the species:

    THALÍCTRUM [Tourn.] L. MEADOW RUE. Sepals 4-5, petal-like or greenish, usually caducous. Petals none. Achenes 4-15, grooved or ribbed, or else inflated. Stigma unilateral. Seed suspended. — Perennials, with alternate 2-3-ternately compound leaves, the divisions and the leaflets stalked; petioles dilated at base. Flowers in corymbs or panicles, often polygamous or dioecious. (A Greek name of an unknown plant, mentioned by Dioscorides.)

    Flowers dioecious or polygamous.

    Achenes sessile or subsessile, thin-walled, the ribs often connected by transverse reticulations; leaves 3-4-ternate.

    Filaments capillary, soon drooping; petioles of the stem-leaves well developed; vernal.

    T. dioicum L. (EARLY M.) Smooth and pale or glaucous, 3-6 dm. high; leaves (2-3) all with general petioles; leaflets thin, light green, drooping, suborbicular, 3-7-lobed; flowers dioecious; sepals purplish or greenish white. — Rocky woods, etc., centr. Me., westw. and southw., common. Apr., May.

    Ferdinand Schuyler Mathews gives us this description in his Field Book of American Wild Flowers:

    “A beautiful but not showy, slender meadow rue with the staminate and pistillate flowers on separate plants. The bluish olive green leaves lustreless, compound, and thinly spreading; the drooping staminate flowers with generally four small green sepals, and long stamens tipped with terracotta, and finally madder purple. The pistillate flowers inconspicuously pale green. An airy and graceful species, common in thin woodlands. 1-2 feet high. Me., south to Ala., and west to Mo., S. Dak., and Kan.

    Ellen Miller and Margaret Christine Whiting give us this fuller description in Wild Flowers of the North-Eastern States (1895):

    “Found in rocky woods and hillsides during April and May.

    “The branching leafy stalk grows from 1 to 2 feet high; smooth, round, and fine of fibre though strong; in color, green.

    “The leaf is 3 or 4 times divided, terminating in groups of 3 leaflets on short slender stems; the leaflets are small, rounding, slightly heart-shaped at the base, and their margins are notched in rounded scallops; the texture is exceptionally fine and thin, the surface smooth; the color, a fine cool green.

    “The flower is small and composed of 3 or 4 or 5 little, petal-like, pale green calyx-parts. Different plants bear the pistils and stamens; the flowers of the former are inconspicuous and sparse in comparison with those of the stamen-bearing plant: from these the many stamens, pale green faintly touched with tawny at the tips, droop on slender threads like little tassels. The flowers grow in loose clusters, on branching stems that spring from the leaf-joints.

    “The Early Meadow Rue is unobtrusive in color and form, but most graceful in gesture, and fine in the texture and finish of all its parts; the leafage has a fern-like delicacy, and the flower tassels of the stamen-bearing plant are airily poised.”