Birds-foot Trefoil

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While driving around northeast Ohio, it seems that this small perennial flower is lining just about every roadway.

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Birds-foot Trefoil belongs to the same family as pea and bean plants. Its showy, pea-like flowers are only about a half an inch across.

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This plant was introduced from Europe as a cultivated forage crop. It is widely planted for erosion control along newly built roads.

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Although its flowers start out as a bright lemon yellow, over time they can turn red-orange with age.

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Birds-foot Trefoil common name refers to its seedpods, which when grouped together look like a bird’s foot and are slender and purple. Five leaflets are present, but with the central three held conspicuously above the others, hence the use of the name “trefoil.”

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This plant can survive fairly close grazing, trampling, and mowing. Birds-foot Trefoil is most often found in sandy soils. It flowers from June to September and is a source of nectar for several different kinds of butterflies and bees.

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This plant is also known as Bloomfell, Cat’s Clover, Crowtoes, Eggs and Bacon and Birdsfoot Deervetch.

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Wild Potato Vine

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While hiking in a Pine Barrens habitat in coastal Maryland, the flowers of what looked like an over-sized Morning Glory caught my attention.

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Wild Potato Vine is a twining plant which features heart-shaped leaves and funnel-shaped white flowers that are 2 to 3 inches across with maroon centers.

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This plant gets its “potato” namesake because its large, tuberous roots can be roasted and eaten. Some of the tubers can reach 30 inches long, be 5 inches thick and weight over 20 pounds.

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Wild Potato Vine habitat includes upland woods, the edges of prairies bordering woodlands, thickets, stream-sides and disturbed ground, like railroad and highway borders.

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It is host to Long-tongued Bees, Bumblebees and Digger Bees as well as nectar-seeking butterflies and moths. Tortoise Beetles, the the Sweet Potato Flea Beetle and the Sweet Potato Leaf Beetle feed on its leaves.

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Wild Potato Vine is also known as known as Man of the Earth, Manroot, Wild Sweet Potato and Wild Rhubarb.

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Poison Ivy

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While visiting southern Illinois, I had several instances when I came across this plant, which belongs to the same family as mangoes and cashews. All three of these types produce urushiol, the compound that causes an itchy rash.

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Every part of the Poison Ivy (leaves, stems and roots) is poisonous, so not only should it not be touched, it should not be burned. With burning, the urushiol becomes volatilized in the smoke and you can get it in your lungs, which is very dangerous and can even lead to death.

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Scientists speculate urushiol evolved as an antimicrobial defense agent. Birds, deer, squirrels, reptiles and insects are not affected by it. In humans, contact with Poison Ivy causes a reaction known as a cell-mediated immune response. The rash it causes is a result of your immune system attacking its own skin cells.

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Poison Ivy fruit, called drupes, are an important food for wildlife. Over 60 types of birds eat Poison Ivy berries. Deer and insects eat the leaves.

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“Leaves of three, let it be; berries white, take flight” is a familiar saying to help identify and avoid Poison Ivy, though its characteristics are very diverse and change in different habitats.

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This plant often follows civilization, cropping up in disturbed sites like cut banks, roadsides and old fence rows. It prefers woodland borders and clearings and shuns the dense forest. Despite its common name, it is not a true ivy.

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For those who are allergic to the plant, its benefits are often overlooked. Poison Ivy is an early colonizer, often taking hold in areas disturbed by humans and it begins the slow process of rebuilding the landscape. It requires very little nourishment or moisture and it attracts and sustains a variety of wildlife.

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Multiflora Rose

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This is an unavoidable invasive species that I encounter on my northeast Ohio hikes. It is native to eastern Asia, and naturally found in China, Japan and Korea.

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In the 1950′s, it was common to plant Multiflora Rose as a “living fence,” which was more permanent and economical than a wire fence. These days it is common in uncultivated fields, fencerows and open woods.

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This is a perennial shrub with arching, thorny stems that climbs over other plants, reaching up to 15 feet tall and forming dense thickets. It’s flowers are often in clusters and may be pink or white; they tend to bloom here in Summer.

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Typically, they have seven leaflets per leaf, but can they can also have between five and eleven leaflets. The two-inch long leaflets are oval and sharply toothed.

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Their small, bright red fruit, referred to as “rose hips,” develop in the Summer and remain on the shrub through the winter.

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Multiflora Rose spreads aggressively, both by rooting canes (the ends of branches that root when coming in contact with the ground) and by seeds dispersed by birds and wildlife.

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This is a very difficult plant to control. A plant may produce a million seeds per year, and the sseds can remain viable for 20 years.

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This plant is also known as Baby Rose, Japanese Rose, Many-flowered Rose, Seven-sisters Rose, Eijitsu Rose and Rambler Rose.

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Common Bladderwort

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While hiking along the Cuyahoga River, I encountered this very widespread species within the United States and throughout the Northern Hemisphere. It is usually overlooked by nature enthusiasts, but is a common sight in wet ditches and wetlands across the state.

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Bladderwort is a carnivorous species many have learned about in their junior high/middle school science classes. Small bladders are inflated sacs that are triggered to ensnare tiny aquatic organisms. The bladders are scattered in the leaves, which is one of the distinguishing characteristics of the Common Bladderwort.

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The bladders also fill with air to keep the plant afloat during the flowering period and fill with water to sink the plant when it goes into dormancy.

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Up to 20 bright yellow one-half to three-quarter inch snapdragon-like flowers form at the top of a stout reddish green stem, emerging up to 8 inches above the waterline. The flowers have finely articulated red veins.

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This plant is free floating and has no roots. Although the commonly held view is that the bladders of bladderworts are for capturing and digesting microorganisms that provide the plant with nutrients, bladders more often have been observed to contain communities of microorganisms (bacteria, algae, and diatoms) living in the bladders, not as prey, suggesting that the bladders may also, and perhaps more importantly, serve to establish mutually beneficial relationships with some microorganisms.

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Virgin’s Bower

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Walking along the Cuyahoga River, I frequently see this flowering vine, which belongs to the same genus of a popular garden plant, Climatis, though this wildflower’s petals are much smaller.

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Its flowers are in delicate round clusters and quite intricate. It is one of over a dozen species residing in the eastern United States.

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The leaves of Virgin’s Bower are 3-part and sharply toothed. Its square-stemmed vine is often seen growing over fences or shrubs along riverbanks. This native plant is most often found in damp settings, such as along stream banks or in floodplains.

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Virgin’s Bower is an aggressively growing vine which can climb to heights of 10–20 feet by twisting its leafstalks. After the flowers are polliniated, their feathery plumes look like a work of art.

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Some other common names for this plant are Devil’s Darning Needles, Devil’s Hair, Love Vine, Traveler’s Joy, Wild Hops, and Woodbine. Whatever you call it, it’s a fine wildflower to come across in late Summer and early Fall.

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Wild Sarsaparilla

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Walking along Chippewa Creek in Brecksville Reservation, I noticed an unusual looking flower – Wild Sarsaparilla. The flowers form in sphere-shaped clusters.

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Native Americans and pioneers found many uses for the plant. The aromatic roots have long served as an ingredient in root beer.

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The tiny, white flowers ripen into blue-black berries in mid-summer which are eaten by wildlife. Its leaves rise well above the flower, leaving it on a leafless stalk.

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This plant has a large distribution in North America, especially in Canada. Wild sarsaparilla is a widespread, dominant understory species in many forests.

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The species part of its Latin name Aralia nudicaulis breaks down to meaning nudus “naked” and cauli “stalk.”

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Blue Vervain

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This is a neat and distinctive plant that I sometimes come across in fields at this time of year. It is a slender, but erect wildflower that grows up to 5 feet tall.

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Blue Vervain habitats include riverbottom prairies, moist meadows in floodplain woodlands, soggy thickets, borders of rivers and ponds, marshes, ditches, fence rows and pastures. It adapts readily to degraded wetlands and other disturbed areas.

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It is a member of the mint family so it has a square stalk and opposite branches. The flowers of Blue Vervain attract many kinds of long-tongued and short-tongued bees.

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This plant has a use for humans as well; it is an anti-spasmodic herb and muscle relaxer. Blue Vervain has been used to soothe and repair damaged nerves. There’s a lot of reasons to like this graceful plant once you get to know it.

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Wild Onion

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I often see this bulbous herb when hiking in the springtime, as it really stands out against the brown fallen leaves. It has a distinct onion odor, slender grass-like leaves and reaches about 2 feet in height by late summer.

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It is thought that the name Chicago is derived from the smell of Wild Onions. The Potawatomi, who were the most powerful tribe around the south end of Lake Michigan, hunted, traded furs, and occasionally camped in the area they called “Checagou,” evidently referring to the garlic wild onion smell which scented the air.

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This plant is found in meadows and woodlands in the northeastern and north central United States. Onions and garlic belong to the Lily family. Wild Onions were collected and eaten by Native Americans and by European settlers. Native American tribes also used the plant for other purposes like rubbing the plant on the body for protection from insect bites.

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This plant is a Winter perennial; it emerges in late Fall from underground bulbs and grows through the Winter and Spring. Therefore it sight (and smell) can be enjoyed at this time of the year.

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Milkweed

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As I walk through snow-covered fields this Winter, it’s hard not to notice the seed pods for Milkweed plants. With a little imagination, this one looks like a dragon’s head puffing smoke.

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Milkweed is an important plant because so many species of insects depend on it. Monarch Butterflies, Milkweed Bugs and Milkweed Leaf Beetles only eat milkweed, and could not survive without it. Here’s a Milkweed Tiger Moth caterpillar that I saw last Summer in Brecksville Reservation.

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This plant’s fruits are green pods which turn brown before bursting open and letting out fluffy seeds. A Milkweed seed is spread by the wind, which catches the cotton-like part and carries the seed for long distances.

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Milkweed is usually 4-5 feet tall and has large, broad leaves. It can be found in fields, gardens and along roads. Milkweed flowers are pinkish-purple clusters which often droop. This is one that I photographed in the summertime.

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This plant gets its name from its milky sap, which seeps when a leaf is broken. This sap has poisons in it which some animals can eat and not be harmed. When the Monarch butterfly’s caterpillar consumes the leaves of Milkweed, the sap goes into its body, making the caterpillar poisonous to predators. Even after the caterpillar has changed into an adult butterfly, it is distasteful to predators. Here is a Monarch Butterfly on Milkweed seen in Cuyahoga Valley National Park last Summer.

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In the Autumn, large numbers of Milkweed Bugs can often be seen on the seed pods. At this time of the year, the Milkweed Bugs are focused on piercing the wall of the pod to feed on the seeds inside.

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Milkweed is an interesting plant which can be enjoyed during all seasons.

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