Small Red Morning Glory

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While visiting southern Illinois in October, this brightly colored flower caught my eye as I was checking my minnow traps that I placed in a waterway near some railroad tracks.

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This plant is native to tropical America and has been introduced in much of the United States. It can be found in disturbed areas along roads, stream banks, fence rows, old fields and railroad tracks.

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Red Morning Glories are fast growing and have twisting, climbing flowering vines that attract butterflies. Their vines can reach 10 or more feet in length.

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As is name implies, its flowers are not as large as those of other morning glories, being about 2-4 inches long and about half as wide. The blooms are dull red with an orange throat.

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The leaves of this plant are heart-shaped at the base, and commonly are three-lobed. Their smooth margins sometimes develop low, pointy lobes, so that they almost look like ivy leaves.

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Though Small Red Morning Glory’s long, tubular flowers are clearly adapted for pollinators such as hummingbirds and hawk moths, they’re also capable of self-pollination.

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It was neat to encounter this plant, which is also known as Redstar, Scarlet Creeper, Starflower and Scarlet Morning Glory, for the first time.

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Eastern Prickly Pear

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While visiting a sandhill prairie in Missouri in October, I saw a fair number of these plants. Prickly Pears are considered an old group within the cactus family and contain around 150 species. Like other cacti, its fixed spines and small, hair-like prickles readily adhere to skin or hair, then detach from the plant.

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It has the largest range of any cactus in the United States and can be found from New Mexico and Montana east to Florida and Massachusetts. Because of special antifreeze chemicals in its cells, it can survive the freezing temperatures of the northern states where it resides.

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It some situations it can form large colonies, while in others it may occur as a few individuals in an area. Eastern Prickly Pear is a typical cactus in that its photosynthetic stem (also known as a pad) acts as a leaf. This stem also stores water.

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Generally the plants are no more than a foot and a half tall and tend to sprawl on the ground. Their flowers are produced at the ends of its pads in early Summer. The flowers are usually yellow, but east of the Appalachian Mountains and on dunes, the center is often red to orange.

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After flowering, a red, egg-shaped fruit begins to appear. The fruit is edible and can be eaten raw after removing the skin. Jellies, candies and other sweets are often made from the fruit, while some people also snack on the fleshy pads of the plant. Prickly Pear as been a Mexican and Central American dietary staple for thousands of years.

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This cactus grows in open, dry areas, often in rocky or thin soils. It can be found in or on fencerows, roadsides, rocky glades, rock outcrops, cliffs, old quarries, dunes and prairie. Its roots need to be dry during winter to prevent rot, so well drained sites are necessary.

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Ivy-leaf Morning Glory

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This is a interesting plant that I have seen a few times on my October visits to southern Illinois. This twining or climbing vine has distinctive three-lobed leaves and large, showy purple-to-blue or white flowers.

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It is most often found in disturbed low areas, roadsides, cultivated fields and ditches. Ivy-leaf Morning Glory prefers soil that is soggy or marshy. This plant is native of tropical America, but has been introduced to various parts of the United States.

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Ivy-leaf Morning Glory’s flowers have five long, slender, hairy sepals and are tubular, funnel-shaped and up to two inches wide. Most morning glory flowers curl up and close during the warm parts of the day, and are fully open in the morning – thus their name.

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The leaves are green, hairy and are usually three-lobed, but they may also be five-lobed or heart-shaped. The stems are green, slender, hairy, and twining.

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This plant is also known as Woolly Morning Glory, Mexican Morning Glory and Entireleaf Morning Glory. It was neat to see this pale blue flower while out and about in the Land of Lincoln.

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Wingstem

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While hiking Snake Road in southern Illinois, as well as when exploring Cuyahoga Valley National Park in my home state of Ohio, it’s hard to miss these conspicuous plants They are often over six feet tall and feature large yellow flowers with drooping ray florets.

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This plant gets its common name from the fact that its main stem has vertical ridges, sometimes described as “wings.” Before the blossoms appear, the plant resembles Ironweed, prompting the additional common name of Yellow Ironweed.

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Wingstem leaves are alternate and very coarse to the touch (like sandpaper). Its foliage serves as food for caterpillars and it is a host plant for the Silvery Checkerspot Butterfly, Summer Azure Butterfly and Gold Moth.

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Wingstem flowers attracts a number of pollinators; they also serves as a food source for insects. This plant is a member of the Sunflower Family, the largest family of flowering plants, with more than 24,000 documented species.

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This native wildflower prefers to grow in moist soil conditions in either full sun or partial shade. In the wild it is found along streams, flats, trails and moist woodlands.

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Despite the great ecological value of this species and frequent occurrence in a number of different habitats, Wingstem is often left out of field guides, including the one that I frequently use, Wildflowers of Ohio.

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Chicory

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This is a wildflower that I frequently see blooming along roadsides at this time of the year. It produces sky blue flowers after living through one winter. These plants actually prefer being near hot rocks or other debris in the soil – this is one reason it thrives along edges.

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Around here Chicory seems to spring up everywhere with its bright blue dandelion-like flowers that open and close with the sun. It has a long blooming period from mid-Summer into Fall.

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Its stems are thick and strong and 2 to 5 feet tall with few small long, narrow, and often upright leaves. This plant is not native to the United States, but has distribution all around the world.

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Chicory has been in cultivation since the days of ancient Egypt. Horticulture enthusiast and president Thomas Jefferson planted Chicory in his gardens, recommending it in a letter to George Washington as “one of the greatest acquisitions a farmer can have.”

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Many varieties are cultivated for salad leaves, in addition, its roots can be baked, ground, and used as a coffee substitute and additive.

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Chicory is also known as blue daisy, blue dandelion, blue sailors, blue weed, bunk, coffeeweed, cornflower, hendibeh, horseweed, ragged sailors, succory, wild bachelor’s buttons, and wild endive

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Pickerelweed

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Pickerelweed is an aquatic plant which grows to about two feet tall. It can be found growing shallow freshwater, such as marshes, pond edges, lakes, and streamsides. The leaves of this plant are large and heart-shaped, growing up to 10 inches long.

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This plant is most often recognized by its beautiful flowers. Pickerelweed has large spikes with clusters of violet-blue flowers. Each flower is small, less than half an inch wide. It has a small yellow spot on one petal.

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The nectar from their flowers attracts many insects, including bees and butterflies. Pickerelweed blooms mainly in late Summer and early Autumn. Bees and other insects pollinate the flowers. After a flower has been pollinated, it dies and a fruit grows.

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The each fruit contains a seed. The seeds serve as a food source for ducks and muskrats. The leaves of this plant are eaten by Muskrat, White-tailed Deer and waterfowl.

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The parts of the plant that are underwater provide habitat for tiny water creatures. Pickerel Weed is utilized by humans too, as a landscaping plant in water gardens.

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St. John’s Wort

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This plant is a shrub-like perennial herb with bright yellow flowers. It is an invasive species native to Europe, western Asia and northern Africa. Colonists brought it to the United States, where it now grows widely.

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The parts of the plant used in herbal remedies are taken from the flowering tops. St. John’s Wort has been shown to be effective in treating mild to moderate depression and causes fewer side effects than older types of antidepressants.

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St. John’s Wort common name comes from its traditional flowering and harvesting on St John’s Day (June 24). The genus name Hypericum is derived from the Greek words hyper (above) and eikon (picture), in reference to the plant’s traditional use in warding off evil by hanging plants over a religious icon.

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This plant is distinguished by its almost woody base, opposite leaves, bright yellow flowers and leaves with transparent dots. It produces flower clusters are at ends of branches with each flower measuring about an inch across.

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St. John’s Wort is commonly found in dry, gravely soils, fields, pastures, abandoned fields and in other sunny locations throughout many parts of the world. I’ve seen it in Brecksville Reservation as well as at Canalway Visitor Center.

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Blue Lobelia

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This blue counterpart of the Cardinal Flower blooms bright blue in late summer. Lobelias have 2-lipped flowers with a 2-lobed upper lip and a 3-lobed lower lip.

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The preference is wet to moist soil and partial sun. I often see it at this time of the year growing along the Ohio & Erie Canal.

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The nectar and pollen of the flowers attract primarily bumblebees and other long-tongued bees. Its species name, siphilitica, is a reference to the old folk medicine belief that extracts made from the plant could cure syphilis.

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Great Blue Lobelia is one of my favorite plants and it provides some welcome diversity with its violet-blue flowers during late Summer or Fall.

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Turtlehead

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Turtlehead is also known as balmony, bitter herb, codhead, fish mouth, shellflower, snakehead, snake mouth and turtle bloom.

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Its scientific name is Chelone glabra. In Greek mythology, there was a nymph named Chelone who insulted the gods; in punishment, she was turned into a turtle. The flowers of this plant are said to look like the heads of turtles. In Latin glabra means smooth, because of the texture of this plant’s stems and leaves.

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I found these examples on the Ohio Erie Canal Towpath. Turtlehead is usually found along stream banks on damp ground and typically grows to a height of 2 to 3 feet. Turtlehead serves as the primary host plant for the very rare Baltimore Checkerspot Butterfly, Maryland’s official state insect.

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Its flowers are in a densely packed spike at the top of the main stem. It has narrow, sharp-toothed, opposite leaves.

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This member of the Figwort/Snapdragon family has distinctive, two lipped tubular flowers are 1 to 1-1/2 inches long. The upper lip arches over the lower lip, creating the resemblance to a turtle’s head.

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