Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Skullcap Hosts Frost Flowers

Frost flowers on Skullcap
Ruby Ball of Audubon, Missouri Native Plant Society and seemingly every other nature connected organization is always an astute observer of all things wild.  It makes sense that she would be one to report a new species hosting frost flowers.  Here is her report:
"You may want to add Skullcap to your list of frost flower plants.  A couple years ago the skullcap at the front door of the Nature Center had frost flowers 2 or 3 days in a row." 
Skullcap refers to the Scutellaria species, Lamiaceae, which are more fully described at this Purdue horticultural site. The plants she describes at the Nature Center are downy or hoary skullcap, Scutellaria incana, a member of the mint family.  They are found across the Eastern US as well as in southern Missouri. 

In addition to a source of nectar, S. incana serves as a host plant for a specific species of moth,
Caloptilia scutellariella.

There are good pictures and plant descriptions at Missouriplants.com.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Frost Flowers Bloom Along Bull Creek

Split epidermis of Verbesina virginica
We had our first frost flower "bloom" on Bull Creek last Saturday, October 27th.  It was ironic that it was the only day over several months that we had to be out of town and missed the excitement.  Fortunately frost flowers leave behind their incriminating evidence so we can tell that they were here.

The tell-tale long strips of split epidermis extended up to 18" high on the stalks of Verbesina virginica.  The temperature was forecast to be 28 degrees that night.  Deep in Bull Creek valley the sun only reaches the valley floor around 9 AM and it is shaded by 5:30 PM.  For this reason, it is almost always colder at night than the surrounding plateau.

Last year we had an unseasonally warm winter and the roots never froze.  We documented 40 mornings where there were frost flowers. (Yes, it is a little compulsive to keep track of each day's blooming but I didn't apparently have anything else to do at the time.)  The long term forecast is for another mild winter so I will start the count again.   I promise I won't blog about each one.