Falling into Fruits – August 2021

While flowers are disappearing, many are in fact forming fruits. Some fruits are dry and brownish, others soft and berry-like, often turning red.

Three red berries and one speckled:

Walking in the moist, shady forest and openings such as along the Trail Creek and Cache Creek trail systems, you may come across the following berries on herbaceous plants. After the fruit photos we show the flowers.

Red BaneberriesActea rubra—are poisonous to us but not so to birds or small mammals. Its shiny fruits are arranged in racemes: stalks arise off a central axis as if all are racing away. Sometimes baneberries appear in white. It is in the Buttercup Family.

Three species in the Lily Family have elliptical to egg-shaped leaves with parallel veins.

Twisted StalkStreptopus amplexicaulis — has long arching forked stems 3’ high which zig zag slightly. Leaves clasp the stem and at each joint (axis) a single ovoid red berry dangles below. Take a close look for the kink in the pedicel where there is also a small gland (perhaps to attract insects?). Twisted Stalks often grow along stream edges. 

Fairy BellsProsartes trachycarpa –usually have two berries to match where there were once two yellow flowers at the end of each stem. Berries change from green to orange to a velvet red. They are not quite round nor are they smooth. The covering is textured and contains several seeds.

False Lily-of-the-ValleyMaianthemum racemosum – has a panicle of spotted fruits held at the end of 1-3’ arching single stems. In a panicle, stalks come from a central stem and then branch again, as if going off in a panic. The leafy stems arise from a thick rhizome underground.

While the speckled berries ripen to red, they are often scarfed up by birds or rodents before you see them.

Umbellifers:  This large family of plants was recognized by the Greeks for its distinctive flower arrangement. The Umbelliferae Family is now called the Apiaceae or Parsley/Carrot Family. The flowers are arranged in an umbel: spokes from a central point like ribs of an umbrella.

The dried fruits are termed schizocarps: they split into two parts each with one seed, dangling from a cool hanger-like structure-carpophore. When we eat “seeds” of dill, celery, caraway, cumin, anise, and coriander, we are actually consuming schizocarps.

The largest umbellifer we see is Cow ParsnipHeracleum spondylium — with its 3’ divided leaves with very broad leaflets. The stems are over one-inch thick, hollow, and have hairs that can cause a rash with some people.

Plants with big leaves need a lot of water to keep them turgid so you often see them near streams or in wet meadows.

Cow Parsnipis is related to Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum), a highly invasive introduced species found in the East and northwestern states. Hogweed is highly phototoxic, meaning the sap combined with sunlight can cause a very nasty burn-like rash.

Sharptooth AngelicaAngelica arguta — is only slightly shorter but the leaves are twice divided with smaller leaflets. The schizocarps are more bunched and also have more ribs to them.–reminiscent of celery leaves, to which it is related.

The 2’ long and wide lacy leaves of Fernleaf Licorice-root or LovageLigusticum filicinum—turn a beautiful gold as they begin to dry out. (Below is one whole leaf)

Schizocarps are held up to 3’ high, are abundant, but are very small and fragile:

The flowers were also very delicate and lacy in their umbels. These plants can be plentiful in open meadows low and high. Their fragrant roots were used for medicine.

Western SweetrootOsmorhiza occidentalis – has almost disappeared for the season; however, you may still find the elongate schizocarps dangling along a trail edge or meadow. Earlier they had a licorice-anise flavor to them. 

If you look closely at the thine dark-brown shiny schizocarps above you can see how the one to the right is split and the two sides are dangling from a very delicate carpophore. This is the same scheme of all the other schizocarps but they are so delicate we often miss it.

It is fascinating to watch the development of flowers to fruits. While we may bemoan the passage of summer, there are always botanical treasures to behold!

Frances Clark, Program Coordinator, Teton Plants, Wilson, WY

tetonplants@gmail.com

August 18, 2021

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