Extension Entomologist, Ben Puttler, provides a special teaching moment today!

In the summer months, Ben Puttler, an Extension Entomologist in the Department of Entomology can often be seen ‘exploring’ around the outside of the Tucker greenhouse.  He can be seen looking closely at the undersides of leaves on milkweed plants, Buckthorn trees, etc.  Today, he provided me with several very cool teaching moments.  He showed me ‘Aphid mummies‘ on the undersides of the leaves of an Asclepias tuberosa plant.  The light brown bumps you see used to be live Oleander aphids, but they have been mummified by a parasitic wasp.  The wasp lays its eggs in the aphid, then the wasp larvae feed on the insides of the aphid, until it’s just a shell of its former self….what a way to go.  Check out this website to read more about it.

insects on a leaf

Aphid ‘mummies’ on a butterfly weed plant

Ben then showed me the next cool thing.  He has placed egg masses of Brown stink bugs on the undersides of the leaves on the Buckthorn tree to the north of the greenhouse.  Today he noticed that a parasitic wasp landed on one of these egg masses.  He was elated!  Now he has to try and identify what type of wasp has parasitized these eggs.  He can then use these wasps as a biological control to help combat outbreaks of Brown stink bugs.

wasp on egg case

Parasitic wasp on Brown Stink bug egg mass

Here is a picture of Ben searching for bugs

image of a man searching for insects in some bushes

Ben Puttler Dept. of Entomology




Cup Plant blooming in Tucker Mini-Prairie today!

Silphium perfoliatum, commonly known as Cup Plant, is found in the Asteraceae family.  It is native to the eastern and central portions of the U.S.  Our specimen is located in the middle of the Tucker Mini-Prairie.  The head-like inflorescences are yellow and consist of both ray and disk flowers.  Our cup plant just started blooming today, and will continue to bloom until September.  This plant can reach a height of 3.5 meters.  It has opposite, ‘perfoliate’ leaves, that join together at their bases on the main stem, forming a cup-like container that can hold water.  Cup plants will form dense colonies as they have abundant shallow rhizomes that spread rather easily in good soil.   Apparently, gold finches love to eat the mature seeds on the cup plant inflorescence.  They also drink water from the ‘cups’ formed by the leaves.

image of a yellow flower

Silphium perfoliatum

Image of a yellow flower

Cup plant leaves form a ‘cup-like’ container that fills with rain water.


Big Blue Stem blooming in Tucker Mini-Prairie!

Andropogon gerardii, commonly known as Big Blue Stem, is a native prairie grass found in the Poaceae family.  It has just now started to bloom in the Tucker Mini-Prairie.  Sometimes this perennial grass is referred to as ‘Turkey Foot grass’ because of the resemblance of its inflorescence to that of a turkey’s foot.  Big Blue Stem grows up to almost 3 meters tall.  Before prairies were plowed under, Big Blue Stem covered much of western Missouri, most of Iowa, & most of Illinois.  It is a dominant species in the tall grass prairie.  It is also considered to be a warm-season grass, meaning that it blooms in the heat of summer.  The common name refers to the fact that the leaves have a bluish tint.

image of grass flower blooming

Big Bluestem just opening its inflorescence

image of a grass in bloom

Andropogon gerardii (Poaceae family)




Bougainvillea blooms!

Bougainvillea sp., commonly called Bougainvillea, is a member of the Nyctaginaceae family.  It is native to South America.  We have four very large plants located in the south greenhouse on the east bench.  There are two plants with pink blooms and two with salmon-colored blooms.  The pink ones have just begun blooming again.  These plants are thorny, woody, and vine-like and can grow up to 12 meters.  If you look closely at the flower, you’ll see that the pink ‘petals’ are not petals at all, but instead are leaf-like bracts whose purpose is to attract pollinators, and protect the tiny white flower in the center.  The plant was named for an early French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville in 1789.

Image of pink flower

Bougainvillea sp.

image of pink flower

The flowers are white, surrounded by pink ‘bracts’




Pereskia grandflora, commonly called Rose Cactus, is found in the Cactaceae family.  It is a shrub or small tree native to northeastern Brazil.  Pereskia has a dense inflorescence of pink flowers at the ends of the stems.  The flowers are showy and rose-like.  There are VERY sharp spines running up the entire length of the trunk.  Our specimen lives in the Desert room in the middle bed.  I had to climb a tall ladder in order to get this shot of the flowers at the top.  The tree is about 6 meters tall.  Have I mentioned that it has lots of spines?

image of cactus branch with lot of sines

SPINES on the main truck of Pereskia

image of pink flowers

flowers at top of Pereskia grandiflora plant


Yellow Alder blooming!

Turnera ulmafolia, commonly known as Yellow Alder, is found in the Turneraceae family.  Turnera is a small shrub growing up to one meter, and it is a native of Mexico & the West Indies.  It grows best in partial shade.  You can find several of  them in the north greenhouse growing in the middle bed, low to the ground.  They have light yellow flowers with five petals, and very dark green foliage.  If you look very closely at the flower, you’ll see five stamens (male part of the flower), and three, very tall, and fuzzy, yellow pistils (female parts of the flower).

image of a light yellow flower

Turnera ulmafolia (Turneraceae family)


Four more blooming plants spied today in the Tucker greenhouse!

 Pentas sp., is found in the Rubiaceae family (same family as coffee).  It is blooming right now in the south greenhouse on the east bench.

image of a white flower

Pentas sp.


Jathropa sp., is found in the Euphorbiaceae family.  This particular plant can be found in the succulent room on the south bench.  It is a succulent plant with a pachycaul, or caudex stem (enlarged woody stem for water storage).  It is a native of the Americas, and like many members of this family, it has highly toxic, milky sap.

Image of orange flower

Jatropha sp.


Neomerica gracilis, commonly known as Apostle’s Iris, is found in the Iridaceae family.  It is located in the south greenhouse on the middle bench.  This is a very cool flower!

image of purple and white flower

Neomerica gracilis


Crossandra sp., is found in the Acanthaceae family.  The genus is a native of Africa, Madagascar & Arabia.  This plant blooms bright orange blooms most of the year.  It is located in the south greenhouse on the east bench.

image of orange flower

Crossandra sp.



Lipstick plant just now beginning to bloom!

 image of a maroon flowerAeschynanthus pulcher (Gesneriaceae family)

Aeschynanthus pulcher, commonly called Lipstick plant, is found in the Gesneriaceae family (same family as African Violets).  It is a tropical vine and a native of Java.  It has just now started to bloom.  It is located in the tropical room in a hanging basket, suspended over the goldfish pond.  I will be posting more pictures of these flowers as they continue to open.  Eventually , as the flower continues to grow, a reddish orange corolla (petals) will emerge from the maroon calyx (sepals) pictured here.  It’s much like lipstick coming out of a tube!

Check out the red corolla that just emerged!  Hence the name 'Lipstick' plant

Check out the red corolla that just emerged (August 5th)! Hence the name ‘Lipstick’ plant