Showy Evening Primrose blooming in Tucker mini-prairie

white flower

Oenothera speciosa or Showy Evening Primrose, found in the Onagraceae family

Oenothera speciosa, White Evening Primrose, or Showy Evening Primrose is found in the Onagraceae family. These beautiful, delicate flowers open in the early morning, but many species of evening primrose only open in the evening. The Tucker mini-prairie has three different species of Oenothera. Missouri Evening Primrose, Oenothera macrocarpa (ours is not blooming yet), and Common Evening Primrose, Oenothera biennis (not blooming yet).

Look closely at the flower. You’ll see a yellowish “throat” in the center, eight yellow stamens, and a four-branched stigma. There are also only four petals. There is another plant blooming in the Tucker prairie right now with a flower that looks very much like the primrose. It is field bindweed or Covolvulus arvensis, and it is found in the Morning Glory family, the Convolvulaceae.

“What is a weed? A plant whose virtues have never been discovered”-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Surely we’ve all seen plantain “weeds” growing in our yards.  They’re pervasive, but their very strange looking inflorescences are something to marvel at.

odd white flower

Plantago lanceolata or Buckhorn plantain found in the Plantaginaceae family

Plantago lanceolata, commonly called Narrow Leaf Plantain, or Buckhorn Plantain, is found in the Plantaginaceae family. It is now considered to be an invasive weed in the U.S. There are several Plantain plants blooming right now in the “lawn” on the west side of the Tucker greenhouse, and near the Tucker mini-prairie. They have narrow, linear leaves, usually in a basal rosette, and a really unusual inflorescence on a long scape. These plants have been blooming since early May, and will bloom all summer long. If you look closely at the spike inflorescence, you can see several white stamens protruding out.

The next time you decide to pull weeds, take a moment to actually look at the plant.  You might be amazed at what you see.

plantain plant

View of a whole Buckhorn plantain plant outside of the Tucker greenhouse.

Vines are so cool!

In my most recent post, I highlighted the vine, Trumpet Creeper.  In this post, I’m introducing Virginia Creeper.  These vines creep all over things, other plants, poles, trellisses, and in the case of Virginia Creeper, they can climb a brick wall and cover a whole building.

plant climbing a brick wall.

Virginia creeper, climbing the brick wall on the south side f the Tucker Hall greenhouse

Parthenocissus quinquefolia, commonly known as Virginia Creeper, is a deciduous, woody vine found in the Vitaceae or Grape family. Many people mistakenly identify this plant as poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), or even poison oak. Poison ivy has compound leaves with three leaflets, but Virginia creeper has palmately compound leaves with five leaflets, hence the species name quinguefolia. Poison oak (Toxicodendron pubescens) largely occurs in southern Missouri.

Virginia creeper is native to the central and eastern United States. It is a climbing vine and can climb up trees or brick buildings as high as 20-30 meters. It has forked tendrils allowing it to climb easily, and adhesive pads, sort of like Velcro which allows the vine to stay attached to whatever it climbs.

Virginia creeper has incredibly beautiful fall color of bright orange and very bright reds. There is a large vine of Virginia creeper growing up a brick wall on the south side of the Tucker greenhouse, and it is just now beginning to bloom. The blooms are greenish and quite small, but they produce a purple berry in the fall that provides a great winter food source for Bluebirds, Cardinals, Chickadees, Woodpeckers, and even Wild Turkeys. For humans, these berries are poisonous, so don’t try making jam or jelly with these berries.

plant climbing a brick wall

Virginia creeper inflorescence about to flower

Trumpet Creeper

Campsis radicans, commonly known as Trumpet Creeper, or Trumpet Vine, is found in the Bignoniaceae family. There is a huge clump of it growing on the south side of Tucker Hall, within the wooden fence. It is a native to the southeastern U.S. Trumpet vines are deciduous woody vines that can grow 10 meters or more. They have distinctive compound leaves, but it’s their flowers that really stand out. They are large, trumpet-shaped, reddish/orange flowers. Hummingbirds love these flowers. The resulting seed from these flowers are long, banana-shaped brown capsules. The trumpet vine has numerous tendrils that allow it to climb on to other things. Eventually, the lower stems become quite woody. This plant is a vigorous grower, rapidly spreading and climbing, and it can become quite invasive. I often have to pull out trumpet vines from the Tucker mini-prairie. If I didn’t do this, they would take over!

red flower

Campsis radicans Bignoniaceae family 

Verbascum thapsus, or Mullein

Verbascum thapsus, commonly known as Mullein, is found in the Figwort or Scophulariaceae family. It is native to Eurasia. Mullein typically grows in poor, dry soil, and in full sun. Several Mullein plants have ‘sprung up” in the Tucker mini-prairie, so I thought I would highlight Mullein, even though it is not a native MO plant. Mullein has very distinctive leaves. They are large, almost grey/blue, and very soft and hairy.

large leaves

Verbascum thapsus            

This is a biennial plant, meaning it forms a basal rosette of leaves the first year of its life, then sends up a flowering shoot the second year of its life.  At the end of its second year, a biennial plant dies. The bloom stalk on a Mullein plant can be 1 to 3 meters tall. The Mullein inflorescence is a dense spike of yellow, zygomorphic flowers that can last up to 1 to 2 months (June to September). However, only a few of the flowers on the spike bloom at any one time. The seeds (one plant can produce 100,000 seeds in a year) of a Mullein plant can lie dormant in soil for many, many years, and still germinate when conditions are perfect. I’m noticing a lot more Mullein coming up this spring in places I’ve never seen Mullein growing before.

Interesting facts about the Mullein plant-Hummingbirds sometimes use the soft leaves of the Mullein plant to line their nests, and Mullein leaves are medicinal and have been shown to have expectorant and anti-rheumatic properties.

If you happen upon the Tucker mini-prairie, see if you can pick out the Mullein plants.

yellow flowor

Mullein inflorescence, just starting to bloom

Tucker mini-prairie rain garden is FULL of water

Early this morning, torrential rains flooded the Tucker Hall basement, several rooms, labs, and an auditorium.  Lots of flooding occurred all over the MU campus. On the south west side of Tucker Hall, in the Tucker mini-prairie, there exists a very sweet little rain garden.  It is so full of water right now, but it is also teeming with wet- loving plants, like sedges, rushes, cattails, hibiscus, etc.

wetland plants

Tucker Hall rain garden-part of the Tucker mini-prairie.  In this photo, native Hibiscus, and cattails.

This morning while walking through the mini-prairie, photographing the blooming plants, I spied three different sedges in full bloom at the water’s edge.

sedge flower

This sedge appears to be Scirpus georgianus.

sedge blooms

This sedge appears to be Carex frankii or Frank’s sedge

sedge flower

This sedge appears to be Carex annectens, or brown fox sedge

I keyed these plants with the help of Steyermark’s Flora of Missouri, Mohlenbroch’s Vascular Flora of Illinois,,

Yucca filamentosa just beginning to bloom on the south west side of Tucker Hall

white flower

This is an individual flower of a Yucca filamentosa inflorescence. This plant is commonly referred to as Adam’s needle or Spanish bayonet.  It is found in the Asparagaceae family and the subfamily Agavoideae

Each species of Yucca is apparently pollinated by a single, highly specialized moth.  The moth has special appendages to actively pack pollen onto the stigma of the flower.  The moth then oviposits (lays its eggs) directly into the ovary of the flower.  Then the developing moth larvae eat part of the developing Yucca seed. However, if the moth oviposits too many eggs on a single flower, the flower’s ovary will abort and drop off the plant, selecting against individuals who overexploit the plant.  The Yucca-Yucca moth pollination regime is a clear example of coevolution between plants and animals.

This plant can tolerate full sun, and drought conditions.

white flower

white flowers

Top of inflorescence

Yucca leaves, and base of inflorescence stalk

Yucca leaves, and base of inflorescence stalk


Introducing Rhus glabra, or smooth sumac

This is Rhus glabra, or smooth sumac, and it is a native deciduous shrub found in the Anacardiaceae family.  Other members of this same family are poison ivy, mangoes & cashews.  Smooth sumac is flowering right now in Missouri woodlands, prairies, open fields, and along roadways.  There are several smooth sumac plants growing and blooming just north of the Tucker greenhouse.

yellow flowers

Rhus glabra inflorescnce

The  yellowish flowers bloom in a dense panicle inflorescence.  These plants are dioecious, meaning that male flowers occur on one plant and female flowers occur on another plant.  The flowers attract birds and butterflies.

yellow flowers

Smooth sumac plant in full bloom

In the autumn, (the former female inflorescence) seed heads turn bright reddish maroon.  The seed heads contain numerous hairy, berry-like drupes.  This fruit is very attractive to wildlife.  These shrubs often grow in large clumps or colonies, and spread by root suckers to form thickets.