Unless otherwise noted, information contained in each edition of the Kansas School Naturalist reflects the knowledge of the subject as of the original date of publication.
Volume 4, Number 4 - April 1958
by Dr. G. A. Leisman
PRICKLY PEAR (cover picture)
Almost everyone knows this plant, our most familiar representative of the cactus family. A perennial and extremely drought-resistant, the prickly pear is found nearly throughout Kansas, though more common in the western half. The large yellow flowers are very attractive, a saving characteristic of most cacti. The reddish, club-shaped fruits are edible and are occasionally made into candy or jelly. The large, succulent so-called leaves are in actuality modified stems specially adapted for water storage. The true leaves, which are seen only on young shoots, are small and narrow. During periods of extreme drought when nothing else is available, ranchers in western Kansas will sometimes singe off the spines of growing prickly pears thus making the plants edible for their cattle. The next time you visit a dry pasture look for a close relative of the prickly pear, the smaller and rarer pin cushion Or ball cactus with reddish or yellowish flowers.
The Kansas State Teachers College of Emporia
John E. King, President
Prepared and Issued by
The Department of Biology, with the cooperation of the Divisions of Education and Social Science
Acting Editor: Carl W. Prophet, Department of Biology
Editorial Committee: Ina M. Borman, Robert F. Clarke, Helen M. Douglass, Gilbert A. Leisman, Dixon Smith
The Kansas School Naturalist is sent upon request, free of charge, to any citizen of Kansas.
The Kansas School Naturalist is published in October, December, February and April of each year by The Kansas State Teachers College, Emporia, Kansas. Second-class mail privileges authorized at Emporia, Kansas.
Most of this issue of The Kansas School Naturalist was prepared by Dr. G. A. Leisman of the E-State Biology Department. The article on preserving flowers was written by Mr. Homer Stephens of the Forestry, Fish, and Game Commission. This is the third issue of a series dealing with some of the wildflowers of Kansas. "Fall Wildflowers" (Oct. 1955), and "Spring Wildflowers" (Feb. 1956), the other two issues of this series, are now out of print and therefore are no longer available.
by Dr. G. A. Leisman
THE ORIGIN OF CULTIVATED PLANTS
Which of the following familiar and important cultivated plants are native to the United States: potato, sweet potato, corn, wheat, beans, tomato, squash, pepper, cabbage, kohlrabi, brussel sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, asparagus, celery, parsnip, beet, turnip, rhubarb, watermelon, lettuce, muskmelon, carrot, onion, pea, spinach, radish, soybean, and sorghum? Before answering, let us find out just how a scientist goes about determining the place of origin of these and other plants. 'Where did our vegetables come from, and where and when were they first used for food?
As you might suspect this is no easy task to fulfill. Many plants have been cultivated for so many years that their origin is all but lost in antiquity. Sometimes, however, lady luck lends a helping hand. Most of you remember David Livingstone as a famous explorer of Africa. But did you know that he also found, by accident, the original home of the wild watermelon in central Africa? This illustrates, also, one of the best methods of tracing the origin of cultivated plants, namely by finding the place where the ancestral forms are still growing naturally.
In many instances, however, wild forms of 'cultivated plants are not found anywhere. Corn is a good example. How can a scientist find out where such plants came from? Well, common names are sometimes of a help. A plant which has many different names among scattered people in a primitive country must have been there a long time. Therefore, this country might very well be its place of origin. When the white man first discovered the Indians of North and South America, he also found that they had cultivated beans for as long as could be remembered. Each tribe, moreover, had their own name for this plant. The Indians on the St. Lawrence River called it "sahe" or "sahu"; the Hurons called it "ogaressa," the northern Algonquins "tuppuhguam-ash"; the Delawares "malachxil," the Roanoke River Indians "okindgier"; and the Aztecs "ayacotli" or "etl." Thus it was likely that the common bean was native to the New World. With the help of other evidence, the origin of the common bean was eventua1ly traced to Central America.
Archaeological findings are frequently of great help also. Carvings, decorated utensils, and ornaments frequently depict food plants used by the people of that time. Even seeds are occasionally found. Such findings, of course, -indicate ancient usage of these plants and possibly places of origin. Wheat and barley have been traced to ancient Egypt by this method with their eventual place of origin being close by in Mesopotamia.
Recently even the microscope has played a role. Strange as it may seem, the shape of a plant's chromosomes-those structures within the cell which carry the hereditary controlling genes-may also provide certain clues. Thus, for example, the chromosomes of North American corn more closely resemble those of the corn in Cei1tral America than the corn in South America. This indicates a direct descendency, from Central American forms for North American corn rather than from South American forms.
Now that we have examined some of the ways by which a plant's place of origin can be ascertained, let us return to the original question. As you may suspect by now, none of those plants listed can be traced to origins in the United States. Isn't it strange how dependent we are on "foreign" vegetables and fruits?
Well, you may ask, if these plants did not 'come from the United States, where did they come from? Space does not permit a detailed answer, but some of the major centers of plant origin might be mentioned. The area around the eastern end of the Mediterranean Sea is one of the most important. Many of our vegetables apparently came from this area, as did Kansas' most important harvest crop, wheat. The Far East and India is another important center. Both Central and South America are the original home of many cultivated species. And there are other centers too.
Do we have any fruits or vegetables that are native to the United States? Yes, but they are relatively few in number. Mention the strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, currants, gooseberries, cranberries, and blueberries, and you have almost exhausted the list. America 1S a land of plenty, to be sure, but remember that most of this "plenty" originally came from other lands.
Camp, W. R., V. R. Boswell, and J. R. Magness. 1957. The World in Your Garden. National Geographic Society, Washington, D.C.
Hutchinson, J., and R. Melville. 1948. The Story of Plants. P. R. Gawthorn, Ltd., London.
Schery, R. W. 1952. Plants for Man. prentice-Hall, Inc., New York.
In the previous article, we discussed in general the origin of many of our cultivated plants. Since much of the economy of Kansas is centered about one cultivated plant, wheat, let's examine in a little more detail the history of this, our most valuable crop.
The history of wheat is a long one and extends back to, or even beyond, the beginnings of civilization. Wheat, along with barley, oats, and rye, was probably among the first of all cultivated plants. Scientists have been able to trace the cultivation of wheat for food purpose~ back to the New Stone Age, approximately 15,000 years ago. These early people apparently discovered the wild wheat plants growing in the mountains of Persia and Afghanistan, and through some way recognized the value of these plants as a source of food. (Approximately 50 different kinds of wild wheat are still found growing in this area, a good indication that this is the center of origin.)
In their wanderings from place to place, they took the wheat with them, cultivated it at each seasonal camp site, and thus spread this crop to many relatively distant areas. By 6000 BC wheat had become well established around the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, the cradle of many ancient civilizations. Through the rise and fall of the Sumerian and Babylonian empires and until biblical times, the cultivation of wheat continued to expand over much of the eastern and southern areas of the Mediterranean region.
Just how and when wheat was first introduced into Europe, no one knows. Suffice it to say that once introduced, it quickly became one of the basic food crops.
The New World did not become acquainted with wheat until the early 1500's when the Spaniards introduced it into Mexico. Somewhat later the first English colonists brought wheat with them when they settled in Virginia. As man moved westward across the Appalachians, wheat moved with him. And so as civilization gradually pushed back the frontiers beyond the state of Kansas, wheat came with the early settlers who soon found that our verdant prairies were ideally suited for this crop. Today Kansas is one of the leading wheat producing states in the country with approximately 200 million bushels produced annually. From 'Persia to Kansas! It's been a long journey, but certainly, from our point of view, very worth while.
The following is a list of common plants that are regularly eaten as fruits or vegetables. Do you know exactly what part of the plant you are eating when it is prepared for consumption? For example, what does lettuce represent? If you answered "leaves," you're correct. Now try your luck on those below. Answers will be found on page 16.
- Lima beans
- Irish Potato
- Sweet Potato
- Brussel sprouts
What are the oldest living things on earth? Most people would probably answer the giant sequoias of California. Until a year or so ago this answer would have been accepted as correct. But within recent months the discovery of even older trees has been announced by dendrochronologists (people who count and study the annual rings of trees.)
Strange as it may seem these trees were found growing within 100 miles or so of Sequoia National Park, the home of the former champions of longevity. White Mountains of California are the home of the new champions, and their name is bristlecone pine. More strangely still, the grove of trees with the most ancient members is found growing on the most inhospitable site of the forest. The trees are gnarled and weather beaten and seldom exceed 25 or 50 feet in height. Perhaps only a narrow strip of the trunk and one or two branches will be alive on any given tree. They seem to survive because of rather than in spite of adversity, for on more favorable sites the trees do not attain anywhere near the age of these old timers.
How old is the oldest of these bristlecone pines? As of the moment, the oldest one studied is over 4,600 years old! In contrast, the General Sherman tree of Sequoia National Park is estimated to be 3,500 years old, a mere youngster by comparison.
You may well ask how it is possible for a tree to be almost 50 centuries old and yet be less than 50 feet in height. Growth of these patriarchs is exceedingly slow, so slow in fact that over 100 annual rings can be counted in an inch of wood. In many cases the tops and uppermost branches die from starvation, and only a few of the lower limbs survive.' Thus if you think a turtle or snail is slow, remember the bristlecone pine!
In terms of living in the future, however, the sequoias appear to have the best chance, since most of the oldest bristlecones appear to be dying back. It is estimated that within 5 centuries these ancient dwarfs will have perished. The oldest sequoias, on the other hand, give no indication of slowing down with old age. With continued protection they could still be living 3000 years from now. Unfortunately for you and me with our puny life span, we will not be around to find out.
The October, 1955, issue of The Kansas School Naturalist was devoted to fall wildflowers and the February, 1956, issue to spring wildflowers. Now we'll fill in the gap. The plants described and pictured are those that bloom during the months of June, July, and August.
1. SCARLET GLOBEMALLOW
Here is one of the most familiar roadside plants of western Kansas. These drought-resistant, pubescent plants frequently form a solid carpet along right-of-ways during early summer. The leaves are 3-lobed with each lobe being divided further. If you have a hand lens or magnifying glass examine the hairs on the leaves more closely. Note how each hair has a star-like appearance, being flat-topped with many radiating branches. Like all members of the mallow family, the flower of the scarlet globemallow has a central column of united stamens. The color of the 5 petals has been variously called yellowish or scarlet, but orange or salmon would seem to be more appropriate adjectives. It is one of the few native plants in Kansas that has this flower color.
2. SHOWY EVENING PRIMROSE
We have many different species
of evening primroses in Kansas, but this one is easily recognized by its white-petaled flowers. All the others have yellow flowers. The showy evening primrose is a common roadside and prairie perennial in central and eastern Kansas. The 4 white petals, 4 sepals, and inferior ovary are distinctive floral characteristics. Upon fading, the petals turn a delicate shade of pink. Like most of the evening primroses, the flowers usually close during the heat of the afternoon. The showy evening primrose is easily grown from seed.
Another handsome evening primrose is the Missouri evening primrose, or Ozark sundrops, with its huge yellow flowers. The four-winged seed pods, green at first, turn yellow and may be seen on the ground all winter.
This low-growing perennial is found in pastures and prairies in the eastern half of Kansas. Because of its rather close resemblance to the common petunia, it is often misnamed "wild petunia." The solitary purplish flowers are borne in the leaf axil forming a funnel much like that of the petunia. They are extremely short-lived, with the corolla falling off within 24 hours. Hence this is hardly a flower for the wild flower bouquet. Leave it in nature where it belongs. The leaves have a very short petiole and are pubescent.
As the name suggests, this plant belongs to the pea or legume family. The leaves are palmately divided into 3 or 5 leaflets and are usually pubescent. In its general growth form and habit and its cluster of tiny blue or lavender pea-like flowers, scurfpea closely resembles the cultivated alfalfa. Because of this it is often called "wild alfalfa." The silvery or grayish pubescence of the leaves, however, usually distinguish it from alfalfa. A familiar prairie and roadside plant, the scurfpea adorns most every landscape throughout the state being especially common north and east.
5. SENSITIVE BRIER
This shrubby, low-growing perennial is easily recognized by its spherical heads of attractive rose-colored flowers, its compound leaves divided into many tiny leaflets, and its long, linear, and spine-covered pods following the blooming period. The lovely flowers invite picking but watch out for the many sharp spines covering the stems. Like other members of the Mimosa family, the leaflets have the peculiar ability to fold together at night, or in stormy weather, or when the plant is handled roughly. The sensitive brier is found nearly throughout the state and makes a handsome addition to he roadside and prairie vegetation.
6. PRAIRIE CLOVER
Also a member of the pea or legume family, the prairie clover is one of our most handsome prairie plants. The compact spike or spherical head of tiny purple or white flowers makes the prairie clover readily identifiable. We have at least 6 different species in Kansas, 4 with white flowers and 2 with purple. All are perennial and have a long taproot. They grow in prairies and meadows throughout the state and are very attractive to insects.
7. QUEEN ANNE'S LACE
This plant is also called "wild carrot" and our domesticated carrot was derived from this plant. Queen Anne's Lace is not native to our country having been brought here from the Mediterranean region. It is easily recognized by the finely divided, fern-like leaves and the loose cluster or umbels of tiny white flowers. After flowering, the flower stalks turn inward into a compact ball somewhat resembling a bird's nest. As the fruits ripen, however, the stalks bend outward again to form a flat-topped cluster. Queen Anne's lace is a biennial and is found along roadsides and waste places chiefly in the eastern half of the state.
8. WOOLY CROTON
A familiar roadside annual throughout central and eastern Kansas, this plant is easily identified by its ovate leaves and soft wooly pubescence. Like the scarlet globemallow mentioned before, the leaves are covered with those unusual stellate hairs which show up so nicely under magnification. The flowers are tiny and very inconspicuous and are either staminate (male) or pistillate (female). Both flower types, however, are borne in the same cluster. When crushed, the plant gives off a very strong odor. Other species of Croton are also quite common in Kansas.
9. FOUR O'CLOCK
The four o'clock is found in waste places, roadsides, and other disturbed areas throughout the state. Though sometimes called a "weed," it nevertheless is an attractive one. The upright, many-branched stems grow to a height of 2-3 feet and bear opposite, more or less heart-shaped leaves. The flowering habit is rather unique for 2-5 flowers are borne in a cluster enclosed by a 5-lobed involucre or bract. Each flower has a bell-shaped calyx, colored purplish-pink, but no corolla.
Following pollination and fertilization, the calyx tube drops off leaving the expanded involucre to surround and protect the developing fruits and seeds. This plant is sometimes called "umbrellawort" because of this unusual feature. It is closely related to our common garden four 0' clock and the exotic tropical vine often seen in our southern states, Bougainvillea.
The many species of this group all have one thing in common, the type of floral structure. Each head has a central cone, either elongated or rounded, of disk flowers and drooping ray flowers around the base of the cone. Most of the cone. Most of our species have yellow ray flowers. The columnar prairie coneflower pictured here is one of the most common species and is found nearly throughout the entire state.
The bright yellow and orange flowers of this attractive perennial gives rise to its other common name, "butter-and-eggs." The flowers look very much like miniature snapdragons except for a rather prominent spur which extends from the lower portion of the corolla. Its leaves are long and very narrow, growing on a stem about 2 feet tall. It is found scattered throughout the state in waste places, along roadsides, and in cultivated areas.
12. BLACK SAMPSON
This rather sinister-sounding name is applied to one of our more attractive composites. The long, linear leaves are chiefly basal in position and are covered with coarse rough hairs. The terminal head of flowers consists of a central cone or mound of brownish-colored disk flowers and a marginal array of purplish-colored ray flowers. This stately perennial is found in prairies and meadows nearly throughout the state. The Indians used the roots of this plant for medicinal purposes, and even today certain tinctures are still prepared from the black Sampson.
The dayflower belongs to the same family as the familiar spiderwort of early spring and the common house plant Zebrina or wandering Jew. It is found in waste places, along roadsides and alleyways and seems to prefer partial shade. The small, rather inconspicuous flowers are actually quite attractive upon close examination. Of the 3 petals, the 2 upper ones are colored blue and the lower white. Not a native of the United States, since its home is in Asia, the dayflower is found scattered throughout the eastern third of Kansas.
14. PRICKLY POPPY
An attractive, yet formidable, species, the prickly poppy is found throughout central and western Kansas in pastures and waste places. Its flower is large and showy, bearing 5 rather flimsy white petals. The center bears a conspicuous cone of bright yellow stamens. Although one may be tempted to gather the flowers for a bouquet, this thought is quickly discouraged by the very sharp prickles which cover both leaves and stem. Like other members of the poppy family, it has a sticky juice or latex.
This plant is found throughout central and western Kansas and is very drought resistant, a characteristic imparted by its deep taproot system, sparse foliage, and whitish pubescence on both stems and leaves. In one species the flowers are greenish-yellow, in another they are white. In either case, however, they are very small and unattractive. The spreading inflorescences at the top of the plant give it a somewhat flat-topped appearance, hence the sometimes-used common name of "umbrella plant."
16. WILD ROSE
Certainly here we have a plant that could scarcely be mistaken for any other kind. Although we have a number of different species in Kansas, everyone can recognize them as roses. The thorny stems, the compound leaves, the pink 5petaled flower with many stamens, and the bright red fruit are all distinctive characteristics. The fruits, or "hips" as they are called, are edible and are readily eaten by birds and mammals. Wild roses are found throughout the entire state and certain of the species are amazingly drought resistant.
17. PITCHER CLEMATIS
Of the many different kinds of vines that one is likely to encounter growing on and along roadside fences in eastern Kansas, the pitcher clematis is one of the most common. It is readily identified by its compound leaves (3 to 9 leaflets) and urn-shaped, brownish-purple flowers borne singly on the ends of long flower stalks. This vine might very \,,"ell make a handsome addition to the garden and is readily propagated by seed. It does require, however, a deep, rich soil. Incidentally this flower has no petals, the deep brownish-purple color being imparted by the sepals alone.
18. JIMSON WEED
A familiar weed around barnyards and feed lots in the eastern half of Kansas, the Jimson weed is one of our largest annual species, attaining a height of up to 5 feet by the end of the growing season. It is easily recognized by its thick greenish or purplish stems, coarsely toothed leaves, and large, trumpetlike flowers. The white or violet colored flowers open in the evening and emit a rather sweet odor which attracts night-flying moths. The entire plant is poisonous to animals, including man.
19. PUNCTURE VINE
The puncture vine is one of our most familiar, and occasionally painful, weeds. A prostrate plant which creeps along the surface of the ground, it will frequently form a very dense mat in waste places and along roadsides. Its fruit is its most conspicuous feature, as many a barefoot boy can testify, being sharply angled and armed with short pointed spines. The flowers borne from July through September are small with 5 separate yellow petals. Puncture vine has opposite, compound leaves consisting of 10 to 14 leaflets. Unfortunately this plant is disseminated rather easily and is rapidly becoming a pest in many parts of our country.
This is a plant familiar to practically everyone in central and western Kansas. The large rosette of bayonet-like, evergreen leaves is a very distinctive feature. In late May and June the inflorescence bearing large, white cup-shaped flowers is produced. The life history of Yucca, or soapweed as it is sometimes called, is very unusual, since pollination and resultant production of seeds is dependent entirely upon one species of moth (see page 5 of the October, 1955, issue of The Kansas School Naturalist). Did you know that the Spanish bayonet and Joshua tree of southwestern United States were also species of Yucca?
We have 11 different species of this plant growing in Kansas, but most of them can be recognized by their yellow, strawberry-like flower, and palmately foliate leaves, the number of leaflets usually being 5. Because of this characteristic cinquefoil is sometimes called "five-finger." They are found chiefly in the eastern half of Kansas growing in meadows and open woods.
22. PRICKLY PEAR (cover picture)
Almost everyone knows this plant, our most familiar representative of the cactus family. A perennial and extremely drought-resistant, the prickly pear is found nearly throughout Kansas, though more common in the western half. The large yellow flowers are very attractive, a saving characteristic of most cacti. The reddish, club-shaped fruits are edible and are occasionally made into candy or jelly. The large, succulent so-called leaves are in actuality modified stems specially adapted for water storage. The true leaves, which are seen only on young shoots, are small and narrow. During periods of extreme drought when nothing else is available, ranchers in western Kansas will sometimes singe off the spines of growing prickly pears thus making the plants edible for their cattle. The next time you visit a dry pasture look for a close relative of the prickly pear, the smaller and rarer pin cushion or ball cactus with reddish or yellowish flowers.
School will be out before the flowers listed in this issue are in bloom. Nevertheless, ,ye hope that this issue will aid the teacher and student alike in learning to identify some of our common summer wildflowers. During these vacation months, the teacher does many things in preparing for school. A good project would be to identify, collect, press, and mount some of the summer flowers for use during the school year.
In collecting plants for pressing and mounting, one must remember to get as much of the plant as possible. Of course if the plant is large, it is not practical to collect all of it. In that case, get enough of the root to show its type, enough of the stem and leaves to show their characteristics, and, of course, be sure to get the flower.
To press these plants place them in a folded sheet of newspaper and evenly apply pressure. It is possible to press more than one plant at the same time, but several sheets of papers should be placed between specimens to absorb the moisture. These papers must be changed daily in order to dry the plants quickly, and large roots should be split lengthwise to facilitate drying. Too much heat will brown the plants, so do not place them in an oven.
The pressure necessary for pressing these plants can be supplied in a number of ways such as using books, rocks, or any other heavy object. A good plant press can easily be constructed from the sides of an apple or orange crate. The plants and their newspapers are placed on one of the boards and then the other board is placed on top. By using a strap at each end of the press, the boards can be drawn tightly together, and the plants will be evenly and neatly pressed.
The dried plants should be mounted on good stiff white paper. Notebook size is fine, but a larger size is better if it is available. The
plants may be glued to the paper or attached with small strips of transparent tape. Mice and insects will eat these dried plants so they
should be kept in boxes containing moth balls. It is a good idea to spray the pressed specimens occasionally with a bug bomb. Students will enjoy building a collection of pressed plants, and projects such as this will add interest to the school science table.
- Lima beans are large seeds.
- Broccoli actually combines two two parts of the plant, the stem and many unexpanded flower buds.
- The Irish potato is a tuber or special kind of underground stem.
- Sweet potatoes are true roots.
- Three cheers if you get this one. A head of cauliflower is nothing more than a large mass of undeveloped flowers.
- A celery stalk is a large and fleshy petiole or leaf stalk.
- Peas like beans are nothing more:. than seeds.
- This is easy. A carrot is, of course, a root.
- Each head of brussel sprouts represents a miniature structure like a cabbage bead. In either case they are nothing more than leafy buds.
- One of our familiar "vegetables," the tomato is actually a fruit.
If you got more than 7 right, you know your onions (these are bulbs). Congratulations!
Everyone has noticed that light comes through a window, but you may not realize that this light can be used to tell the time of. day. Select a window on the sunny side of the building and paste on the glass a piece of paper about the size of a half dollar. See where the shadow of this spot is, on the floor or perhaps on the opposite wall. Mark the place where the shadow is at, say 8:30 A.M. Mark it. again at 9:00 A.M. and at intervals for several hours. Notice next day whether the shadows are at the same places at the same times. Does this provide you with a clock? Does this sun clock keep pace with the room clock? A record kept through the school year will provide the answers to these and many other questions
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