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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Serious Plant Identification Attempt- Ox-tongue

Came home with pictures of a plant I did not know the other day. You may have seen my posting on Facebook to elicit help. Only got more questions.

So... tonight I tried some serious identification work with a real key. I haven't had to do this for a while. Tedious. Have spent all evening. Maybe have a match. Would really like one of my pro botanist friends to check it out when I get a chance.


My first impression was that it isn't a hawkweed (too many branches) or a wild lettuce (leaves aren't toothed deeply enough). That said, there could be exceptions to common examples. What it looks most like is some sort of double yellow Chicory, if you take the leaves and stems into account. Not an option.

I tried both the key in Michigan Flora, and the key in Illustrated Flora of the Northern United States. The second one is very old and outdated as to names, but there are drawings for every single species, so you can often get an ID, and then check on line for updated naming. Anyway.

No question it's in the Compositae family. I guess I won't explain that too much, but it doesn't narrow things down much. There are over 20,000 species and it's either the largest or second-largest family of plants in the world. OK. Now let's get down to business. I've greatly simplified the questions... there are many many hedges of the bets.

Key division 1: Are the heads flat ligulate (outer flat strap-like extension of the corolla- it's the outermost "petals" with the pinked edges) flowers, or are they ray and disk flowers? Think Chicory vs. Aster. Definitely more like Chicory on the left than the Aster on the right.


That puts us in Group A, now we start over.

Key division 1: Pappus or not? What's a pappus, you ask? It's the silky hairs at the top of the seed pod (from now on known as the achene). Although milkweed aren't in Compositae, the pappus is like those hairs that carry the milkweed seeds on the wind. Got it? Definitely a pappus.


Because we chose pappus, key items 3 and 4 are out of the question. Our next poser is Key division 5: Pappus composed of scales and bristles, or pappus composed entirely of hairs or bristles.

This one was pretty easy. No scales, all hairs or bristles.

On to number 6: Pappus at least partly of plumose hairs (feathery), or pappus entirely of simple bristles- at most some are barbed. Hmmm. This one gets tougher. Under my dissecting scope, I could see some branching at the ends of some of the bristles. So I guess it comes down to how much branching. Here's where one starts fudging. It helps to have a basic idea of what kinds of plants are in the various genera.

The feathered bristles took me to Krigia (native dandelion), Hypochaeris (cat's ears), Leontodon (fall dandelion), Tragopogon (goat's beard) or Picris (Ox-tongue)- not the first four... it just doesn't look like those plants. I assume you don't want the full run-down, at least tonight. The only one I didn't know was Picris.

The simple bristles took me to a long list of genera. I decided to go with simple bristles. This eliminated key questions 7-9.

Key division 10: Solitary heads with basal leaves, or multi-headed with leaves basal or along the stem? Easy. Leaves along the stem and many heads. Question 11 eliminated. As you can see, when I said I got serious, it means I went and dug up a few plants. No one is going to care. There are lots and they are growing along a roadside.


Key division 12: Leaves all or mostly basal, or leaves all or mostly along the stem. Easy- along the stem.

Key division 13: Involucre at least 2/3 as broad as long, or involucre at least twice as long as broad. The involucre is the "cup" of green things that hold the flowers. No clear answer. The left one looks long and skinny, the right one, not so much.

Ox tongueOx tongue

Back to making choices. Broader ones lead me to Hieracium (hawkweed), Crepis (hawk's beard), Sonchus (sow-thistle), Chondrilla (skeleton weed), Prenanthes (rattlesnake-root), and Lactuca (wild lettuce). Not like any of those except possibly Crepis, which I didn't really know.

I decided to go with Crepis. Here's where everything went south. If you have the ripe achenes, they can really be a help with identification. And I was very careful to bring some home. I wasn't able to get a picture through the scope, but I did a drawing, with the pappus still attached. Definitely bumpy, definitely has a few ribs, maybe five. No beak (some sort of extension on the top). Each achene is 2 to 2.5 mm long (without the pappus).


With the nice pictures in Illustrated Flora, I figured I was all set. Nope. All the Crepis have lots more ribs on the achenes. Sigh. I was ready to give it up for the night. Then I decided I should go back and look at Picris. The Michigan book says this was accidentally introduced from France, and has only been found in a few places around the state. So I had dismissed it earlier.

But. But! It is in the Illustrated Flora, and the drawing of the achene is a really good match. It says the involucre has inner bracts that hug the flower, while the outer ones spread. Check- see picture above! Lower leaves narrowed into stems while the upper ones are clasping. Check! Shapes of leaves highly variable, toothed, not toothed, lance-like. Check!

It's Picris hieracioides, Ox-tongue.


This 1885 illustration is by Prof. Dr. Otto Wilhelm Thomé Flora von Deutschland (public domain), and it's my tentative confirmation that I did my work well, albeit slowly.

I think it's a match.

If you are ever wondering what to do with a spare day, just try keying out a plant, cold. This took hours, and that was with a fairly certain ability to eliminate huge groups of choices. And this, my friends, is why I don't do grasses. They have an entirely different vocabulary set, and I only know maybe 10 or so that I can eliminate from the vast unknown.

Did you have fun? Haha.

See Cat's Ears- nearly a dead ringer on the flower, but the rest of the plant is very different
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The Furry Gnome said...

Inteiguing plant. You're much more of a botanist than I. You were far ahead of me at "ligulate". But good work getting through it. I've been trying the goldenrods.

Ann said...

It's all foreign to me.

Sharkbytes said...

Stew- goldenrods are so cool! You'll do it. Actually I had to look up ligulate too.

Ann- every major plant group has a completely different vocabulary. It's like learning several languages!

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