30 de agosto de 2020

China and species identification

In the past week, I've taken to scanning through the "Identify" option on this website and narrowing down the focus to China, generally. For example, I've reviewed all the Sonchus species and see one plant that fits into no know species I recognize in a few observations. It could be Sonchus but may be in the wrong genus.

My goal is two fold: (1) learn more about the plants and animals of China and (2) help with some basic IDs when possible, especially for new users of this website. For example, I just now identified a snake as a snake. That's much better than "unknown" when you want someone to identify it for you. Now, the snake experts can find it more easily. I'm holding off on most dragonfly IDs and hoping I can begin to learn some species in China.

This process also gives me a chance to improve my use of Chinese by communicating with biologists in China which was one of several goals when I started learning Chinese. 我的中文不非常好。If you don't see Chinese characters on your computer, you can install the language. Then, you can use google translation software to read it!

Ingresado el 30 de agosto de 2020 por sedgehead sedgehead | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

15 de marzo de 2019

China 2019

It looks like I will be teaching English in Jinjing again this year, about an hour north of Changsha. My colleague has invited me back for a stint June 20 to August 30. I've not decided where to spend September, but Shanghai, Panjin, and Shenyang are most likely. Let me know if you want to meet me in China. I also need to go to Shenzhen and Hong Kong briefly in early-mid August.

Ingresado el 15 de marzo de 2019 por sedgehead sedgehead | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

12 de febrero de 2019

Hints for identifying Carex using photos.

This blog started as a response on this website to an observation. However, I'm glad I copied and pasted the text into a document prior to posting. The software wiped out my note at "too long" and exceeding the 1000 character limit (it has more than 5000). So, I'll try posting it here.

As for Carex photos, photos of just the flowers (spikelets) are certainly helpful and often diagnostic. The insect is also interesting but would be a separate observation. It is hard to say exactly what works best with sedges, but here are a few general rules of thumb.

(1) Roots may be required. I used to identify Carex frankii throughout Arkansas. However, the closely related C. aureolensis has very long rhizomes. So, without a photo of rhizomes I can't tell you which is which. Someone might, but I can't as I've not studied other characteristics or researched it. Similarly, if memory serves me well, C. floridana has long rhizomes and C. nigromarginata forms large circular clones. Varieties of C. albicans may also require looking for rhizomes. Some taxa such as C. hyalinolepis have large and distinctive rhizomes. So, when I collect, I try to get rhizomes or roots of any Carex. The same would apply to photos in general.

(2) In the next two months from Louisiana north with climate, look for very short stalked carices such as C. umbellata, C. tonsa, C. reznicekii, and others. I love the C. umbellata story in Arkansas as an example. The state had listed it as S1 (six or fewer sites or subject to other hazards of extirpation). I started collecting Carex in 1990 and for a few years walked over it every year. Why? These look like a circular clump of grass all year long. When I did discover it, I started finding it everywhere. A few weeks later, I added six county records in about ten minutes of field time outside my car! The perigynia are on very short stalks, 1-3 cm tall. They bloom early, late Feb. to March in Arkansas. L. L. Gaddy found ants like the oil bodies (eliasomes?) at the base of the perigynia (same is true for C. nigromarginata) and I'd often find plants covered with ants. By April, the plants would be sterile and by the end no sign of perigynia were left. But botanists don't hunt them in March! In the east (NC, GA, et al.) there's C. tonsa which tends to be found in tiny clumps with a few culms less than 2 inches high on disturbed muddy edges of gravel parking lots, which I might call its preferred habitat! Trails also work. It seems to like disturbance. For identification, some species will require careful and clear photos of the length of the culms and peduncles.

(3) Leaf sheaths are often important and without a clear view of sheathless or sheathed species, a person gets stuck in the keys. Leaf width is important in some species, so taking a photo with a millimeter ruler would help with that and many other characteristics.

(4) The leaves themselves can be important. Several species have distinctive glaucous leaves or hairy leaves. For example, C. oxylepis var. oxylepis is (more or less?) glabrous while var. pubescens is quite hairy. Hairs may not be easy to see or even photograph. On rare occasions, I found hairs on supposedly glabrous plants only to be told "Ignore the sparse hairs at the base of the stem."

(5) Spikelet length and shape is often important. You had great photos for that.

(6) Perigynia and achenes are often important at the species level. To be honest, if I was going to regularly photograph sedges, I'd have to come up with a good method. A scope with a camera would of course be ideal, but as you will see below, I've always had other ideas.


Despite being a regional ecologist for the US Forest Service before I retired and collecting thousands of Arkansas Carex specimens, I've always considered myself someone of a naturalist more than a scientist. That is, I don't conduct my laboratory or even field research. I like to find things and let others deal with the specifics. I've always wanted to be like my professor, Dr. Douglas James at the U of Arkansas, who seemed to be able to pick up anything and give it a name. I took the same approach to Carex. So, you will see me taking photos of sedges out of season without fruit or some diagnostic characters shown. Here's a recent example: https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/20071014. Based on field experience, I feel 99.9% sure of this ID despite the sterile plant! When I look at a sedge in the Section Ovales, I still want to be able to identify it on sight without using a scope. Most people fear any attempt to identify them accurately. However, I found some very easy to determine. C. longii has a particular look to it that is hard to define (and a unique perigynium shape). C. festucacea also has a hard to define look to it. C. ozarkana is very easy to identify on sight, but can be confused with C. festucacea at first. C. molesta (upland wet spots) and C. molestiformis (riverine wet spots) have slightly overlapping habitats (such as upland wet spots near rivers!) but it really takes looking at the achenes to easily nail the ID (which is done very easily). These latter two I studied in about 1992 or 1993 by making about 25 collections in Baxter County. If I recall correctly, Tony (A. A.) Reznicek agreed with all my IDs. Then, I compared the collection sites and defined the habitats!

So, have fun! Otherwise, it is like work!

Ingresado el 12 de febrero de 2019 por sedgehead sedgehead | 13 observaciones | 2 comentarios | Deja un comentario

05 de noviembre de 2018

Change of Seasons

The change of seasons is in full swing here. We had a spectacular plus of color followed by off and on again days of rain. I went to Whitaker Point, a.k.a. Hawksbill Crag, this weekend with a group from the Chinese Association of NW Arkansas.

The site was overrun by tourists, one of whom said it is the most photographed location in Arkansas (https://www.inaturalist.org/observations/18115290). Most pleasantly, I found that Caucasians were in the minority, one of many minorities, visiting the site. It was the most diverse group of hikers I have ever seen, a delightful situation in Arkansas especially. I saw people who appeared to be from most if not all continents and at least dozens of countries. Several languages were spoken including Mandarin Chinese with the group I hiked with.

Should you visit the site on a weekend in spring or fall, be aware that parking at the trailhead is limited on the narrow dirt road. Cars were parked on both sides (and later ticketed for blocking traffic) with cars approaching from both directions and people trying to turn around (with the help of law enforcement). Park 1/2 mile away and you won't block traffic or get a ticket.

Ingresado el 05 de noviembre de 2018 por sedgehead sedgehead | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

01 de septiembre de 2018

Dr. Edwin B. Smith

In 1973, I met Dr. Edwin B. Smith as my professor in his Plant Taxonomy class. During the class, I would fall in love and marry a classmate, Annetta Gail Stokenbury, who was known as Gail. Dr. Smith had a reputation for being a difficult professor, something he was proud of. He spoke to our class of "grade inflation," something that has probably only worsened since he retired. I could not easily find much about him on Google, but I did discover one article about him in the paper.


Dr. Smith, who felt his "Smith" name was too common and insisted the B. be used so he could be remembered, was a relatively young professor at the time. His lectures were detailed and some probably considered them tedious, but he also insisted each student make a collection of 60 plant specimens, something that would later change my life. "You can collect anywhere you want," he said. "I can't give you grades based on where you collect your plants, because that would only encourage students to submit intentionally mis-labeled specimens. Some students don't have cars, so it would not be fair to do that anyway. But if you limit yourself to only the campus area, you are unlikely to find anything new. Washington County [Arkansas] is the best known in the state, and you would be lucky to find a county record here. State record species are also nice, but finding one near campus is very unlikely."

Perhaps I took that as a challenge. Dr. Smith had specialized in studying the genus "Coreopsis." However, I did find a state record plant on the south side of campus, what was then called "Galium pedemontanum." Dr. Smith was quite surprised, but did say others had found the plant before but it had been mis-identified. As often happens, it turned out that this species had first turned up in North America in the 1930s and would be easily found in many lawns in Arkansas, mostly outside the Mississippi River Alluvial Plain of much of eastern Arkansas.

I'm an ecologist, and I now call G. pedemontanum my "million dollar plant." How could a tiny weed give me a million real US dollars? Without going into detail, as an ecologist, I liked studying everything. Dr. Douglas C. James, my main professor and an avian ecologist, like to take us on field trips and could identify many species of both plants and animals (including insects). I wanted to be able to do that (one reason I'm on this website) and in about 1987 decided to start collecting plants to be a better ecologist. After collecting a few thousand, I decided to return to the U of A and get a master's degree in Botany. This led to work with the US Forest Service where, in my final year, 2007, I earned more than $75,000. I've been retired and receiving benefits since then and if you all up all the actual income and benefits, G. pedemontanum spurred my interest in a way that I have received more than $1,000,000 in my 17 year career and retirement.

I'd surprise Dr. Smith again. I found a state record plant, a Stellaria species, growing outside the door of the building that housed his office, the Science-Engineering building. Obviously, even plants are easy to overlook. The Echinacea plant connected to this blog is one he helped me publish a chromosome count on.

Dr. Smith, an atheist, felt his botany work would be the only way he would be remembered generally. Perhaps. He was not flamboyant. But he was detailed oriented. One weekend, my two children, at ages about 14 and 11, were spending time with me in the herbarium. My daughter needed a pencil and picked one up from Dr. Smith's desk. My son asked her, "Did you get that from Dr. Smith's desk?" When she affirmed it, he said, "Make sure you put it back exactly where you found it. If you don't, Dr. Smith will know."

"I'll never use computers," he told me in about 1990 when he asked me to put a paper we were publishing on my computer. After typing it in, he had revisions. After about an hour, I revised the paper and gave him a new copy. He was surprised at the speed, because he had always retyped papers. He found a few more minor errors, and asked me to revise it again. He was shocked when I returned with a printed revised copy in five minutes, compared to the time it would take to type it again. I guess it convinced him. He would later publish his keys to the flora of Arkansas by using a computer!

He bragged that his taxonomy class was not easy and he had no problem giving graduate students the grades they earned, even if they were Cs and Ds. I'm proud to say I had made a B as a college junior.

Ingresado el 01 de septiembre de 2018 por sedgehead sedgehead | 1 observación | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

31 de agosto de 2018

What is a Sedgehead

The name Sedgehead is not something I created. The words rhyme and are probably a take on the term "motorhead" for people who like to work on motors. In the dim and distant past, some botanist created the term by combining the words "sedge" and "head." I recently learned a word like Sedgehead is called a portmanteau. With the -teau ending it obviously comes from French. It is also a type of suitcase, a portmanteau, that is. You learn something new every day.

I claimed the name "Sedgehead" first on the internet in 1995, but of course, other people use it. However, I was early enough that I captured it for several email names, my website (www.sedgehead.com) and on Twitter (rarely used), Facebook (friends limited to my current family and descendants, mostly), Youtube (account abandoned), Linkedin (checked infrequently), QQ (used daily), WeChat (used daily), and other websites.

At age 66, I'm to the point that if my son doesn't need to keep the site for business, I may find some young sedgehead to take the name (and my website) when I am gone. No one lives forever, after all.

Ingresado el 31 de agosto de 2018 por sedgehead sedgehead | 1 observación | 4 comentarios | Deja un comentario

27 de agosto de 2018

Details of my Background

Born in 1952 in the middle of nine children, son of a carpenter (dad) and an avid reader (mom) I first remember thinking of a career as a naturalist in Yosemite National Park on one of several undated trips my family took there, sometimes spending an entire week. We camped 13 weekends in a row one summer, after a near-tragedy at Zuma Beach when two uncles and some sons, including two of my brothers, we swept into the Pacific by the rip tide. Fortunately, the Coast Guard picked up those who didn't make it to shore on their own. Obviously, we liked camping and the beach.

That first birding trip, in October 1966, in Florida during a camping trip, mentioned in my last blog, sparked my interest in birds. I would see a few hundred species before attending college and majoring in Zoology and later Botany as detailed above. At the University of Arkansas (1970-1974), I met Dr. Douglas James, an avian ecologist, who drew my interests into a rather new statistical field, multivariate analysis. For many years, I've summarized his and his student's research by saying, "By measuring 17 habitat characteristics as variables, such as number of trees in 1/10 acre in different size classes, number of twigs per acre at breast height, percent ground and canopy cover, etc., you can determine that a Mockingbird sings from the top of a tree.

However, for reasons listed in my autobiography, "Windsong," my life would take me through 44 jobs, to date. I added a new one this year: using mostly English to teach art to children in China. Dad was a carpenter with nine, so my college life was something I had to figure out independently. Later, I'd get into sales, construction, teaching community college, courses, driving a bus, working in an intensive care unit in a hospital, as a janitor elsewhere, and so on. Eventually, I'd return to the U of A (1989-1991) for a master's in botany. This led to a nearly 17 year career in the US Forest Service, first as a field botanist/ecologist on the Sylamore Ranger District, Ozark National Forest, then in South Carolina at the Savannah River Site, eight years on the Kisatchie National Forest, and a few years as regional ecologist for the Southern Region.

My time in the US Forest Service allowed me to publish a chapter in a book on Carex sedges of the Kisatchie and a chapter in a book on managing mammals in the Southern Region which covers Texas and Oklahoma, east through Kentucky to Virginia and south to Puerto Rico. I've lived about 20 years in Arkansas, eight in Louisiana, seven in California, five in Kentucky, a few in Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Florida, South Carolina, and North Carolina, and a grand total of 22 weeks scattered across China, mostly in the Shencai community near Shenyang and the small town of Jinjing north of Changsha.

My interest changed over the years, from birds through college, into making a living and raising children (two sons, three daughters, only two of which are "biological"), to collecting plants (Flora of Baxter County, Arkansas, published in 1993 in Casteanea), to writing a book on Carex sedges of Arkansas (available on request still draft but complete) from 1991 to 2011 (a target date set in the early 1990s), to learning Chinese to make friends with Chinese people and biologists.

Currently, I'm interested in Prenanthes (plant) and Odonates (dragon and damsel flies), along with a long term interest in Carex species in Arkansas and China and Echinacea paradoxa var. paradoxa. I'm also interested in any species in China and in Baxter County, Arkansas, where I live.

Ingresado el 27 de agosto de 2018 por sedgehead sedgehead | 9 observaciones | 0 comentarios | Deja un comentario

25 de agosto de 2018

Introduction to Sedgehead (me)

This is a test. This is only a test. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. And, the bombs are not falling, yet.

I have already posted a general introduction on this website and I've decided to start blogging here occasionally, mainly to track days of photographs and locations. Here's the general intro I currently use:

"As of joining [this website] in August 2018, I'm a 66 year old botanist / ecologist / writer / editor / semi-retired former US Forest Service Regional Ecologist for the Southern Region (Virginia, Kentucky, Arkansas, Oklahoma, south to Puerto Rico) who is teaching himself Chinese. This year, I'm looking for Nabalas species (Prenanthes) in north central Arkansas, but am the world's expert on Arkansas Carex sedges."

I've found this site quite fascinating. I've been writing in Chinese for years on http://lang-8.com/330589/journals, a language-learning site which, for nearly two years, has unfortunately not accepted new members.

My original interest, in birds, started at age 14 in 1966 (you do the math) on a field trip while camping with my parents. That led to a degree in zoology (1974) and later a master's degree in botany (1991). I always wanted to be able to identify any species and this site is a great way to improve those skills.

One of several reasons I started to learn Chinese was to communicate with Chinese biologists. But as I like to say, "Learning Chinese (since 2004) is dangerous. It can result in grandchildren." As a result, I've been to China three times now (2014 for six weeks, 2015 four weeks, and 2018 for 12 weeks). This year, I completed my first "grand tour" visiting Shanghai, Yangzhou, Changsha Jinjing where I taught English for six weeks, Chengdu, Sichuan Liangshan Yi, Guangzhou, Hong Kong (for 30 minutes to get a new 60 days on my Chinese visa), Shenzhen, Beijing, Shenyang, and Panjin. I've also been to Qingdao. However, I was not aware of this site at that time, so I have few observations to post from China, so far!

我十四年半学中文可是我不会中文非常好。That is, I can speak and write some Chinese, but not very well.

Ingresado el 25 de agosto de 2018 por sedgehead sedgehead | 3 observaciones | 3 comentarios | Deja un comentario