Richweed


If you can’t see the slideshow, or if you’re on dial-up, go here.

I found the cicada struggling to mount a leaf, clawing feebly at the smooth surface. It had somehow survived the avian gauntlet, but death would come soon one way or another. Elsewhere in the patch, stray wings of less fortunate cicadas were scattered about, looking very much like transparent maple keys.

Few plants offer as many opportunites for arthropod watching when they aren’t in bloom as the large-leaved and aromatic Collinsonia canadensis. I’ve always referred to this plant simply as “horsebalm,” but apparently that name has been applied to other members of the Collinsonia genus as well, along with “stoneroot”; I should be calling it Canada horsebalm to be more specific, or better yet, richweed. Though prized by herbalists, and once an important medicine to the Iroquois and Cherokee, for us it’s mostly just a nice, citronella-scented plant that’s fun to point out to tour groups on hikes up the hollow — we always like to add an olofactory element to our tours. In another month or so it’ll send up spikes of yellow flowers, but why is it so popular with the six- and eight-legged crowd now? From what I could see, simply because its large, horizontal leaves help with thermoregulation: where they intersect with short-lived sunbeams in the otherwise cool forest, they’re great places to sunbathe.

Needless to say, this is a (semi-) macro photographer’s dream. Most of the woods is simply too dark to take photos without a tripod; I’m pretty much limited to snapping what’s in the sun. And since it was a cool morning, the insects were in no hurry to move on. But as usual, my attention was drawn as much to the stage set as to the actors: the shifting patterns of sun and shade, the color and texture of the leaves.

I wasn’t the only one drawn by the concentration of insect life. A funnel spider had set up shop, curling a leaf into a lemon-fresh lair of death. An assassin bug squash bug* seemed less interested in stalking prey than in feeding on a bird dropping. When I came in too close with the lens, it circled to the other side of its prize and assumed that pugilistic pose so typical of its kind. And a pair of harvestmen — or a harvestman and a harvestwoman, as the case may be — seemed most interested in each other. For the entire half-hour I was there, they stood face-to-face, barely moving except for their long front legs, which met and circled like foils in the world’s slowest fencing match.

I think I’ll be calling it richweed from now on.

*See comment by Rebecca Clayton below.

Flickr slideshow created following the very helpful instructions of Paul Stamatiou.

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

10 Comments


  1. all the photographs are lovely but my favorite is the one (final, is it?) with the cicada wing on the leaf.
    This was the perfect afternoon break from translating for me. Thanks, Dave. best from Graulhet.

    Reply

  2. Horsebalm is what I learned to call it, but evidently that name is used for several other plants as well. So is Richweed: I discovered last summer that it’s a name for Pilea pumila.

    http://pocahontascofare.blogspot.com/2007/09/pilea-pumila.html

    Your assassin bug is a coreid, or squash bug. I’m not sure which one; the shadows of his legs suggest he’s one of the leaf-footed bugs, with hind tibia flattened and ornamented into leaf-like shapes. He looks like Leptoglossus, although that genus is more common farther south of you-all.

    Coreid and reduviid nymphs have similar “aspect,” and people confuse them all the time, especially when they’re small.

    Harvestwomen. Very nice indeed.

    Reply

  3. Thanks for the kind words, y’all. R.L., I always like hearing that I’m giving people an excuse to slack off!

    Rebecca – Thanks for the correction! I thought of sending it to you first, but I was awfully sure it must be some kind of assasin bug (and figured if I was wrong you’d let me know). At least I got the order right. :) Nice to hear I’m not the only one who’s confused. Might explain why it didn’t seem especially predatory, then, eh?

    Reply

  4. what? you’re not willing to trek around the mountain with your tripod fully extended?

    I concur with Rebecca on that common name…richweed has always meant Pilea pumila to me, also known as clearweed (I like that one best) a smooth, almost transparent nettle family member.

    Reply

  5. Well, I feel that since the Latin name is the sole source of authority, we should be free to use whichever common names we like best. Since I’ve never called Pilea pulia anything but “clearweed,” I’m free to call Collinsonia canadensis “richweed,” the way I see it. Besides, who am I to argue with the USDA PLANTS database?

    You can’t get close enough quick enough with a tripod for these kinds of shots. At least, not the $20 tripod I have.

    Reply

  6. Thanks for the dial-up link, the Phoneco promises my dial-up hell, or at least heck, will end this week. I will be able to waste time at a much faster clip. Not your blog, of course, that’s never a waste of time. rb

    Reply

  7. Last summer was our purgatory with Verizon. In the end, they did replace our router box for free, but it took a three-way call with my geek cousin in New Jersey to finally effectively troubleshoot the problem and bully the clueless tech support person in Pakistan into connecting us to someone who could help. So, my sympathies.

    Reply

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