Overview

Comprehensive Description

Comments

While not particularly showy, Kittentails is an unusual little plant. It resembles some broad-leaved Plantago spp. (Plantains), but the floral spike of Kittentails is more stout and its flowers are insect-pollinated. The closest relatives (either Besseya spp. or Synthyris spp.) are found in mountainous areas of the western states. These latter species usually have flowers (or floral bracts) that are purple, otherwise they are similar in appearance to their eastern counterpart. Another scientific name of Kittentails is Wulfenia bullii.
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Description

This wildflower consists of a low rosette of basal leaves up to 6" across; a mature plant will produce one or more flowering stalks about ½–1' tall. The blades of the basal leaves are up to 3" long and 2½" across; they have stout hairy petioles up to 1½" long. The basal leaves are more or less oval in shape, crenate along their margins, palmately veined, and hairy on both their upper and lower surfaces; the upper surface of each leaf is medium green, while the lower surface is pale green or pale purplish green. Each flowering stalk is stout, erect, terete, light green, and very hairy; it has small alternate leaves up to 1¼" long and ½" across, which become gradually smaller as they ascend toward the inflorescence. The alternate leaves are similar to the basal leaves, except they are ovate in shape and smaller in size. Each alternate leaf is sessile or it clasps the stalk. The inflorescence consists of a stout spike of small flowers about 2-6" long. These flowers are densely clustered along the spike, facing in all directions. Underneath each flower, there is a small leafy bract that is lanceolate. Each flower has a 2-lipped corolla that is cream-colored or pale yellow, and a calyx consisting of 4 green sepals that are elliptic and hairy. The corolla is about 5 mm. long and slightly longer than the calyx; the upper lip of the corolla is unlobed, while the irregular lower lip is unlobed or divided into 2-3 lobes. Each flower has a pair of exserted stamens and a slender white style. The blooming period occurs from mid-spring to early summer, lasting about 3 weeks for a colony of plants. The flowers bloom gradually from the bottom of the spike to its apex. Afterwards, the flowers are replaced by small 2-celled seed capsules; each capsule contains several seeds. The root system consists of a cluster of coarse fibrous roots; an older plant may form a small caudex. This wildflower occasionally forms colonies at favorable sites. Cultivation
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Distribution

Range and Habitat in Illinois

The native Kittentails is restricted to the west-central and northwest sections of Illinois, where it is rare (see Distribution Map). This wildflower is state-listed as 'threatened.' Habitats include dry sand prairies, dry gravel prairies, hill prairies, barren savannas, thinly wooded bluffs, and sandy or gravelly riverbanks. This species is restricted to high quality habitats in natural areas; it is endemic to the Midwest and uncommon throughout its range. Faunal Associations
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National Distribution

United States

Origin: Native

Regularity: Regularly occurring

Currently: Present

Confidence: Confident

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Global Range: Upper midwest; Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota.

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Ecology

Habitat

Range and Habitat in Illinois

The native Kittentails is restricted to the west-central and northwest sections of Illinois, where it is rare (see Distribution Map). This wildflower is state-listed as 'threatened.' Habitats include dry sand prairies, dry gravel prairies, hill prairies, barren savannas, thinly wooded bluffs, and sandy or gravelly riverbanks. This species is restricted to high quality habitats in natural areas; it is endemic to the Midwest and uncommon throughout its range. Faunal Associations
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Comments:

Curtis (1959) states that the range for B. bullii is confined to savannas of the midwest. The plant is more common in the oak openings than in the prairies in Wisconsin. Meyer (pers. comm.) has observed kitten tails in old grazed pastures with Poa pratensis and Taraxacum officinale, and with mesic forest species along the St. Croix River in Wisconsin. Ownbey (pers. comm.) has found the plant in open woods and on flat, grassy slopes in Minnesota. In Indiana, Deams (1940) observed Berberis canadensis and Pedicularis canadensis as associates while Menges (pers. comm.) and McGrath (pers. comm.) found kitten tails in an edge thicket with Rhus aromatica and Prunus virginiana. In Michigan, Chapman (1981) found kitten tails under open to moderately dense canopies with Quercus velutina and Carya glabra the most common dominants. According to Chapman, the understory cover was sparse to moderate, a prairie-like ground cover with Poa compressa and Andropogon scoparius as dominant herbs.

For detailed habitat descriptions and lists of associates in Illinois, see Bowles (1985). For associates in Minnesota and Wisconsin, see Smith (1982) and Swink and Wilhelm (1979) respectively.

Pennell (1935) described B. bullii as occurring on glacially formed terrain, from moraines to outwash. This is consistent with the plant's occurrences in Minnesota: in well-sorted gravel on kames, on moraines, and sandy, gravelly loose soil, and north-facing slopes (Smith, pers. comm.); in Wisconsin: on sandy and gravelly ridges (Salamun, 1951), gravelly and clayey morainic hilltops (Swink and Wilhelm, 1979); in Illinois: on gravel hill prairies (Betz, pers. comm.); in Indiana: on high gravelly stream banks (Deam, 1940), xeric gravel hill prairies (Menges and Wade, 1985); in Michigan: on steep ridges or bluffs of glacially-deposited material (Chapman, 1981); and in Iowa in dry, sandy soils on well-drained slopes (Ewert, pers. comm.).

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Associations

Flower-Visiting Insects of Kittentails in Illinois

Besseya bullii (Kittentails)
(bees suck nectar or collect pollen; observations are from Moure & Hurd and McKone et al.)

Bees (short-tongued)
Halictidae (Halictinae): Augochlorella striata sn cp (McK), Lasioglossum spp. sn cp (McK), Lasioglossum anomalus (MH), Lasioglossum vierecki sn cp (McK)

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General Ecology



B. bullii occurs in small scattered patches with widely variable numbers of plants per patch. See Bowles (1985) for detailed demographics. Menges (1986), Smith (1982), and Chapman (1981) also comment on demographics.

Kitten tails is a perennial, producing only basal leaves the first season and possibly the second season as well (Smith, pers. comm.). Researchers are uncertain at what age the plant will begin to flower. Menges and Wade (1985) noted that over one-third of the plants observed only had three or fewer basal leaves. Frantz (1985) and Menges and Wade (1985) found reproductive individuals had more and larger basal leaves than the non-reproductive plants.

Plants usually bloom in May, with fruits dehisced by the end of June. The yellow flowers are zygomorphic, a shape adapted for pollination by Hymenopterans. Although no one has reported on the pollinators of B. bullii, Macior (1974) collected several species of Bombus on a western species, B. alpina. It is not known whether the plant spreads rhizomatously, although Bowles (1985) states that kitten tails appears to spread vegetatively by short rhizomes.

Frantz (1985) determined fruit set on five inflorescences and found a range of 17 to 59 capsules per inflorescence. She counted the number of seeds per fruit for four capsules and found a range of 1-24 seeds per capsule. Smith (pers. comm.) noted good seed production in plants he has observed in Minnesota. Menges (1986) found 93 capsules on the average inflorescence and an average of seven seeds per capsule. Distance for seed dispersal is limited. The small flat seeds are released from the capsules when the wind rattles the dry flower stalks (Frantz, 1985; Chapman, 1981).

Under controlled seed germination tests Frantz (1985) discovered that mature seeds collected in June or July would germinate readily (90%) for one or two months after collection. With the onset of dormancy, seeds would not germinate under dry or moist stratification. Seeds pre-treated with gibberellic acid showed low germination rates (Kis, 1984). Results from germination experiments being conducted by Menges should be available in 1986.

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Conservation

Conservation Status

National NatureServe Conservation Status

United States

Rounded National Status Rank: N3 - Vulnerable

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NatureServe Conservation Status

Rounded Global Status Rank: G3 - Vulnerable

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Threats

Comments: Note many Wisconsin occurrences are in Chicago/Milwaukee or Minneapolis areas. Threatened by loss of habitat from residential and commercial development throughout its range. Other threats include gravel mining and the subsequent erosion of the glacial deposit; and unchecked successional processes resulting in heavy competition and ultimately canopy closure.

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Management

Restoration Potential:

Recovery is not promising at present. Seed germination studies have been only minimally successful and seedling transplants have failed (Frantz, 1985). Menges and Wade (1985) are presently conducting seed germination tests and information may be available in 1986.

Preserve Selection and Design Considerations:

Purchase those sites with the potential for destructive sand and gravel mining operations. To prevent further losses in Indiana at the Wea Creek Gravel Hill Prairie, stabilize the eroding cliff face at the old gravel mine. Include enough buffer to safely practice prairie management techniques, i.e. fire, shrub and tree removal. Secure protection agreements for sites on privately owned land.

Monitoring Programs:

In Michigan contact: Sue Crispin, Coordinator/Botanist, Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Stevens T. Mason Bldg., P.O. Box 30028, Lansing, Michigan 48909. (517) 373-1552.

In Minnesota contact: Welby Smith, Botanist, Minnesota Natural Heritage Program, Dept. of Natural Resources, Box 6, St. Paul, Minnesota 55155. (612) 296-4284.

For Wisconsin contact: Peg Kohring, Director of Land Stewardship, Minnesota Field Office, The Nature Conservancy, 1313 5th St., SE, Minneapolis, Minnesota 55414. (612) 379-2134.

Management Research Programs:

Menges (pers. comm.) is conducting a demographic study and seed germination experiments on B. bullii in Indiana. Menges' objectives are to gather baseline data on population structure and reproductive output. To learn more about seed germination and seedling establishment, seeds were sown in marked plots in four different types of cover. A permanent grid system that was established will enable future workers to note growth, recruitment, and mortality (Menges, 1986). He has also studied the community structure at the site with ordination and classification techniques. Contact: Eric Menges, Holcomb Research Institute Biotic Resources Program, Butler University, 4600 Sunset Avenue, Indianapolis, Indiana 46208. (317) 283-9555.

Management Research Needs:

Active management does not appear to be necessary in the gravel prairie sites. Competition is not as severe in the gravel substrate due to the somewhat xeric conditions and the erosion potential (Betz, pers. comm.; Chapman, 1981).

More frequent management is required for those sites in the woods, thickets, or woods borders. Plants growing in shade appear to be smaller in size and have less reproductive vigor (Ownbey, Smith, Crispin, pers. comm.).

Biological Research Needs: Information is needed on population structure, annual flower and seed production, recruitment, longevity of individuals, and the potential for asexual reproduction. Comparing the growth responses of plants in the shade with plants in the open, heavy litter vs. a bare gravel substrate could provide suggestive correlations for management.

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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Risks

Stewardship Overview:

B. bullii requires open woods or savanna habitat. Management should be used to regain or maintain such conditions if edaphic factors are not sufficient. Fire can help reduce and control woody vegetation, although other treatments may be needed where fire has been excluded for many years. The role of grazing and possible benefits of mowing are not well known. Monitoring should track the size of populations, flower and seed production, and recruitment of new individuals to help assess the effectiveness of management. Monitoring canopy cover and depth of litter may provide some suggestive correlations. Studying the factors critical to new recruitment is high priority for research.

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Wikipedia

Veronica bullii

Veronica bullii (syn. Besseya bullii) is a species of flowering plant in the plantain family known by the common names kittentails and bull's coraldrops. It is native to the Upper Midwest of the United States, occurring in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Minnesota.[1]

This plant has a low-lying rosette of hairy leaves each a few centimeters long. In April through June it blooms in a cylindrical spike of yellow-green flowers. The lower lip of each flower corolla has three lobes and the stamens protrude.[1][2]

This plant grows on prairies, grasslands, and savannas and in woodlands.[2]

References

  1. ^ a b Besseya bullii. The Nature Conservancy.
  2. ^ a b Besseya bullii. Center for Plant Conservation.
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