Friday, May 30, 2014

An Un-EGGS-pected Find

On Wednesday (28 May 2014) I conducted a program on Woodland Ecology for a class of sixth grade students from Mt. Pleasant.  We took a tour through Chipp-A-Waters Park looking at invasive species like Dame's Rocket and Garlic Mustard, examining trees killed by Emerald Ash Borer, talking about the role of mosquitoes in the environment, looking at how the Chippewa River has changed its course over time, and examining native plants.

About five minutes after the students left to return to school I made a surprising discovery.  While photographing a Feathery False Solomon's Seal flower (#84 on the 2014 list),  I looked down by my feet and saw this:

A hidden nest
It appears to be a Wild Turkey (Meleagris gallopavo) nest.  Female turkey lay their eggs directly on the ground, scraping away leaves and other debris to form a shallow depression.

This nest held a total of eight eggs.  I moved away the leaves that were lightly covering the eggs to take a few photos and re-covered them when I was done.

Wild Turkey eggs
I have seen Wild Turkeys in Mt. Pleasant numerous times, both adults and poults (young turkeys), but this is the first time that I have ever found a nest.  I hope that it survives and the young have the opportunity to grow to adulthood.

A Wild Turkey hen - photographed at Chipp-A-Waters Park in 2009

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #76 through #82

In my last post I included photos of flowers that I found on Memorial Day (26 May 2014).  The next seven flowers were also photographed on that day.  While all of the flowers from the last post were taken at Mission Creek Woodland Park, the flowers in this post were all found at Mill Pond Park.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #76 Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana)

The next flower is one that had me stumped temporarily.  The large flat-topped clusters resembled the flowers from several Viburnum species, but the leaves did not resemble any Viburnums that I already knew.  It is a Viburnum, but it is a non-native one - Wayfaring Tree (Viburnum lantana).  Wayfaring Tree is widely cultivated but is not a common escapee; Michigan Flora lists herbarium specimens for only ten counties in Michigan.  It is not listed for Isabella County - there are gaps in the records of many species in the state.

A colony of Wayfaring Tree

The large flat flower cluster identify this shrub as a Viburnum; the leaves identify it as Viburnum lantana

Wildflowers of 2014 - #77 Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)

The next flower belongs to another non-native plant.  Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is an attractive member of the Mustard family that is often planted in gardens.  Like most other Mustard species, Dame's Rocket produces large amounts of seed.  The number of seeds makes it easy for the plant to escape cultivation.  Once established in a wild area it can quickly become a dominant plant and crowd out less aggressive native plant.  Many people mistake Dame's Rocket for Wild Phlox.  The differences are actually easy to identify.  Wild Phlox will have leaves that are opposite and flowers with five petals; Dmaes Rocket leaves grow alternately and the flowers have four petals.

Dame's Rocket - the four petals identify this plant as a member of the Mustard family

Dame's Rocket - a close view of the flower head

Wildflowers of 2014 - #78 Upright Carrion-flower (Smilax ecirrata)

The third flower of the day at Mill Pond Park, and Number 79 overall was Upright Carrion Flower (Smilax ecirrata).  The flowers of this plant are whitish-green and grow in globe-shaped clusters that help this plant live up to its name - the flowers smell like rotting meat.  The plant uses this smell to attract flies which serve as their primary pollinators.  Upright Carrion Flower can be distinguished from the three other species of Carrion Flower that are found in Michigan by its upright growth pattern (the other species are all vines) and the lack of climbing tendrils.

Upright Carrion Flower - the flowers are the green globes in the center of the picture

Upright Carrion Flower - a closer view of the globe-shaped green flowers and heart-shaped leaves

A fly pollinates an Upright Carrion Flower

Wildflowers of 2014 - #79 Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)

Wildflower #79 for the year belongs to a small tree that would look more at home in a tropical forest than in a Mid-Michigan hardwood forest.  That's because Pawpaw (Asimina triloba) belongs to a group of plants that are primarily found in the tropics and sub-tropics.  Pawpaw is the only member of the family that grows as far north as Michigan.  Mount Pleasant is actually outside the listed range for this plant, but there is a small patch of them growing along the trail in Mill Pond Park.  The tree bears 1-2 inch wide purple-red flowers that, like Upright Carrion Flower (#78), smell rotten to attract flies and to a lesser extent beetles as pollinators.  For more information on the Pawpaw look here.

Pawpaw flowers usually bloom before the leaves  reach their full size

A closer view of the Pawpaw flower - these smelly purple-red flowers attract flies as their main pollinators

Wildflowers of 2014 - #80 Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

The next flower that I found was growing directly on the edge of the Chippewa River. The reddish branches and white flat-topped flower cluster indicate that this plant is Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea).  Dogwood identification can be tricky, this shrub is one that I had previously identified as a Red-osier.

Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Wildflowers of 2014 - #81 White Campion (Silene latifolia)

I found White Campion (Silene latifolia) growing in dry soil along the edge of the paved trail through Mill Pond Park.  This is a typical habitat for this non-native plant.  It commonly grows in disturbed sites such as roadsides, fields, shorelines, and the edges of forests.  It may grow as an annual, biennial, or a short-lived perennial.  

White Campion is easily identified by its white flowers with five deeply notched petals and an inflated calyx (bladder) formed by the fused sepals of the flower.  White Campion can be found blooming from Spring through Fall.  The entire plant (stems, leaves, calyx) is covered with dense white-gray hairs. 

White Campione is one of many introduced species that have had a neutral to slightly positive effect on the environment.  It is not part of the original flora of Michigan, but it is not aggressive and doesn't crowd out native species.  It's white flowers typically open in the evening and attract a variety of moth species, especially Sphinx moths.

White Campion (Silene latifolia)

Wildflowers of 2014 - #82 Canada Anemone (Anemone canadensis)

Canada Anemone (Anemone candensis) is a flower that I look forward to seeing every year.  I like its deeply lobed leaves and white flowers with yellow centers.  It can be found in moist open areas such as shorelines and woodland openings.  It is found throughout the northern half of the United States and across Canada.

Deeply lobed leaves and white flowers with yellow centers help identify Canada Anemone

Canada Anemone spreads easily by both seeds and horizontal rhizomes, and often forms large colonies.  This tendency to spread gives it an unfair reputation among some native plant gardeners.   A few people will even go so far as to call this plant "invasive".  This an improper use of the term and should never be applied to a native plant.  The plant may be an aggressive grower, but it is not a bully.  It belongs in the landscape. 

Canada Anemone flowers may bloom any time between May and August in Mid-Michigan.

The open flowers of Canada Anemone attract a variety of pollinator species - especially bees.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #63 through #75

I enjoy hunting for flowers, but having given myself the goal of documenting as many species as possible in one growing season sometimes it almost feels like work.  I know that I have to go out every few days or I may miss something.  I already know most of the species that I will find, but there are few that stump me.  If nothing else, I am getting better at using my field guides to identify those flowers that I don't know. 

One Friday May 23rd,  I found two more species to add to my list of the Wildflowers of 2014.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #63 Thyme-leaved Speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia)

Thyme-leaved Speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia) is a small non-native plant that is commonly found in lawns, along roadsides, and in other areas of disturbed ground.  It spreads easily and can be found in most types of upland habitats and along the banks of rivers and streams.  Because of its small size (4-12 inches tall) this plant rarely outcompetes native species.  It is usually only noticed when it forms a fairly large colony and the flowers can be seen.  The small flowers (1/4 inch across) form in a raceme at the top of the stalk and are usually white with dark blue veins.

I found this small colony growing along the paved trail through Mill Pond Park.

Thyme-leaved Speedwell in a mixed lawn

The flowers of Thyme-leaved Speedwell are only 1/4 inch across and bloom on a elongated cluster called a raceme.

Thyme-leaved Speedwell (Veronica serpyllifolia)

Wildflowers of 2014 - #64 American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)

The next flower belongs to an understory tree called the American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia).  This small tree is named after its inflated seed capsules.  Tree grows to a height of eight to fifteen feet.  It grows in wet woods and floodplains throughout the eastern United States and Canada.

The small whitish, bell-shaped flowers of the American Bladdernut are pollinated by bees and flies. 

American Bladdernut trees

The dried seed capsules that give Bladdernut its name

Whitish bell-shaped flowers of American Bladdernut

The next wildflowers were photographed on Monday 26 May 2014.  Numbers Sixty-five through Seventy-six were all found at Mission Creek Woodland Park. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #56 through #62

On Wednesday (21 May 2014), I took a very short trip to look for more plants to add to my list of the Wildflowers of 2014.  In less than an hour, and trips to three city parks I was able to find and photograph seven more species to add to the list, bringing the year total to sixty-two species.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #56 Horse-gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum)

Number 56 is a flower that I have been watching for about two weeks, waiting for it to bloom.  I first found Horse-Gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum) in Chipp-A-Waters Park several years ago.  The first time I saw it was in the Fall and I was able to identify it by its fruit - I had never seen the plant but recognized it from books.  Also known as Orange-fruited Horse-gentian, this plant produces orange berries that grow at the leaf axils.  The fruit is easy to notice because of the bright orange color, but the flowers are small and nondescript.

Would you walk past this plant if you saw it in the woods?  It doesn't look like much...

A clump of Horse-gentian doesn't look very exciting.

But if you stoop down to ground level, you will find small (3/8 -1/2 inch long), red, tubular flowers growing from the upper part of each leaf axil (leaf/stem joint). 

A closer view of the Horse-gentian - note the red flowers growing from the leaf axils.

There are a total of two clumps of Horse-gentian that I know of in Mt. Pleasant's entire parks system - growing within about a dozen feet of each other at Chipp-A-Waters Park.  It was just luck on my part to have stumbled across them when they are at their easiest to identify.  Now I look forward to seeing them every year.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #57 Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)

Within yards of the Horse-gentian was the next flower on my list.  While Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) is a lovely plant in the garden, it is a horrible plant to have in the woods.  A very large colony of this non-native flower is slowly overtaking my favorite wildflower are in Mt. Pleasant.  Once escaped from cultivation, this plant can outcompete many native species.

A word of caution about this plant - ALL parts of the plant are highly toxic.  Ingestion of even small amounts of this plant can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, lowered heart rate, or even death.  

Why is this important?  When first emerging from the ground and up until this plant starts to develop its flowering stalk, this plant can be confused with several other species, including edible Wild Leeks or Ramps (Allium tricoccum).  However, once Lily-of-the-Valley begins to bloom, its (normally) white bell shaped flowers make it easy to distinguish from other species.

Part of a large colony of Lily-of-the-valley

Lily-of-the-valley is highly toxic and can be mistaken for some edible plants

The dangling bell-shaped flowers identify this plant as Lily-of-the-valley

Wildflowers of 2014 - #58 Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)

The third flower of the day was found in a group of shrubs/small trees.  A quick look at this shrub shows it as a Cherry  species with its reddish bark and elongated clusters of small white flowers.  To determine which species requires a closer look.  Of the native and introduced species of cherries that can be found in Michigan, only Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) and Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) have elongated flower clusters.  The easiest way to identify small members of the two species is to look at the leaves.  Both Wild Black Cherry and Choke Cherry have leaves with serrated margins.  The teeth on the Wild Black Cherry leaves are rounded and curl inward like a wave breaking; the teeth on the Choke Cherry leaves come to a distinct point with no curl. The leaves on this plant have teeth that come to a point with no inward curl, identifying it as a Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana).

Choke Cherry - may grow as a small tree or a shrub

Choke Cherry - note the elongated cluster of flowers and the serrated leaves with sharply pointed teeth

Wildflowers of 2014 - #59 Redbud (Cercis canadensis)

The next flower was one I did not expect to find.  Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a small tree the reaches the northern edge of its native range in Michigan.  Michigan Flora does not list this plant for Isabella County.  Redbud is widely grown as an ornamental tree because of its pinkish flowers.  This example, which is growing right along the shore of the Chippewa River, is likely from a seed that washed downstream and was deposited.

A Redbud tree growing along the banks of the Chippewa River in Mt. Pleasant

A closer look at the flowers of this plant show that the flowers look like those of a pea or bean.  They should.  Like peas and beans, this tree belongs to the Legume Family (Fabaceae).

Unlike most trees, the flowers of Redbud may grow directly from old branches or even the trunk.

Pea-like flowers of Redbud

Wildflowers of 2014 - #60 Morrow's Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii)

Continuing on with shrubs and small trees, the next flower is from a species of shrub that is very common in Mt. Pleasant's parks.  Unfortunately Morrow's Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) is an invasive species.  It escapes from cultivation when birds consume the red or orange berries and deposit them in their dropping in nearby wild areas.  When a plant grows from these seeds and reaches maturity, birds will eat its seeds, and continue the process of distribution.  Eventually whole forests can have understories that are completely composed of this and other non-native shrubs which crowd out native shrubs and wildflowers.

Morrow's Honeysuckle can be distinguished from other non-native Honeysuckle species by its pairs of flowers which start out white and then fade to yellow, and its leaves which are are pubescent (covered with downy hairs).  Morrow's Honeysuckle can hybridize with several other species of Honeysuckle, making identification more difficult.

Morrow's Honeysuckle - white flowers arranged in pairs

Morrow's Honeysuckle flowers - note how flowers have faded from white to yellow

Wildflowers of 2014 - #61 White Oak (Quercus alba)

The next flowers are those of a large White Oak (Quercus alba).  White Oaks, like many other trees, are wind pollinated.  Because they do not rely on insects for pollination they produce large numbers of small drab flowers hanging in 2-4 inch catkins.  White Oak trees can be identified by the rounded lobes of their leaves.

Like many wind pollinated trees, White Oak flowers appear before the tree has fully leafed out.

White Oak leaves and flowers

Wildflowers of 2014 - #62 Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)

The final flower of the day was another species of Oak - Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa).  Like the White Oak, Bur Oak is wind-pollinated and has small drab flowers arranged in hanging catkins.  Also like White Oak, Bur Oak has leaves with rounded lobes.  But in this case a large terminal lobe is further divided into several small lobes.  This gives the end of the leaf a much "chunkier" appearance than the White Oak.

Bur Oak leaves and flowers

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #46 through #55

Yesterday I shared pictures of several birds that I saw on a trip to Mission Creek Woodland Park.  While it was exciting to see the Scarlet Tanagers, the real purpose of my trip was to seek out several wildflowers that I have either been waiting to blossom or that I have been unable to find up to this point.

One nice thing about searching for wildflowers at this time of year is that while you may be searching out one species, you will often find several others that you either had not expected or for which you were not searching.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #46 Common Yellow Wood-sorrel (Oxalis stricta)

The first plant that I found was Common Yellow Wood-sorrel (Oxalis stricta).  This small native plant is often treated as a weed .  It grows in dry open soils, so it is often found along roadsides, in garden, and in other disturbed places.  This individual was growing in the dry sparse lawn at Mission Creek.

Common Yellow Wood-sorrel prefers dry open habitats

Up close Common Yellow Wood-sorrel is actually quite attractive with lemon yellow flowers and compound leaves with three heart-shaped leaflets.

The heart shaped leaflets of Common Yellow Wood-sorrel

Wildflowers of 2014 - #47 Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)

The send flower that I found was growing under an old apple tree in a portion of the park that was once an orchard.  This plant is Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana).  This is the second Fragaria species that I have found this Spring.  The first one was Woodland Strawberry (F. vesca).  Wild Strawberry can be distinguished from Woodland Strawberry by its leaves.  On Wild Strawberry the tooth at the tip of the leaf is much shorter than the teeth to either side; on Woodland Strawberry the terminal tooth is as long or longer than the teeth to either side.

Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) - note the short tooth at the tip of the leaf

Wildflowers of 2014 - #48 Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum)

Both the Wood-sorrel and Wild Strawberry were found in upland areas of Mission Creek Park.  The next three flowers were found in the low wet areas along Mission Creek or along the edge of a section of Red Maple Swamp in the park's lowlands.

Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum) is one of my favorite Spring wildflowers.  It is one of two species of trillium that I have found in Mt. Pleasant.  Unlike the better known Large-flowered Trillium (T. grandiflorum), the flowers of the Nodding Trillium droop below the leaves.  This makes the flowers more difficult to see.  Nodding Trillium prefers wetter habitats and is often found growing along stream banks, as it does along Mission Creek.

A colony of Nodding Trillium - the purple/blue flowers underneath are Common Blue Violet

Nodding Trillium flowers droop below the plant's three leaves

Nodding Trillium can be identified by its purple anthers

A closer view of the Nodding Trillium

Nodding Trillium - note the upturned petals and sepals which expose the pistils and stamen to pollinators

Wildflowers of 2014 - #49 Early Meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum)

The next flower was also growing along the banks of Mission Creek.  Early Meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum) is one of five Meadow-rue species found in Michigan.  It can be distinguished from the other species by looking at its leaves.  Three of the other four species have leaflets with three or fewer lobes - Early Meadow-rue has leaflets with 5 to 9 lobes.  The other species with leaflets with more than three lobes (T. venulosum) is not found in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.

Early Meadow-rue

The drooping flowers of Early Meadow-rue are found on branched clusters known as panicles.  Male and female flower are found on separate plants.  Male flowers have four purplish-brown or greenish-white petals with many yellow stamen dangling underneath.

Early Meadow-rue - note the leaflets with 5 to 9 lobes

The male flowers of Early Meadow-rue dangle in loose panicles at the top of the plant

Early Meadow-rue prefers rich soils

The dangling flowers of Early Meadow-rue resemble a cloud of jellyfish

Wildflowers of 2014 - #50 Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata) was the reason I was searching for flowers at Mission Creek Park.  Every year I find a few scattered plants along the margins of the park's Red Maple swamp.   Wild Blue Phlox can grow to a height of 20 inches, but most of the plants that I find are usually under 12 inches tall.  I have one location where I can reliably find this plant almost every year, but I was beginning to wonder if any would bloom this Spring.  If I had not been searching for this flower I probably would have missed it, but the pale blue color caught my eye and I found a single plant.  Often that is the key to finding a specific flower.  Don't look for flowers.  Instead train your eyes to look for splotches of color that stick out from the greens and browns of the background.  When you see the color you are searching for, the flowers will appear.

A single Wild Blue Phlox can be difficult to spot

Wild Blue Phlox - note the flowers with five petals and the opposite leaves

People often confuse Wild Blue Phlox with another flower - Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis).  The two plants are easy to distinguish if you look at the flowers.  Dame's Rocket, a non-native member of the Mustard family, has flowers with four petals.  Wild Blue Phlox has flowers with five petals.

A closer view of the Wild Blue Phlox

Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Wildflowers of 2014 - #51 Small-flowered Buttercup (Ranunculus arbortivus)

The next flower was found in the young deciduous forest that borders Mission Creek.  I was walking along the train overlooking the creek and a small spot of yellow caught my eye.  Small-flowered Buttercup (Ranunculus arbortivus) has small flowers that  rarely grow larger than 1/4 inch across.  This species of Buttercup prefers upland sites, but is sometimes found found in wet locations.

Small-flowered Buttercup is also known as Kidney-leaved Buttercup because of the shape of its basal leaves

Basal and stem leaves have different shapes on the Small-flowered Buttercup

My hand gives a sense of scale to this diminutive flower

A closer view of the small flowers of Small-flowered Buttercup

Wildflowers of 2014 - #52 Downy Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum pubescens)

While photographing the Buttercup, I looked off to one side and saw a small Downy Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum pubescens) in bloom.   The flowers of Downy Solomon Seal dangle beneath the plant's arching stem.  The tubular pale green to white flowers grow from the leaf axils and are arranged either individually or in groups of two to three.  Downy Solomon's Seal can be distinguished from the closely related Smooth Solomon's Seal (P. biflorum) by the small hairs which grow along the veins on the underside of the leaf.

Downy Solomon's Seal - this small plant was only about 12 inches tall

Downy Solomon's Seal - the bell-shaped flowers dangle singly or in pairs from the leaf axils

Downy Solomon's Seal flowers

Downy Solomon's Seal from above - the flowers are just visible dangling under the slightly zig-zagging stem

The fine hairs that give Downy Solomon's Seal its name are barely visible in this photo

Wildflowers of 2014 - #53 Small Pussytoes (Antennaria howellii)

The next flower is often found in dry fields, lawns, open woodlands, and other open locations.  Small Pussytoes (Antennaria howellii) grows from 4 to 16 inches tall and can easily be overlooked.  Its clusters of small furry white or pink flowers resemble little cat's paws - giving the species its name.

Small Pussytoes prefers open dry habits

Small Pussytoes - note the hairy flowers, leaves, and stem

"... on little cat feet"

Wildflowers of 2014 - #54 American Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana)

The next wildflower of the day was a flowering shrub - American Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana).  There were several of these shrubs growing in an area previously used to dump brush.  The shrubs may originated from brush that was dumped there, or from seeds left behind in bird droppings.  I have seen several other Mountain Ash trees/shrubs along the Chippewa River in Mt. Pleasant.

Michigan Flora does not list American Mountain Ash in Isabella County, but after close examination I am convinced this is American Mountain Ash and not European Mountain Ash (S. aucuparia) or Showy Mountain Ash (S. decora).  The clues that led to this identification have to do with the overall shape of the leaves (lanceolate - about 4 times as long as wide) and the elongated tips of the leaves.

American Mountain Ash can be either a shrub or a small tree

American Mountain Ash flowers will eventually give way to orange berries

American Mountain Ash (Sorbus americana) can be distinguished from other Sorbus varieties by the elongated tips of its leaves

Wildflowers of 2014 - #55 Purple Dead-nettle (Lamium purpureum)

The final wildflower of the day was a non-native member of the Mint (Lamiaceae) Family.  Purple Dead-nettle (Lamium purpereum) is a common weed of lawns, fields, gardens, roadsides, and other disturbed habitats.

Purple Dead-nettle is a non-native member of the Mint family

The flowers of Purple Dead-nettle attract long-tongued bees such as certain Bumble Bee species