Monday, June 30, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #151 through #161

Last week I added an additional eleven species to my 2014 wildflower list.

The first two flowers from last week were found at Mission Creek Woodland Park on Wednesday (25 June 2014).  Both species are shrubs or small trees.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #151 Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

The first flower of the day was Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).  A colony of Staghorn Sumac grows in the dry soil along the edge of the mowed lawn at Mission Creek.  This is typical habitat for Staghorn Sumac.  It is a sun-loving species that is found either in open fields or along the edges of forests.  This plant is rarely found in full shade.

Staghorn Sumac - note the large compound leaves and hairy stems

Most of the plants in this colony are under 15 feet tall, but the species can reach heights of 30 feet.  Staghorn Sumac has large compound leaves that may be up to 24 inches long.  The flowers of Staghorn Sumac are arranged on a branched, pyramid-shaped spike at the terminal end of the trunks.  Individual flowers are pale green in color and small (measuring 1/4 inch across).  The whole flower spike may measure 12 inches long and 6 inches across.

Staghorn Sumac is the largest Sumac species found in Michigan and can be distinguished from other Sumac species by its dense coating of hair on leaf stalks and branches.  Staghorn Sumac is found throughout the eastern United States and Canada.

Staghorn Sumac - a closer view of the green flowers

Wildflowers of 2014 - #152 Border Privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium)

The next species is another shrub - Border Privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium).  This species is not native to North America, but is commonly grown as a landscape plant.  Border Privet has escaped from these domestic plantings and is now naturalized in 20 states.  This a relatively new alien species, it was first recorded in the wild in Michigan in 1959 and the record of its occurrence is probably incomplete.  It is not listed by Michigan Flora for Isabella County. 

Border Privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium)
Border Privet is one of three Privet species found in Michigan.  I based the identification of this specimen on the size (small) and location of the flower clusters in relation to the rest of the plant.  Although these pictures do not show it well, these plants have flower clusters all along their stems and not just at the tips (a feature of Common Privet and California Privet).

Border Privet - a closer view of the flowers

The next five species were photographed last Thursday, 26 June 2014.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #153 Large-leaved Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica)

On Thursday, I went back to Mission Creek Park to check on the progress of some blooms that I had been watching for the past four days.  The flowers that I was checking on were not in bloom, but on the way back to the parking lot I detoured to an area of dry forest that I had not visited yet this season. 

Along a little-used trail I found Wildflower #153 of the year - Large-leaved Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica).  This is the first time I have found this species growing in Mt. Pleasant.  I have not found this species in the past simply because I rarely travel down this trail during the summer. 

Large-leaved Shinleaf grows well in dry upland forests

Large-leaved Shinleaf is one of five Pyrola species that can be found in Michigan.  Four of the species (including this one) are widely distributed across the state.  All of the species have flowers that are arranged in a raceme - each plant has a single flowering stalk with flowers hand off this stalk by short stems.  This flowering stalk rises from a basal cluster of leaves.  The flowers bloom from the bottom to the top of the raceme in sequence. 

Large-leaved Shinleaf - a closer view of the flowering stalk

The flowers of all Pyrola species have five petals and a pistil that curves down and out from the flowers center.  This species can be distinguished from the other Michigan Pyrola species by the size and shape of its leaves.

This picture shows the size of the Shinleaf flowers

Wildflowers of 2014 - #154 Common St. John's-wort (Hypericum perforatum)

The next four species were found in dry open areas at Chipp-A-Waters Park.  The first flower that I found was Common St. John's-wort (Hypericum perfoliatum).  Of thirteen St. John's-wort species found in Michigan this is the only one that is not native to the state.  It is identifiable by the black spots along the edge of its petals.  The native species Spotted St. John's-wort (H. punctatum) is more heavily spotted on both its flowers and leaves.

Common St. John's-wort (Hypericum perfoliatum)

Common St. John's-wort - note the black spots along the edges of the petals.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #155 White Sweet Clover (Melilotus albus)

The next flower is another native of Eurasia.  White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba) was originally planted as forage for livestock but has naturalized across most of North America.  With the exception of flower color, this species is indistinguishable from #121 Yellow Sweet Clover (M. officianalus).  The USDA PLANTS database does not distinguish between the two and considers them variations of the same species.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #156 Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

The next flower species is one of the best known of our native plants - Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).  Best known as a host plant for the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), Common Milkweed is an important nectar source for many species of native insects.  The plant can be identified by its large ovoid leaves and its showy globe of  pink to purple flowers.

For more information on Common Milkweed please look at this species profile from June 2013.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

A closer view of the Common Milkweed flowers

Wildflowers of 2014 - #157 Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina)

The next species is the second native rose on my 2014 wildflower list - Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina).  Like Smooth Rose (R. blanda), which was #141 on the list, Pasture Rose has solitary blooms with five pink (or rose-colored) petals.

Pasture Rose - not solitary blooms, compound leaves, and straight thorns

The leaves of Pasture Rose are compound and have 3-7 leaflets with coarsely toothed margins.  There is a pair of "wings" attached at the base of each leaf.

The open flowers of Pasture Rose attract a variety of pollinators

The best way to identify Pasture Rose is by looking at its thorns - Pasture Rose has straight, thin thorns. 

Pasture Rose - note the straight thorns which help to identify this species

The next four species were photographed last Friday (27 June 2014)

Wildflowers of 2014 - #158 Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)

The first flower  that I found was growing in and along the shoreline of Mission Creek.  This plant was easy to identify as a member of the Buttercup or Crowfoot Family (Ranunculaceae).  Identifying it to species was a little more difficult - there are 18 Ranunculus species that can be found in Michigan.  I have already included four species on this list: #28 Swamp Buttercup (R. hispidus), #51 Small-flowered Buttercup (R. arbortivus), #100 Common Buttercup (R. acris) and #137 Cursed Crowfoot (R scleratus).  Those four species could be eliminated for various reasons.  Several other species could be eliminated for reasons such as habitat type, location, color, etc.

Creeping Buttercup - note the "watermarks" on the leaves

Finally I settled on an identification of Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens).  This non-native buttercup is lot listed in Michigan Flora for Isabella County, but I am fairly certain of my identification.  I based this identification on the size of the flower (larger than 1/2 inch), leaf shape (compound leaves with a stalked terminal lobe), and flowering time.  Another feature that pushed my identification to Creeping Buttercup was white blotches (watermarks) on the leaves.  My Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers as well as several web sources list these watermarks as being a characteristic of this species.

Creeping Buttercup - a closer look at a flower

Wildflowers of 2014 - #159 Common Elder (Sambucus canadensis)

The next new species of the day was Common Elder (Sambucus canadensis).  This native shrub is most commonly found in wet habitats such as swamps, shorelines, and floodplains, but can also grow in drier habitats.  It has been recorded in forty-four states and six Canadian provinces/territories.  The one that I found grows on an island in the middle of the Chippewa River in Mill Pond Park.

Common Elder growing on an island in the Chippewa River

Common Elder can grow to a height of twelve feet.  It has large compound leaves with 5-9 leaflets.  Individual leaflets are 2 to 4 inches long.  The flowers of Common Elder are flat-topped clusters (umbels) that measure up to six inches across.  The small flowers that make up the umbel are white colored.  After pollination, the flowers will develop into small purple berries.  These berries are delicious and can be used to make jellies, pies, and (for adults) wine.  These berries are also readily consumed by birds.

Common Elder - note the compound leaves and the flat-topped umbels of flowers

Common Elder - a closer view of the flower and leaves

Wildflowers of 2014 - #160 Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria)

The next species that I found was Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria).  This native of Europe is naturalized across most of the United States and portions of Canada.  Moth Mullein grows in a variety of habitat types from dry to wet.  It most commonly grows in disturbed habitats such as roadsides and fields.  I found this plant growing among rocks along the Chippewa River in Mill Pond Park

Moth Mullein is a biennial - meaning it lives for two years.  During its first year, it appears as a basal cluster of leaves up to 12 inches across.  The alternate leaves of second year plants are highly variable.  During this second year, it may grow as tall as five feet.  All parts of the plant are covered in dense white hairs.

Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria) growing along the Chippewa River

The flowers of Moth Mullein grow during the plant's second year.  The flowers are typically yellow (or white, rarely pink) with a reddish-purple center and rise in one or more racemes (unbranched stalks) above the plant's leaves.  The flowers bloom in sequence from the bottom of the raceme to the top. 

Moth Mullein - a closer view of the flower raceme (the "fuzz" on this plant is from an Eastern Cottonwood tree)

Wildflowers of 2014 - #161 Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

The final flower from last week was growing a few feet away from the Moth Mullein.  Chicory (Cichorium intybus) was introduced from Europe and is now naturalized across North America with the exception of Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.  Chicory grows in a variety of habitats including lawns, fields, roadsides, and natural areas such as prairies.  The plant was frequently cultivated for its roots which were used to make a coffee substitute - Mt. Pleasant once had a Chicory processing plant.

Chicory is a gangly, branching perennial.  Its leaves resemble those of dandelions or wild lettuce.  The leaves near the base of the plant can be up to 8 inches long, but they get smaller higher on the plant.

A widely branching Chicory (Cichorium intybus) plant

The flowers of Chicory make it easy to identify.  Each plant may produce dozens of pale blue (rarely white or pink) flowers over the course of the summer, but only a few will bloom at any one time.  The flowers are 1 - 1 1/2 inches across and composed of 10 to 20 rays or petals.  The tips of each ray are toothed.  The stamen at the center of the flower are also a pale blue.

A Chicory flower - note pale blue color and toothed petals (rays)

Another view of a Chicory flower showing the pale blue petals and stamen

Friday, June 27, 2014

Snake - Why surprises in ice cream pails are the best kinds of surprises...

I work in a government office with "Conservation" in its name.  To the public, this implies that the people who work in the office are experts on anything having to do with nature.  Therefor, people come in to the office with all manner of questions.

One of the most common (and one of my favorite questions) is "Does anyone know what THIS is?" 

At that point they usually produce either a jar with one or more insects in it or a handful of wilted plants.

Yesterday we had something more interesting brought into the office.

This little beauty is a young Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos).  It was only about 12 inches long.  A couple brought it to our office in an ice cream pail.  After I identified it for them I released it into the field behind our office.  The couple had no interest in taking it back home.

When Hognose Snakes feel threatened they flatten their heads and puff up their bodies to make themselves look more intimidating.  In Michigan many people refer to them as "Puff Adders" because of this.

Once puffed up, they then often raise their head and tail and do their best rattlesnake imitation.  This pose probably helps them escape from some predators but often causes their unnecessary death when confronted by humans.  People see that pose and think they are encountering a "dangerous" snake.  Unfortunately their next action is often to look for something to kill the snake.

Eastern Hognose Snake (Heterodon platirhinos)

Eastern Hognose Snakes are not dangerous to anything other than amphibians.  They are major predators of frogs and toads.  If you see one, please leave it alone.
Eastern Hognose Snake holding its "rattlesnake" pose

Thursday, June 26, 2014


On Sunday while making my rounds of wildflower sites I saw this...

That would be a Gray Treefrog (Hyla versicolor) perched atop the leaf of a Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).  

It's hard work being a Gray Treefrog.

Frequent naps are in order...

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #140 through #150

Doing a "Big Year" of wildflowers is something that I have been thinking of for several years.  I have been keeping a list and photographing flowers since 2002 when I started working in Mt. Pleasant.  Finally, this past winter I decided that 2014 was going to be the year.

The long cold winter and late start to spring had me worried about how many species I would be able to find.  I did not find my first wildflower until April 10th - Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).

It took me forty-one days to find the first fifty flowers - #50 Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata) was found on May 20th.

After that it only took fourteen days to find the next fifty species.  Wildflower #100 Common Buttercup (Ranunculus acris) was found on June 3rd.

On Sunday (June 22nd), I found species #150 for the year.  This was nineteen days since I hit #100 for the year.

Here are the species that I found on Sunday.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #140 White Avens (Geum canadense)

My day began at Mission Creek Park.  Often I go to a park with a plan to search for a specific flower.  this time I had no clearcut goals, but just planned to walk along the trails and see what could be found.  The first flower was growing directly along what the city's maps refer to as the Creek Trail (West) - see link above for a map of the park's trails.  White Avens (Geum canadense) is a native perennial that can grow up to 48 inches tall. It grows throughout the eastern United States and Canada as far west as Wyoming and Montana.  Part of the reason for this species' wide range is its adaptability.  While the plant is most commonly found in moist woodlands, it will also grow in dry woodlands or even open fields.

White Avens (Geum canadense)

White Avens can be identified by its basal leaves which are split into three leaflets.  Plants also have smaller leaves (also with three leaflets) growing alternately along the plant's rising stem.  The basal leaves resemble those of Wild Strawberry plants - I have a White Avens growing in my garden at home that I only notice once it grows over the top of the surrounding strawberries.

White Avens - note the leaves with three lobes

The flowers of White Avens are about 1/2 inch across and have 5 small white petal with five pointed green sepals between the petals.  The sepals are shorter than the petals.  The flowers grow in one or several branched clusters at the end of the stem.  Flowers bloom sequentially from the lowest to the highest.

White Avens - note three-lobed leaves and white flowers

A closer view of White Avens flowers - note the five white petals and green sepals

Wildflowers of 2014 - #141 Wild Rose (Rosa blanda)

The next flower was also found at Mission Creek Woodland Park along the same trail where it descends from the uplands into the floodplain for Mission Creek.  Growing on this slope is patch of Wild Rose (Rosa Blanda).  Also known as Smooth Rose or Smooth Wild Rose, this native rose has 1 to a few pink (or rose) blooms growing on the ends of new stems.  The flowers are approximately 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 inches across and have five petals.

Wild (Smooth) Rose - note the five pink petals

The leaves of this species have between 5 and nine leaflets (typically 7).  There are a pair of "wings" attached at the base of each leaf.  Leaves grow alternately.

Wild (Smooth) Rose - note thornless stems and leaves with 5-9 leaflets

New brambles have no thorns and old brambles may have only a few thorns on their lower parts - resulting in the name Smooth Rose.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #142 Northern Bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)

Growing directly across the trail from the Wild Rose was the next flower - Northern Bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera).  While people are probably most familiar with introduced species of Honeysuckle there are seven native species that can be found in Michigan.  Bush-honeysuckle is the only one in the Diervilla genus; all of the remaining species are in the Lonicera genus (the same genus as the exotic species that are found in the state).

Northern Bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla lonicera)

Northern Bush-honeysuckle is a low growing shrub (6 to 36 inches tall) with oblong shaped leaves with pointed tips and finely toothed margins.  The leaves are arranged in opposite pairs along the round woody stems.  This is the only honeysuckle with toothed leaves.

Northern Bush-honeysuckle - not the opposite toothed leaves

The flowers of Northern Bush-honeysuckle are funnel shaped with five petals.  The petals curl backwards revealing the flower's pistil and stamen.  The flowers are are a pale lemon yellow color, but after pollination fade to a darker yellow-orange or red color.  The flowers are pollinated by bees.

Northern Bush-honeysuckle flowers - note the funnel shape and curled back petals

Northern Bush-honeysuckle typically grows in dry rocky soils.  It is found in woodlands throughout eastern North America as far west as Saskatchewan and as far south as the Appalachians of northern Georgia and Alabama.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #143 Gray Dogwood (Cornus foemina)

The final flower from Mission Creek Park was Gray Dogwood (Cornus foemina).  This is the third Dogwood species on the list - #80 Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea) and #108 Silky Dogwood (Cornus amomum) were the other two species.

Gray Dogwood (arching from left) growing in a hardwood swamp

Gray Dogwood can be easily distinguished from the other two species by the shape of its flower clusters.  While both Red-osier and Silky Dogwood have flat-topped flower clusters, those of Gray Dogwood are pyramid shaped or have a rounded top.  All three species have opposite leaves.  For more information on dogwood identification please see this post.

Gray Dogwood - note the rounded flower clusters

Gray Dogwood leaves

Gray Dogwood can be found throughout eastern North America and grows in both wet and dry soils.  It can reach a height of 15 feet.

The next six flowers were all found at Chipp-A-Waters Park.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #144 Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

The first species that I found at Chipp-A-Waters Park was Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans).  The small whitish-green flowers dangle is elongated clusters.  When they fruit, they look like bunches of very small white grapes.

Eastern Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) leaves and flowers

Eastern Poison Ivy - a closer view of the small greenish-white flowers

I have written a lot in the past about how to identify Poison Ivy.  For more information look here.  The main points to remember are three glossy leaflets, with smooth or margins or a few teeth, on reddish stems.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #145 Common Cattail (Typha latifolia)

I found the next species growing along the margins of a small pond at Chipp-A-Waters Park.  Common-Cattail (Typha latifolia) is one of two cattail species that can be found in Michigan - Narrow-leafed Cattail (T. angustifolia) was listed at #134.  Common Cattail is native to Michigan, while there is debate about whether Narrow-leafed Cattail is native or non-native to the state.  Common Cattail can be found in wetlands throughout North America (with the exceptions of Nunavut and Labrador).

Common Cattail (Typha latifolia)

Although Common Cattail typically has wider leaves than Narrow-leafed Cattail, there can be some overlap in leaf width so this is not always a reliable species indicator.  Fortunately it is easy to distinguish between the two species when they are flowering.  The "cattails" that we see are actually the flowers and seed heads of the plant.  Each flower has two parts: a male part that produces pollen and a female part that produces seeds.  The male part of the flower is always above the female part on the stem.  On the Narrow-leafed Cattail there is a gap separating the two parts of the flower.  On the Common Cattail the two parts of the flower are touching.

Common Cattail - the "cat tail" is actually the plant's flower

Another Common Cattail flower - note how the male and female halves of the flower touch

For more on cattail identification look at this post from January 2013.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #146 Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium)

Flower #146 was growing on a bank along the trail.  Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) is one of six Bindweed species that can be found in Michigan - a seventh species Macoun's Bindweed (C. macounii) was collected on time in the 1930s.  Of those seven species only three are native to Michigan including Hedge Bindweed.

Hedge Bindweed (Calystegia sepium) growing in a mound on other vegetation

The flowers of Hedge Bindweed are trumpet shaped and have five petals.  The flowers can grow up to 2 3/4 inches across.  Flowers may be white or pink and bloom between May and September.

Hedge Bindweed flower - note the trumpet shape

A small native bee collects pollen at a Hedge Bindweed

Like most of the other Bindweed species, Hedge Bindweed either trails along the ground our uses its stems to twin up surrounding vegetation.  It can be distinguished from all of the other Michigan Bindweed species by the shape of its leaves.  Hedge Bindweed has arrow-head shaped leaves with a sharp tip and blunt rear points (basal lobes).  The leaves may be 2-5 inches long.

Hedge Bindweed - note arrowhead shape of leaves and twining stem

Hedge Bindweed grows in a variety of sunny habitats in both wet and dry soil.  In Michigan it is found throughout the southern half of the Lower Peninsula and along the shores of both Lakes Huron and Michigan and in scattered locations throughout the Upper Peninsula.  Overall, the plant can be found throughout North America with the exception of the Canadian Arctic.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #147 Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca)

The next flower found was a non-native member of the Mint Family (Lamiaceae) - Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca).  Motherwort is native to Eurasia and was once commonly grown as a medicine.  It can grow in a variety of wet and dry habitats in both sun and shade and has naturalized throughout most of North America.
Motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) - note pointed leaves and flowers growing in leaf axils

Motherwort can be identified by it pairs of opposite leaves with three sharply-pointed lobes.  Each pair of leaves grows perpendicular the pairs above and below.  The plant's pink (or white) flowers grow from each leaf axil.

Motherwort - a closer view of the flowers

Wildflowers of 2014 - #148 Common Enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea canadensis)

When I think of woodland wildflowers, I typically think of plants that bloom early in the Spring and disappear once the overhead canopy has fully leafed out.  Common Enchanter's-nightshade (Circaea canadensis) is an exception.  It is a woodland wildflower that blooms in Mid-Summer. 

Common Enchanter's-nightshade is a summer blooming woodland wildflower
Also known as Circaea lutetiana ssp. canadensis, Common Enchanter's-nightshade has small white flowers that grow on a branched spike which rises above the plants leaves.  The flowers are unusual because they only have two petals and two sepals.  The leaves of Common Enchanter's-nightshade  are oblong or oval with pointed tips and margins with shallow teeth.

Common Enchanter's-nightshade - note opposite pairs of leaves and small white flowers

Although it is most common in the deciduous woodlands of the Great Lakes and Northeast, Common Enchanter's-nightshade can be found as far west as Wyoming and as far south as Louisiana.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #149 Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis)

Unlike #146 Hedge Bindweed, Field Bindweed (Convolvulus  arvensis) is non-native.  It is a trailing or twining vine with trumpet shaped white or pink flowers.  It is similar in appearance to Hedge Bindweed, but the leaves (1-2 inches) and flowers (less than 1 inch wide) are both much smaller.

Field Bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis)

Wildflowers of 2014 - #150 Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense)

The final wildflower of the day and #150 for the year was found growing at Mill-Pond Park. Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense), despite its name, is a weedy species introduced from Europe to North America sometime before 1800.  It is also known as Field Thistle. 

Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense) - note blueish flowers and spiny leaves
This species of thistle has blueish flowers arranged in flat-topped clusters.  The stems of this plant do not have spines but the the edges of the lobed leaves are tipped with spines. 

Canada Thistle - a closer view of the flowers

Unlike most other thistles, this species is a perennial and can spread both by seed and by rhizomes.  It can form dense colonies - in Europe it is known as Creeping Thistle because of this tendency for colonies to expand from their roots.