Thursday, August 25, 2016

Happy Birthday to the National Park Service!

Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday to you,
Happy birthday dear National Park Service,
Happy birthday to you!

Today marks the 100th birthday of America's National Park Service.  Although the first national park (Yellowstone) was created in 1872, the National Park Service was not created until 25 August 1916.

The National Park Service currently manages over 400 different units of land across the United States; including 59 National Parks, dozens of National Monuments, Preserves, Historical Parks and Sites, Battlefields, Military Parks, Memorials, etc.

Michigan is home to five official National Park Service units:  Isle Royal National Park, Keweenaw National Historical Park, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, and the River Raisin National Battlefield Park.  The state is also home to a portion of the North Country National Scenic Trail and the Motor Cities National Heritage Area.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Wildflowers of 2016 - #221 through #225

Last Wednesday (17 August 2016), I took a trip to Mission Creek Woodland Park to search for late Summer/early Fall wildflowers.  Along the Creek Trail (Lowland loop), I found five new species to add to my Wildflowers of 2016 list.  Almost all of these species were growing within feet of the trail.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #221 Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica)

The first flower of the day was Great Blue Lobelia (Lobelia siphilitica).  This plant reaches heights of four feet and has lavender-blue to dark-blue tubular flowers.  It can be found in moist soils across much of the eastern two-thirds of the United States and Canada.

I wrote a profile of Great Blue Lobelia in November 2013 - please look here for more information.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #222 Flat-topped White Aster (Doellingeria umbellata)

The second flower of the day was my first Aster species of the year - Flat-topped White Aster (Doellingeria umbellata).  All aster species used to be lumped under the genus Aster, but they have been sorted into several different genera over the past decade.  The scientific name for this species used to be Aster umbellatus. Flat-topped White Aster is the only member of its genus found in Michigan.  It has a range from Alberta to Quebec south to Mississippi, Alabama, and Georgia.  The heart of its range is the Northeast and Great Lakes with smaller populations elsewhere.  It prefers moist, low places.

Flat-topped White Aster can grow to a height of 3 to 7 feet.  It has a single stem that branches at the top into a flat-topped flowering cluster.  The plant's leaves are arranged alternately along the stem.  The leaves are simple with smooth margins.  The leaves are oval-shaped and taper to a point at both ends.  The leaves do not have stalks.

The individual flowers of Flat-topped White Aster are 1/2 to 3/4 inches across.  The flat-topped clusters (panicles) can be several inches across.  Individual flowers are made up of a yellow center made of many disc flowers surrounded by a ring of 7 to 14 ray flowers (petals).  The centers fade to a purple color when pollinated.  These flowers bloom from late summer into fall. 

Wildflowers of 2016 - #223 Swamp Lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata)

The third flower of the day was Swamp Lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata).  This plant is also known as Swamp Betony.  As its name indicates, Swamp Lousewort grows in wet soils found along shorelines, swamps, wet meadows, etc..  It has been recorded in 25 states and the Canadian provinces of Ontario and Manitoba.  There is a related species Wood Betony (P. Canadensis) that prefers dry soils.

Swamp Lousewort grows up to 2 1/2 feet tall.  It has has leaves that are mostly arranged in opposite pairs.  Each leaf may be up to 5 inches long and 1 1/4 inches wide.  The leaves are deeply lobed along their margins (pinnatefid) and resemble the leaves of ferns.

Swamp Lousewort flowers are arranged in a spike at the top of the plant.  The flowers are white or cream colored  and have a tubular shape with the top of the tube forming a upper lip or hood.  The individual flowers are approximately 3/4 inch long. This flower design limits the types of pollinators that can access the plant. 

Wildflowers of 2016 - #224 White Lettuce (Prenanthes alba)

The next species of the day was one that I missed in 2014 - White Lettuce (Prenanthes alba).  White lettuce is a native woodland species that is found across much of eastern North America, as far west as Saskatchewan and the Dakotas and as far south as Arkansas and North Carolina.  In Michigan, it is found throughout both the Upper and Lower Peninsula.

 To learn more about White Lettuce check out my species profile from September 2013.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #225 Common Water Horehound (Lycopus americanus)

The final flower of the day was Common Water Horehound (Lycopus americanus).  This native member of the Mint family (Lamiaceae) grows in wet soils along shorelines and streams, along the edges of marshes and swamps, and in other areas of low ground.  Also known as American Bugleweed, this species is found across most of North America south of the Canadian Arctic.

Common Water Horehound may reach heights of heights of up to 36 inches.  It has leaves arranged in opposite pairs.  The leaves are 1 3/4 to 3 inches long and have coarsely toothed margins.  The plant's small white flowers grow in a whorl at the leaf axils.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Beautiful Clouds

I have several more wildflowers that I need to write up for my Wildflowers of 2016 list, but instead I want to share something different.

I came into work a little late this morning, which was lucky for me.  If I had left home when I intended, I never would have seen these beautiful cloud formations.

Although the upper cloud formations were nice, especially with the dramatic lighting, it was the low bank of clouds that really made this cool for me.

Those low clouds were probably less than 100 feet above the ground.  Although that low bank stretched for about a mile, it was very narrow (probably less than 300 feet wide).

I stayed for a few minutes and watched the clouds quickly roll to the southeast.  There is a saying that photography is all about timing. It's true.  If I had passed through 15 minutes earlier, those clouds would not have been there yet.  If I had been 15 minutes later, they would have already passed through. 

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Wildflowers of 2016 - #220

On Monday (15 August), I stopped at Island Park to look for wildflowers.  Island Park is located in downtown Mt. Pleasant and is heavily developed.  It would not seem to be a very good place to search for wildflowers.  However, it is surrounded by the Chippewa River and the riverbank has largely been left in a natural state.  I found several species of wildflowers in bloom, but only one was a new one for 2016.

Wildflowers of 2016 - Common Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium)

Common Cocklebur (Xanthium strumarium) is general considered native to North America, but  many populations are probably introduced.   It can be found in 49 of the 50 states (not Alaska) and in the southern parts of Canada.  It grows in a variety of habitats from floodplains, to sand dunes, to farm fields. 

Common Cocklebur growing in the floodplain of the Chippewa River

Common Cocklebur plants grow 2 to 4 feet tall.  They have large alternate leaves which are up to 8 inches long and 6 inches wide.  The leaves are either heart-shaped (cordate) or triangular (deltoid) with toothed margins.  The upper surface of the leaves has a rough texture like sandpaper.  The leaves have long petioles (stalks) that may be as long as the leaves.

Common Coccklebur - note the large cordate (heart-shaped) leaves

The flowers of Common Cocklebur are much smaller than the leaves.  Each plant has both male and female flowers.  The compound male flowers are whitish-green and measure only 1/4 inch across.  The female flowers are up to 1 1/4 inches long, arranged in pairs, and are green colored.  The base of each female flower is a bur-like bract that will eventually contain the plant's seeds.

Common Cocklebur flowers - male (staminate) flowers are the small globes with protruding stamens; bur-like structures are the female (pistillate) flowers

One cool fact about this species is that its scientific name starts with an "X".  This is important for anyone that wants to do a nature alphabet.  Species that have names that start with the letter X are in short supply.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

An Evening Walk at Forest Hill Nature Area (15 August 2016)

Yesterday, for the third time in a week, Shara and I went walking at Forest Hill Nature Area.  Although the sky was grey and the light was poor, I brought my camera along.  Here are a dozen photos from our walk.

Milkweed in a restored grassland area

Dueling Monarchs

Mountain Mint

Queen Anne's Lace

Honeybee on Mountain Mint

Grey-headed Coneflower

Sparrow in the restored grassland

Queen Anne's Lace

Early color change

Lack of rain means small berries

Black and Yellow Argiope

Red-osier Dogwood berries

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Art of Doctor Seuss at Dow Gardens

Yesterday we took a trip to Midland to visit Dow Gardens.  Specifically, we went to see a traveling exhibit of outdoor sculptures based on the books of Dr. Seuss.  This exhibit contains six sculptures of some of Dr. Seuss's best known characters.  

My favorite Dr. Seuss character is The Lorax.   He greets you immediately as you enter the garden.

The Grinch and his dog Max are located on an island near the Alden B. Dow Home & Studio.

Dr. Seuss's most famous character The Cat in the Hat is (fittingly) found in the Children's Garden.

Horton the Elephant from Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches the Egg can be found near the trail that leads to the barn and conservatory.

Sam-I-Am from the book Green Eggs and Ham is located in the herb garden near "The Pines" (the home of Herbert and Grace Dow).

The final sculpture is of Yertle the Turtle.  It can be found in the Streamwalk section of the garden.

If you are a currently a child, or have ever been a child, you should visit Dow Garden's without delay.  The gardens are not going anywhere, but the sculptures will only remain on display until September 1st!  There is also an exhibit of Dr. Seuss's art on display at the Midland Center for the Arts (running until September 3rd).  The Midland Center for the Arts is located right next door to Dow Gardens.

Admission to Dow Gardens is only $5.00 for adults, $1.00 for children aged 6 - 17, and children ages 5 and under are admitted for free.  The gardens are currently open 9:00AM to 8:30PM (now through Labor Day.

The Lorax appears to be picking my pocket!

Friday, August 12, 2016

Wildflowers of 2016 - #219

Yesterday (11 August 2016), a stop at Chipp-A-Waters Park yielded just one new species to add to my Wildflowers of 2016 list. 

Wildflowers of 2016 - #219 Hog-peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata)

The bright green three-part leaves belong to Hog-peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata)

Hog-peanut (Amphicarpaea bracteata) is a native member of the Legume or Pea Family (Fabaceae).  It is found in every state east of the Mississippi River and as far west as eastern Wyoming and Montana. In Michigan it has mainly been recorded in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula, with a separate population in the western half of the Upper Peninsula.  This plant is able to grow in a variety of habitats ranging from oak-hickory forest with dry sandy soil to swamps. 
Hog-peanut flowers

Hog-peanut is a small vine (up to 5 feet long) that climbs by twining around nearby objects. Hog-peanut plants have alternate leaves with three leaflets.  The leaflets are rounded at the base and pointed at the tips.  The plants small pink or white flowers grow from the leaf axils.  The flowers are 1/2 to 5/8 inches long.  The flowers have a typical pea-flower shape with 5 petals (a banner, two wings, and pair of petals fused into a keel).

Hog-peanut flowers are small (1/2 to 5/8 inch long)