Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Native Species Profile - Spotted Joe-pye Weed

The late Summer/Fall wildflower show is gearing up in Mid-Michigan.  Our second wildflower season is about to begin.  While the Spring flowers get all the attention (mainly due to coming after the drabness of Winter), the later wildflower show is more spectacular.

One of my favorite wildflowers of the season is Spotted Joe-pye Weed.  This plant has recently been reclassified and renamed.  Formerly lumped with the Boneset species and known as Eupatorium maculatum, it has been broken off and renamed Eupatoriadelphus maculatus.  In some sources it is also listed as Eutrochium maculatum.  Just when I could remember Eupatorium maculatum!  All of my books -every single one of them- refers to to the plant as Eupatorium maculatum.  Of course scientists have also done away with the genus Aster, and many of the Goldenrods are no longer Solidago species...

EDIT:  It appears that the name of this species has been settled as Eutrochium maculatum.  This is how the USDA Plants database has it listed. 

Spotted Joe-pye Weed (regardless of its binomial nomenclature) is a large showy wildflower of wet places.  It is mostly found in wetlands and along shorelines.  The plant grows to a height of between 2 and 10 feet, but is usually in the 3 - 5 foot range in Mid-Michigan.  Overall the plant can be found in 23 American states and 7 Canadian provinces.  Primarily a Northeastern species, its range dips as far south as Georgia in the Appalachians and as far west as Minnesota and Iowa.

Spotted Joe-pye Weed

The plant blooms in a large flat-topped cluster of pink to purple flowers.  Each flower consists of between 8 and 20 disk florets with no ray florets.  The long thin disk florets give the flower an overall fuzzy appearance.  The flowering head on each plant may be up to seven inches across and be composed of hundreds of individual flowers.  Individual plants bloom between July and September and usually bloom for 3 to 4 weeks.

Spotted Joe-pye Weed - not the dark purple spots on the stems and the feathery looking disk flowers

The stems of Spotted Joe-pye Weed are purple and sometimes have darker purple spots - a related species Sweet Joe-pye Weed has green stems with purple only at the leaf joints.  The leaves of Spotted Joe-pye Weed are yellow-green to deep green with serrated margins and grow in whorls of four to five leaves.  Each leaf is up to 7 inches long and 2 1/2 inches wide and is lanceolate or elliptical in shape.

Spotted Joe-pye Weed - note the deep purple stems and serrated leaves

The origin of the name Joe-pye Weed is somewhat a mystery.  The common legend is that Joe Pye was a Native American healer in Massachussetts who used the plant as part of a treatment to induce sweating and break fevers - including an outbreak of Typhus.  There is actually lineage of Native Americans from Massachussets who adopted the surname Pye, so there may be some truth to this legend.  For a deeper examination of origin of the Joe-pye Weed name read this blog post at 

Basic Information

Spotted Joe-pye Weed 
Eutrochium maculatum (formerly Eupatoriadelphus maculatus, formerly Eupatorium maculatum)

Height:  2-10’ tall

Habitat:  swamps, wet meadows, shorelines, along streams

Flower Color:  pinkish-purple

Bloom Time:  mid July – early September

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Where are the Monarchs?

Monarch Butterfly on Common Milkweed

Until last Tuesday (July 23rd) I had not seen a confirmed Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) this Summer - I had several possible sightings in late June, but couldn't confirm any of them.  Last summer was a great time for Monarchs in the Mid-Michigan.  My wife and I raised more Monarchs from eggs or caterpillars to adult than we had in any other year.  Unfortunately, conditions were not so good for Monarchs in the rest of the United States, consequently overwintering populations were at their lowest number in 20 years.  With such low populations (and lingering effects of the 2012 drought) it takes a long time for Monarchs to make their way back to the northern United States, but they are finally here.  In the last week i have seen four adult Monarchs.  I am still looking for my first egg and caterpillar.

Is anyone else seeing Monarchs?

Monday, July 29, 2013

Isabella County Clean Sweep and Household Hazardous Waste Collection - 10 August 2013

The Isabella Conservation District is conducting a pesticide, herbicide, mecury, and household hazardous waste collection on Saturday August 10th at the Isabella County Fair Grounds.  For more information please see the flyer below.

One important note:  We are NOT accepting latex paint at this collection.

Days Gone By - Logging Photos

The majority of what I do for my job revolves around science.  Most of the presentations that I do in classrooms are focused on biology, ecology, and geology.  Once in a while though, a teacher asks if I can do a program on an unrelated topic.  While some of my formal education background is in science, history was always my first love in school. 

I have a BA in History, focusing mainly on American History, so when a teacher asked a couple of  years ago if I knew of anyone that could do a presentation on the Fur Trade era I jumped at the opportunity.  I have offered a program on the Fur Trade on an unofficial basis for the last two years.  It has never been on my list of program offerings, but I have quietly offered it to several teachers.  This year it is finally going to be on my official list of programs offered along with a program on the Michigan's White Pine logging era. 

So what does history have to do with science?  Everything.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Aquatic Invertebrate Photography

Last month the powers-that-be at the Chippewa Valley Audubon Club got together to discuss our next year of programming.  I volunteered to do a presentation on aquatic macroinvertebrates for our May 2014 meeting.  I do a lot of programs on aquatic macroinvertebrates in local schools and in the community.  However, all of those programs are of the hands-on variety.  I don't have slideshow or Powerpoint program - what was I thinking.  So it looks like between now and next May I need to develop a program that shows some of the organisms that can be found in our local waters. 

Yesterday was my first attempt at getting some of the photos that I will need.  I used my wife's digital zoom camera for these pictures - I do not have a macro lens for my DSLR and don't want to mess with extension tubes, tripod, etc..  It looks like I am going to need to purchase a digital scope to get pics of some of the smaller organisms - SWEET! 

Giant Water Bug - not sure if this one has parasites or if those are eggs, some species are back brooders.  In which case the female lays eggs on the back of the male, but I usually find those earlier in the Spring.

Another view of the same Giant Water Bug

Dragonfly nymph - possibly a Green Darner

Same dragonfly nymph from above

Backswimmer- not the light colored back, when seen from below this blends in with the sky.

Backswimmer consuming a small waterboatman

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Ophidiophobes Beware!

I have said before that it pays to follow whims and hunches.  Yesterday I was at Chipp-A-Waters Park in Mt. Pleasant collecting aquatic macroinvertebrates for students in a summer program. I collected my buckets of pondwater and returned back to my truck.  After changing out of my rubber boots and back into shoes, I decided to take a quick walk down to the canoe landing before I left.  There was no real good reason for this.  I knew what I could expect to find as far as flora and fauna goes.  I did not even take my camera with me.

Repeat after me.  The First Rule of Photography is "YOU DO NOT TALK ABOUT FIGH...." 
Wait!  That's the first rule of something entirely different, but I'm not allowed to talk about it.

The First Rule of Photography is "TAKE YOUR CAMERA WITH YOU."

The Second Rule of Photography is "TAKE YOUR CAMERA WITH YOU."

Of course, because I did not have my camera, there was something interesting down by the water's edge.  A quick walk back up to the truck - not a sprint, it freaks out the normal people.

So what caused my excitement?

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

National Moth Week

Quick!  Everyone turn on your porch lights!  It's National Moth Week (July 20th-28th)!  Get outside and check out your local nocturnal lepidoptera!  For more information visit the National Moth Week website.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Native Species Profile - Green Heron

If you have ever canoed or kayaked down a river in Mid-Michigan (or just about anywhere else in eastern North America), at some point a stocky bird has erupted from the riverbank or from the trees overhead and took off downstream screaming a call that sounds like "Skeow! Skeow!"

This skeow cry is the unmistakeable alarm call of the Green Heron (Butorides virescens). 

Juvenile Green Heron (Butorides virescens)

Monday, July 22, 2013

A Prairie Restoration - 2010

I have shared many photos of native prairie plants used on a small scale in gardens and in the native grassland at Forest Hill Nature Area.  Here are some photographs from a restoration on a larger scale at the Grand River Community Park located on W. Grand River (M-43) between Meridian Township and Williamston, MI.  This habitat is not exclusively native species but includes many naturalized species as well.  The park is a multiple use facility with soccer and baseball/softball fields and a sledding hill as well as several trail loops.  The trails loop through old field, grassland, scrub, and savannah habitats.

These photos are from a visit to the park in 2010. 

I think it might be time to go back again to see how the landscape has changed since then.

Bumble Bee on Purple Coneflower

Viceroy on Purple Coneflower

Crescent butterfly on Black-eyed Susan

Assassin Bug on Black-eyed Susan

Swallowtail butterfly on Chicory

Silver-spotted Skipper on Bee Balm

Hummingbird Moth on Bee Balm

Black-eyed Sussan, Goldenrod, and Queen Anne's Lace

Black-eyed Susan and Red-osier Dogwood

Grass sp. in bloom

Coreopsis sp.


Grey-headed Coneflower

Purple Coneflower

Friday, July 19, 2013

Why Native Plants Deserve to be in Your Garden

If you do not currently have native plants growing in your garden, it might be time to consider adding them.  Plants that are native to your local habitat are more likely to survive local variations in temperature and precipitation than those plants that are native to other areas of the country (or world).  Because these plants are better adapted they require less maintenance than non-native species - less mulching, watering etc.

For instance, look at this rainfall data from the National Weather Service.

The first map shows precipitation data from the last 30 days.  Mt. Pleasant, MI  (starred on the map) has received a total of 2.33 inches of precipitation during that time.  However, 0.98 inches of that came during a single day (June 27th).  Only 0.83 inches has fallen since July 1st - monthly average for July in Mt. Pleasant is 2.87 inches.

30 day precipitation amount for period ending July 18th, 2013

This second map shows the same data for the last 14 days.  A total of 0.60 inches was recorded for Mount Pleasant during this time period, all of coming on July 8th-9th.
14 day precipation totals for period ending July 18th, 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Native Species Profile - Blue Vervain

Mid- to late-summer is one of the best times of the year to observe wildflowers in Mid-Michigan.  After the frenzied blooming of the spring ephemerals there is often a lull in blooms for several weeks.  It is not that flowers cannot be found, but they often cannot be found in the diversity and profusion of the spring.

However, once Summer arrives in force and there have been several weeks of hot weather then Mid-Michigan's second season of wildflowers truly begins.  The flowers of spring arrive in colors that match the coolness of their season- mostly white with others in pale shades of yellow, blue, and lavender.  In contrast, the flowers of summer and fall are often vibrant and bold in their coloration - pinks, oranges, reds, and most of all bright golden yellows and deep violet blues.

One of the deep violet shades is provided by Blue Vervain (Verbena hastata).  Also known as Swamp Verbena, Blue Vervain likes moist sunny habitats.  Often by late July - early August, many of the roadside ditches, meadows and shorelines in Mid-Michigan are covered with a violet blue haze. 

Blue Vervain with Spotted Joe-pye Weed, Yellow Rocket, and Boneset.

Each Blue Vervain plant is topped with a cluster of flowering spikes.  Individual flowers on the spikes begin flowering at the bottom of the spike and blooms progress to the top of the spike over time.  Each flower spike may grow to be six inches or more in length.  This blooming habit means that individual plants may bloom for a period of several weeks.  Individual plants may bloom any time between June and October. 

Flowering spikes of Blue Vervain - note that only a few few flowers on each spike bloom at any given time.

Blue Vervain flowers - flowers begin blooming at the base of each flower spike and progress upward over time.

With its large numbers of blooms and long bloom time, Blue Vervain is attractive to many native pollinatators - including butterflies, flies, and bees.  The Xerces Society identifies this plant as having special value to native bees.  If you want to attract more bees to you garden, this is a great plant to add.  While it prefers moist soils, it will grow equally well in dry soils.  But it is more likely to attain its maximum height of 2 to 6 feet in damps soils.  Because of the profusion of blooms, Blue Vervain produces large numbers of seeds (nutlets).  While some of these seeds are consumed by birds, many will drop to the ground and germinate.  If you include this plant in a garden be prepared for it to spread.  Removing the spikes after the flower has ceased blooming can help prevent this plant from spreading aggressively.

Blue Vervain can be be found growing in every state east of the Rocky Mountains.

Over much of its range, Blue Vervain shares habitats with the closely related White Vervain (Verbena urticfolia).  However, the White Vervain is much more likely to be found in shade and partial shade conditions than is Blue Vervain.  White Vervain attracts many of the same pollinators as Blue Vervain, but does not match the Blue Vervain in its overall value to pollinators due to fewer total blooms.

White Vervain

Close-up of White Vervain

White Vervain - may reach heights of 3 to 6 feet

Basic Information

Blue Vervain 
Verbena hastate

Height:  2-6’ tall

Habitat:  wet meadows, along streams, shorelines, wetlands

Flower Color:  violet-blue or blue

Bloom Time:  June – October

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

A Morning at Forest Hill Nature Area

This morning I went to Forest Hill Nature Area located at 11297 Rich Rd., Alma, MI.  Forest Hill Nature Area is an old farm property of approximately 90 acres that currently owned by the Gratiot County Conservation District and managed as an educational facility by the Gratiot-Isabella Regional Education Service District.  I have volunteered as a nature guide at Forest Hill for much of the last decade, but since beginning my current position in 2009 my volunteer hours have been few and far between.  I am kind of on a if you absolutely need me and if I am available I will come out basis right now - I volunteered a total of 2 days this spring.


Several Farm buildings remain on the site including a barn, a small grainery, and former hog barn that has been converted to classroom space.

 Much of the landscape has been manipulated to provide a diversity of habitats including woodlands, wetlands, ponds, old fields, and successional habitats.  Several mowed paths lead through the various habitats.  A large map is posted near the classroom building to orient visitors to the site.

The area that i was interested in today is the section listed as Native Grassland on the trail map.  This area has undergone extensive manipulation over the last few years.  The majority of it has been burned, treated with broad-spectrum herbicides, disced up, replanted, and burned again.  Unfortunately, all of this manipulation does not appear to have helped maintain a stand of native grasses and wildflowers in this field.  Walking through the field I found the following wildflowers:

Wild Bergamot (Monarda fistulosa)

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta)

Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

False Sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides)

Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum)

Lance-leafed Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia)

Common Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)
While these plants are all well and good to find in a native grassland, there was one major problem.

White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba)
Much of the grassland has been overtaken by White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba).  While I like this plant and it is a great plant for pollinators, it should not be a dominant plant in a native grassland - it's not native.

Looking back at photographs of the same area from last year, the plant was present in some of the photographs but was not the dominant species that it has become this year.  Many of the plants are over 6 foot tall.  I wonder if the repeated burnings and other treatments have caused the superabundance of this non-native plant in this "native" grassland.  White Sweet Clover produces large seedbanks and fires are known to help this plant grow by scarifying seeds and increasing germination rates.  It might be time for Forest Hill Nature Area to aggressively treat this area with a broadleaf herbicide and start the grassland restoration over again from the beginning.