Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #11 Boxelder (Acer negundo), #12 Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), #13 Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris), & #14 Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

Spring wildflower season has been slow to start, but things are beginning to pick up.  Yesterday, I added four more species.

The first species was another tree.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #11 Boxelder (Acer negundo)

Also known as the Ash-leaved Maple, Boxelder (Acer negundo) is the only native maple tree with compound leaves. Commonly found in wet areas such as floodplains, stream banks, and along the shores of wetlands,  Boxelder does not tolerate shade well.  Therefore it is rarely found in thick woodlands.  Because it grows rapidly, Boxelder will often colonize newly disturbed sites.

Boxelder flowers in mid-Spring (April to May) either before the tree develops leaves or as the leaves are growing.  One distinguishing feature of this flower is the hairy pedicles (flower stalks) of the male flowers.

These photographs were taken along the Chippewa River at Chipp-A-Waters Park.

Boxelder along the Chippewa River

The Boxelder produces many wind-pollinated flowers

Male flowers of a Boxelder

Dangling flowers and emerging leaves of Boxelder

Wildflowers of 2014 - #12 Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)

The second wildflower was also found at Chipp-A-Waters Park.  It was another Spring ephemeral, Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata).  Spring ephemerals are wildflowers that complete their annual cycle of growth and blooming before the overhead canopy leafs out.

Although many Toothwort plants were present, only a few had begun to bloom.  This Spring's cold cloudy weather has slowed the blooming of many species, including Cut-leaved Toothwort. 

Cut-leaved Toothwort - note the deeply lobed leaves that contribute to the plant's name

Cut-leaved Toothwort

The next two flowers were photographed at Mission Creek Woodland Park.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #13 Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)

One of my favorite Spring wildflowers is the Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris).  Marsh Marigold is the first yellow flower of the year.  It is not a pale buttery-yellow, but rather a bright, glossy lemon yellow.  It STANDS out, especially in shadowy habitats like swamps where it seems to glow like the sun.  This flower has just begun to bloom.  Over the next few weeks it will carpet the floor of the hardwood and conifer swamps along Mission Creek.

A pair of bright yellow Marsh Marigold blooms stand out in this green dominated scene
A mound of Marsh Marigold with its heart-shaped leaves and a single open bloom

The bright glossy lemon-yellow blooms of Marsh Marigold
Wildflowers of 2014 - #14 Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

The final new wildflower of the day was another one with a yellow bloom.  I have been searching for flowers of the Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) for the past two weeks, but had not found a flower until I stumbled upon this one by accident.  The woods in the upper part of Mission Creek park are carpeted with the Yellow Trout Lily's speckled leaves.  Most of these plants have a single small leaf - these plants will not flower this year.  It can take many years for a Trout Lily to store enough energy in its corm (bulb) to produce a pair of leaves and a flower.  While the petals on this flower are only partially open, as the bloom progresses the petals will curl back revealing the flower's pistil and stamen.

Yellow Trout Lily - note the mottled leaves that give the species its name

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Videos of Aquatic Invertebrates

Last week I presented several programs on aquatic invertebrates during the Ziibiwing Center's Mother Earth Week Celebration.  Students were able to find and identify nearly 20 different types of aquatic macroinvertebrates using the University of Wisconsin Extension Key to Life in the Pond.

After I was done working with the students I took the buckets of pond water back to my office and used a digital microscope to take photographs and videos of some of the smaller organisms that could be seen in the water samples.  Here are two of the videos.

First up, this video shows a small crustacean known as a daphnia or "water flea".  This water flea is a female - the dark spots near her back are eggs.

The second video shows another type of small crustacean known as a scud or amphipod.  Scuds resemble small shrimp and are also known as "side-swimmers" for their tendency to swim on their sides.

Monday, April 28, 2014

A Trio of Trillium

"And three times three is nine..."

Three is a magic number
Yes it is, it's a magic number
Somewhere in the ancient, mystic trinity
You get three as a magic number
The past and the present and the future
Faith and hope and charity
The heart and the brain and the body
Give you three
That's a magic number

                      -Bob Dorough
                                         "Three is a Magic Number"

"and three times two is six."

"And three time one is three of course."
More than forty years after it premiered, Schoolhouse Rock! is still awesome.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #10 Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Yesterday (24 April), I photographed my tenth wildflower of 2014 - Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica).  This small woodland wildflower is a spring ephemeral - meaning it completes its annual growth and bloom cycle before the canopy trees leaf out and cut off the majority light to the forest floor.

I have been searching for Spring Beauty for several weeks.  Over the past five years, the third week of April seems to be when this flower begins to bloom, but I have found it as early April 3rd (2012).  For more information on Spring Beauty, look at this post from last year.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #1 through #10

#1 Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus) - 10 April 2014
#2 Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) - 14 April 2014
#3 Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) - 14 April 2014
#4 Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) - 16 April 2014
#5 Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) - 21 April 2014
#6 Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) - 21 April 2014
#7 Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia) - 21 April 2014
#8 Red Maple (Acer rubrum) - 22 April 2014
#9 Speckled Alder (Alnus rugosa) - 22 April 2014
#10 Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) - 24 April 2014

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #8 Red Maple (Acer rubrum) and #9 Speckled Alder (Alnus rugosa)

On Tuesday April 22nd I photographed my eighth and ninth wildflowers of 2014.  Both of these blooms were on native trees.  Like the other trees that I have photographed in bloom, both of these trees have flowers that bloom before their leaves emerge.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #8 Red Maple (Acer rubrum)

Depending on the weather, individual Red Maple trees in Michigan may bloom any time between March and May. I found several Red Maples in bloom.  Red Maple trees may be either male, or female, or both.  All of the trees that I photographed appeared to have male flowers.  These trees release large amounts of pollen, relying on the wind to carry the pollen to female flowers.  Wind-pollinated trees like Red Maple are responsible for the stuffy heads and watery eyes that many people (including my wife) are suffering through right now.

Red Maple (Acer rubrum) in bloom

Male flowers of Red Maple - note the pollen covered anthers

A sprawling Red Maple tree

Male flowers on a Red Maple

A closer view of the male flowers
Wildflowers of 2014 - #9 Speckled Alder (Alnus rugosa)

My second new wildflower of the day and ninth wildflower of the year was this one.

The flowers of this small wind-pollinated tree are 1-2 inch long catkins.  Male and female catkins are separately located on the tips of branches.  Male flowers are larger than female flowers.  In the pictures above and below you can see both the dangling male catkins and the shorter erect female catkins.  After pollination, the female catkins will become woody and resemble small pine cones.

Male (dangling) and female (erect) catkins of Speckled Alder
I was fairly certain that this tree was a Speckled Alder (Alnus rugosa or A. incana) based on the catkins and reddish bark.  The bark is covered with white horizontal lenticels (pores) which allow air to enter the trunk and branches.

Speckled Alder (Alnus rugosa) - note the dark red bark and white lenticels

Speckled Alder, also known as Gray Alder or Tag Alder, often grows in dense stands along streams and in other wet places.This small stand was growing along the edge of a cedar swamp.

A small stand of Speckled Alder

Sometimes when trying to identify a tree or shrub, it can be helpful to clip a twig for closer examination later.  Later when I looked at one of my tree books (Michigan Trees by Barnes and Wagner), I noted that the twigs of this tree have a triangle-shaped pith.  When I cut into the twig, this triangular pith confirmed my Speckled Alder identification. 

Cross-section of a Speckled Alder twig - note the triangular pith

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #5 Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), #6 Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), and #7 Common Blue Violet (Viola Sororia)

Continuing my series on the Wildflowers of 2014...

I have a secret goal on the number of different wildflowers that I want to photograph this year, but so far the wildflower season has been slow to start.  On Monday (21 April 2014) I was able to add three more flowers to my list.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #5 Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Looking at my photographs from the past five years, the start of the Spring wildflower season has varied by as much as three weeks.  One of the first wildflowers to bloom in Mid-Michigan is Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis). Since 2009, I have photographed the first blooms of as early as April 4th (2012) and as late as April 29th (2013).

Bloodroot flower - note the bright yellow pollen-covered anthers surrounding the pale green pistil

Normally I find very few Bloodroot flowers.  I have a few locations in the local parks where I know I can find Bloodroot plants every year, but sometimes I miss the flowers completely.  Bloodroot only blooms for a few days each year.  Once a flower has been pollinated its petals begin to drop off.  If you do not time your visit to the woods perfectly, you may find that all of the flowers are gone.

This year, I timed my search for Bloodroot just right.  There were large numbers of the flowers in bloom at Chipp-A-Waters Park in Mt. Pleasant.  There were lots of solitary flowers and small clusters of plants.

There were also numerous larger groupings of eight to ten flowers.  This is not unusual - Bloodroot spreads both by seed and by underground rhizomes that result in colonies of genetically identical plants (clones). 

Many of the plants were attracting small pollinators, especially beetles and small bees.

Many beetles play a role in pollination - these are possibly Red-necked False Blister Beetles (Asclera ruficollis)

A metalic green Small Carpenter Bee (Ceratina sp.) visits Bloodroot flowers - the flower on the left has been almost completely stripped of pollen.
Bloodroot was not the only flower in bloom.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Monday, April 21, 2014

Mother Earth Week 2014 - Aquatic Ecology at the Ziibiwing Center

This week I am participating in the annual Mother Earth Week activities at the Ziibiwing Center.  This will be the 5th year that I have participated int his program.  Every year I bring in buckets of pond water for students to sort through.  The goal of this activity is to show students how the absence or presence of certain aquatic macroinvertebrates can used as indicators of water quality.

I get my water samples from several local ponds in the Mt. Pleasant area.  Unfortunately, most of these ponds were greatly affected by the recent flooding.  Heavy rains resulted in large amounts of sediments being added to the ponds, making the waters very murky.  So instead of getting my samples from permanent ponds, this year I collected water and invertebrates from a series of seasonal ponds located in a local woodland.

Red Maple trees reflected in a seasonal pond

Seasonal ponds offer a unique set of challenges for aquatic life.  Because these ponds only hold water for part of the year it limits the types of species that can be found living in them.  For instance, fish cannot survive in them.  Other species adapt by burrowing into the mud when these ponds dry out and remain dormant until rains flood the ponds again.

Another unique aspect of life in seasonal ponds is the source of food for most of the animals.  Permanent ponds are home to a variety of aquatic plants and algae.  These plants and algae harvest energy from the sun through the process of photosynthesis and form the base of food chains in permanent bodies of water.

However, because seasonal ponds dry out for much of the year these photosynthetic organisms do not grow in seasonal ponds.  Instead dead leaves fill the bottom of shallow seasonal ponds and become the base of the food chain.  These leaves fall from surrounding trees and are shredded and consumed by a variety of organisms in the seasonal ponds. 

Dead leaves form the base of the food chain for many dwellers of seasonal ponds
So what are some of the organisms that you can expect to find in a seasonal pond?

Northern Casemaker Caddisfly

Aquatic Sowbug

Planaria or flatworm

Fingernail or Pea Clam

Pouch Snail

For more information on Aquatic Invertebrate sampling check out these other posts from the past year:

Friday, April 18, 2014

Upcoming Event - Bird Day Celebration (May 3rd)

On Saturday May 3rd the Isabella Conservation District and the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture & Lifeways are hosting our third annual Migratory Bird Day Celebration.  This event is from 1:00 PM to 4:00PM and is free to the public.  The Ziibiwing Center is located at 6650 E. Broadway just east of Mt. Pleasant.

Some of the activities for the day include:
  • "The Wonder of Raptors" - a live birds of prey presentation by Wings of Wonder at 2:30 PM
  • Owl Pellet dissection
  • Make an Audubon Bird Call
  • Decorate a bird mask and other crafts
  • Compare your "wingspan" to the wingspan of birds
  • Learn about birdwatching with experts from the Chippewa Valley Audubon Club
  • Handle replicas skulls and eggs of some of Mid-Michigan's native birds
There will be lots of free goodies including stickers and posters.  We will also be giving away door prizes over the course of the afternoon (including International Migratory Bird Day t-shirts) - you must be present to win any door prizes.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #4 Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

Despite my best efforts to find blooming wildflowers, the only flowers that I can find so far are those of Skunk Cabbage and a few wind-pollinated trees.  Many of the places where I would normally search for Spring wildflowers look like this:

Many other species of flowers that I would expect to find by now have been delayed by the long Winter.  Some are just poking up out of the soil and others have not begun emerging at all.  Yesterday, I had hoped to reach one of my favorite wildflower areas, an old natural elevated river levee in the Chippewa River floodplain.  This old levee is one of the banks that was left behind when the river shifted its course.  Unfortunately, there was no way that I could get there without a pair of waders - the water level was well over the top of my boots.

I did manage to find one thing in bloom.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #4 Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

A small grove of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) was flowering.

A grove of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)
This tree does not rely on animals to aid it in pollination.  Instead it released very large amounts of pollen and relies on the wind to carry that pollen from one flower to another.  Like many trees that are wind pollinated, Quaking Aspen flowers bloom before the tree is leafed out.

Flowers of the Quaking Aspen

Individual flowers of the Quaking Aspen are small but they hang in cylinder shaped clusters called catkins.  While some species of trees contain both male and female flowers, Quaking Aspen trees are either male or female so all the flowers on an individual tree will be either male or female.  Although I am not positive, I think that all of the flowers in these photos are male. 

Quaking Aspen flowers are 1-2 inch long catkins

Because the Quaking Aspen can spread by cloning, not just from seeds, large groves are often composed of trees that are technically one organism sprouting from a shared root system. It would make sense for all of the flowers on these trees to be the same, it is likely that all of these trees are one large organism.

The dangling catkins rely on wind for pollination

Quaking Aspen blooms early in the Spring before the leaves emerge

Male catkins of Quaking Aspen - note the red pollen-covered anthers

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Chippewa River Floods - 2014 edition

One year ago Mid-Michigan experienced its most severe flooding in nearly thirty years.  With heavy rains over the weekend, many rivers in our area are again experiencing flooding this April.  The flood waters are not as high, but are still impressive.  Here are some photos that I took over the past two days.

The first few photos were taken on Monday at Chipp-A-Waters Park in Mt. Pleasant.

Probably not the brightest idea...  Parks workers taking a Gator through 8 or more inches of water.

The Chippewa River is to the left in this photo.  The tree in the foreground in normally several feet above water on the near bank.

The canoe landing at Chipp-A-Waters Park - the end of the landing is several feet under water at this stage

Eroding riverbank at Chipp-A-Waters Park - there is a planned project to stabilize this bank over the Summer.

The next six photographs are also from Monday.  This set of pictures was taken at Mill Pond Park - downstream from Chipp-A-Waters Park.

Pedestrian bridge over the Chippewa River - If you click the link in the first paragraph you can see a photo from the same vantage point taken one year ago.

Water flowing over the weirs in Mill Pond Park

A large tree trunk stuck on a weir - the trough in the water in front of it was probably more than 2 feet deep.  A half hour after this picture was taken this tree trunk was gone, washed downstream by the strong current.

Water rushing against the dam in Mill Pond Park

It's called a "floodplain" for a reason...

Waterfowl were enjoying the flooded shorelines;  pedestrians, not so much...

The next photograph was taken on Monday at Nelson Park, the next park downstream. This was my favorite photo of the day.  Water levels continued to rise after this picture was taken. 

An American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos) forages along the edge of the flooded lawn at Nelson Park
The remaining photographs were taken on Tuesday at Island Park and Pickens Field.  These parks are downstream from all the parks in the above photos.

Flooded softball field at Pickens Field

Looking across the pedestrian bridge from Pickens Field to Island Park - the Vietnam Memorial is mostly underwater

Flooding at Island Park in Mt. Pleasant - Maybe that sign should have a swimmer on it instead...

Flooding from the Chippewa River at Island Park - the line of small trees in the center for the photo shows the normal location of the riverbank.