Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #2 Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis) and #3 Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)

Continuing with my goal of photographing as many species of wildflowers as possible in 2014, yesterday I went to Mill Pond Park in Mt. Pleasant searching for a couple of Spring ephemeral wildflowers (flowers that complete their blooming cycle before the canopy trees leaf out).  I did not find what I was looking for, but did manage to find two species of trees/shrub blooming in a shrub swamp near the Chippewa River.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #2 Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis)

The first tree that I found blooming was a Betula (Birch) species.  After much investigation, I decided that this was most likely a Yellow Birch (Betula alleghaniensis).  There are several species native to Eastern North America that are similar, including Sweet Birch (B. lenta) and River Birch (B. nigra), but those could be eliminated based on certain characteristics.

Yellow Birch flowers and catkins

The twigs of both Yellow and Sweet Birch smell and taste like wintergreen when crushed or scraped, River Birch does not have this smell/taste.  The twigs of this tree smell like wintergreen, eliminating River Birch as an option. 

Male flower and mature catkins of Yellow Birch

Sweet Birch can be eliminated by looking at its range.  Although it is found in 21 states and the province of Ontario, Michigan is not in its native range.  The closest it is found to Michigan is in eastern Ohio.  This leaves Yellow Birch as the most likely identification for this tree.

Male flowers of Yellow Birch (Betula aleghaniensis)

Wildflowers of 2014 - #3 Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)

The second tree that I found blooming was a Pussy Willow (Salix discolor).  Pussy Willow is native to 29 states and most of Canada (except Yukon territory and Nunavut).  This the first willow species to bloom in Mid-Michigan.  It is easily identified by the fuzzy immature catkins that resemble and feel like cat fur. 

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) branches and catkins

Pussy Willow - identifiable by the fuzzy immature catkins

Pussy Willow (Salix discolor) catkins

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