Wildflowers of 2014 - #56 Horse-gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum)
Number 56 is a flower that I have been watching for about two weeks, waiting for it to bloom. I first found Horse-Gentian (Triosteum aurantiacum) in Chipp-A-Waters Park several years ago. The first time I saw it was in the Fall and I was able to identify it by its fruit - I had never seen the plant but recognized it from books. Also known as Orange-fruited Horse-gentian, this plant produces orange berries that grow at the leaf axils. The fruit is easy to notice because of the bright orange color, but the flowers are small and nondescript.
Would you walk past this plant if you saw it in the woods? It doesn't look like much...
|A clump of Horse-gentian doesn't look very exciting.|
But if you stoop down to ground level, you will find small (3/8 -1/2 inch long), red, tubular flowers growing from the upper part of each leaf axil (leaf/stem joint).
|A closer view of the Horse-gentian - note the red flowers growing from the leaf axils.|
There are a total of two clumps of Horse-gentian that I know of in Mt. Pleasant's entire parks system - growing within about a dozen feet of each other at Chipp-A-Waters Park. It was just luck on my part to have stumbled across them when they are at their easiest to identify. Now I look forward to seeing them every year.
Wildflowers of 2014 - #57 Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis)
Within yards of the Horse-gentian was the next flower on my list. While Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis) is a lovely plant in the garden, it is a horrible plant to have in the woods. A very large colony of this non-native flower is slowly overtaking my favorite wildflower are in Mt. Pleasant. Once escaped from cultivation, this plant can outcompete many native species.
A word of caution about this plant - ALL parts of the plant are highly toxic. Ingestion of even small amounts of this plant can cause abdominal pain, vomiting, lowered heart rate, or even death.
Why is this important? When first emerging from the ground and up until this plant starts to develop its flowering stalk, this plant can be confused with several other species, including edible Wild Leeks or Ramps (Allium tricoccum). However, once Lily-of-the-Valley begins to bloom, its (normally) white bell shaped flowers make it easy to distinguish from other species.
|Part of a large colony of Lily-of-the-valley|
|Lily-of-the-valley is highly toxic and can be mistaken for some edible plants|
|The dangling bell-shaped flowers identify this plant as Lily-of-the-valley|
Wildflowers of 2014 - #58 Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)
The third flower of the day was found in a group of shrubs/small trees. A quick look at this shrub shows it as a Cherry species with its reddish bark and elongated clusters of small white flowers. To determine which species requires a closer look. Of the native and introduced species of cherries that can be found in Michigan, only Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) and Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) have elongated flower clusters. The easiest way to identify small members of the two species is to look at the leaves. Both Wild Black Cherry and Choke Cherry have leaves with serrated margins. The teeth on the Wild Black Cherry leaves are rounded and curl inward like a wave breaking; the teeth on the Choke Cherry leaves come to a distinct point with no curl. The leaves on this plant have teeth that come to a point with no inward curl, identifying it as a Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana).
|Choke Cherry - may grow as a small tree or a shrub|
|Choke Cherry - note the elongated cluster of flowers and the serrated leaves with sharply pointed teeth|
Wildflowers of 2014 - #59 Redbud (Cercis canadensis)
The next flower was one I did not expect to find. Redbud (Cercis canadensis) is a small tree the reaches the northern edge of its native range in Michigan. Michigan Flora does not list this plant for Isabella County. Redbud is widely grown as an ornamental tree because of its pinkish flowers. This example, which is growing right along the shore of the Chippewa River, is likely from a seed that washed downstream and was deposited.
|A Redbud tree growing along the banks of the Chippewa River in Mt. Pleasant|
A closer look at the flowers of this plant show that the flowers look like those of a pea or bean. They should. Like peas and beans, this tree belongs to the Legume Family (Fabaceae).
|Unlike most trees, the flowers of Redbud may grow directly from old branches or even the trunk.|
|Pea-like flowers of Redbud|
Wildflowers of 2014 - #60 Morrow's Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii)
Continuing on with shrubs and small trees, the next flower is from a species of shrub that is very common in Mt. Pleasant's parks. Unfortunately Morrow's Honeysuckle (Lonicera morrowii) is an invasive species. It escapes from cultivation when birds consume the red or orange berries and deposit them in their dropping in nearby wild areas. When a plant grows from these seeds and reaches maturity, birds will eat its seeds, and continue the process of distribution. Eventually whole forests can have understories that are completely composed of this and other non-native shrubs which crowd out native shrubs and wildflowers.
Morrow's Honeysuckle can be distinguished from other non-native Honeysuckle species by its pairs of flowers which start out white and then fade to yellow, and its leaves which are are pubescent (covered with downy hairs). Morrow's Honeysuckle can hybridize with several other species of Honeysuckle, making identification more difficult.
|Morrow's Honeysuckle - white flowers arranged in pairs|
|Morrow's Honeysuckle flowers - note how flowers have faded from white to yellow|
Wildflowers of 2014 - #61 White Oak (Quercus alba)
The next flowers are those of a large White Oak (Quercus alba). White Oaks, like many other trees, are wind pollinated. Because they do not rely on insects for pollination they produce large numbers of small drab flowers hanging in 2-4 inch catkins. White Oak trees can be identified by the rounded lobes of their leaves.
|Like many wind pollinated trees, White Oak flowers appear before the tree has fully leafed out.|
|White Oak leaves and flowers|
Wildflowers of 2014 - #62 Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa)
The final flower of the day was another species of Oak - Bur Oak (Quercus macrocarpa). Like the White Oak, Bur Oak is wind-pollinated and has small drab flowers arranged in hanging catkins. Also like White Oak, Bur Oak has leaves with rounded lobes. But in this case a large terminal lobe is further divided into several small lobes. This gives the end of the leaf a much "chunkier" appearance than the White Oak.
|Bur Oak leaves and flowers|