Monday, June 30, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #151 through #161

Last week I added an additional eleven species to my 2014 wildflower list.

The first two flowers from last week were found at Mission Creek Woodland Park on Wednesday (25 June 2014).  Both species are shrubs or small trees.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #151 Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina)

The first flower of the day was Staghorn Sumac (Rhus typhina).  A colony of Staghorn Sumac grows in the dry soil along the edge of the mowed lawn at Mission Creek.  This is typical habitat for Staghorn Sumac.  It is a sun-loving species that is found either in open fields or along the edges of forests.  This plant is rarely found in full shade.

Staghorn Sumac - note the large compound leaves and hairy stems

Most of the plants in this colony are under 15 feet tall, but the species can reach heights of 30 feet.  Staghorn Sumac has large compound leaves that may be up to 24 inches long.  The flowers of Staghorn Sumac are arranged on a branched, pyramid-shaped spike at the terminal end of the trunks.  Individual flowers are pale green in color and small (measuring 1/4 inch across).  The whole flower spike may measure 12 inches long and 6 inches across.

Staghorn Sumac is the largest Sumac species found in Michigan and can be distinguished from other Sumac species by its dense coating of hair on leaf stalks and branches.  Staghorn Sumac is found throughout the eastern United States and Canada.

Staghorn Sumac - a closer view of the green flowers

Wildflowers of 2014 - #152 Border Privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium)

The next species is another shrub - Border Privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium).  This species is not native to North America, but is commonly grown as a landscape plant.  Border Privet has escaped from these domestic plantings and is now naturalized in 20 states.  This a relatively new alien species, it was first recorded in the wild in Michigan in 1959 and the record of its occurrence is probably incomplete.  It is not listed by Michigan Flora for Isabella County. 

Border Privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium)
Border Privet is one of three Privet species found in Michigan.  I based the identification of this specimen on the size (small) and location of the flower clusters in relation to the rest of the plant.  Although these pictures do not show it well, these plants have flower clusters all along their stems and not just at the tips (a feature of Common Privet and California Privet).

Border Privet - a closer view of the flowers

The next five species were photographed last Thursday, 26 June 2014.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #153 Large-leaved Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica)

On Thursday, I went back to Mission Creek Park to check on the progress of some blooms that I had been watching for the past four days.  The flowers that I was checking on were not in bloom, but on the way back to the parking lot I detoured to an area of dry forest that I had not visited yet this season. 

Along a little-used trail I found Wildflower #153 of the year - Large-leaved Shinleaf (Pyrola elliptica).  This is the first time I have found this species growing in Mt. Pleasant.  I have not found this species in the past simply because I rarely travel down this trail during the summer. 

Large-leaved Shinleaf grows well in dry upland forests

Large-leaved Shinleaf is one of five Pyrola species that can be found in Michigan.  Four of the species (including this one) are widely distributed across the state.  All of the species have flowers that are arranged in a raceme - each plant has a single flowering stalk with flowers hand off this stalk by short stems.  This flowering stalk rises from a basal cluster of leaves.  The flowers bloom from the bottom to the top of the raceme in sequence. 

Large-leaved Shinleaf - a closer view of the flowering stalk

The flowers of all Pyrola species have five petals and a pistil that curves down and out from the flowers center.  This species can be distinguished from the other Michigan Pyrola species by the size and shape of its leaves.

This picture shows the size of the Shinleaf flowers

Wildflowers of 2014 - #154 Common St. John's-wort (Hypericum perforatum)

The next four species were found in dry open areas at Chipp-A-Waters Park.  The first flower that I found was Common St. John's-wort (Hypericum perfoliatum).  Of thirteen St. John's-wort species found in Michigan this is the only one that is not native to the state.  It is identifiable by the black spots along the edge of its petals.  The native species Spotted St. John's-wort (H. punctatum) is more heavily spotted on both its flowers and leaves.

Common St. John's-wort (Hypericum perfoliatum)

Common St. John's-wort - note the black spots along the edges of the petals.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #155 White Sweet Clover (Melilotus albus)

The next flower is another native of Eurasia.  White Sweet Clover (Melilotus alba) was originally planted as forage for livestock but has naturalized across most of North America.  With the exception of flower color, this species is indistinguishable from #121 Yellow Sweet Clover (M. officianalus).  The USDA PLANTS database does not distinguish between the two and considers them variations of the same species.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #156 Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

The next flower species is one of the best known of our native plants - Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca).  Best known as a host plant for the Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus), Common Milkweed is an important nectar source for many species of native insects.  The plant can be identified by its large ovoid leaves and its showy globe of  pink to purple flowers.

For more information on Common Milkweed please look at this species profile from June 2013.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

A closer view of the Common Milkweed flowers

Wildflowers of 2014 - #157 Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina)

The next species is the second native rose on my 2014 wildflower list - Pasture Rose (Rosa carolina).  Like Smooth Rose (R. blanda), which was #141 on the list, Pasture Rose has solitary blooms with five pink (or rose-colored) petals.

Pasture Rose - not solitary blooms, compound leaves, and straight thorns

The leaves of Pasture Rose are compound and have 3-7 leaflets with coarsely toothed margins.  There is a pair of "wings" attached at the base of each leaf.

The open flowers of Pasture Rose attract a variety of pollinators

The best way to identify Pasture Rose is by looking at its thorns - Pasture Rose has straight, thin thorns. 

Pasture Rose - note the straight thorns which help to identify this species

The next four species were photographed last Friday (27 June 2014)

Wildflowers of 2014 - #158 Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens)

The first flower  that I found was growing in and along the shoreline of Mission Creek.  This plant was easy to identify as a member of the Buttercup or Crowfoot Family (Ranunculaceae).  Identifying it to species was a little more difficult - there are 18 Ranunculus species that can be found in Michigan.  I have already included four species on this list: #28 Swamp Buttercup (R. hispidus), #51 Small-flowered Buttercup (R. arbortivus), #100 Common Buttercup (R. acris) and #137 Cursed Crowfoot (R scleratus).  Those four species could be eliminated for various reasons.  Several other species could be eliminated for reasons such as habitat type, location, color, etc.

Creeping Buttercup - note the "watermarks" on the leaves

Finally I settled on an identification of Creeping Buttercup (Ranunculus repens).  This non-native buttercup is lot listed in Michigan Flora for Isabella County, but I am fairly certain of my identification.  I based this identification on the size of the flower (larger than 1/2 inch), leaf shape (compound leaves with a stalked terminal lobe), and flowering time.  Another feature that pushed my identification to Creeping Buttercup was white blotches (watermarks) on the leaves.  My Peterson Field Guide to Wildflowers as well as several web sources list these watermarks as being a characteristic of this species.

Creeping Buttercup - a closer look at a flower

Wildflowers of 2014 - #159 Common Elder (Sambucus canadensis)

The next new species of the day was Common Elder (Sambucus canadensis).  This native shrub is most commonly found in wet habitats such as swamps, shorelines, and floodplains, but can also grow in drier habitats.  It has been recorded in forty-four states and six Canadian provinces/territories.  The one that I found grows on an island in the middle of the Chippewa River in Mill Pond Park.

Common Elder growing on an island in the Chippewa River

Common Elder can grow to a height of twelve feet.  It has large compound leaves with 5-9 leaflets.  Individual leaflets are 2 to 4 inches long.  The flowers of Common Elder are flat-topped clusters (umbels) that measure up to six inches across.  The small flowers that make up the umbel are white colored.  After pollination, the flowers will develop into small purple berries.  These berries are delicious and can be used to make jellies, pies, and (for adults) wine.  These berries are also readily consumed by birds.

Common Elder - note the compound leaves and the flat-topped umbels of flowers

Common Elder - a closer view of the flower and leaves

Wildflowers of 2014 - #160 Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria)

The next species that I found was Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria).  This native of Europe is naturalized across most of the United States and portions of Canada.  Moth Mullein grows in a variety of habitat types from dry to wet.  It most commonly grows in disturbed habitats such as roadsides and fields.  I found this plant growing among rocks along the Chippewa River in Mill Pond Park

Moth Mullein is a biennial - meaning it lives for two years.  During its first year, it appears as a basal cluster of leaves up to 12 inches across.  The alternate leaves of second year plants are highly variable.  During this second year, it may grow as tall as five feet.  All parts of the plant are covered in dense white hairs.

Moth Mullein (Verbascum blattaria) growing along the Chippewa River

The flowers of Moth Mullein grow during the plant's second year.  The flowers are typically yellow (or white, rarely pink) with a reddish-purple center and rise in one or more racemes (unbranched stalks) above the plant's leaves.  The flowers bloom in sequence from the bottom of the raceme to the top. 

Moth Mullein - a closer view of the flower raceme (the "fuzz" on this plant is from an Eastern Cottonwood tree)

Wildflowers of 2014 - #161 Chicory (Cichorium intybus)

The final flower from last week was growing a few feet away from the Moth Mullein.  Chicory (Cichorium intybus) was introduced from Europe and is now naturalized across North America with the exception of Alaska, Yukon and Northwest Territories, and Nunavut.  Chicory grows in a variety of habitats including lawns, fields, roadsides, and natural areas such as prairies.  The plant was frequently cultivated for its roots which were used to make a coffee substitute - Mt. Pleasant once had a Chicory processing plant.

Chicory is a gangly, branching perennial.  Its leaves resemble those of dandelions or wild lettuce.  The leaves near the base of the plant can be up to 8 inches long, but they get smaller higher on the plant.

A widely branching Chicory (Cichorium intybus) plant

The flowers of Chicory make it easy to identify.  Each plant may produce dozens of pale blue (rarely white or pink) flowers over the course of the summer, but only a few will bloom at any one time.  The flowers are 1 - 1 1/2 inches across and composed of 10 to 20 rays or petals.  The tips of each ray are toothed.  The stamen at the center of the flower are also a pale blue.

A Chicory flower - note pale blue color and toothed petals (rays)

Another view of a Chicory flower showing the pale blue petals and stamen

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