Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #206 through #217

I spent much of last week preparing materials for the upcoming school year.  As a result, I am a little behind on writing about my wildflower finds.  The following twelve species were all found on Monday 18 August 2014 at Mission Creek Woodland Park.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #206 Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum)

The first flower of the day was the third thistle (Cirsium) species that I found this year - Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum).  Unlike species #150 Canada Thistle (C. arvense) and #178 Bull Thistle (C. vulgare), Swamp Thistle is native to Michigan.  As its name suggests, Swamp Thistle is found in wet soils along shorelines, riverbanks, sedge meadows, and conifer swamps (rarely hardwood swamps).  It is found across eastern North America.  This species is not listed  for Isabella County on the Michigan Flora database.

Swamp Thistle in a typical habitat (cedar swamp)

Swamp Thistle is easy to identify.  It grows to a height of 2 to 10 feet tall.  The stems of the plant have few spines along their length.  The plant's leaves are deeply lobed and arranged alternately along the stem.

Swamp Thistle - a closer view of the plant's leaves and stem

The plant is a biennial and flowers in its second year.  The flower is the distinguishing characteristic of this plant.  Swamp Thistle flowers are flat-topped, purple-pink, and arrange either singly or in a group of 2-5 flowers at the top of the stem.  The flowers are at the top of a rounded bract.  What makes this thistle distinctive is the lack of spines on the bract.  This plant flowers from mid-Summer into fall.

Swamp Thistle - note the lack of spines on the flower's bracts

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Something to Crow About

Just sharing a photograph of this morning's reception committee...

A pair of American Crows (Corvus brachyrhynchos)

Monday, August 25, 2014

Back to School and Monarch Butterflies

It almost that time of the year.  The signs have been everywhere for weeks, if you wanted to look.

What time am I talking about?

The start of a new school year.  In Mid-Michigan, the students have one more glorious week with not responsibilities before returning to classes on Tuesday September 2nd.   Most of the teachers report back to work some time this week.  My wife had to report back to work today.  It was the first time her wake-up alarm has gone off at 5:45AM since the middle of June.

Late August/early September is not just back to school time.  It's also Monarch Butterfly season.  for the last couple of weeks, we have been looking over the local milkweed patches searching for Monarch caterpillars.  Right now we over thirty Monarch in some stage of development hanging out in our kitchen.  Over twenty of them are in chrysalis.  We have released two adults (both males) so far, but should have many more emerge during the next week.

Our first adult Monarch of the year - found as a caterpillar and raised in our house

Some of our Monarch caterpillars and chrysalises

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Wildflowers of 2014 - #200 through #205

The late-Summer/Fall wildflowers have begun to bloom.  I missed the start because of my vacation so now I have some catching up to do.  On Friday (15 August 2014) I visited Chipp-A-Waters Park and recorded the following six species.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #200 Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata)

When I started this project in April, I was hoping to find 200 species before the end of the growing season.  On August 15th, I found my 200th species - Wild Cucumber (Echinocystis lobata).  It took 127 days to get from Wildflower #1 (Skunk Cabbage) to Wildflower #200.

Wild Cucumber - note the lobed leaves and erect flower spikes

Wild Cucumber is a native vine that can be up to ten feet long.  It either trails or climbs by wrapping tendrils around nearby objects.  The tendrils that allow it to climb emerge from the plant's leaf axils.  The leaves of the plant are arranged alternately along the vine.  Each leaf has five pointed lobes and resembles a maple leaf.

Wild Cucumber leaf - note lobes and toothed margins

The flowers of Wild Cucumber also grow from the leaf axils.  The male (staminate) flowers are arranged on in groups on erect spikes.  The flowers have six white petals.  The female flowers are inconspicuous and grow individually or in small groups.

Wild Cucumber flowers - female (lower left) and male (on spike)

Wild Cucumber grows in moist habitats such as wet woodlands, thickets, and floodplains.  It grows across much of the United States (40 states) and the lower half of Canada.  It can be found in about two-thirds of Michigan's counties and is present in both the Upper and Lower Peninsulas. 

Wildflowers of 2014 - #201 Narrow-leafed Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia)

The next flower that I found is one of several species of "Goldenrod" that are currently in bloom in Mid-Michigan - Narrow-leafed Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia).  This species is also known as Grass-leaved Goldenrod due to its narrow leaves or as Flat-topped Goldenrod due to its flat topped flower panicles (branched clusters).

Narrow-leafed Goldenrod (Euthamia graminifolia)

Like most species of Goldenrod, Narrow-leafed Goldenrod is a late-Summer/Fall blooming plant with small golden-yellow flowers.  The individual flowers are small, measuring about 1/8th inch across, but the panicles measure several inches across.

Narrow-leafed Goldenrod - a closer view of the flowers

Narrow-leafed Goldenrod prefers moist soils.  It is often found growing intermingled with other Goldenrod species in meadows, along shorelines, in ditches, etc.  It ranges across much of North America.  In Michigan it has been recorded in all but eight counties - interestingly Isabella County is one of those eight counties.

Several years ago Narrow-leafed Goldenrod was reclassified.  It was formerly known as Solidago graminifolia, but has now been placed in a separate genus (Euthamia).

Wildflowers of 2014 - #202 Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis)

The third wildflower of the day was Canada Goldenrod (Solidago canadensis).  Also known as Common Goldenrod, this species is found throughout almost all of the United States and Canada, with the exceptions of Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, and Nunavut.  It grows in a variety of open habitats in both wet and dry soil conditions.  This is the species that most people think about when they hear the word goldenrod.

Canada Goldenrod - note one-sided flowering branches and alternate leaves

Canada Goldenrod can reach heights of 1 to 6 1/2 feet.  It has leaves that are arranged alternately along the stem.  The leaves are typically narrow (linear, oval, or elliptic) and may be up to 6 inches long.  The flowers are arranged in a pyramid-shaped panicle (branched cluster) at the top of the plant.  The branches of the panicle curve upward and outward from the stem before then curving downward.  The small (1/8 inch) flowers are arranged in a line on the upper side of the branches.  The panicle may be up to 16 inches tall.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #203 Field Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis)

The fourth species of the day is one of many species that have flowers resembling those of dandelions.  But unlike dandelion plants, which are low growing, Field Sow-thistle (Sonchus arvensis) plants may grow to be 7 feet tall, but are usually 2 1/2 to 3 feet.  This plant is not native to North America but has naturalized across the majority of the United States and Canada.

Field Sow-thistle resembles an overgrown dandelion

Field Sow-thistle has yellow flowers that look like those of dandelions.  The flower heads are 1 1/4 to 2 inches across and are composed entirely of  disc flowers with not rays (petals).  Each flower head is composed of between 150 and 300 individual ray flowers.  The flower heads are arranged in a flat panicle. 

Field Sow-thistle - a closer view of the flower heads

The plant's leaves also look like those of dandelions, but have prickles at the tip of each lobe.  The base of each leaf has a pair of rounded lobes that clasp the plant's stem.  The leaves are normally found only on the lower half of the plant.

Field Sow-thistle - note how leaf margins are edged with prickles and how leaves clasp the stem

Wildflowers of 2014 - #204 Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana)

The next species of the day was Virgin's Bower (Clematis virginiana).  This native vine climbs to a height of 6 to 10 feet.  The leaves on the plant are arranged in alternate pairs.  Each leaf has three pointed oval leaflets with toothed margins and a notched base. 

Virgin's Bower - note serrated margins of leaves

The flowers of Virgin's Bower are white, 3/8 to 5/8 inch across, and grow in flat topped panicles.  Individual plants may have all male (staminate) flowers, all female (pistillate) flowers, or both staminate and pistillate flowers.

Virgin's Bower - this plant contains both male (staminate) and female (pistillate) flowers

Virgin's Bower typically grows in moist habitats such as floodplains, wet forest edges, swamps, etc.  It is found throughout the eastern half of North America, east of a line running south from Manitoba to eastern Texas.

Wildflowers of 2014 - #205 Jumpseed (Persicaria virginiana)

The final flower of the day is another native plant - Jumpseed (Persicaria virginiana).  This plant is also known as Virginia Knotweed.  This plant is sometimes listed as Polygonum virginianum.  It is native to the eastern half of the United States and Canada.  Mid-Michigan is at the northern edge of its range.

Jumpseed (Persicaria virginianum) growing next to bridge abutment at Chipp-A-Waters Park

Jumpseed plants grow from 1 to 4 feet tall, with the majority of the height being a flowering raceme (spike).  The leaves of the plant are arranged alternately on the lower part of the plant.  Individual leaves may be 6 inches long and 3 inches wide, oval shaped, with a pointed tip.

Jumpseed - note alternate leaves and flowering raceme

The flowers of Jumpseed are small (1/8 inch).  The flowers are white or whitish-green (rarely pink) and have four pointed petals.  There is normally only one flowering spike per plant but that spike may branch.

Jumpseed - a closer view of the flowering raceme showing an individual flower with its four petals

This plant is named Jumpseed because when ripe the plant's seeds may be propelled up to 10 feet away from the parent plant when disturbed. (Another plant that can propel its seeds is the Spotted Touch-me-not.)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Upcoming Event - Saturday 13 September 2014

On Saturday September 13th, my wife and I will be at the Ziibiwing Center of Anishinabe Culture for the annual Monarch Butterfly Celebration.  Hopefully, we will have some butterflies to release that day.  I will have information on choosing native plants for butterfly gardens and lots of free posters to give away.  If you are in the Mt. Pleasant area this is a great event for families.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Field Trip - Alyce J. Peterson Natural Area, Mecosta County, MI

On Saturday (16 August 2014) a group of five met at the Alyce J. Peterson Natural Area for a wildflower walk.  Peterson Natural Area is a preserve owned by the the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy.  It is located along the north side of 11 Mile Rd, between 180th Avenue and 185th Avenue near the village of Stanwood in Mecosta County, MI.

Alyce J. Peterson Natural Area - map from the Chippewa Watershed Conservancy website

This preserve was established in 2008.  It was donated by the estate of Alyce Peterson who wished the property to become a wildlife preserve.  The property is mostly old farm fields.  A small creek bisects the property running from the northeast corner to the southwest corner.  This creek is narrow enough to jump across in most places.  It flows into the Muskegon River less than a half mile from the western property line.

Many of the plants that we found are the weedy species that you would expect to find in abandoned fields, but there were also many wetland species growing along the creek. While this property is bit of a drive from Mt. Pleasant it is well worth visiting this time of year.

Here are some photos from our walk.

Nicole LeVasseur, Cathy Murray, and Ralph Crew look up Cut-leaf Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)

Several apple trees can be found on the property

Goldenrod Soldier Beetle on Cut-leaf Coneflower



Ralph Crew and CWC Exceutive Director Stan Lilley observing birds

Katydid on Spotted Joe-pye Weed

Cut-leaf Coneflower and Spotted Joe-pye Weed

Common Boneset (white) and Spotted Joe-pye Weed (pink/purple)

Friday, August 15, 2014

Back to work...

I have been on vacation for parts of the past two weeks with no internet access.  As a consequence I have written nothing for this blog.  As a first post back I thought I would share just a few photos from my trip.  We spent our vacation driving around Michigan's Lower Peninsula and visited several lighthouses on both the Lake Huron and Lake Michigan shoreline.  Regular blog posts will return next week.

Ludington North Breakwater Light

S.S. Badger car ferry passing the Ludington North Breakwater Light bound for Manitowoc, WI

Grand Haven South Pierhead Lights - the iron walkway allowed lightkeepers access to the lights in rough weather

Boat passing Holland Lighthouse - this light is known as "Big Red"

Monday, August 4, 2014

Upcoming Event - Saturday 23 August 2014

On Saturday August 23rd I will be participating in the 2nd annual Connecting with the "Wild Life" event at Deerfield Nature Park from 12:00 PM to 4:00 PM.  Come and unplug from all of life's electronic distractions and plug back into nature.  Deerfield Park is located at 2425 W. Remus Rd (M-20), about seven miles west of Business US 127.

Friday, August 1, 2014


Yesterday I spent the day at Quigley Creek Natural Area.  Quigley Creek is Chippewa Watershed Conservancy preserve in Mecosta County that protects 63 acres of diverse upland and lowland habitats.  This a fairly new preserve for the CWC, having been acquired in 2012.  I visited the preserve as part of a small group to do a survey of the preserve's plant and animal species.  While surveying everything, my main focus was on flowering plants (and to a lesser extent trees).  Next week I plan on sharing more about what we found, but for now I just want to share a couple of pictures of the best find of the day - the Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid (Platanthera psycodes).  We found four of these plants in bloom.  With the exception of Pink Lady Slippers, these are the first native orchids that I have ever found. 

Lesser Purple Fringed Orchid

Lesser Purple Fringed - I like how the individual flowers look like happy little dancing ghosts

Like any native orchid, these should only be enjoyed in their natural surroundings.  Orchids have very specific soil conditions and attempts to transplant them almost always result in dead orchids (and a hole in the ecosystem from which they were removed).  Please enjoy responsibly.