Friday, April 22, 2016

Wildflowers of 2016 - #2 through #8

Sometime over the winter I decided that I wanted to repeat my Wildflower Big Year from 2014.  Having done this project once, I already know that it is going to take up a lot of my time and be a lot of work, but I still think it's fun.  Plus, it gets me outside.

I found my first wildflower of 2016 way back on 08 March.  It was really no surprise that Wildflower #1 was the Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus).

And then I waited... for more than a month... as winter went through its final outbursts....

Finally, last week I found my second wildflower of the year.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #2 Pussy Willow (Salix discolor)  

My second wildflower of the year was the Pussy Willow (Salix discolor).  I found this last Thursday (14 APR) in Mill Pond Park.  This is the earliest willow species to bloom in Michigan.  It can be identified by the fuzzy immature catkins that look and feel like cat fur.  Interestingly, I found my first Pussy Willow flowers on the exact same date in 2014.

Pussy Willow catkins look and feel like cat fur (duh!)

The structure to the left of center is called a willow pine cone gall and is caused by a midge larvae

Warm weather over the weekend and at the beginning of this week gave a jump-start to the spring wildflower season.  It forced several species into bloom.  I found my next seven species at Chipp-A-Waters Park on Monday (17 APR 2016)

Wildflowers of 2016 - #3 Boxelder (Acer negundo

The first species for the day was my second tree species of the year - Boxelder (Acer negundo).  This species  is commonly found in wet areas such as floodplains, stream banks, and along the shores of wetlands,  Because Boxelder does not tolerate shade well, it is rarely found in thick woodlands.  Boxelder grows rapidly and often colonizes newly disturbed sites.

Boxelder is Michigan's only native Maple species (Acer genus) with compound leaves.  It is sometimes referred to as Ash-leaved Maple because its three to seven leaflets resemble those of Ash trees.

The picture below shows only the male flowers.  Boxelder trees are dioecious; meaning that trees are either male or female, but not both. 

Male flowers of Boxelder tree - dangling stamen allow the wind to carry away pollen

Wildflowers of 2016 - #4 Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia

My second species of the day was Common Blue Violet (Viola sororia).  I found this growing along a high bank of the Chippewa River in the exact same spot as I did two years ago.  This species is common throughout Mt. Pleasant's park system.  In fact it can be found in most Michigan counties and in every state east of a line running from North Dakota to Texas.

Common Blue Violet spreads easily by thick rhizomes

Common Blue Violet flowers vary in color from deep violet to pale blue to even white.  Regardless of the primary color they all feature a yellow spot in the throat (center) of the flower.  Common Blue Violet frequently blooms any time between late-March and June.  In 2014 I found this flower at about time in April.

Common Blue Violet varies in color from violet to pale blue or white

Common Blue Violet - note five petals and yellow throat

Wildflowers of 2016 - #5 Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

My third flower of the day was Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  I went to the park expecting to find this species.  We have a small patch of Bloodroot in our home wildflower garden and it began blooming over the weekend.  I was afraid that with the warm temperatures I might miss the Bloodroot bloom.  These species blooms for only a short period and there have been years where I have completely missed it.

Bloodroot flowers and leaves emerge from the ground at the same time

Bloodroot has almost exactly the same range as the Common Blue Violet - every state east of a line running from North Dakota to Texas.  It has been documented in seventy-one of Michigan's eighty-two counties.

A Small Carpenter Bee visiting a Bloodroot flower

I found numerous individual Bloodroot plants and numerous small colonies of three to over a dozen plants.  The colonies may be clones as this plant spreads by both seed and rhizomes.  Many of the flowers were being visited by a variety of small bees and beetles. 

A small colony of three Bloodroot plants - note the leaves are still curled up at this point

Several of the flowers that I found seemed impossibly small.  This flower is typically 1.5 to 3 inches across, but I found several perfectly formed flowers that barely covered my thumbnail (about .75 inches across).  I think the rapidly warming weather forced these plants to bloom more rapidly than they would normally do so - resulting in smaller flowers.

A small, but perfect Bloodroot flower

Wildflowers of 2016 - #6 Dutchman's Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

While photographing one of the Bloodroot flowers I looked up to see my next species.  There is a large colony of Dutchman's Breeches (Dicenta cucullaria) and its close relative Squirrel Corn (D. canadensis) at Chipp-A-Waters Park.  In fact this is the only place in Mt. Pleasant's park system that either of these species can be found.  Sometimes hundreds of these two species can be found blooming at once.  On Monday I was able to find only a pair of plants in bloom.

Dutchman's Breeches - note the parsley-like leaves and white and yellow flowers

Dutchman's Breeches has been documented in thirty-seven different states, mostly in the east, plus several Canadian provinces.  The species gets its name because its flowers resemble small pairs of pantaloons hanging by their ankles.  These flowers are visited by several species of pollinators including bumble bees, mason bees, bee flies, and beetles.

Dutchman's Breeches being visited by several small bees and a beetle

Wildflowers of 2016 - #7 Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

When searching for wildflowers it pays to have a good memory.  I often find flowers blooming because I remember where they have bloomed in the past.  This was the case with Wildflower #7.  Last year I found a patch of Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) flowering within inches of the paved trail at the back of Chipp-A-Waters Park.  This time I found a single flower blooming.  Individual Trout Lily plants will not flower every year. it may take a number of years (some sources say up to seven) before a plant stores up enough energy to produce a flower.

Yellow Trout Lily often attracts beetles that feed on its pollen

For several years, Trout Lily corms (bulbs) have only enough stored energy to produce a single leaf.  It is only when the plant produces a pair of leaves that it will be ready to flower.   The leaves of the Trout Lily are speckled much like the flanks of a trout, giving the plant is common name.  The plants are also sometimes known as Fawn Lilies after the spotted coat of fawns.

Yellow Trout Lily - note the pair of speckled leaves

Wildflowers of 2016 - #8 Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides)

My final flower of the day was another tree species.  There is a small grove of Quaking Aspen (Populus tremuloides) at Chipp-A-Waters Park.  Like the Boxelder, Quaking Aspen trees are either male or female.  Male trees have their grouped on elongated clusters  known as catkins.  Each individual flower is small, but collectively they release large amount of small pollen into the wind.

Quaking Aspen blooms before the tree leafs out to take advantage of wind pollination

In addition to reproducing through pollination, Quaking Aspen also reproduces by cloning.  Large groves often consist of a single connected organism.  It is possible that the grove at Chipp-A-Waters Park is a single organism; every tree that I saw had only male flowers.

Dangling catkins of a male Quaking Aspen tree

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