Thursday, September 8, 2016

Wildflowers of 2016 - #238 through #244

My initial goal when I started my Wildflowers of 2016 list was to match my total number of species from my 2014 list.  Last Thursday (01 September), I reached that goal and sped on past.  Now my goal is to reach 250 species before the end of the growing season.  Here are the rules that I gave myself for this self-imposed challenge.

  •  Any native or non-native plant (including trees) can be photographed if it meets two conditions
    • It must be growing in a wild population - it cannot be in a location where it was planted.
    • It must be growing in one of the parks or other city properties within the city of Mt. Pleasant, Michigan.
  • I have to photograph the plant on the day I first find the flower - but I can photograph any flower of the species that I find on that day.
  • I have to be able to identify the species for it to count - unknown specimens do not count.

Without further ado...

Wildflowers of 2016 - #238 Common Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

On Thursday 01 September 2016, I went to Mission Creek Woodland Park to search for some of the late summer/fall wildflowers that should be starting to bloom.  Because of its varied woodland and wetland habitats, Mission Creek has been a reliable source of wildflowers for years.  Once again, it did not disappoint. Less than a minute down the trail, I found my first new species of the day - Common Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium).  With this species, I matched my 2014 total.

Common Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium)

This species may be confused with Arrow-leaved Aster (S. urophyllum), which is also found at Mission Creek Park, but the two can be separated by differences in their leaves and flowers.  The leaves of Common Heart-leaved Aster are more typically heart-shaped than those of Arrow-leaved Aster with a deeper notch (sinus) at the base of the leaf.  The margins of the leaves are more coarsely toothed than those of the S. urophyllum, and the leaf petiole (stem) either lacks wings or has narrow wings (unlike the wide wings of S. urophyllum).  The leaves of Common Heart-leaved Aster measure 1.5 to 6 inches long.

Common Heart-leaved Aster - note namesake heart-shaped leaves with toothed margins

The flowers of Common Heart-leaved Aster measure 1/2 to 1 inch across with a central disc surrounded by 8 to 20 rays.  The rays are typically blue or rarely white.  The flowers grow in branching panicles that rise above the leaves - these panicles are usually wider than those of Arrow-leaved Aster.  Common Heart-leaved Aster is also sometimes known as Blue Wood Aster.

Common Heart-shaped Aster flowers are pale blue or white with 8 to 20 rays (petals)

This species is found in dry wooded habitats throughout the southern half of the Lower Peninsula.  Nationally, it is found as far west as eastern South Dakota and south to the Florida Panhandle.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #239 Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum laterifolium)

Calico Aster - note how flowers grow on lateral branches

My second flower of the day was another aster - Calico Aster (Symphyotrichum laterifolium).  In terms of habitat, this species is more adaptive than the Common Heart-leaved Aster.  It can be found in both wet and dry soils throughout the eastern half of North America.  It typically grows in shaded habitats rather than open places.  Calico Aster plants can reach a height of 1 to 4 feet.

Calico Aster - note hairy stem

This flower is also known as the Side-flowering Aster - lateriflorum means "side-flowering".  The plant's flowers grow on short stems on widely branching panicles.  The panicle's branches are roughly perpendicular to the plant's main stalk.  Individual flowers of the Calico Aster are small, measuring about 1/3 inch across.  They consist of a central disc that starts out yellow and fades to shades of purple as it ages.  The disc is surrounded by 9 to 14 short white rays.  The small number of rays on each flowerhead is what distinguishes this species from similar species with small flowers such as Frost Aster (S. pilosum) and Heath Aster (S. ericoides).

Calico Aster - a closer view of the flowers, note relatively small number of rays (petals)

Wildflowers of 2016 - #240 Swamp Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum)

My third flower of the day was yet another aster - Swamp Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum).  This species, also known as Bristly Aster, is a more northern species than those already described.  While it can be found as far south as central Georgia it is also found as far north as Nunavut.  In Michigan, it has been recorded in counties throughout the state.  Swamp Aster is considered an obligate wetland species - meaning it is found almost entirely in wet habitats such as swamps, wet meadows, floodplains, and shorelines.  It rarely is found in dry upland locations.

Swamp Aster in a cedar swamp at Mission Creek

Swamp Aster plants reach heights of 1 to 8 feet tall.  The plant's leaves are arranged alternately along the stem.  The leaves are oval or elliptical, with shallowly tooted or smooth margins, and measure up to 6 inches long.  The main stalk of Swamp Aster plants is thick, usually reddish colored, and covered with bristly hairs.  A similar species lacks these hairs and is known as Smooth Swamp Aster (S. firmum).

Swamp Aster - a closer view of the flowers

The flowers of Swamp Aster are arranged in a panicle (branched cluster) at the top of the plant.  Individual flowers are 1/2 to 1 inch across.  The flowers are composed of a central yellow disc surrounded by 30 to 60 rays (petals).  The rays are normally blue or purple, but may occasionally be white.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #241 Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis)

Fall doesn't just mean aster, it also is the season for goldenrods.  Probably my favorite goldenrod species is the Zigzag Goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis) - I have it planted in the flowerbeds next to my front steps.

Zigzag Goldenrod often grows in large colonies
Zigzag Goldenrod is one of several goldenrod species that grows in wooded areas instead of open habitats.  It can be identified by its wide leaves and flowers that grow from the leaf axils of its zigzagging stem.  For more information on Zigzag Goldenrod please look at this species profile that I wrote in January 2014.

Zigzag Goldenrod - note zigzagging stem and flowers growing in leaf axils
Wildflowers of 2016 - #242 Beech-drops (Epifagus virginiana)

Species #242 is one of a small group of plants that lacks chlorophyll - these means that it cannot use sunlight to manufacture its own food.  Instead, Beech-drops (Epifagus virginiana) is a parasite, stealing sugars from the roots of American Beech trees. If you find American Beech trees in a forest there are likely to be Beech-drops present also.  Conversely, if there are no Beech trees you not find any Beech-drops.  The plant has no other hosts.

Beech-drops lack chlorophyll and have no leaves.  They are parasites of the American Beech.

Beech-drops plants lack leaves.  It's stalks grow up to 20 inches tall.  The stalks often branch near the base.  The plant's flowers are arranged in a raceme or unbranched spike at the end of each branch.   The flowers are 1/4 to 3/8 inches long and shaped like an elongated tube.  The flowers can be found in late summer and fall and vary in color from cream or ivory to brown or purplish-red.  The flowers are often striped.

Beech-drops - a closer view of the flowers

Wildflowers of 2016 - #243 Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

I was not expecting to find my next flower, but it was not a complete surprise.  In more than a decade of recording the flowers in Mt. Pleasant's parks system I have never found a Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) growing wild until 2014. 

A pair of Purple Coneflowers at the base of the Mission Creek sledding hill

That year, I found one bloom at the base of the sledding hill at Mission Creek surrounded by Spotted Joe-pye Weed, Boneset, and Goldenrods.  I suspect that this plant was the result either of a seed being dropped by a bird, or it was contained in fill dirt that was used to extend the sledding hill in recent years.  Even though this plant is commonly planted in gardens and prairie restorations,  it is probably not native to Michigan.  I did not find this species last year.  This year I found two plants.

Purple Coneflower is easily identifiable by its cone-shaped central disc surrounded by drooping purple ray flowers (petals).  The flowerheads may be between 2 and 4 inches across.  Individual plants may grow to a height of 4 feet.  The plant's leaves are up to 6 inches long and three inches wide.  They may be arranged either in opposite pairs or alternately along the stem.

Wildflowers of 2016 - #244 Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)

Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia)

My final flower of the day was one that did not appear on my Wildflowers of 2014 list, but I have found it in other years.  Bluestem Goldenrod (Solidago caesia), is quite similar to Zigzag Goldenrod.  Like that species, it grows in shaded locations.  It also has stems that zigzag and flowers that grow in the leaf axils.  One major difference is that the stems of Blue-stemmed Goldenrod have a definite bluish tint.

Bluestem Goldenrod - note bluish stem

Bluestem Goldenrod is found throughout the eastern United States, from a line running from southeast Wisconsin to east Texas east to the Atlantic Coast.  In Michigan, it has been recorded mainly in the southern half of the Lower Peninsula and in the counties up the Lake Michigan shoreline.  I found this plant growing along the trail at the very south end of Mission Creek Park.

Bluestem Goldenrod - note how flowers grow in leaf axils

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