Saturday, March 6, 2010

The end of cabin fever?

Although the male Red-winged Blackbirds singing outside my window, where there are still piles of snow, signal that spring is coming, it is still about two months until we'll see our first major push of Ruby-throated Hummingbirds into Michigan. In the next week or two, the Snowdrops will be blooming in my garden, and we have clearly once again made it through the deepest, darkest depths of winter. But cabin fever can get the best of us, so I thought this might be a good time to look back on some of the wildflower photos I took last year. I'll post in two installments, one with spring flowers and another with summer and fall flowers.

Most years, I spend some time with the spring wildflowers in April, but this year we made a special trip to an undisclosed location to see, and photograph, one of the rarest (and smallest) species of Trillium in Michigan, the Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale) which blooms in early April and is known from only two or three locales in the state.

Another rare Trillium species, found only in one county in the state (but widespread farther south), is the Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum), which blooms during May.

While doing breeding bird surveys in late May at the Barton Nature Area north of Ann Arbor, I was surprised at the abundance of the Hairy Beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus).

Rich woods are a great place to find wildflowers, and in particular one of my favorite families, the orchids. Some friends who share the same enfatuation were very kind in sharing information on where these blooming jewels were located, and of course whenever possible I returned the favor. One particular location in Washtenaw County is particularly good for an orchid called Puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale), or sometimes called Adam and Eve Orchid. It is fairly inconspicuous when in flower, consisting of a spike of perhaps a dozen flower each about 1/2 inch wide, but is unusual in that its leaf emerges after blooming and persists all winter.

Another woodland orchid that can be difficult to find is the Showy Orchis (Orchis spectabilis). Not to be confused with the much larger Showy Ladyslipper, this orchid is small, but beautiful.

And in a wet swale, in an open area in this woods, the Yellow Ladyslipper (Cypripedium calceolus) was found as well.

There were other interesting plants in these rich woods as well, including a rather inconspicuous but fairly uncommon plant, the Green Violet (Hybanthus concolor).

A trip was made to southwestern Michigan to see a "lifer" orchid, and one of the strangest species to occur in Michigan. The Lily-leaved Twayblade (Liparis lilifolia) is most common in prairie areas, and sometimes in woodlands, and a good friend in Kalamazoo County had some on his property. Another name I've seen for this orchid is one of my favorite plant names; Mauve Sleekwort.

Each flower is perhaps 3/4 of an inch long, but note the interesting details, including the broad pale pinkish lip, and the narrow hairlike tendrils, which are actually specialized petals, dangling from each flower.

In late spring, bogs become more interesting although very often they can be difficult to access as insects very quickly become a problem. In 2009, the cool conditions seemed to reduce the biting bugs significantly, with the result that "bog trotting" was a very pleasant experience. One bog that I visited several times in 2009 was reached by going through a rich woodland, which contained some interesting flowers, including the odd Squawroot (Conopholis americana) which is saphrophytic, drawing its nutrients from the roots of trees.

Another interesting, and uncommon, plant is the Indian Cucumber-Root (Medeola virginiana). This plant always draws the eye of the orchid-searcher as the whorled pattern of its leaves is very similar to one very rare and one endangered species of orchid. But the blooms of course are very different, looking like small (one-inch diameter) greenish-yellow tiger lilies.

Once in the bog, the vegetation changes dramatically, and among the many carnivorous Pitcher Plants and Sundews one can also find the tiny flowers of the Small Cranberry (Vaccinium oxycoccos), if you're willing to put your chin down into the mat of mosses!

Of course bogs are the domain of orchids, and several species were found here in late spring, including the Pink Ladyslipper (Cypripedium acaule), sometimes called Mocassin Flower.

Perhaps one of the most spectacular orchids in Michigan is the Arethusa (Arethusa bulbosa), sometimes called the Dragon's Mouth.

This ends the first installment of my wildflower wanderings from 2009. Until the next posting, try to stay warm!

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