Thursday, March 11, 2010

Is spring really on the way?

Last week, I mentioned the arrival of Red-winged Blackbirds and this week there have been courting Mourning Doves, arriving Common Grackles, and singing Tufted Titmice to reinforce the progression of the season. Now is also a good time to check out the website to track the progress of our Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, which are arriving along the Gulf Coast right now. Also, the Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) in the back yard have now bloomed and, although this is a European wildflower not native to our area, it is always nice to see them bloom, always before the Vernal Equinox. Some years they get covered with snow when blooming...hopefully not this year!

Last summer was highlighted by a lack of insects, which allowed for greater explorations of wetland and bog areas than in most years. The flowers seemed to be relatively unaffected, but some of the birds may have had a tough time finding enough to feed their young. One of the more spectacular flowers in open marshes and wetlands in southeastern Michigan is the Swamp Rose Mallow (Hibiscus palustris), photographed here at the Pte. Mouillee State Game Area. A better name might be marsh mallow...or perhaps not!

Smaller, but no less interesting plants in the marsh include the uncommon Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens), which has many colorful relatives in the western U.S.

Much less conspicuous is the Marsh Bellflower (Campanula aparinoides).

I didn't spend too much time in prairie habitat in summer and fall 2009, but did search through some open fens, where in addition to getting a case of poison sumac, also found some other interesting flowers including the Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa).

In the wetter areas of this fen, the robust Water Smartweed (Polygonum amphibium) was found.

 And Michigan's most attractive species of milkweed, the Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa) was fairly common in the fen areas that were explored in summer of 2009.

In the woodlands, the weird and wonderful saphrophytic Indian Pipe (Monotropa uniflora) was a replacement for the Squawroot from spring.

An unexpected flower in the woodlands in summer is the aptly named Woodland Sunflower (Helianthus divaricatus), which commonly grows in light gaps in deciduous woods.

A trip to southeastern Ohio to give a hummingbird presentation in July allowed us to explore some new areas for flowers. The gangly American Ipecac (Gillenia stipulata) is uncommon in Michigan but was easy to find here.

Common in Michigan wetlands, but interesting nonetheless, is the appropriately-named Turtlehead (Chelone glabra).

A very rare wetland species in Michigan is the Water Willow (Justicia americana), as we are near the northern edge of its range, but it was quite common at Lake Alma State Park, Ohio.

One of the flowers we really wanted to see in southeastern Ohio, as it does not occur in Michigan at all, was the Purple Fringless Orchid (Platanthera peramoena). With the help of a friend at the Ohio DNR, botanist Jim McCormac, we had a dozen "historical" sites to check where the species had been reported in the 1960s. This species seems to be closely tied to floodplains. We lucked out at two locations, one in a ditch along the highway through Lake Hope State Park where we were staying, and along the lakeshore at Lake Alma State Park. It was quite a striking orchid...

Later in summer and into early fall, the woodlands had fewer interesting plants but there were still a few, including a saphrophytic orchid species, the Spotted Coralroot (Corallorhiza maculata), represented by just a single plant at this locale.

And the Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema atrorubens) had begun fruiting with its bright red bunch of fruits where the spadix had been in spring.

A short, but large-flowered aster species, the Large-leaved Aster (Aster macrophyllus), was also in this woods.

But once again I was drawn to the bog, where orchids and other interesting plants are found. One of my favorite orchids is the Grass Pink Orchid (Calopogon tuberosus), which bloomed nicely in 2009.

Often associated with the Grass Pink is the Rose Pogonia Orchid (Pogonia ophioglossoides), a smaller species that grows lower to the ground, with a single flower per plant.

Of course with beauties such as these, it may be easy to see why orchids hold a fascination with some people, including me, but some species reveal their beauty only if you get down on your hands and knees to examine their tiny, fairly colorless flowers. The Club-spur Orchid (Platanthera clavellata) is one of these. It is odd in two ways. One is that the lower lip is saw-toothed at the end, and the other is that the flowers are usually tilted away from what one would consider the "normal" orientation.

Then there are the extremely rare species. If I told you were I'd found this tall, elegant Eastern Prairie Fringed-Orchid (Platanthera leucophaea), I'd have to kill you! Just kidding of course. I'd never tell as it is a Federally Endangered species.

Once summer gives way to fall, members of the Composite family dominate the scene. One interesting flower, which persisted into early October in the bird banding area at Metro Beach until early October, was the Nodding Bur Marigold (Bidens cernua), which has seeds that will stick tenaceously to your clothing.

The latest bloomers are typically the goldenrods and asters, which are notoriously difficult to identify, especially for amaterus like me. So, while I have some confidence that the flower in the photo below, the last flower I saw in 2009 (mid-November), is a Small White Aster (Aster vimineus), I won't argue if anyone else has a better idea what it might be! [March 12 update! A more experienced botanical friend has suggested that this might be Bushy Aster (Aster dumosus), and after reviewing various guides in my library, I agree.]

This concludes the reminiscences of last summer's flowers and as spring arrives this blog will again turn to birds as the main subject. Hopefully this little diversion into the deep, dark, botanical corner of my interests helped you get over your cabin fever.


Cathy Carroll said...

Allen, really informative and excellent post with terrific photos of Michigan wildflowers. Thank you for taking the time to write this and share it.

Beth said...

I bet they smell as wonderful as they are beautiful!Great photoing! Enjoyed it very much.

albert said...

I've wanted to ask you something. What hummingbird feeders do you use for banding? Are those new Perky-Pet Top Fill hummingbird feeders ideal for this? I wanted to get one because they look so easy to fill and clean.
Here's an example of one:

Allen Chartier said...

Albert, I have never used the top-fill feeders to feed in my yard. Banding is a completely different process. Several different styles in your yard could improve your success.