Sunday, August 31, 2008

Two special rarities

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to study in the field two of Michigan's rarest plant species. Hall's bulrush (Schoenoplectus hallii) is a globally imperiled species with a mostly Midwestern distribution, occurring on drawn-down sandy pondshores and other similar habitats, including seasonally wet agricultural fields. In Michigan, this species is found exclusively in a habitat we call coastal plain marsh, which occurs in shallow depressions or the margins of precipitation-fed, isolated ponds and lakes on broad, sandy outwash plains or lakeplain in southwestern Lower Michigan. It is always associated with coastal plain disjuncts, many of which are also rare in the state. The interesting thing about Hall's bulrush is its peculiar germination biology. The timing, frequency, and amount of precipitation over the year must be just right in order for seed germination to occur. Decades can pass between appearances of Hall's bulrush in any given site. This year, conditions were favorable for this species to germinate and appear above ground for the first time since 2002. Most plants were quite small (3-4") and senescing due to the late summer drought we are experiencing.

An even rarer (in Michigan) species occurring with Hall's bulrush in Michigan is the dwarf burhead, Echinodorus tenellus.

This tiny annual member of the Alismataceae was first collected in Michigan during the First Geological Survey, in 1837, near White Pigeon in St. Joseph County. Amazingly, after 152 years, it was rediscovered in Michigan in 1989 at the Allegan State Game Area, in the same area occupied by Hall's bulrush. It has a preference for low, wet spots within shallow depressions that support coastal plain marsh or wet-mesic sand prairie dominated by Panicum virgatum and Spartina pectinata. These areas are saturated or shallowly inundated during a portion of the growing season, and are free from significant vegetative competition. Most of these low, wet spots were created by ORV use in these wetlands, a type of disturbance that is noted as a threat to these systems yet one that creates microhabitats colonized by dwarf burhead, Hall's bulrush, and a variety of other tiny annuals that find refuge in the compacted, wet, bare areas created by ORV activity.

Do these rare species owe, in part, their continued presence in Michigan due to human disturbances to their habitats? Funny how the most obscure, nondescript members of our flora have so much to tell us about ecology, conservation, and management.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

New Plant Quiz

Here is the next installment of the "Plant Quiz". It is either super difficult or super easy.

My attempts at allowing the image to be enlarged have failed. Perhaps a second photo will appease?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Most Recent Michigan Botanist

Has anyone looked at the cover of the most recent Michigan Botanist, with a great paper on prairies in Michigan? Isn't that our very own Wild Brad Slaughter on the cover??

Plant Quiz Winner

Somebody tell me how he does it! We've already got a winner to the most recent plant quiz, and it is Justin "Shotgun" Thomas. Justin correctly identified the plant in the photo as Trichostema dichotomum, blue curls, aka the bastard pennyroyal. Trichostema is translated as hair-stamen, for the capillary filaments, and dichotomum refers to the inflorescence forking in pairs.

Trichostema dichotomum is found in dry open woods and in clearings, and is currently considered Rare in Indiana (though I believe it will soon be downgraded to Special Concern).

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Next Plant Quiz

Below is a photo of the next plant quiz. This photo was taken in September 2007 in an open woods near Bloomington, Indiana. Good luck!

Heliopsis Quiz Winner!

We have a WINNER!!!! Scott Namestnik, please come forward to claim your prize. Indeed, my quiz photo was a mutated Heliopsis helianthoides that had developed a whorl of three leaves, rather than the typical opposite leaved status. Sorry it was a tough one, I should have posted a photo of a 'normal' one, but I was too lazy to crop the flower out of the pic and the only one I had without a flower was the wierdo. At any rate, good job Scott.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


Hydrocharitaceae; Vallisneria americana growing in Wolf Lake in Whiting IN. Typically it was growing with Potamogeton amplifolius and Myriophyllum spicatum. Since Scott is not doing lake surveys to claim the aquatic families I will take a stab at them.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Interesting Plant Identification Webpage

If you have some time, take a look at some of the links on Sort of interesting, and a different way to see plants.


Monday, August 18, 2008


Xyris difformis from pin hook bog. I decided that the plant was difformis and not X. torta as the stems and leaves did not seem twisted and the leaves were typically larger than 2mm. I saw this beauty growing in pinhook bog with Rhychospera alba, Hypericum viriginicum, Sarracenia purpurea, Eriophorum sp., and Drosera rotundifolia. Early this year this same spot was covered with Pogonia ophioglossoides.

Scott, Jenny Allison, and I also found Habenaria ciliaris which was the main reason for the trip. There was only the one flowering individual able to be seen from the boardwalk on this trip despite the presence of other basal leaves in the area. This was the first time it had been seen this year.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

FQA and it use in mitigation/restoration sites

Below is an exerpt from an email I sent to a client that requested information about using FQA in conjunction with mitigation banks. I hadn't thought about the subject before and just assumed that FQA was a perfectly acceptable thing to use wherever plants are found. But when I considered the true application of FQA, I wasn't so sure. Any thoughts?
I have used FQA in conjunction with mitigation monitoring in Indiana and didn’t really find it to be a great match. The problem is that FQA is designed to evaluate the floristic quality of “natural” communities. With this comes the assumption that all the taxa existing in situ are there of their own volition, demonstrative of the level of past disturbance of the site and represent taxa of a natural reproducing community existing in perpetuity (given that no bulldozers or invasive species interfere).

Mitigation sites and restoration sites don’t necessarily have these qualities. Take the wetland at Shaw Nature Reserve for example. It looks like a decent wetland creation, but many of the taxa planted and seeded there would not have occurred there “naturally” and most of them (Bald Cypress, for one) will probably not reproduce in situ. So to base an FQA off planted and/or seeded taxa is sort of misrepresenting them as being “natural”.

Another example is if I conducted a FQA of the landscaping around my house, which is all native, I would have a phenomenal list and corresponding numbers. However, if I don’t weed and trim and shape the landscape, the “system” would quickly crumble and the floristic quality would degrade dramatically. Just because for a brief snapshot of time I can assemble a group of taxa, doesn’t mean said taxa form a functioning natural community. Just something to consider.

Friday, August 15, 2008

How about another quiz plant?!

Here's the new quiz! This plant was growing in open upland woods in southern Missouri. Have fun using your thinkers on this one!

***UPDATE AND HINT: Okay, no one is biting so I'll give you a big hint. This specimen was abnormal, in terms of leaf arrangement. It is usually opposite, rather than whorled. This was just a mutant. That little tidbit should make this a much easier quiz! I admit it was just a little too tricky. Sorry!

Heteranthera dubia

Yesterday in Elkhart County, Indiana, I saw something that I think I've only seen once before, on a river in southern Missouri.... Heteranthera dubia in flower! This species was fairly abundant on a mudflat in a mitigation wetland, growing with Ranunculus longirostris. It is common to find water star grass, as it is known, vegetatively in northern Indiana lakes, often growing with the similar-looking (at least vegetatively) Potamogeton zosteriformis. The leaves of the latter have a distinct midrib, while those of H. dubia do not. It is interesting to note that this plant is in the same family as Pontederia cordata.

Unknown Help

The first unknown I encountered while doing deer browse sampling in a woods in Will Co, IL. Most of the individuals were shorter, averaging less than a foot in height. There were a few larger individual that were larger but nothing was flowering. My first thought was that it was some species of Lonicera, but then Scott mentioned that it could also be a Symphoricarpos. I am just looking for any ideas on what it might be.

The second unknown was growing on the edge of prairie next to a walking trail. There was just the single plant present. It was growing amongst Andropogon gerardii and Silphium laciniatum. Any help would be nice.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The Plant Quiz #6 Winner is...

Dana Thomas! Both Dana and Alan guessed correctly that the plant was in the genus Mimulus. If you look closely, you'll see leaves that are clasping the stem, which is characteristic of Mimulus ringens. If the plant was Mimulus alatus, the leaves would taper to unwinged petioles. Also, when flowering, M. alatus has flowers on short stalks, while M. ringens has long stalked flowers.

Congratulations, Dana!

Another unknown

I encountered this species at Hoosier Prairie in Lake Co., IN a couple weeks ago. I noticed it as I was fleeing the site at dusk due to hordes of bloodthirsty, rhythmically humming mosquitoes. Can anybody help me out? I stayed long enough to snap a couple mediocre photos, then rushed to safety.

Prairie Fen Rarities

This summer, I had the opportunity to revisit several high quality occurrences of prairie fen in southern Lower Michigan. These fens are widespread but spatially limited in the state, typically occurring in association with lakes and streams, where groundwater rich in calcium and magnesium ions discharges to the surface. Most fens occur where end moraines, eskers, or kames meet outwash channels, and where groundwater is forced to the surface upon reaching impermeable sediments. "Classic" fen meadow often develops on slopes above lower, flatter, inundated wetland or on peat "domes" where groundwater upwelling favors peat accumulation above the source. These slopes and domes are typically dominated by Carex sterilis, often associated with Andropogon gerardii, Schizachyrium scoparium, Sorghastrum nutans, and, locally, Sporobolus heterolepis and Muhlenbergia richardsonis. The presence and codominance of these "prairie" grasses, in addition to the presence of several forbs characteristic of upland prairie, are responsible for the controversial "prairie fen" term used for this community type.

I was lucky enough this July to observe two of Michigan's rarest butterflies, the Mitchell's satyr (Neonympha mitchellii var. mitchellii), and powesheik skipperling (Oarisma powesheik). Jim McCormac's blog (linked here) discusses the Mitchell's satyr in some detail. It is extant at just over a dozen sites in Michigan, where populations are typically small.

The powesheik skipperling is just as interesting. This butterfly is typical of upland prairies in the Great Plains, but is restricted to prairie fens in Michigan. Interestingly, almost all of the sites for this species also contain mat muhly, although there is no documentation the butterfly uses this species as a caterpillar food plant. Powesheik skipperling is apparently extremely susceptible to fire, and populations have disappeared in nature preserves where prescribed fire was used to manage prairie and fen. Anecdotally, the species was absent from burned portions of the two fens I observed it in this summer, and was locally abundant in adjacent patches that were unburned.

Lest I forget this is a botany blog, I was out with MNFI, DNR, and TNC colleagues surveying a new prairie fen site in SE Michigan when we stumbled across a colony of this species:

It quickly became apparent that none of us had ever encountered this shrub before, despite collectively having visited probably over 100 prairie fens in the state. The unusual fruits and fragrant leaves had me thinking Myricaceae, which was exciting, because only two species are listed for Michigan in Voss: Sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina), a distinctive shrub of dry, acidic sands, and sweet gale (Myrica gale), a characteristic low shrub in wetlands in northern Michigan, also a distinctive species that didn't match our unknown. On returning to Lansing, I pored over my Ohio Nature Preserves Directory, seeming to recall the presence of bayberry, Myrica pensylvanica, in that state. Sure enough, the description for Gott Fen in Portage County (NE Ohio) included the following statement: "Gott Fen is one of only two known sites for bayberry in Ohio and the most western location for this species in the United States." Our botanist keyed a specimen, and, sure enough, our unknown was M. pensylvanica! Excitement was somewhat subdued upon learning this species had previously been discovered in Michigan at two or three sites, all since the publication of Voss in 1985. Still, the species is proposed as "threatened" on the revised list of endangered, threatened, and special concern plant species in Michigan, and this find added to the value of this interesting fen complex.

Fens are truly special habitats, and each footstep has the potential to uncover something new and exciting. Just remember to keep an eye out for massasauga rattlesnakes!

Friday, August 8, 2008

Plant Quiz #6

Here is Plant Quiz #6. Good luck!

Carduus acanthoides

While in northeast Indiana this week, I might have stumbled upon a new state record. Below are photos of what I believe to be Carduus acanthoides, spiny plumeless thistle. This species is native to Europe but a noxious weed on several other continents.

You'll notice that it looks quite similar to the Onopordum acanthium that Keith posted a few weeks ago. In fact, that's what I thought it was when I saw and took photos of it. Like Onopordum acanthium, this plant has a spiny, winged stem.

Upon closer examination, though, I noticed that this plant has a chaffy receptacle, which Onopordum doesn't have. Also, you'll notice that the involucre is a different shape than that of Onopordum.

I've sent photos to Mike Homoya and Kay Yatskievych to get their opinions, and to find out if Carduus acanthoides has been found in Indiana before. It's shown as occurring in all of the surrounding states.

I'm interested to hear any of your thoughts on this.


Yesterday (August 7, 2008) in Steuben County, Indiana, Tony Troche and I saw Echinocystis lobata (Cucurbitaceae) in full bloom. It's interesting how similar the fruits of this native plant look to the lemon cucumber that Lindsay planted in our garden this year.

As I don't believe that Cucurbitaceae has yet been claimed, I'll take it.


Thursday, August 7, 2008

Family Game

I found this beauty in an acid seepy meadow on Castor River Conservation area. I don't think that anyone has claimed the Melastomataceae.

Rhexia virginica Bolinger Co. MO 7 Aug 2008

Monday, August 4, 2008

Plant Quiz #5

This quiz sticks with the leaf texture theme. It shouldn't be too difficult. It is hard to think of something that will challenge the mighty assemblage of botanical talent...