Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Traces of Charles Deam

One of the most extraordinary people ever to have lived was Charles Clemon Deam, a self-taught botanist from Indiana. His fascinating life story has been told very nicely by Robert Kriebel in a book entitled “Plain Ol’ Charlie Deam, Pioneer Hoosier Botanist.” I won’t repeat it here, but I strongly recommend the book to anyone with an interest in botany and perhaps Indiana history.

Just outside his hometown of Bluffton, Indiana is the “Deam Oak,” a preserved living tree northwest of town. It’s a hybrid of Chinquapin Oak and White Oak (Quercus X deamii) that was discovered by Deam’s good friend E. Bruce Williamson, and named in honor of Deam by William Trelease. This hybrid occurs here and there – the preserved tree at Bluffton is not the only one.

This is the detritus that was under the tree in February, 2012.

North of the town square in Bluffton there is a street named “Charles Deam Court,” and near his home and arboretum there is a historical marker, tastefully displayed in a very nice town park along the Wabash River. Obviously someone in Bluffton knows about this great man, and for this we should be grateful.

In addition to being a phenomenal botanist, state forester, and manager of his own herbarium and arboretum, Deam was a drugstore owner. His store was located at 103 South Main Street, right next to the Wells County Bank on the corner.

Sadly, renovation has hidden all traces of his store, with the bank on the corner and his drugstore now both included in the Wells-Fargo Bank that occupies most of the block

Deam’s prosperous and productive life spanned nearly a century: he lived from 1865 to 1953. His influence on Indiana botany lives on, and his remarkable legacy includes four of the finest floras ever written (Flora of Indiana, Trees of Indiana, Shrubs of Indiana, and Grasses of Indiana). These are not mere traces of Mr Deam’s life; they are important parts of his very solid legacy, and they continue to provide us with excellent scientific data, gathered by a man who spent his days in natural areas, studying, documenting, and sharing his discoveries and observations.

The legendary Floyd Swink of Chicago once mentioned to someone from the Shirley Heinze Land Trust that he had a file of letters between himself and Mr. Deam, and this correspondence was published by the Heinze Trust in the year 2000. I strongly recommend this book and all others mentioned above.

On a recent visit to my local library (sometime in the fall of 2010), I was walking past the magazine racks and there was Charles Deam on the cover of the "Traces," a magazine published by the Indiana Historical Society. The article inside was very nicely written, and there were a few more pictures of Mr. Deam that I had not seen before.

When I was in college at Ball State in the 1970’s, I met a student from Bluffton and asked if she had heard of Charles Deam. I don’t remember her answer, but it’s remarkable that I had heard of him by the time I was a teenager, and even knew that he was from Bluffton. I grew up far from Bluffton, had never seen his books, wasn’t majoring in a science-related field, and personal computers and the Internet had not been invented yet. Did I hear of him in school? I don’t remember.

At the end of my recent Bluffton visit, I stopped for a sandwich as I was heading out of town. Three young people (maybe mid-20’s) were working, and I asked if they knew who Charles Deam was. One of them replied, “Charles Deam Court?” and I said, no, not the street – the actual person. Sadly, all shook their heads, they had no idea who he was. Alas!

In conclusion, here are a few of my favorite Charlie Deam quotes, in no particular order:

“It is the little things we can do for others that makes life worth while.”

“I do hate a lazy person. A lazy person ordinarily is a liar and a thief, too.”

“I shall never forget my toughest day. I started down a newly graded road (all roads unknown to me at that early date) of 4 miles. In the 4 miles I had to change tires three times. Inner tubes in those days were very poor quality. It was in the fall of the year with a strong wind and drizzling rain. I was from about 9:00 A.M. until dark making the 4 miles and I doubt if a single vehicle passed me that day…. I wanted to get off this road and when I did I drove into a woods and the car scarcely got over the side ditch when I was “in” to the hubs. So I just camped there that night but I did get out my stove and make some coffee to help me get down my bread and peanut butter.”

“…I got well in spite of the M.D’s.”

“…I have spent all my time on something I consider worthwhile. In so doing you meet a lot of opposition.“

“We have too many dishonest and ignorant men in political places.”

“The Lake Michigan area is a critical area but it has been so badly treated the past 75 years that it no longer represents its former self.”

“Old General Debility will give the commands, and believe me, you will obey.”

“I understand they are strongly recommending now that all the old cemeteries be planted with multiflora rose. When Gabriel sounds his horn, I am afraid some will be stranded and not be able to get thru the roses. Please do not recommend the multiflora rose except for the bonfire.”

“Friesner, you collect grasses like a cow.”

“…I did my darnedest, and in it you have my measure.”

“I am just plain ol' Charlie Deam and I never want anyone to think anything else.”

Friday, February 24, 2012

Plant Quiz Solved! Black Locust, Robinia pseudo-acacia

Good call, A.L.! It is Robinia pseudo-acacia, Black Locust. This is an impressive looking tree when it matures, but it is said to have nitrogen-fixing bacteria in root nodules and as a result, it inhibits the growth of many other plants (Google "Allelopathy"). Young trees (and young branches on older trees) have small but very sharp spines. The lower bark on mature trees is VERY deeply furrowed and distinctive (see below). This is why the lower trunk was cropped away from the plant quiz photo!
Can you identify this tree just by its distinctive shape? Good luck! Please feel free to ID the tree or just take a guess. Photographed in St. Joe County, Indiana.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Plant Quiz Solved! - Tree Bark - Gleditsia triacanthos

Good call A.L. and Tom! It is Gleditsia triacanthos, Honey Locust. This is the native tree that normally has large, stout, branched spines all over the trunk. This tree had them, but they were up higher on the trunk. In Indiana it grows in forested bottomlands, but is not very common in the northern third of the state. The unarmed cultivar of this tree (var. inermis) is used extensively in landscaping, especially where large leaves would be a problem on sidewalks, etc.

Can you identify this tree just by the bark? Feel free to name the tree or just take a guess! Photographed in central Indiana.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Cardamine douglassii - Spring Cress

Today in central Indiana I was startled to see Spring Cress with a single open flower right near the basal leaves. Remarkable! Photographed in Wabash County, Indiana on February 20, 2012.

Erigenia bulbosa - Harbinger of Spring

Today in central Indiana I saw a few plants of Harbinger-of-Spring in flower on south and west facing slopes. Back in the late 1980's and early 90's we had a few warm winters (but nothing like this year), and I saw this plant flowering before the end of February two or three different years, but never this early. Photographed in Wabash County, Indiana on February 20, 2012.

Symplocarpus foetidus - Skunk Cabbage

Today on a wet talus slope above the Wabash River I saw Skunk Cabbage with spathes opening and tinged purple, and since they were abundant and I wasn't in a preserve, I took the liberty of tearing one open. Fresh pollen flew all over - it was flowering on February 20, 2012!

In a delightful book entitled "Of Woods and Other Things," Emma Pitcher wrote of Skunk Cabbage: Ever since winter solstice, days started lengthening and small changes are occurring in our natural world. Skunk cabbages sent up tightly furled green leaf cones last September. Now that their strange internal furnaces are activated, dark red flower spathes are forcing up through ice and snow. (Air inside the spathe can be as much as fifty degrees warmer than outside air, so great is the heat the root generates).

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Green in Winter: Running Ground Pine

Lycopodium clavatum has an affinity for thinly wooded sandy acid flats in northern LaPorte County in Indiana. It is occasional in Porter and Starke Counties, and has been discovered in a few northeastern counties as well. It sometimes occurs in red maple swamp forests that are not too wet.
Interestingly, Charles Deam excluded it from his Flora of Indiana (1940) because he had not seen it, and while a few others had reported it, no specimen had been preserved. Though rare, this plant was already somewhat frequent when I began botanizing in the 1980's, so it expanded its range in a mere 40 years. Photographed in LaPorte County, Indiana on December 31, 2011.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Field Manual of Michigan Flora released

Today, the long-awaited update to Edward G. Voss's classic Michigan Flora, Field Manual of Michigan Flora by E.G. Voss and A.A. Reznicek, arrived via UPS at my door. Gone are the cloth covers, sleeves, color plates, illustrations, and heavy stock, replaced by a sleek-for-its-size, sharply designed work with larger trim that clocks in at just over 1000 pages. Although the emphasis of this work is updated nomenclature, updated keys, and nearly current range maps, species descriptions still contain important and interesting information on habitats, additional identifying characteristics, nativity, and other pertinent matters. Distribution maps are small but crisp, and the reader is aided by the placement of Michigan county maps on both end papers, which also contain scales in centimeters and millimeters. I look forward to spending more time with the keys and the manual this spring and summer.

Sadly, this book arrived two days after the passing of the first author, Ed Voss. The content herein is a testament to Ed's dedication to the study (and protection) of Michigan's native flora, and it is also a reflection of the quality and breadth of work on Michigan floristics conducted by Tony Reznicek, who took on the significant task of combining and updating the three previous volumes of Michigan Flora. In addition, this manual is another reminder that interest in natural history is alive and well, even if we sometimes lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of people, many of them quiet or obscure, who are enjoying, documenting, photographing, studying, and writing about nature. The wealth of field guides and floristic works completed and in production makes this an exciting time for the professional and avocational botanist. I recommend adding Field Manual of Michigan Flora to your bookshelf, or, better yet, that bin of books in the back of your car, ready for your next roadtrip.

Green in Winter: Beach Wormwood

Artemisia caudata is common and abundant in dry sand, and while native, it is generally unloved and overlooked. A biennial or short-lived perennial, it produces an attractive rosette the first year, then sends up a tall, leafy flowering stalk after that. The flowers are not showy, and this is possibly why the plant is so often overlooked. It's really an attractive plant and I hope to demonstrate this with a photo set this summer. Beach Wormwood is a common host to the parasitic Orobanche fascicularis, so remember to watch the sand around the base of the plant!
Photographed in Porter County, Indiana on February 4, 2012.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Green in Winter: Bearberry - Plant Quiz

Good call Kim! It is Arctostaphylos uva-ursi, Bearberry. In Indiana, this plant is frequent near Lake Michigan in the dune country. Photographed in Porter County, Indiana on February 11, 2012.

Can you identify this plant? It is green (and sometimes reddish) in winter. Good luck!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Green in Winter: Puttyroot Orchid

The woodland native Aplectrum hyemale takes an unusual approach to getting sunlight for photosynthesis. It produces a single leaf in autumn, and this leaf persists all winter while abundant sunlight reaches the forest floor (hyemale = of winter).
The leaf withers away in spring as the tree canopy closes in, and in June the plant can be found with a leafless flowering scape. Flowers and scapes are tan, brownish, and/or purplish, and there is a bright lemon yellow form (f. pallidum) that is occasional in northern Indiana, especially in LaPorte County. In the photo above, it appears that some fungus took a lichen to the fallen tree limb.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Green in Winter: Prickly Pear Cactus

One of Indiana’s most unusual plants, Opuntia humifusa is common and frequent in dry sand in the northwest part of the state. It also is known to occur in dry clay in southern Indiana. The “pads” are actually the stems; leaves are tiny, pointed, fleshy, and early caducous. The little bunches of needles develop where the leaves fall off. The red "pears" are the floral ovaries, the pulp of which is a tasty delicacy, but extreme caution is necessary as they, too, have tiny spines. Photographed in Lake County, Indiana on February 4, 2012.