Sunday, April 29, 2012

Wild Hyacinth

Common in forests and dry, open prairie remnants, the showy Camassia scilloides can be extremely abundant where it grows. Photographed in bottomland woods near the Salamonie River in Wabash County, Indiana at the Kokiwanee Nature Preserve.

Fire Pink

Silene virginica puts on a brilliant show in forests just as the spring ephemerals begin to fade. Photographed near the Salamonie River at Kokiwanee Nature Preserve, Wabash County, Indiana. This is one of many excellent natural areas that have been saved by the Acres Land Trust of northeast Indiana.

Leonard's Skullcap

The diminutive Scutellaria parvula var. leonardii grows in sunny, dry, gravelly sites with very little competition. I had never seen this tiny plant until last weekend when Scott Namestnik and I found it in central Indiana on a gravelly slope. It is now recognized as Scutellaria parvula var. missouriensis.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Western Wallflower

Last weekend I was privileged to botanize with Scott Namestnik, one of the most observant and knowledgeable botanists ever to wield a handlens. I have never learned so many new plants (and bird songs) in one day! We found the exceedingly rare Erysimum capitatum (E. arkansanum) in dry soil in central Indiana. Due to its extreme rarity, we decided not to disclose the location.

"The more I learn, the less I think I know." Helen Keller

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Draba reptans

This year's March warmth hurried the flowering of many of our spring-blooming forest species, but it also affected some of our early species of open habitats, including the (apparently) very rare Draba reptans, or common whitlow-grass. Draba reptans is a tiny annual mustard of open sandy or gravelly soil, including remnant oak savanna and hillside prairies. These specimens were photographed on an open, historically grazed gravelly ridge in Washtenaw County, where plants occurred in gravelly, loose soils and in sandy pockets between tufts of native prairie grasses. This site, discovered in March, is only the second confirmed record since 1935, the last discovered record dating to the mid-1980s. 

This delicate annual features fruits that are nearly uniformly wide from the base to apex. I used no coin for perspective, but the petals average only 3-4 mm long, and the hairy basal rosette is approximately the size of a dime. The small, inconspicuous nature of this species, its early bloom time, and its often unremarkable habitat conspire to hide its presence from the botanical community, and it appears likely there are more populations in Michigan waiting to be discovered. Exploration of sandy, gravelly kames, eskers, and moraines in southern Michigan is warranted, particularly areas that feature red-cedar (Juniperus virginiana), common juniper (J. communis), and prairie grasses.

This wide-ranging species is apparently secure in most of its range, but the species is generally rare in the eastern portion of its range, and is considered possibly extirpated in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina. Approximately 12 populations have been documented in Michigan (Michigan Natural Features Inventory data).

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Plant Quiz Solved - Thlaspi perfoliatum!

Good call Scott! It is Thlaspi perfoliatum, Small Pennycress, with auriculate-clasping (not perfoliate) leaves on the stem. Some are now calling this Microthlaspi perfoliatum.

Do you recognize this little weed? Feel free to identify it or just take a guess! Photographed in St. Joseph County, Indiana on April 19, 2012.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Plant Quiz Solved - German Knotgrass!

Good call Johnny Hank, it is Scleranthus annuus, German Knotgrass or "Knawel." This small and easily overlooked plant grows all over North America in dry sand and gravelly places. It is not native here. The flowers are green and "apetalous" (without petals), and it's a member of the Caryophyllaceae (Pink Family). Just as the common name says, it is "not grass."

Can you name this plant? Feel free to name it or just take a guess. Good luck!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Wild Lupine, Sundial

Named for Canis lupus, the wolf, because it was once blamed for robbing the soil of its fertility, Lupinus perennis grows in deep, droughty sand in the northwest third of Indiana.
Not only is it showy and attractive, it is critically important as the only host for the larvae of the federally endangered Karner Blue Butterfly.
Dense colonies of lupine are required to sustain the Karner Blue, but in the modern landscape sandy oak savannas and sand prairie remnants become shady oak woods all too soon due to fire suppression, and lupines often get shaded to death.
Photographed in Starke County, Indiana on a south-facing, dry sandy bank in the Kankakee River country, near the northwest 1/4 of the state.

"Every creature is better alive than dead, men and moose and pine trees, and he who understands it aright will rather preserve its life than destroy it." Henry David Thoreau

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Timber Phlox

Did you ever notice there are two kinds of Woodland or Timber Phlox? I sure didn’t, but whenever I spend time in the field with Scott Namestnik, he points out things I’ve been walking past for decades without noticing. The distal end of the petals can rounded or notched, as shown below. Indiana lies in or near the transition zone between the two varieties and they commonly grow together. I think they intergrade, but it’s just an opinion - I haven’t done research on this. It's likely that some authors don't recognize the varieties, treating all of it as a single, variable species. Both of these were photographed at the botanically rich Bendix Woods County Park in St. Joseph County, Indiana. While I was attempting to get these pictures, a Hummingbird Moth of some type visited several of the flowers, and I chased it around with the camera for a while, but it wouldn't hold still.

Phlox divaricata var. laphamii, with unnotched petals (western)
Phlox divaricata var. divaricata, with notched petals (eastern).

"Once in a while, spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean. " John Muir

Shaggy Grape!

This is the shaggiest Wild Grape vine I have ever seen. It grows in low, rich alluvium in St. Joe County, Indiana, at Bendix Woods County Park. Super shaggy... brings to mind an Austin Powers quote, but it wouldn't be appropriate for polite company.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Collinsia verna in Michigan

Each spring, despite intentions to explore new areas, I spend the majority of my field time in a few of my favorite forest sites, accrued over the past decade-and-a-half. Most years, I am eager to check on the status of one of my favorite spring wildflowers, the winter annual Collinsia verna, or blue-eyed-Mary. I distinctly recall my first encounter with this species at Russ Forest/Newton Woods in Cass County, MI in the early evening of May 17, 1996. Later that evening, I also observed the species growing en masse at Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary, a property owned and managed by Michigan Nature Association, also in Cass County, MI. Both of these Cass County sites were wildly diverse and slightly surreal to my eye, supporting numerous wildflowers that I never encountered in my youth in the forests of the west side of Grand Rapids. I have periodically returned to these areas since that first May to enjoy the spectacle of spring wildflowers.

Carpet of blue-eyed-Mary (Collinsia verna) at Russ Forest, Cass County, MI. 18 April 2010.

Collinsia verna has been collected from 13 counties in southern Michigan:

I am aware of fewer than ten sites that currently support this species in Michigan, most of them in Berrien and Cass counties, with additional locations in Kalamazoo, Lenawee, and Eaton counties. The historical literature reveals additional sites that are likely no longer extant. For example, Emma Cole, in her 1901 Grand Rapids Flora, indicated blue-eyed-Mary was "abundant and local" in the Grand Rapids area, occurring at several places along the Grand River. Although I have not searched these locations, at least one site is now occupied by an array of gravel pits. Clarence and Florence Hanes, in their 1947 Flora of Kalamazoo County, Michigan: Vascular Plants, noted that C. verna was locally abundant but declining, and that the species had already disappeared from some former haunts. Duane McKenna, in his 2004 revisit of the Kalamazoo County Flora (see Michigan Botanist vol 43, no. 3) described blue-eyed-Mary as "rare" in Kalamazoo County, and stated that it "no longer occurs at several former sites."

My experience over the past 16 years suggests C. verna continues to decline in Michigan, although I lack quantitative data to substantiate these observations. The population at Russ Forest fluctuates year-to-year, and fares best along wide, seasonally wet trails through rich mesic forest dominated by sugar maple (Acer saccharum) and American beech (Fagus grandifolia). In 2010, the species was locally abundant, putting on the best display I had observed since 1996. The situation at Dowagiac Woods is another story. This sanctuary is unique in that its extensive population of Collinsia verna was apparently the impetus for its acquisition and preservation in the 1980s. My first couple visits in the mid-late 1990s were rewarded with acres of low, wet forest carpeted by this species, a remarkable but unfortunately short-lived attraction. By the early 2000s, the population of of blue-eyed-Mary at Dowagiac Woods had declined to a fraction of a percent of its previous numbers. The once aptly-named Blue-eyed Mary Trail, a short loop in the southwestern corner of the forest, is now bereft of its namesake. A few lonely stems appear each year at the margin of the forest along the roadside, reminders of the former spectacle that attracted naturalists and other aesthetes from the surrounding region. Even in the core forest, blue-eyed Mary is now apparently restricted to a few small, local refugia in the floodplain of the St. Joseph River. Numbers have not recovered since the initial decline, and it is unlikely many visitors now or in the future will leave the sanctuary impressed with the displays of blue-eyed-Mary. Theirs is an impoverished sanctuary.

So, why is Collinsia verna declining, and is there anything we can do about it? To some degree, the story of blue-eyed-Mary parallels the stories of many of our other spring flora, which are being battered by a combination of stressors. At Dowagiac Woods, the vicinity of the blue-eyed-Mary trail now exhibits a peculiar lack of leaf litter, and most other wildflower species that were once abundant in the area are now eliminated or reduced to depauperate, often sterile specimens. Deer browse and earthworms, which consume the moist duff that supports so many spring wildflowers, may be culprits here. Invasive plant species, especially garlic mustard, have also increased in this area since the 1990s, likely facilitated by deer and earthworms. Elsewhere in the forest, lush displays of spring wildflowers remain, and it is more difficult to pick up on ecological factors that may be responsible for the decline of C. verna. Maturation of the forest canopy and increased shading, lack of microsite disturbances that prevent or reverse encroachment by aggressive perennials, and a decline in pollinator diversity and numbers, perhaps driven (at least recently) by the application of nicotine-based pesticides (, may also be factors in the decline of this and other native spring wildflowers. Susan Kalisz and colleagues have found that C. verna seedbanks are short-lived, making the species vulnerable to relatively rapid extirpation if reproductive success is poor and if new colonization events do not occur. This may explain the decline and disappearance of blue-eyed-Mary in small, isolated woodlots, as noted in many former Kalamazoo County sites, and its persistence in larger, more contiguous blocks of habitat such as Russ Forest.

To get 'em while they last, I recommend a few sites open to the public, including the aforementioned Dowagiac Woods and Russ Forest in Cass County, Love Creek Nature Center in Berrien County, and Kalamazoo Nature Center in Kalamazoo County. Floyd Swink apparently collected blue-eyed Mary at Warren Woods State Park in the 1940s, but there are no recent reports. Feel free to report any additional sites for this species in Michigan. Happy botanizing!

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Stunning Plant, No Matter What You Call It

While botanizing in Michigan with Keith Board a few weeks ago, our conversations at some point turned to Pasque Flower (Pulsatilla patens ssp. multifida).  I had a mental image from Keith's account of watching the flowers fluttering in the breeze, but I had never seen this species first hand.  In the Chicago Region, one from St. Joseph County can only see this stunner by braving the Chicago clutter to get west or north of the city.  I've never had the fortitude to do this just to hunt down a single species.  Imagine my delight, then, at happening upon Pasque Flower in a montane xeric tallgrass prairie near Boulder on a recent trip to Colorado!

Numerous synonyms for this species exist, including Anemone patens, Anemone patens var. nuttalliana, Anemone patens var. wolfgangiana, Anemone ludoviciana, Anemone multifida, Pulsatilla patens, Pulsatilla ludoviciana, and Pulsatilla hirsutissima. I would try to explain the nomenclature of this species, but there doesn't seem to be much agreement by botanists on what to call it, as discussed on the Southwest Colorado Wildflowers webpage. 

At first, I wasn't sure that this was the same species and variety that we have in the Chicago Region, but upon checking, I found out that it is.  Its range is centered in the Rocky Mountains and the Great Plains, into Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Illinois.  It can be found in prairies and open woods.

From the photograph above, you can see where the common name of Wild Crocus comes from.  Other common names for this species include Prairie Crocus, Prairie Smoke (not to be confused with Geum triflorum, one of its associate species in hill prairies in the Chicago Region), Cutleaf Anemone, and Pulsatille.

So I sat, watching Pasque Flower blossoms blow in the gentle breeze, but instead of in the smog of a Chicago suburb, in the clean mountain air of Colorado.  It doesn't get much better than that.

I hope to be able to find the time to post more photographs from my Colorado trip both here and at Through Handlens and Binoculars soon, but the way this spring is going, I can't guarantee it.  Shoot... I hope to find the time to get caught up on posting some of the Indiana photos I've taken this spring!

Asimina triloba

The unique flowers of Asimina triloba (Pawpaw, or [insert state or region here] Banana) were in anthesis today at Potato Creek State Park in St. Joseph County, Indiana.  I was shocked to see that we previously had no images of this species on Get Your Botany On!, so I figured I should post the photos I captured.

As interesting as these flowers are, because of their color, they are often overlooked.  I had walked past several flowers at eye-level before noticing those in these photographs. As is often the case with flowers that are this color, an unpleasant odor is emitted by the flowers, leading to them being pollinated by insects such as carrion beetles, carrion flies, and fruit flies.

Notice how the naked (scaleless) buds open directly into the leaves - a characteristic used in winter to identify this attractive clonal tree of the primarily tropical family Annonaceae.  Pawpaws can be found in rich mesic forests throughout the eastern half of the United States.

In these photographs, the paired flowers have a look that reminds me of wedding bells.

In 2009, the Pawpaw was designated as the state native fruit of Ohio.  This must have had something to do with the colossal collapses of late by my Buckeyes in major sporting events... if not the fact that the fruit of Aesculus are poisonous whereas those of Asimina triloba are delicious.  Good luck collecting Pawpaw fruits in the summer, though... the raccoons and deer often feast on them before we have a chance.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Large-flowered Trillium

One of the most well-known and popular spring wildflowers, Trillium grandiflorum puts on impressive displays in rich, mesic woodland.
For interesting reading, look into the way Trillium seeds are equipped with a little caruncle of oily material (known as an elaisome) that is attractive to ants. The ants collect the seeds, carry them away to the nest, eat the caruncles, and discard the seeds, possibly underground. Many plants do this - not just Trilliums.
Photographed at Bendix Woods County Park in St. Joseph County, Indiana, where this plant occurs by the thousands!

Thursday, April 5, 2012


Myosurus minimus is a member of the Ranunculaceae (Buttercup Family). It's one of those very tiny plants that is best discovered while micro-botanizing on hands and knees. It grows in the dry clay of fallow fields and seems to have a special affinity for flat clay-and-gravel places in county fairgrounds. It's only about 2-4 cm in height (around 1-2 inches) and is very easily overlooked.

Two-Leaved Toothwort, Crinkleroot

Dentaria diphylla is very limited in its distribution in Indiana. In the Chicago Region, it was previously known only from Berrien County, Michigan until its discovery in St. Joseph County, Indiana by Scott Namestnik and Vic Riemenschneider, growing along a meandering stream in rich, mesic woods. Now called Cardamine diphylla by some taxonomists.

Buglossoides arvensis

I have been enjoying taking my new Field Manual of Michigan Flora out for a spin recently. Currently, that means spending most of my time with the Brassicaceae key and the Veronica key. I was excited to find a small, white flower that I did not recognize along an old railroad path in central Indiana. Unfortunately, I couldn't get any further that day, failing in my attempt to key to family. The next day, I brought along good old Newcomb and got right to Lithospermum arvense. I went back and started the key for Boraginaceae. I was worried that it was not taking me to Lithospermum, but then I realized that Corn Gromwell has a new name. This is an introduced flower, but I enjoyed the chase. In my experience, the pleasure in successfully making it through a dichotomous key is directly proportional to the frustration experienced when stymied.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Sand Phlox, Cleft Phlox

Frequent in the western part of the Kankakee region of northern Indiana (also on dry sandstone further south), Phlox bifida has a special affinity for dry, stable sandy slopes, especially the hottest ones facing south or west.
Countless thousands of these were flowering in Newton County today. Photographed in Black Oak savanna at Indiana's only ghost town (Conrad) in the Conrad Savanna Nature Preserve.
I have lots of pictures of this plant already, but how could I pass up another chance? Photographed April 4th, 2012.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Denizens of Dry Country: Birdfoot Violet and Hoary Puccoon

Impressive displays of these two natives are occurring in the dunes region and the Kankakee sand country of northern Indiana. These photos were captured in and near the Ober Savanna Nature Preserve in Starke County. It's one of many excellent properties owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy.
Viola pedata, Birdfoot Violet

Lithospermum canescens, Hoary Puccoon.
This species has very soft hairs on the leaves. "Lithospermum" = stone seed.