Plant List Additions

by Carl Strang

Though I have been at Mayslake Forest Preserve for several seasons now, and it has only 90 acres, I continue to find new species of plants. Some of this comes from whittling away at my botanical ignorance, some from needing time to stumble upon those species that are relatively rare there, and some from new species being introduced. The last category has been largely from findings at the restored friary site, which we’ll visit later in the week. The first category has come largely from my diving into the grasses, sedges and rushes. Here’s one that confused me for a time.

Superficially it resembled the bulrushes of genus Scirpus, but despite being fairly common and widespread at Mayslake it matched none of the bulrushes in Swink & Wilhelm’s regional reference.

Eventually I turned to other groups, and with great relief learned it was the common rush, a Juncus. Last week I found a grass that may occur in only one little spot on the preserve, and so it fit into two of the categories.

This is fowl manna grass, a distinctive species growing in a little intermittent trench above the stream.

Another species, common regionally but with few individuals at Mayslake, is the common carrion flower.

This is a thornless member of genus Smilax. Its thorny relatives are called by the colorful name “blasphemy weed” in some parts of the country.

A shrub that was new to me over the winter (when I featured its tiny pods) now is in bloom.

How did I miss this spectacular plant in previous years? My excuse is that the several indigo bushes were buried in other vegetation along the stream, but now have been freed by the restoration team.

I expect my wild plants list for Mayslake to top 300 species before this season is done.

Both…And!

by Carl Strang

One has to be a decent field botanist to do restoration work. This thought took me back to Mayslake Forest Preserve’s little stream yesterday. I had photographed an intriguing legume, following up a comment by Mayslake’s restoration volunteers that indigo bush was growing there. As it turned out, I put 2 and 2 together and got 3. The legume I photographed proved (thanks again to Scott Namestnik of the Handlens and Binoculars blog) to be wild senna, as I reported a couple days ago. I have not known Jacqui Gleason and Conrad Fialkowski to be wrong about a plant, so I needed to return and be sure. My eye was drawn to this spindly shrub.

Superficially it resembled a young willow beside the stream.

Close up, though, it had some strange fruits attached to its tip.

I recognized these as indigo bush fruits from my review of photos on the Internet.

And so indeed there are both the wild senna and the indigo bush growing beside the stream: two legumes new to my experience, not just one after all. And now there can be no confusing the two. One is a shrub, the other has herbaceous stems. Not only are the fruits different in shape, they are different in size as well. Senna pods are about 4 inches long. Indigo bush pods are half an inch long at most. So now I have two flowers to look forward to, one bright yellow and one purple.

Winter Botany Update

by Carl Strang

Every species we see in summer persists through the winter. In the case of plants, which cannot migrate, they are present in the landscape, though in some cases they are not readily visible outside the growing season. Nevertheless, most can be seen. Some are little changed.

Austrian pines, among the many exotic conifers planted at Mayslake Forest Preserve, are equally easy to identify in all seasons.

Some herbaceous plants remain green in winter. While the rosette form, with leaves held close to the ground where they can gain some protection from sheltering snows, is more common among forbs, one of Mayslake’s sedges, the common wood sedge, has a rosette-like habit.

The tips of the leaves have browned, but otherwise this sedge looks ready to go when spring arrives.

Some plants, though brown, are unmistakable. I was not pleased to find three small patches of common reed at the south edge of the preserve.

This plant, once established, spreads to push out all other wetland plants.

These will need to be attended to, and I was happy to learn that Mayslake’s restoration team has reported them to the Forest Preserve District’s natural resources staff.

My greatest botanical delight in recent weeks was encountering this tall, odd looking plant.

The pods place it in the legume family, but it was totally new to me.

Thanks to a heads up from Scott Namestnik I can correct my initial identification to wild senna. This is Mayslake’s second species of Cassia (some botanists separate it into genus Senna), and I look forward to seeing its bright yellow blooms next summer. (Initially I had identified it as indigo bush, another tall streamside legume, but the pods of indigo bush are proportionately much wider in comparison to their length).

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