Some Winter Composites

by Carl Strang

I was biding my time until we had some snow to provide a backdrop for photographing winter plants, but then learned that I can adjust the aperture on my Olympus point and shoot camera, and use that to blur the background. Today’s resulting focus is on four species of composites. Beginning in the damp portion of the south stream corridor prairie at Mayslake Forest Preserve, I was struck by the superficial similarity of wild quinine fruiting stems to those of the mountain mints.

The terminal clusters are similar in size, gray color, and roundness of their components to those mints.

The terminal clusters are similar in size, gray color, and roundness of their components to those mints.

Up close, they look much different with their layered seeds (you can see here how varying numbers of seeds have dropped out at this point in the season.

Up close, they look much different with their layered seeds (you can see here how varying numbers of seeds have dropped out at this point in the season.

Of course, the big rough triangular basal leaves of wild quinine also are a give-away.

Of course, the big rough triangular basal leaves of wild quinine also are a give-away.

Here is wild quinine in bloom.

The round flowers presage the round seed clusters.

The round flowers presage the round seed clusters.

The Missouri ironweed is much more clearly a composite.

The seeds are mostly gone, leaving the star-like receptacles.

The seeds are mostly gone, leaving the star-like receptacles.

The stems are tall and strong.

The stems are tall and strong.

This is the winter product of those distinctive purple blooms of late summer.

Missouri ironweed in flower.

Missouri ironweed in flower.

The winter form of grass-leaved goldenrod is much more delicate and unobtrusive.

The shape of the flat-topped flower cluster is retained.

The shape of the flat-topped flower cluster is retained.

The narrow leaves persist, helping to confirm the identification.

The narrow leaves persist, helping to confirm the identification.

The plant is much more conspicuous, and more clearly a goldenrod, when blooming.

The plant is much more conspicuous, and more clearly a goldenrod, when blooming.

We’ll return to the prairie later. Today’s final species is wingstem, a tall composite of moist woodlands.

The wings are present, but much shrunken and not nearly as obvious as in the green plant.

The wings are present, but much shrunken and not nearly as obvious as in the green plant.

The seed head shape is intricate and interesting.

The seed head shape is intricate and interesting.

And here is how the flowers appeared.

And here is how the flowers appeared.

Noting the locations of individual plants when they are blooming and easy to identify is a huge help when seeking them later to learn their winter forms.

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