May 2015 Phenology

by Carl Strang

April’s phenological signal held true in May’s first flowering dates. This year continues to run ahead of most, but not by much.

Ohio buckeye was among the plants that bloomed in May.

Ohio buckeye was among the plants that bloomed in May.

Median first flower dates this May at Mayslake Forest Preserve were 7 days earlier than last year (54 species), 5 days earlier than in 2013 (70 species), 18 days later than in 2012 (69 species), 4 days earlier than in 2011 (68 species), 7 days later than in 2010 (45 species), and 3 days earlier than in 2009 (46 species).

Common spiderwort is peaking now, but started blooming in May.

Common spiderwort is peaking now, but started blooming in May.

The respective numbers for April were, in the same order: 6 days earlier, 9 days earlier, 25 days later, 6 days earlier, 9 days later, and 3 days earlier. On the whole this shows the usual trend of convergence among years as the season progresses.

A number of sedges first bloomed in May, including the small yellow fox sedge.

A number of sedges first bloomed in May, including the small yellow fox sedge.

Growing the Plant List

by Carl Strang

As I continue to wander off-trail through all the ecosystems at Mayslake Forest Preserve, I continue to find new plant species. The preserve’s list of herbaceous plants now numbers 308 species, and woody plants are at 90 (though some of these are exotic trees planted on or near the mansion grounds). Some of the new finds are few in number and less conspicuous than others.

Honewort has tiny white flowers. I did not find this one until I was on top of it.

Though not conspicuous, honewort at least is easy to identify.

The uneven umbel of flowers, and the distinctive leaf shape, make this woodland plant distinctive.

The next species stands out more, but apparently there are only a very few, seeded in an earlier stage of prairie restoration.

Prairie coreopsis, the third species of its genus I have found at Mayslake.

Again, the leaves help to distinguish this plant from its relatives.

The stiff little leaves all are identical and 3-lobed.

A small colony of pineapple weed has become established in a sunny bit of trail near May’s Lake.

Named for the odor of its bruised foliage, this western species of rayless composite does well in dry, compacted soils.

I was pleased to find a green dragon that earlier had been discovered by the restoration volunteers.

Though growing in a relatively dry location, this one was doing well enough that it elected to be female this season.

Apparently this is the only green dragon on the preserve, and Mayslake is the only preserve that has green dragon but not its more common close relative, the jack-in-the-pulpit.

I will close with two plants which, while not new discoveries, struck me with their beauty. One of these was a sedge, the small yellow fox sedge, which I had identified last year but not followed after it was done flowering.

The ripened perigynia are such a bright yellow that I wonder whether this plant uses birds to disperse its seeds.

Finally, it is easy to dismiss self heal, but some individuals of this familiar plant of disturbed woodlands really display beautiful, if small flowers.

The native subspecies is generally taller than the introduced lawn version.

There can be no doubt that this 90-acre preserve still has botanical secrets to be discovered.

Noticing Things about Sedges

by Carl Strang

One of the awareness skills we need to develop to enjoy nature fully is to attend the little things. This is crystal clear in tracking, but I’m also finding the subtle differences in the Carex sedges often have significance. I gave an example a few days ago with Carex grisea, which at first glance was very similar to the common Carex blanda, and even keyed to it, but that conclusion just didn’t fit what my eye was telling me, and when the flowers matured I was able to gain a satisfactory result. Carex is a big genus, and when you focus on the little things in these superficially similar, grass-like plants, you notice some patterns.

For instance, some produce flowers in tight spiraling clusters. Some of these have been given English names that include the word “fox.” There’s the common fox sedge, Carex stipata, which I featured in an earlier post.

This one has thick, triangular, but soft stems.

Last week I found another species, which grows in somewhat drier soils at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Carex annectens var. xanthocarpa also is known as the small yellow fox sedge.

In addition to the habitat difference, annectens has much less squishy stems.

The concentrated flower clusters make these easy to spot.

Here we back off to take in an entire tuft of annectens. Those distinctive flower clusters make this plant stand out against the wall of green.

This week I added yet another “fox sedge” to the Mayslake list, though I gather that this is not a close relative of the others.

The brown fox sedge is Carex vulpinoidea, the “vulpinoid” part of the species name perhaps a reference to this not being a “true” fox sedge.

Not every sedge with this kind of tight arrangement of flower clusters is that easy to spot. Such is the case with a species I found in Mayslake’s north savanna.

The plant’s tufted form makes it stand out a little, but the flower clusters are small.

Closing in on the flowers, in some ways they are reminiscent of the fox sedges on a smaller scale.

This one I identify as Carex cephalophora, the short-headed bracted sedge.

If you have been following my sedge posts, you can guess what I think of that English name.

Sometimes a sedge has a distinctive quirk. One example I found in the north savanna last week is Carex tenera, the narrow-leaved oval sedge (which I also include on the list of species with uninspiring English names; I find tenera much easier to remember).

This little plant has one well separated lowest flower cluster, then an elongated delicate stem that tends to flex, and is tipped with more tightly packed flower clusters.

In the next photo you may find it difficult to distinguish the entire Carex tenera plant, but do you find that the odd flowering stalks stand out?

You may be able to pick out several flower stalks against the darker background in the upper part of the photo.

Finally, the shapes of flower clusters may stand out. I’m probably bugging some botanists with my use of the non-technical “flower clusters” term. For those who may be interested, the entire floral display of a sedge is divided into units called spikelets. Sometimes the spikelets are distinctive enough to distinguish in my photos, sometimes not, hence my preference for the vaguer non-technical term. Last week I ran into a large patch of a fairly tall sedge with distinctively pointy spikelets, growing near the stream corridor marsh.

These keyed to Carex scoparia, the lance-fruited oval sedge.

While I’m iffy about the “oval” in this one’s English name, I like the reference to the pointiness implied by “lance-fruited.”

In contrast, some sedge flower clusters are very round looking. Here is an example.

This one is Carex molesta, the field oval sedge.

“Oval” again. What’s with this “oval?” It looks so different from scoparia. I have found molesta in a wide range of habitats at Mayslake, both open and partly shaded, but usually with fairly wet soil.

Again, the distinctive flower clusters make the molesta tuft stand out.

Incidentally, this proves to be the species that confused me earlier in the season, seeming to key to Carex sartwellii. Waiting for the flowers to mature did indeed clear up the identification. My Carex species count at Mayslake already is up to a dozen, and I’m sure there will be more as the season goes on.

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