Searching for Life

by Carl Strang

This spring I have been pressing a search for coral-winged grasshoppers, and it has been disappointing. This singing insect historically was found in a few locations in my 22-county survey area, almost always in May, but none of those locations proved to have the species. Other places that match the habitat descriptions in the literature likewise have been lacking in coral-wings.

Though depression as a response to this experience has been tempting, an antidote has been thoughts about SETI. Many people, years of time, and much expensive technology have been devoted to the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence. Furthermore, despite much thought and searching, life of any sort beyond the Earth thus far has been elusive. Balanced against all that, my frustrated search for a species that globally is in no danger seems a trivial matter.

In compensation, I have been getting into some beautiful areas and seeing wondrous sights.

For example, I found hairy puccoons and common blue-eyed grass at Illinois Beach State Park on May 13.

Wood betony also was in peak bloom on the 13th.

From above, wood betony has a delightful pinwheel shape.

Near the edge of the savanna at Illinois Beach State Park, this dung beetle busily rolled a deer fecal pellet.

An Indiana site added Indian paintbrush to the wildflower mix.

 

The Miller Woods Trail of Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore was flanked by banks of wild lupines on May 16.

Scattered hairy puccoons provided delightful contrast with the lupines.

With such wonderful life all around, it’s hard to be too disappointed by the failure to find a single species.

 

Botanical Notes

by Carl Strang

Plants develop so quickly in such diversity that it is easy to miss the less conspicuous stages in their growth. Blue-eyed grass attracts the eye when it is blooming, but what does it do after?

This is one of the earliest-blooming prairie plants. They’ve been done for weeks now.

This is one of the earliest-blooming prairie plants. They’ve been done for weeks now.

Though less showy, the developing fruits form an interesting cluster of spherical shapes.

Though less showy, the developing fruits form an interesting cluster of spherical shapes.

This spring also has provided a rare look at what river bulrush looks like when it is flowering.

Most of the time this plant with its large soft triangular stems makes do spreading vegetatively. A cluster of stems in Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh decided to bloom this year.

Most of the time this plant with its large soft triangular stems makes do spreading vegetatively. A cluster of stems in Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh decided to bloom this year.

Here’s an annual to finish today’s review.

Penny cress already is done and senescent, the seeds showing through these backlit pods.

Penny cress already is done and senescent, the seeds showing through these backlit pods.

When blooming it looked like this, with typical 4-petaled mustard family flowers.

When blooming it looked like this, with typical 4-petaled mustard family flowers.

I have a list. I hope to provide more photos of what plants do when they are done flowering.

Flowers in Shade and Sun

by Carl Strang

The parade of native wildflowers continues in my phenological study at Mayslake Forest Preserve. In the savanna, showy species have included wild columbine,

Columbine 1b

wild hyacinth,

Wild hyacinth 2b

woodland phlox,

Woodland phlox 2b

common cinquefoil,

Common cinquefoil b

Solomon’s plume (also known as false Solomon’s seal)

Solomon's plume 3b

and foxglove beard tongue.

Foxglove beard tongue 1b

Above, black cherry.

Black cherry b

Also, black locust with its fragrant flowers.

Black locust flowers b

Below, may apple.

Mayapple 1b

Meanwhile, in the open, the first marsh fleabane flowers have appeared.

Marsh fleabane b

In parts of the prairie, there have been abundant blue-eyed grass flowers.

Sisyrhynchium b

Scattered spiderworts have begun to bloom.

Spiderwort 1b

Near the parking lot marsh, the meadow contains this pasture rose

Pasture rose b

and this yellow avens.

Yellow avens 1b

Yarrow is widespread on the preserve.

Yarrow b

Common blackberry, a plant of sun to partial shade, has reached its flowering season.

Common blackberry b

A rich diversity of foliage promises much more in coming weeks.

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