January 28, 2013 at 7:16 am (botany)
Tags: compass plant, Mayslake, prairie dock, Silphium laciniatum, Silphium terebinthinaceum, winter botany
by Carl Strang
One of the larger prairie plants is prairie dock, a member of the diverse genus Silphium.
When blooming, its flower stalks tower above nearly all the other prairie plants.
In winter the fruiting stalks remain strong and tall.
A prairie dock stem at Mayslake Forest Preserve
Curiously, the leaves abscise, though they remain close to the base of the stalk.
The broad, large, sandpapery textured leaves become gray with white speckles.
Cutting off the leaves is not universal in this genus. The leaves remain attached in compass plant.
The tangle of leaves around the base of the stalk is evident in this example.
I wonder if the broad leaves might catch the wind and tip the stalk, limiting seed dispersal, if the prairie dock held onto them. The cut leaves of compass plant would not pose this problem.
The most surprising and beautiful feature of prairie dock in winter, to my eye, is the core of the fruiting structure.
It has a trumpet shape, with a whorl of curled strands around the base. Varying numbers of the oval bracts (called phyllaries in the composite family) remain tenuously connected.
January 16, 2012 at 7:09 am (botany, ecology, restoration)
Tags: brush removal, compass plant, Mayslake, Silphium laciniatum, Verbena urticifolia, white vervain, winter botany
by Carl Strang
It took until the middle of January, but at last we got a snowstorm worthy of the name. The 4-6 inches of windblown white stuff provided the conditions needed for a crew to begin burning the year’s worth of accumulated brush piles from the restoration program.
The sterilized circles create little spots for invasion or seeding. Hm, I should consider mapping these and documenting the succession that occurs on them.
The white backdrop also allows me to resume collecting photos of plants in winter. On Friday I made a start with white vervain.
Overall, white vervain has a thin and spindly look.
Up close, the tiny bumps where flowers were located give the plant a grainy texture.
A peek back at the plant when it was blooming makes sense of its winter form.
Here you can see where those little bumps come from. Some of the nettle-like leaves remain attached in winter, but they are dark brown and so curled up that their shape is difficult to discern.
I had taken photos of the compass plant flowering stalk, but needed one of the leaves.
Compass plant leaves are large, and stiff enough to hold their shape for easy identification in winter.
Plenty of plants remain at Mayslake to be so documented.
March 17, 2010 at 6:14 am (botany)
Tags: compass plant, Coreopsis tripteris, Mayslake, prairie, Silphium laciniatum, tall coreopsis, tall grass prairie, winter botany
by Carl Strang
Though the tall grass prairie is so named for its grasses, these are not the only, nor the tallest, plants growing there. Today I will feature two members of the sunflower family whose flower stalks tower high above the grass tops.
The first of these is tall coreopsis. In a single season it sends up flowering stalks that reach 6-8 feet in height, bearing a number of small flower heads as shown above. It has a more delicate appearance than the yellow coneflower featured earlier in the winter, but the dead stalks are strong enough to resist winter’s driving snows.
A more robust flower stalk is that of the compass plant.
Its flowers are larger, fewer, and on a relatively unbranched stem.
Prairie plant perennial roots wait until later in the spring to begin growing their annual shoots. This renders them less vulnerable to spring prairie fires. It also makes all the more remarkable the ability of some, including those featured today, to grow so tall in a single season.
July 23, 2009 at 6:06 am (botany)
Tags: Asclepias tuberosa, Asclepias verticillata, blue vervain, butterfly weed, common mountain mint, compass plant, cottontail, Eryngium yuccifolium, germander, Helianthus grosseserratus, hoary vervain, Liatris spicata, marsh blazing star, Mayslake, Monarda fistulosa, Petalostemum purpureum, phenology, purple prairie clover, Pycnanthemum tenuifolium, Pycnanthemum virginianum, Ratibida pinnata, rattlesnake master, sawtooth sunflower, Silphium laciniatum, slender mountain mint, Teucrium canadense, Verbena hastata, Verbena stricta, whorled milkweed, wild bergamot, yellow coneflower
by Carl Strang
My groundwork for future phenology studies continues at Mayslake Forest Preserve as I record first flowering dates for summer blooming plants, with the greatest number now occurring in prairies and meadows. The first, wild bergamot, has a broad enough ecological range sometimes to grow in open woodlands, too.
More confined to proper prairies is the yellow (also known as gray) coneflower.
One of my favorites is the plant from Mars, or so I think of its odd appearance, more commonly known as rattlesnake master.
Butterflies like it, too. Drier prairies are good places to find hoary vervain,
while wetter prairies are home to its congener, blue vervain.
Those plants will be much more spectacular looking when they hit their flowering peak, but here I am focused on first blooms of the season. Whorled milkweed, with its linear leaves, has an unconventional look for a milkweed.
Butterfly weed, a milkweed lacking the milky looking sap, arrests the eye.
It is protected by internal poisons. Another eye-catcher, the purple prairie clover, is less fortunate. Rabbits love it.
Towering above nearly all the other prairie species is the compass plant.
Now for some more mints (bergamot was one): the slender mountain mint,
the common mountain mint,
The earliest sawtooth sunflower heads always seem to have these odd bits of green popping out of them.
We are late enough in the season that the blazing stars are beginning to bloom. First of these at Mayslake is the marsh blazing star.
The season’s but half done. There’s much more to come.