Mayslake Insects Update

by Carl Strang

We’re at the edge of summer, and bees and butterflies and Odonata are center stage. Skippers have been appearing at flowers.

Earlier in the season there were wild indigo dusky wings. This is one of the skippers that typically rest with wings open.

Earlier in the season there were wild indigo dusky wings. This is one of the skippers that typically rest with wings open.

This week a new skipper appeared in Mayslake’s main prairie. This is one that closes the wings at least part way, and had practically no detail beneath.

This week a new skipper appeared in Mayslake’s main prairie. This is one that closes the wings at least part way, and had practically no detail beneath.

With the wings partly open there clearly is some color on the leading edge of the forewing, and small groups of dots. It appears to be a tawny-edged skipper.

With the wings partly open there clearly is some color on the leading edge of the forewing, and small groups of dots. It appears to be a tawny-edged skipper.

Carolina saddlebags have been one of our more consistent early season dragonflies.

The violet forehead is just visible in this back-lit individual.

The violet forehead is just visible in this back-lit individual.

So far the only spreadwing damselflies I have seen have been slender spreadwings.

Slender spreadwings continue to be common this week.

Slender spreadwings continue to be common this week.

In the past few days a number of dragonflies have made their first appearances of the season.

One of the recent species is the eastern amberwing. I like the way the light projects a distorted image of this male’s wings onto the rock.

One of the recent species is the eastern amberwing. I like the way the light projects a distorted image of this male’s wings onto the rock.

Early bumblebee colonies have begun sending out workers.

This bee was diving into the foxglove beard tongue flowers so quickly upon landing that flight photos were needed to show sufficient detail for identification. The black basal abdominal segment followed by two yellow ones is one clue. The trace of yellow on the back half of the dorsal thorax is another.

This bee was diving into the foxglove beard tongue flowers so quickly upon landing that flight photos were needed to show sufficient detail for identification. The black basal abdominal segment followed by two yellow ones is one clue. The trace of yellow on the back half of the dorsal thorax is another.

The other details are consistent with an identification of Bombus auricomus.

The other details are consistent with an identification of Bombus auricomus.

New insects will be emerging frequently for the next couple of months.

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Foxglove Beard Tongue and Jerusalem Artichoke in Winter

by Carl Strang

This week’s winter botany focus is on two herbaceous plants, one generally common in our area, the other less so. The common one is the foxglove beard tongue.

Foxglove beard tongue is a familiar, often abundant plant in prairies and meadows.

Foxglove beard tongue is a familiar, often abundant plant in prairies and meadows.

In winter, the stems retain their paired, sessile, pointed leaves.

The leaves can be 2 or more inches long.

The leaves can be 2 or more inches long.

The flowers produce attractive pods.

The pods retain the pointed elements of the calyx, which have turned brown.

The pods retain the pointed elements of the calyx, which have turned brown.

The stems are strong enough to stand, though I found many to have tilted.

The stems of the second plant, Jerusalem artichoke, are stronger still.

The stems reach beyond 6 feet in height.

The stems reach beyond 6 feet in height.

This plant is one of the sunflowers.

Here is a flowering head.

Here is a flowering head.

The head becomes a nice looking array of seeds in winter.

The seed heads are a bit less than an inch in diameter.

The seed heads are a bit less than an inch in diameter.

If you want to see these plants, there is a large colony of them at Mayslake Forest Preserve along the short path between the east parking lot and the off-leash dog area.

May Flowering Phenology

by Carl Strang

In May, plants at Mayslake Forest Preserve continued to bloom around 2 weeks early, as compared to recent years. Here are the specifics: the median difference between 2012 and 2011 for species that first bloomed this May was 16 days earlier this year, with a range of 86 days earlier to 3 days later among 64 species. The median difference vs. 2010 was 11 days earlier in 2012, ranging 48 days earlier to 12 days later in 41 species. The median difference vs. 2009 was 18 days earlier, ranging 42 days earlier to 7 days later for 43 species.

Foxglove beard tongue was reasonably representative, blooming first on 21 May this year, 17 days earlier than last year, 5 days earlier than in 2010, and 15 days earlier than in 2009.

The difference from previous years diminishes somewhat from month to month, but I don’t expect things to even out before July or August.

Plant Phenology June

by Carl Strang

First flowering dates at Mayslake Forest Preserve in June continued to be earlier than last year. Among the 10 species for which I had reasonably close first appearances, the median was 15 days earlier than last year. There were 26 other species whose flowering was well under way when I first found them. Their median was 5.5 days earlier than last year. I also continued to find new species for my preserve list: moth mullein, common day flower, motherwort, all of which are relatively weedy, and the more interesting smooth beard tongue.

The last is a southern species that appears irregularly in our woodlands. Superficially it resembles our common foxglove beard tongue. Though the diagnostic characteristics require a magnifying glass, sometimes the smooth beard tongue has distinctive purple flowers as in the Mayslake example.

Though I do not include domestic plantings in these data, I did notice that Adam’s needle yucca plants were flowering around the friary.

They did not bloom at all in last year’s relatively cool dark season.

Prairie Contrast

by Carl Strang

Mayslake Forest Preserve’s main prairie was burned in 2009, but not this year. Here is the prairie in the last half of May last year.

The prairie grew lush and green, unimpeded by the dead tops of the previous year’s growth. Though the prairie was not burned in 2010, its appearance in early June is striking nonetheless.

The clouds of white are formed almost entirely by one kind of plant, the foxglove beard tongue.

I’m pretty sure this plant did not bloom nearly so abundantly last year. I’m inclined to attribute this difference to the lack of a burn, but certainly the seasonal phenology has been much earlier this year as well: another question to file away for future study.

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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