SJF Gallery

by Carl Strang

As recent posts have shown, I am transitioning into the singing insects field season. I will be spending less time at St. James Farm over the next four months, though I won’t be ignoring that preserve completely. So here is a collection of recent photos from St. James Farm Forest Preserve.

I was pleased to find that green dragons are scattered throughout the forest.

I was pleased to find that green dragons are scattered throughout the forest.

Both the smooth sweet cicely, shown here, and the hairy sweet cicely are among the late spring forest wildflowers at SJF.

Both the smooth sweet cicely, shown here, and the hairy sweet cicely are among the late spring forest wildflowers at SJF.

Wild hyacinths are savanna or woods border plants with only a brief blooming period.

Wild hyacinths are savanna or woods border plants with only a brief blooming period.

The somewhat weedy, open-growing common goat’s beard is a personal favorite.

The somewhat weedy, open-growing common goat’s beard is a personal favorite.

Earlier in the season I saw a female dot-tailed whiteface in one of the prairie plots. Here is a male on station at the catch-and-release fishing pond.

Earlier in the season I saw a female dot-tailed whiteface in one of the prairie plots. Here is a male on station at the catch-and-release fishing pond.

The grayish fan-foot, aka grayish Zanclognatha, has been abundant in the forest in recent days. The caterpillars live on fallen dead leaves.

The grayish fan-foot, aka grayish Zanclognatha, has been abundant in the forest in recent days. The caterpillars live on fallen dead leaves.

This eastern bluebird nestling looks ready to get out into the world.

This eastern bluebird nestling looks ready to get out into the world.

 

Advertisements

Hills of Gold

by Carl Strang

This year’s chapter in the bioblitz series organized by the Indiana Academy of Science was called Hills of Gold. It was on a beautiful site being assembled by the Central Indiana Land Trust, and when complete will occupy around 2 square miles in Johnson County, south of Indianapolis.

The event took place on an intermittently rainy day, as illustrated by this less than sharp image of a representative bit of forest and one of the old logging trails we used to get around the site.

The event took place on an intermittently rainy day, as illustrated by this less than sharp image of a representative bit of forest and one of the old logging trails we used to get around the site.

Usually my role in these bioblitzes is to survey singing insects, but this was too early in the season for a sufficient number of species to justify my participating. I decided to reconnect with my experience studying forest Lepidoptera ecology in the 1980’s, and took on moths as well. As I walked the forest during the day, I found many beautiful plants and animals outside my target groups that gave joy.

Green dragons always make me smile, and I ran across a magnificent cluster of them along one of the streams.

Green dragons always make me smile, and I ran across a magnificent cluster of them along one of the streams.

And who can say “no” to fire pinks? Hummingbirds sure don’t.

And who can say “no” to fire pinks? Hummingbirds sure don’t.

Violet wood sorrel is a plant I haven’t encountered very often.

Violet wood sorrel is a plant I haven’t encountered very often.

There also were insects to note outside my target groups.

This Bombus impatiens queen still had not found a nest site, and was prospecting the forest floor.

This Bombus impatiens queen still had not found a nest site, and was prospecting the forest floor.

I interrupted this female scorpionfly’s feed on an emptied caterpillar skin.

I interrupted this female scorpionfly’s feed on an emptied caterpillar skin.

Speaking of caterpillars, the first target species I found was this eastern tent caterpillar:

They already had reached the final instar and were starting to pupate.

They already had reached the final instar and were starting to pupate.

I collected only four moth species during the day. All were fairly common.

This was one of them, which I identify as the unadorned carpet, a member of the inchworm family.

This was one of them, which I identify as the unadorned carpet, a member of the inchworm family.

Many more moths came to my ultraviolet light setup that night. Stay tuned for that episode.

For the record, there was one singing insect. This was my first encounter with a wood cricket. I heard them scattered thinly all through the forest, but never succeeded in seeing one. They probably were northern wood crickets (Gryllus vernalis), but might have been southern wood crickets (G. fultoni). I made a couple good sound recordings, which I hope will allow me to make the determination.

One of them was singing from this patch of leaf litter.

One of them was singing from this patch of leaf litter.

More on that later, after I have analyzed the recordings.

The Range of Winter Botany

by Carl Strang

Most of my focus in winter botany to date has been on plants that have remained standing, more or less. I have been interested in discovering what those dried tops, and particularly the flowers, become when they convert to fruiting structures.

Here is an example from wingstem.

Here is an example from wingstem.

As I run down my list of plants to seek out, however, I have been finding that a lot of them must be categorized differently. Some, for instance, retain green rosettes of live, ground-hugging leaves.

Pussytoes lost its fruiting stems months ago, but the leaves remain intact and recognizable.

Pussytoes lost its fruiting stems months ago, but the leaves remain intact and recognizable.

And then there are the plants that have utterly collapsed. If you are lucky, you may find a stem, but identifying it can be a challenge.

The only reason I know that this fallen rotting stem is a green dragon top is that I knew exactly where to look. The leaf lobes are present in the left side of the photo, but good luck recognizing them for what they are.

The only reason I know that this fallen rotting stem is a green dragon top is that I knew exactly where to look. The leaf lobes are present in the left side of the photo, but good luck recognizing them for what they are.

Here is that same plant when it was flowering.

Here is that same plant when it was flowering.

Finally, some plants vanish without any trace whatsoever.

Don’t strain yourself too much. As far as I can tell, there is no hint above ground of the may apple clone that was here last spring, and will rise again in the coming season.

Don’t strain yourself too much. As far as I can tell, there is no hint above ground of the may apple clone that was here last spring, and will rise again in the coming season.

Understanding such plants more completely thus does not involve finding them in winter, but following them to learn at what point in the season they disappear. I have some sense of what green dragon does, as it (like its close relative jack-in-the-pulpit) is reduced to a collapsed stem by September (female plants then ripening their fruits), but I haven’t paid close enough attention to may apple to be able to account for its disappearance: another item to check in the future.

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.

Family Resemblance

by Carl Strang

A few days ago I found this in my aquarium:

My aquarium has fish varieties native to the Amazon River and its tributaries. I have not been as fastidious with the plants, wanting ones that can stay ahead of the snails. So, over the years I have added freshwater aquatic plants of many varieties without regard to geographic origin. The plant in the photo first bloomed in September of 2003. Right away I recognized something familiar about it. Do you see? It may not be clear in the photo, but this bloom has the same floral structure as a Jack-in-the-pulpit. The plant has bloomed perhaps three times since then. This time I decided to see if my hunch was correct. Going back to my notes I found that this plant is in the genus Anubias. A quick on-line search confirmed my guess. Anubias is an African member of family Araceae, the same family as Arisaema, the genus of the Jack-in-the-pulpit and the green dragon of our local flora.

Another member of this family is the skunk cabbage (shown), which likewise has its flowers at the base of a thick finger-like stalk wrapped in a leaflike spathe. The key to getting past the overwhelming diversity of flowering plants is to study their families.

I can’t leave my aquarium without showing off its present star.

I know, I know, this angelfish is not wild colored, but when I decided to add the species to the aquarium this one, then tiny, appealed to me. Beautiful, yes, but with personality, if you can believe me. And still a food hound despite having leveled off in its growth.

%d bloggers like this: