SJF Update

by Carl Strang

Restoration work continues at St. James Farm Forest Preserve, where I serve as volunteer steward for McCormick Woods, one of the highest quality forests in DuPage County. Over the winter, Wayne Schreiner and I burned the 14 brush piles accumulated in the previous 12 months.

Wayne has worked with me nearly from the start, and recently was named co-steward.

A little wind helps the brush piles to burn fiercely and fast. We don’t burn them unless there is snow on the ground.

The soil is sterilized by the burn. We seeded the scars with native grasses and asters. The seeds have been sprouting, but practically none in the centers of the burn scars.

I suspect that the ashes may raise the soil pH too high for the seedlings to grow. Rain eventually will resolve this.

Now that we have entered our third season, we can see positive results from our brush clearing.

Spring ephemerals are growing thickly in the part of the forest we cleared two years ago.

In contrast, areas we cleared this winter will need time to recover from years of suppression by buckthorns and honeysuckles.

Some liberated species grow later in the season than the ephemerals.

This colony of mayapples is one example.

Jack-in-the-pulpits soon will be joined by their green dragon relatives.

Woodland knotweeds apparently have posed challenges to botanists. The species name has stayed the same, but the genus has changed twice since I first became familiar with the species in the early 1980’s (Tovara to Polygonum to Antenoron).

Occasionally Wayne and I get a welcome assist from workday groups, most recently Naperville Boy Scout troop 505.

The scouts attacked buckthorns with bow saws and loppers.

Wayne took this group photo with one of the leader’s phones.

Elsewhere, I have been pleasantly surprised by the relatively low numbers of second-year garlic mustard plants in the forest. In about 10 hours’ work I have essentially cleaned them out. This was the low year for this invasive biennial, however, and dense patches of seedlings forecast the need for our workdays to focus on them next year. Three years of pulling, and some controlled burns by forest preserve district staff, have made this rapid progress possible. We are fortunate that garlic mustard had not been established very long in McCormick Woods.

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A Different View

by Carl Strang

Usually what attracts the eye are a plant’s flowers. Today’s photo illustrates how a more wandering eye can find delights in other parts of plants.

Do you recognize this junction of stem, leaves and flower stalk?

Do you recognize this junction of stem, leaves and flower stalk?

It’s Jack-in-the-pulpit, showing a beautiful mosaic pattern.

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.

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.

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