Some Winter Composites

by Carl Strang

I was biding my time until we had some snow to provide a backdrop for photographing winter plants, but then learned that I can adjust the aperture on my Olympus point and shoot camera, and use that to blur the background. Today’s resulting focus is on four species of composites. Beginning in the damp portion of the south stream corridor prairie at Mayslake Forest Preserve, I was struck by the superficial similarity of wild quinine fruiting stems to those of the mountain mints.

The terminal clusters are similar in size, gray color, and roundness of their components to those mints.

The terminal clusters are similar in size, gray color, and roundness of their components to those mints.

Up close, they look much different with their layered seeds (you can see here how varying numbers of seeds have dropped out at this point in the season.

Up close, they look much different with their layered seeds (you can see here how varying numbers of seeds have dropped out at this point in the season.

Of course, the big rough triangular basal leaves of wild quinine also are a give-away.

Of course, the big rough triangular basal leaves of wild quinine also are a give-away.

Here is wild quinine in bloom.

The round flowers presage the round seed clusters.

The round flowers presage the round seed clusters.

The Missouri ironweed is much more clearly a composite.

The seeds are mostly gone, leaving the star-like receptacles.

The seeds are mostly gone, leaving the star-like receptacles.

The stems are tall and strong.

The stems are tall and strong.

This is the winter product of those distinctive purple blooms of late summer.

Missouri ironweed in flower.

Missouri ironweed in flower.

The winter form of grass-leaved goldenrod is much more delicate and unobtrusive.

The shape of the flat-topped flower cluster is retained.

The shape of the flat-topped flower cluster is retained.

The narrow leaves persist, helping to confirm the identification.

The narrow leaves persist, helping to confirm the identification.

The plant is much more conspicuous, and more clearly a goldenrod, when blooming.

The plant is much more conspicuous, and more clearly a goldenrod, when blooming.

We’ll return to the prairie later. Today’s final species is wingstem, a tall composite of moist woodlands.

The wings are present, but much shrunken and not nearly as obvious as in the green plant.

The wings are present, but much shrunken and not nearly as obvious as in the green plant.

The seed head shape is intricate and interesting.

The seed head shape is intricate and interesting.

And here is how the flowers appeared.

And here is how the flowers appeared.

Noting the locations of individual plants when they are blooming and easy to identify is a huge help when seeking them later to learn their winter forms.

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Late Summer Prairie Wildflowers

by Carl Strang

The long season of the prairies’ floral displays continues at Mayslake Forest Preserve. In my first year there I am inventorying species and recording first flowering dates for future comparisons. We’ll begin with some goldenrods. The Missouri goldenrod blooms in late July, like the similar early goldenrod of Mayslake’s savanna.

Missouri goldenrod b

August adds the dissimilar grass-leaved goldenrod,

Grass-leaved goldenrod b

and stiff goldenrod,

Stiff goldenrod 1b

both of which grow abundantly at Mayslake.

Three species tower above most of the other prairie plants. One of them, the tall coreopsis, has relatively small, abundant flower heads.

Tall coreopsis 1b

Earlier  we met the compass plant. A close relative is prairie dock.

Prairie dock 3b

A third species in genus Silphium, though not as tall as the others, is rosin weed.

Rosin weed b

Though many of the prairie flowers appearing in this part of the season have yellow blooms, we also see the purple of Missouri ironweed.

Missouri ironweed b

New England aster is just getting under way, and will extend its flowering period into autumn.

New England aster b

The false sunflower does not appear to be as abundant at Mayslake as in some other preserves.

False sunflower 2b

Finally, here are the odd looking flowers of common gaura, a member of the evening primrose family.

Common gaura 2b

All too soon we’ll be entering the autumn chapter of this story.

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