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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What Happens to Mayapple Tops

by Carl Strang

In recent winters I have been sharing photos of plants in that season. The featured species have been only a sample of those growing at Mayslake Forest Preserve, however, and I have begun to look at some of the ones that disappear before winter’s arrival. One example is the mayapple.

A mayapple plant in bloom

A mayapple plant in bloom

This colonial plant flowers in spring and produces fruits in late spring that are consumed by raccoons and other mammals which then disperse the seeds. In a wet year the leaves may then show signs of the mayapple rust, Puccinia podophylli.

The rust produces yellow spots on the leaves.

The rust produces yellow spots on the leaves.

By early July the leaves, especially well shaded ones, are beginning to senesce.

Leaves with browning edges

Leaves with browning edges

In early August some green leaves still may be found, but many have dried.

This stalk has one dried leaf, one largely green on August 5.

This stalk has one dried leaf, one largely green on August 5.

By early October, all the mayapple tops are reduced to dried stalks lying flat on the ground.

Parts of three mayapple stalks are in this photo. The leaf blades are gone. The stalks are yellowish brown and grooved.

Parts of three mayapple stalks are in this photo. The leaf blades are gone. The stalks are yellowish brown and grooved.

By winter, one would be hard pressed to recognize any trace of this plant in the leaf litter. The roots are ready, though, to send up new shoots when spring rolls around again.

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.

Happy Familiar Things

by Carl Strang

While I have my creative side, and there’s a part of me that enjoys novelty, I also take comfort in familiar patterns. As the seasons turn, I take delight in recurring sounds and sights associated with each point in the year. Early in spring I enjoy looking for the relatively large, common bee fly Bombylius major.

I like it because of the contrast between the round fuzzy body and the long pointy beak. Mayapple leaves rise from the ground in clustered clonal colonies. Shortly after their folded umbrella leaves open, they bloom.

Spring migration brings the kaleidoscope of colors and cacophony of songs from the many birds. One of my favorites is the rose-breasted grosbeak. Here a male takes aim at an insect on a leaf.

One of the grand displays is bud break in shagbark hickories.

These spring events are all the more delightful after the long 3 seasons of winter.

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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