Beyond the Dead River

by Carl Strang

The Dead River, in Illinois Beach State Park, is so named because most of the time it appears not to be flowing. It ends just shy of the edge of Lake Michigan, a sand bar between the two. Reportedly there are times when enough water comes into it that it breaks through this narrow barrier. The area south of that river is highly protected, and to enter it I needed a permit from the Illinois Nature Preserves Commission.

The Dead River and its extensions are free of invasive wetlands plants, though there are some unconnected wetlands in the area for which that is not the case.

The Dead River and its extensions are free of invasive wetlands plants, though there are some unconnected wetlands in the area for which that is not the case.

Sand savanna and prairie occupy the areas between the wetlands.

Sand savanna and prairie occupy the spaces between the wetlands.

My main goal was to survey the area for wetland singing insects. This was one of my last hopes for finding slender coneheads, but sadly there were none. I am beginning to think they have gone extinct in Illinois. On a much brighter note, I found that the area harbors a huge population of stripe-faced meadow katydids.

This male had developed his full facial color, but an intervening grass blade marred the portrait.

This male had developed his full facial color, but an intervening grass blade marred the portrait.

Profile view of a female.

Profile view of a female.

Illinois Beach remains the only place where I have found this wetland katydid, which even historically was never widely distributed.

I also heard a little chorus of nimble meadow katydids, out in the middle of a river offshoot in a patch of deeper-water arrowheads. There probably are other such groups elsewhere in the area. I plan to get a better idea of their numbers next year. This is the second place I have found them in the region, and the first for Illinois. I spent several days in my kayak this season searching for nimble meadow katydids in places in Illinois and Indiana where they were known in earlier decades.

Apparently the American lotus, shown here, and the yellow pond lily, which filled most of those sites, are too coarse for nimble meadow katydids.

Apparently the American lotus, shown here, and the yellow pond lily, which filled most of those sites, are too coarse for nimble meadow katydids.

I have found them among pickerel weeds and arrowheads, and historically they were known in patches of water knotweeds.

Water knotweed, like those others, is of intermediate coarseness.

Water knotweed, like those others, is of intermediate coarseness.

I suspect that the turbulence created by power boats favors the heavier plants that the insect apparently abhors. I wonder if Illinois Beach State Park also may harbor the last Illinois population of nimble meadow katydids. I have a few more places to check next year.

 

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Prairie Flowers and Others

by Carl Strang

We have entered a part of the season when most newly appearing native wildflowers are those of prairies and other open areas. Woodlands are so shaded by now that most of their flowers have finished blooming. One common exception is the white avens.

White avens b

This member of the rose family is one of our most common woodland plants. Its seeds have little hooks for catching the fur (or clothing) of passing mammals, which then convey them. Earlier in the season  I mentioned another avens, the yellow avens, which since has proven to be ubiquitous at Mayslake to the point where I don’t remember seeing it nearly as abundant anywhere else. A third avens species is the rough avens.

Rough avens b

This one is much less common at Mayslake, growing mainly in somewhat open places close to the stream or other bodies of water. Water also is the home for the beautiful flowers of the water knotweed.

Water knotweed 2b

This one is abundant in parts of the marsh between the stream and the chapel. The rest of the flowers featured today are prairie forbs. A forb is an herbaceous species that is not a grass, sedge or similar plant. The criterion is not, however, wind pollination vs. animal pollination. The waxy meadow rue is a wind-pollinated forb.

Waxy meadow rue 1b

Dogbane is the native plant which produces the best fibers for rope making.

Dogbane 2b

Other prairie plants have names suggesting uses we may have found for them: food (wild onion),

Wild onion b

dye (white wild indigo),

White wild indigo 2b

and medicine (wild quinine,

Wild quinine b

and purple coneflower).

Purple coneflower b

The last has become a popular herbal remedy under its genus name, Echinacea. Medical researchers are skeptical of its efficacy, but I find that laboratory studies do not carefully replicate traditional preparation methods and so themselves have to be regarded as inconclusive.

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