June Flowering Phenology

by Carl Strang

Already by this point in the season it is clear that first flowering dates are converging, the differences among years becoming smaller by the month. Nevertheless, this year’s median June difference from last year (among 69 species) was 14 days, a full 2 weeks later (the May difference was 24 days).

Staghorn sumac first opened flowers on June 14 at Mayslake Forest Preserve this year.

Staghorn sumac first opened flowers on June 14 at Mayslake Forest Preserve this year.

Musk thistle, less desirable in the landscape but beautiful nevertheless, first bloomed on the same day.

Musk thistle, less desirable in the landscape but beautiful nevertheless, first bloomed on the same day.

Last year was an anomaly, a hot dry spring following a mild winter. When this year’s first flower dates are compared to those for the previous 3 years, the differences are much less. Flowers appeared a median 1.5 days earlier than in 2011 (62 species), 5 days later than in 2010 (45 species), and 4 days earlier than in 2009 (50 species).

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The Photogenic Sumacs

by Carl Strang

(Note: this entry first was posted as a Nature Note on the Forest Preserve District of DuPage County’s Observe Your Preserve website). Staghorn sumacs are in bloom, and as I lined up the camera on a pyramid of male flowers it occurred to me that this is a relatively photogenic plant for a good part of the year.

The sun speckles diminish this photo, but not the interesting shape of the inflorescence.

These shrubs expand through the roots, and have the genders separated on different plants, so that a given cluster is in fact a male or female clone colony.

Female flower clusters likewise have a pyramidal shape, but develop into fuzzy bright red fruits that contrast against the green compound leaves.

Autumn brings change to the sumac, the leaves showing brilliant reds and oranges unmatched by our other woody plants.

Isolated stems stand out.

Larger colonies collectively form a pyramid, the taller older plants in the middle and their progressively younger, shorter offshoots arrayed in concentric rings outward.

These examples all are from Mayslake Forest Preserve.

Though staghorn sumacs are featured here, the same comments would apply to the smooth sumac. The latter species is similar, but has stems that are smooth rather than hairy like those of staghorn sumac. The smooth sumac is more adapted to prairies, and historically is regarded as more clearly native to DuPage County. The staghorn sumac may or may not be native to the county, but if not it spread from populations a little farther east. (Note: In an interesting coincidence, yesterday after posting this as a Nature Note, I found a male colony of smooth sumac at Mayslake, so both species are there.)

Spots of Color

by Carl Strang

Familiar landscapes become delightfully transformed in this season. Some eye-grabs of color are planned; here is an example from my garden.

An additional element of enjoyable surprise comes in finding such changes in an area one is monitoring through the year. Mayslake Forest Preserve’s savanna had a couple early color explosions. One was in the sumac colony.

The Hill’s oaks also are turning up the red (or, if you prefer, turning down the green).

Now is the time. Get out and enjoy it. Soon it will be gone for another year.

Fruiting Accelerates

by Carl Strang

A few berries and other fruits attracted the attention of birds and mammals earlier in the season, for instance those of the black raspberry.

Black raspberries b

But autumn is the time when the greatest diversity of fruits can be found. Many plants ripen their fruits to coincide with the fall migration season, when traveling birds are happy to fuel themselves on fruits and, subsequently, spread the seeds around. I have been recording ripening dates of fruits at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Some, like the bittersweet nightshade, are not native to the area.

Solanum dulcamara fruit b

Others, like elderberry, long have been part of the local scene.

Elderberry fruit b

Additional fruits to this point in the season have been those of pokeweed,

Pokeweed fruit b

smooth Solomon’s seal,

Smooth Solomon's seal fruit b

and staghorn sumac.

Staghorn sumac b

There will be more to report as autumn proceeds. I should note as a reminder that though these fruits attract birds, some are poisonous to us.

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