Botanical Notes

by Carl Strang

Plants develop so quickly in such diversity that it is easy to miss the less conspicuous stages in their growth. Blue-eyed grass attracts the eye when it is blooming, but what does it do after?

This is one of the earliest-blooming prairie plants. They’ve been done for weeks now.

This is one of the earliest-blooming prairie plants. They’ve been done for weeks now.

Though less showy, the developing fruits form an interesting cluster of spherical shapes.

Though less showy, the developing fruits form an interesting cluster of spherical shapes.

This spring also has provided a rare look at what river bulrush looks like when it is flowering.

Most of the time this plant with its large soft triangular stems makes do spreading vegetatively. A cluster of stems in Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh decided to bloom this year.

Most of the time this plant with its large soft triangular stems makes do spreading vegetatively. A cluster of stems in Mayslake Forest Preserve’s stream corridor marsh decided to bloom this year.

Here’s an annual to finish today’s review.

Penny cress already is done and senescent, the seeds showing through these backlit pods.

Penny cress already is done and senescent, the seeds showing through these backlit pods.

When blooming it looked like this, with typical 4-petaled mustard family flowers.

When blooming it looked like this, with typical 4-petaled mustard family flowers.

I have a list. I hope to provide more photos of what plants do when they are done flowering.

Advertisements

River Bulrush in Winter

by Carl Strang

Today I have one final winter botany chapter to shake out of the bag. River bulrush has had two years of good growth in the stream corridor marsh at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

Many stems protrude through the ice in this winter scene.

Many stems protrude through the ice in this winter scene.

This is a curious rush, as it mainly grows vegetatively. I have not yet seen it flowering. In winter the thick but soft, triangular stems are strong enough to remain standing.

The snow did not drive them down.

The snow did not drive them down.

Here a single stem retains some leaf bases.

Here a single stem retains some leaf bases.

That marsh filled with water over the winter, and to the extent that it retains that water, the river bulrush will be inhibited from a similar amount of growth this year.

Mayslake Update

by Carl Strang

Mayslake Forest Preserve has been quiet, and for the most part remains in winter mode. Large numbers of American tree sparrows still are present, though they are wandering into an expanded portion of the preserve. For instance, one day in late January they shifted to the off leash dog area and, joined by some juncos, a couple song sparrows and a white-throated sparrow, fed on weed seeds.

Here is one tiny portion of the flock that contained more than 100 tree sparrows. One of the song sparrows is in the center.

Here is one tiny portion of the flock that contained more than 100 tree sparrows. One of the song sparrows is in the center.

In another part of the flock the tree sparrows are joined by a few juncos.

In another part of the flock the tree sparrows are joined by a few juncos.

At long last the stream corridor marsh has begun to refill.

A tiny, shallow pool had gathered by January 29.

A tiny, shallow pool had gathered by January 29.

That initial pool was perhaps 30 feet across.

That initial pool was perhaps 30 feet across.

A front brought heavy rain, then cold that froze the collected waters.

Here is the marsh two days later.

Here is the marsh two days later.

We continue to get periods of rain, and the river bulrushes have begun to collapse.

By the end of last week, perhaps 80% of the marsh had water in it again.

By the end of last week, perhaps 80% of the marsh had water in it again.

With the ground frozen, much of the rain is running off, but some is collecting in depressions like the marsh. We can hope for the rain to continue and perhaps avoid a repeat of last year’s drought.

In the meantime, skunk tracks have begun to appear, one of the early signs that spring is coming.

A Little Water

by Carl Strang

For months now I have included a walk into the center of the stream corridor marsh at Mayslake Forest Preserve in my weekly rounds. When would water return? As I have documented this past year, the drought dried up the marsh, with the last surface water vanishing in mid-July.

The last puddle was here.

The last puddle was here.

The open mud quickly filled with a tall dense growth of an opportunistic plant, the river bulrush.

The bulrush transpired enough water that the marsh remained dry through the autumn.

The bulrush transpired enough water that the marsh remained dry through the autumn.

A recent all-day rain finally brought a little water into the marsh, as I discovered last week.

It is perhaps 3 inches maximum depth, and most has frozen.

It is perhaps 3 inches maximum depth, and most has frozen.

The area is at most 20-30 yards across.

The area is at most 20-30 yards across.

Not much yet, but it’s a start. I’m hoping to see the marsh full by spring, and will be interested in following its repopulation.

Winding Down

by Carl Strang

Autumn progresses. Wandering the landscape, we notice signs large and small of preparations for the dry, cold winter season. Most obvious are the plants, of course. At Mayslake Forest Preserve, scattered prairie dropseed clumps have become yellow fountains.

This grass is well established in a couple of the wetter prairie areas.

The river bulrushes that filled the marsh basin when it lost its water at last are senescing.

Without the bulrushes’ active transpiration, the marsh can begin to refill.

The soundscape shifts as well, insect songs becoming fewer as the calls of sparrows and finches increasingly fill the airwaves. Can the first snowfall be far behind?

Meanwhile, Back at Mayslake

by Carl Strang

Lately I have been reporting mainly on singing insect researches I have been conducting on vacation time in Indiana and Illinois. When working, though, I have continued my practice of lunchtime preserve monitoring at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The stream corridor marsh still has no standing water.

Dense grasses and river bulrushes have been transpiring all the recent rainfall.

One of the zoned vegetation rings is dominated by old witch grass, which last year was present only in a few small patches.

I have found new species there to add to my preserve lists, all the same.

Purple false foxglove plants have appeared at both the north and south edges of the marsh.

Another addition is Boltonia, the false aster.

Scattered in the dense, coarse, river bulrushes are differential grasshoppers, a relatively large species that likes wet places.

The olive-green color and black herringbone pattern on the femur are distinctive.

Up at the former friary site, the soil now is safely held together by a mix of weeds and fast-growing prairie plants.

The site on August 10

This area has its common grasshopper as well.

These appear to be all red-legged grasshoppers, a smaller and relatively weedy insect species.

I’ll be back to reporting on Mayslake more regularly soon.

%d bloggers like this: