Growing the Plant List

by Carl Strang

As I continue to wander off-trail through all the ecosystems at Mayslake Forest Preserve, I continue to find new plant species. The preserve’s list of herbaceous plants now numbers 308 species, and woody plants are at 90 (though some of these are exotic trees planted on or near the mansion grounds). Some of the new finds are few in number and less conspicuous than others.

Honewort has tiny white flowers. I did not find this one until I was on top of it.

Though not conspicuous, honewort at least is easy to identify.

The uneven umbel of flowers, and the distinctive leaf shape, make this woodland plant distinctive.

The next species stands out more, but apparently there are only a very few, seeded in an earlier stage of prairie restoration.

Prairie coreopsis, the third species of its genus I have found at Mayslake.

Again, the leaves help to distinguish this plant from its relatives.

The stiff little leaves all are identical and 3-lobed.

A small colony of pineapple weed has become established in a sunny bit of trail near May’s Lake.

Named for the odor of its bruised foliage, this western species of rayless composite does well in dry, compacted soils.

I was pleased to find a green dragon that earlier had been discovered by the restoration volunteers.

Though growing in a relatively dry location, this one was doing well enough that it elected to be female this season.

Apparently this is the only green dragon on the preserve, and Mayslake is the only preserve that has green dragon but not its more common close relative, the jack-in-the-pulpit.

I will close with two plants which, while not new discoveries, struck me with their beauty. One of these was a sedge, the small yellow fox sedge, which I had identified last year but not followed after it was done flowering.

The ripened perigynia are such a bright yellow that I wonder whether this plant uses birds to disperse its seeds.

Finally, it is easy to dismiss self heal, but some individuals of this familiar plant of disturbed woodlands really display beautiful, if small flowers.

The native subspecies is generally taller than the introduced lawn version.

There can be no doubt that this 90-acre preserve still has botanical secrets to be discovered.

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Summer Woodland Wildflowers

by Carl Strang

In summer the main wildflower action shifts to prairies and other open areas, but in recent weeks there have been plenty of species blooming in the savanna woodlands at Mayslake Forest Preserve. Tall agrimony plants have been flowering for a while, now.

Tall agrimony 1b

These small yellow flowers will produce burs to be dispersed by mammals that brush past and catch the burs’ hooks on their fur or clothing. Another species that disperses in the same way is enchanter’s nightshade.

Circaea 1b

Named for Circe of Greek mythology, Circaea is an annual that I also could have included in a weeds update because of its “weedy” life history strategy. I expect to be pulling many of its tiny burs off my shoelaces later in the season.

The flowers of Canada black snakeroot are so tiny that they are easy to miss.

Canada black snakeroot b

Also small are the flowers of white vervain, but they at least are in strings at the tops of relatively tall plants.

White vervain b

Speaking of tall, here is a more conspicuous bloomer common in a wide range of our woodlands.

Tall bellflower

Tall bellflower was the subject of a study published last year that interested me (Yang, Louie H. 2008. Pulses of dead periodical cicadas increase herbivory of American bellflowers. Ecology 89:1497-1502). Yang experimentally fertilized plants of this species with the bodies of periodical cicadas, and found that deer preferentially fed on treated plants. This was a new demonstration of how the cicadas’ abundant emergences  have a profound ecological impact.

The shorter blue-flowering plants of self heal occur in woodlands and in the open.

Self heal b

Incidentally, lowering my sights one day as I walked the slope between the friary and May’s Lake, I saw the following plant.

Ginkgo seedling 2b

Unless I am mistaken, this is a ginkgo seedling. The closest female ginkgo trees I know of are a half mile away, on Mayslake’s Peabody Mansion grounds, though there is a residential neighborhood just west of the friary that might have others. Their fruits are notoriously smelly to us, but apparently were acceptable as food to a bird.

Among the most recent flowers to appear are those of the nodding wild onion.

Nodding onion b

I’ll conclude with a couple of species that occur both in open woodlands and in prairies: Culver’s root

Culver's root b

and, most spectacular of the lot, Michigan lily.

Michigan lily 1b

These are few and scattered wherever they occur, so remember to enjoy them in place and resist the temptation to (illegally) pick them. Flowers generally are protected on all forest preserves.

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