Mayslake November Highlights

by Carl Strang

The first half of November brought reminders that life continues through autumn at Mayslake Forest Preserve. The preserve’s prairies draw flocks of goldfinches.

This messy eater enjoys some stiff goldenrod seeds.

This messy eater enjoys some stiff goldenrod seeds.

Though most plants were shutting down in keeping with the season, there were some anomalous exceptions.

This Amur honeysuckle opened a few flowers on November 4. May and June are the usual blooming months for that species.

This Amur honeysuckle opened a few flowers on November 4. May and June are the usual blooming months for that species.

Late-season insects were holding on.

The autumn meadowhawk is well named, but few are able to remain active into November.

The autumn meadowhawk is well named, but few are able to remain active into November.

At the same time, some species already are preparing for next year.

Mallard courtship is well under way, and tentative pair bonds already have formed.

Mallard courtship is well under way, and tentative pair bonds already have formed.

 

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August Phenology

by Carl Strang

As summer winds down there are fewer new flowers appearing, and usually there is a convergence in the phenological data among years. Despite the extremes of the spring and early summer in 2012, this August followed the usual pattern at Mayslake Forest Preserve.

Stiff goldenrod, one of the species characteristic of August.

Median first flower dates were only 3 days earlier than last year, 3.5 days earlier than in 2009, and there was no difference from 2010. Sample sizes were smaller, at 17, 14 and 11 species, respectively. These median differences of 0-0.5 week compare to July’s 1-2 weeks, June’s 1-3 weeks, May’s 1.5-2.5 weeks, April’s 2-4 weeks, and March’s 3-4.5 weeks. So despite the oddness of this year, it was not chaotic, and it produced an ordered pattern.

Two Winter Goldenrods

by Carl Strang

In recent weeks I have been comparing the dead stems of some winter forbs to their appearance when in bloom. I have a couple more today, and then probably will adjourn the topic until next winter. Earlier I addressed northeast Illinois’ most abundant goldenrod species, the tall goldenrod. Today I will review two more members of genus Solidago. When in bloom, stiff goldenrod’s flowers look like this.

The leaves are thick, rounded and stubby, on relatively stout stems. This species is a prairie goldenrod, often a prairie indicator because its unpalatability to livestock kept it around when other native prairie plants were consumed to local extinction. Here it is in winter.

The second goldenrod is a woodland species. Elm-leaved goldenrod’s flower sprays remind me of fireworks, meteors or comets.

In winter that color is gone, but the plant still has an interesting, distinctive appearance.

I enjoy studying winter botany, but the time has arrived to look for the new year’s new flowers.

Late Summer Prairie Wildflowers

by Carl Strang

The long season of the prairies’ floral displays continues at Mayslake Forest Preserve. In my first year there I am inventorying species and recording first flowering dates for future comparisons. We’ll begin with some goldenrods. The Missouri goldenrod blooms in late July, like the similar early goldenrod of Mayslake’s savanna.

Missouri goldenrod b

August adds the dissimilar grass-leaved goldenrod,

Grass-leaved goldenrod b

and stiff goldenrod,

Stiff goldenrod 1b

both of which grow abundantly at Mayslake.

Three species tower above most of the other prairie plants. One of them, the tall coreopsis, has relatively small, abundant flower heads.

Tall coreopsis 1b

Earlier  we met the compass plant. A close relative is prairie dock.

Prairie dock 3b

A third species in genus Silphium, though not as tall as the others, is rosin weed.

Rosin weed b

Though many of the prairie flowers appearing in this part of the season have yellow blooms, we also see the purple of Missouri ironweed.

Missouri ironweed b

New England aster is just getting under way, and will extend its flowering period into autumn.

New England aster b

The false sunflower does not appear to be as abundant at Mayslake as in some other preserves.

False sunflower 2b

Finally, here are the odd looking flowers of common gaura, a member of the evening primrose family.

Common gaura 2b

All too soon we’ll be entering the autumn chapter of this story.

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