Black Snakeroot in Winter

by Carl Strang

Black snakeroots are woodland members of the carrot family Umbelliferae that are common in northeast Illinois but easily can be overlooked because of their inconspicuous flowers.

Here is one in bloom. The species are similar, and my tentative identification of this one is the Canada black snakeroot, Sanicula canadensis.

Here is one in bloom. The species are similar, and my tentative identification of this one is the Canada black snakeroot, Sanicula canadensis.

As it happens, the winter form of this plant likewise does not stand out so much from other woodland species, for instance the white avens, which also produces bur-like fruit clusters.

Black snakeroot plants in winter. Don’t exactly jump out at you, do they?

Black snakeroot plants in winter. Don’t exactly jump out at you, do they?

Up close, though, the umbels of fruit clusters have an appealing form. They are smaller, rounder and tighter than in the avens.

The hooked bristles are much like those of other plants which latch on to passers-by for dispersal.

The hooked bristles are much like those of other plants which latch on to passers-by for dispersal.

Some leaves persist, at least into mid-January when these photos were taken.

When intact and spread out, the leaves are palmately lobed or divided.

When intact and spread out, the leaves are palmately lobed or divided.

I found signs that birds have some interest in the seeds.

That interest seemed limited, though, as the birds only took advantage of plants bent close to the ground. Those still erect were left alone.

That interest seemed limited, though, as the birds only took advantage of plants bent close to the ground. Those still erect were left alone.

 

West Bluffs Walk: 2

by Carl Strang

Yesterday I shared the tracking highlights of my recent walk through south Waterfall Glen Forest Preserve. Today, some winter botany. These are not unusual plants, but such a large area provides a lot of good examples to choose from for photos. The first species is one I haven’t found at Mayslake Forest Preserve, my main area for botanical study.

Someone familiar with this species will recognize it from this photo.

A closer view of the distinctive fruiting stalk reveals it to be lopseed.

Another woodland herbaceous plant, and one of our most common, is the wood avens, also known as white avens.

Again, if you are familiar with this one, this photo is enough.

Close up, the seeds in their loose ball project the hook-like extensions that latch onto fur or clothing for dispersal.

In this case I have a flower photo to show.

Wood avens is in the rose family.

One more common woodland plant, this time beginning with the seed array:

Again, little hooks serve to aid dispersal.

Here is the entire plant, a woodland knotweed.

I’ll close with a weedy plant from the Old World. It grows in the open, and belongs to one of two species. I do not know how to tell them apart without the flowers.

The sprawling, spindly plant form is rather nondescript in winter.

The seeds, many of which have been knocked off at this point in the season, have a vanilla flavor if chewed. I don’t recommend chewing on unfamiliar plants, however.

When blooming it looked either like this:

White sweet clover

Or this:

Yellow sweet clover

All in all, this was a satisfactory walk even without the spice of bobcat tracks.

Plants in Early Stages

by Carl Strang

Part of a naturalist’s craft is learning to identify things. We progress from entire birds to single feathers, from entire mammals to skulls and other bones. Plants have many stages, from seed to seedling to developing plant to plant in flower, each with many parts. Ideally a naturalist can identify any of these stages or parts, and have a story to tell about them. I have shared some of this learning process, most recently comparing some winter plants with the same species in bloom. One of these was the elm-leaved goldenrod. Here it is as it begins to grow in spring.

Earlier in the season I photographed some of the plants that spend the winter as rosettes, or clusters of leaves hugging the ground so as to minimize damage through exposure to the season’s stresses. Here is winter cress.

Here is the white avens.

There is wonder to experience in following the development of any living thing, and it’s well worth the effort needed to get familiar with all the elements of our local landscape. Also, there are practical applications. For instance, when an animal is eating leaves from a rosette in January, the information is useless unless one can read both the animal’s tracks and the identity of the food plant. Plus, there is always something new to learn, so the process is ever stimulating.

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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