Winter Arrives at Mayslake

by Carl Strang

It took until the middle of January, but at last we got a snowstorm worthy of the name. The 4-6 inches of windblown white stuff provided the conditions needed for a crew to begin burning the year’s worth of accumulated brush piles from the restoration program.

The sterilized circles create little spots for invasion or seeding. Hm, I should consider mapping these and documenting the succession that occurs on them.

The white backdrop also allows me to resume collecting photos of plants in winter. On Friday I made a start with white vervain.

Overall, white vervain has a thin and spindly look.

Up close, the tiny bumps where flowers were located give the plant a grainy texture.

A peek back at the plant when it was blooming makes sense of its winter form.

Here you can see where those little bumps come from. Some of the nettle-like leaves remain attached in winter, but they are dark brown and so curled up that their shape is difficult to discern.

I had taken photos of the compass plant flowering stalk, but needed one of the leaves.

Compass plant leaves are large, and stiff enough to hold their shape for easy identification in winter.

Plenty of plants remain at Mayslake to be so documented.

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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