Mid-Summer Flowers

by Carl Strang

As this season continues its early flowering phenology, already we are seeing blooms typical of the middle of summer. A classic example is the prairie blazing star.

These began blooming at Mayslake Forest Preserve last week.

My off-trail exploration recently turned up a colony of helleborine orchids.

Previously I had seen only one individual of this non-native orchid in another part of the preserve.

Last week I found the wild sennas flowering. I had anticipated this since noticing fruiting ones last winter.

This tall legume is growing along the stream.

At last the friary site is showing patches of native species, if somewhat weedy ones.

Most of the plants here are black-eyed Susan and Canada wild rye.

Restoration steward Conrad Fialkowski had pointed out a patch of fringed loosestrife last year after they were done blooming. This year I got to see the flowers.

The fringes, which don’t show in this photo, are along the edges of the leaf petioles.

Another plant new to my preserve list I found near the stream corridor marsh last week.

Monkey flower grows in relatively wet soils.

More plant species ultimately mean more animal species and a greater ecological redundancy, which supports community stability.


by Carl Strang

One has to be a decent field botanist to do restoration work. This thought took me back to Mayslake Forest Preserve’s little stream yesterday. I had photographed an intriguing legume, following up a comment by Mayslake’s restoration volunteers that indigo bush was growing there. As it turned out, I put 2 and 2 together and got 3. The legume I photographed proved (thanks again to Scott Namestnik of the Handlens and Binoculars blog) to be wild senna, as I reported a couple days ago. I have not known Jacqui Gleason and Conrad Fialkowski to be wrong about a plant, so I needed to return and be sure. My eye was drawn to this spindly shrub.

Superficially it resembled a young willow beside the stream.

Close up, though, it had some strange fruits attached to its tip.

I recognized these as indigo bush fruits from my review of photos on the Internet.

And so indeed there are both the wild senna and the indigo bush growing beside the stream: two legumes new to my experience, not just one after all. And now there can be no confusing the two. One is a shrub, the other has herbaceous stems. Not only are the fruits different in shape, they are different in size as well. Senna pods are about 4 inches long. Indigo bush pods are half an inch long at most. So now I have two flowers to look forward to, one bright yellow and one purple.

Winter Botany Update

by Carl Strang

Every species we see in summer persists through the winter. In the case of plants, which cannot migrate, they are present in the landscape, though in some cases they are not readily visible outside the growing season. Nevertheless, most can be seen. Some are little changed.

Austrian pines, among the many exotic conifers planted at Mayslake Forest Preserve, are equally easy to identify in all seasons.

Some herbaceous plants remain green in winter. While the rosette form, with leaves held close to the ground where they can gain some protection from sheltering snows, is more common among forbs, one of Mayslake’s sedges, the common wood sedge, has a rosette-like habit.

The tips of the leaves have browned, but otherwise this sedge looks ready to go when spring arrives.

Some plants, though brown, are unmistakable. I was not pleased to find three small patches of common reed at the south edge of the preserve.

This plant, once established, spreads to push out all other wetland plants.

These will need to be attended to, and I was happy to learn that Mayslake’s restoration team has reported them to the Forest Preserve District’s natural resources staff.

My greatest botanical delight in recent weeks was encountering this tall, odd looking plant.

The pods place it in the legume family, but it was totally new to me.

Thanks to a heads up from Scott Namestnik I can correct my initial identification to wild senna. This is Mayslake’s second species of Cassia (some botanists separate it into genus Senna), and I look forward to seeing its bright yellow blooms next summer. (Initially I had identified it as indigo bush, another tall streamside legume, but the pods of indigo bush are proportionately much wider in comparison to their length).

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