The Range of Winter Botany

by Carl Strang

Most of my focus in winter botany to date has been on plants that have remained standing, more or less. I have been interested in discovering what those dried tops, and particularly the flowers, become when they convert to fruiting structures.

Here is an example from wingstem.

Here is an example from wingstem.

As I run down my list of plants to seek out, however, I have been finding that a lot of them must be categorized differently. Some, for instance, retain green rosettes of live, ground-hugging leaves.

Pussytoes lost its fruiting stems months ago, but the leaves remain intact and recognizable.

Pussytoes lost its fruiting stems months ago, but the leaves remain intact and recognizable.

And then there are the plants that have utterly collapsed. If you are lucky, you may find a stem, but identifying it can be a challenge.

The only reason I know that this fallen rotting stem is a green dragon top is that I knew exactly where to look. The leaf lobes are present in the left side of the photo, but good luck recognizing them for what they are.

The only reason I know that this fallen rotting stem is a green dragon top is that I knew exactly where to look. The leaf lobes are present in the left side of the photo, but good luck recognizing them for what they are.

Here is that same plant when it was flowering.

Here is that same plant when it was flowering.

Finally, some plants vanish without any trace whatsoever.

Don’t strain yourself too much. As far as I can tell, there is no hint above ground of the may apple clone that was here last spring, and will rise again in the coming season.

Don’t strain yourself too much. As far as I can tell, there is no hint above ground of the may apple clone that was here last spring, and will rise again in the coming season.

Understanding such plants more completely thus does not involve finding them in winter, but following them to learn at what point in the season they disappear. I have some sense of what green dragon does, as it (like its close relative jack-in-the-pulpit) is reduced to a collapsed stem by September (female plants then ripening their fruits), but I haven’t paid close enough attention to may apple to be able to account for its disappearance: another item to check in the future.

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Some Winter Composites

by Carl Strang

I was biding my time until we had some snow to provide a backdrop for photographing winter plants, but then learned that I can adjust the aperture on my Olympus point and shoot camera, and use that to blur the background. Today’s resulting focus is on four species of composites. Beginning in the damp portion of the south stream corridor prairie at Mayslake Forest Preserve, I was struck by the superficial similarity of wild quinine fruiting stems to those of the mountain mints.

The terminal clusters are similar in size, gray color, and roundness of their components to those mints.

The terminal clusters are similar in size, gray color, and roundness of their components to those mints.

Up close, they look much different with their layered seeds (you can see here how varying numbers of seeds have dropped out at this point in the season.

Up close, they look much different with their layered seeds (you can see here how varying numbers of seeds have dropped out at this point in the season.

Of course, the big rough triangular basal leaves of wild quinine also are a give-away.

Of course, the big rough triangular basal leaves of wild quinine also are a give-away.

Here is wild quinine in bloom.

The round flowers presage the round seed clusters.

The round flowers presage the round seed clusters.

The Missouri ironweed is much more clearly a composite.

The seeds are mostly gone, leaving the star-like receptacles.

The seeds are mostly gone, leaving the star-like receptacles.

The stems are tall and strong.

The stems are tall and strong.

This is the winter product of those distinctive purple blooms of late summer.

Missouri ironweed in flower.

Missouri ironweed in flower.

The winter form of grass-leaved goldenrod is much more delicate and unobtrusive.

The shape of the flat-topped flower cluster is retained.

The shape of the flat-topped flower cluster is retained.

The narrow leaves persist, helping to confirm the identification.

The narrow leaves persist, helping to confirm the identification.

The plant is much more conspicuous, and more clearly a goldenrod, when blooming.

The plant is much more conspicuous, and more clearly a goldenrod, when blooming.

We’ll return to the prairie later. Today’s final species is wingstem, a tall composite of moist woodlands.

The wings are present, but much shrunken and not nearly as obvious as in the green plant.

The wings are present, but much shrunken and not nearly as obvious as in the green plant.

The seed head shape is intricate and interesting.

The seed head shape is intricate and interesting.

And here is how the flowers appeared.

And here is how the flowers appeared.

Noting the locations of individual plants when they are blooming and easy to identify is a huge help when seeking them later to learn their winter forms.

Mayslake Lepidoptera Update

by Carl Strang

As we move into autumn, the lateness of the season calls for us to enjoy the more ephemeral beauties of nature while we still have them. Monarch butterflies have completed their local mating and egg-laying, and have begun the migration south toward Mexico.

Monarchs mating b

Earlier in the season at Mayslake Forest Preserve I found this larva of the moth Cycnia tenera on its usual food plant, dogbane.

Cycnia tenera b

Tiger swallowtails are one of our more spectacular butterflies.

Tiger swallowtail 1b

They will overwinter in the pupal form. Late season species include the summer azure.

Summer azure b

Larvae of this little butterfly feed on flowers in the composite (sunflower) family; I have seen them laying eggs on wingstem at Fullersburg . Another common late summer species is Peck’s skipper.

Peck's skipper b

There probably will be little more to report on this group at Mayslake until next year.

Early Autumn Woodland Flowers

by Carl Strang

We’re turning for home in this first season of inventorying the forbs of Mayslake Forest Preserve. First flowering dates of spring- and summer-blooming plants are safely in the record for comparison to future years. Today’s installment of woodland species has a distinctly late-season quality to it. Nothing announces the end of summer better than the goldenrods. Elm-leaved goldenrod is abundant in both the north and the south units of Mayslake’s savanna.

Elm-leaved goldenrod 2b

I’ll feature tall goldenrod here, though this species has such a broad ecological range that I could have included it among the prairie plants as well.

Tall goldenrod b

Late boneset can grow in open places, though at Mayslake I am finding it best represented in the north savanna.

Late boneset 2b

While most members of genus Rudbeckia are associated with meadows and prairies, the brown-eyed Susan is a woodland species.

Brown-eyed Susan b

One of my favorites in the autumn woodlands is wingstem, and I was happy to find some growing at Mayslake.

Wingstem 2b

The only species in today’s group that is not in the sunflower family is the woodland knotweed.

Woodland knotweed 1b

While this plant can be very abundant in forests, I have found only a relatively small number in Mayslake’s savannas.

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