SJF Update

by Carl Strang

Restoration work continues at St. James Farm Forest Preserve, where I serve as volunteer steward for McCormick Woods, one of the highest quality forests in DuPage County. Over the winter, Wayne Schreiner and I burned the 14 brush piles accumulated in the previous 12 months.

Wayne has worked with me nearly from the start, and recently was named co-steward.

A little wind helps the brush piles to burn fiercely and fast. We don’t burn them unless there is snow on the ground.

The soil is sterilized by the burn. We seeded the scars with native grasses and asters. The seeds have been sprouting, but practically none in the centers of the burn scars.

I suspect that the ashes may raise the soil pH too high for the seedlings to grow. Rain eventually will resolve this.

Now that we have entered our third season, we can see positive results from our brush clearing.

Spring ephemerals are growing thickly in the part of the forest we cleared two years ago.

In contrast, areas we cleared this winter will need time to recover from years of suppression by buckthorns and honeysuckles.

Some liberated species grow later in the season than the ephemerals.

This colony of mayapples is one example.

Jack-in-the-pulpits soon will be joined by their green dragon relatives.

Woodland knotweeds apparently have posed challenges to botanists. The species name has stayed the same, but the genus has changed twice since I first became familiar with the species in the early 1980’s (Tovara to Polygonum to Antenoron).

Occasionally Wayne and I get a welcome assist from workday groups, most recently Naperville Boy Scout troop 505.

The scouts attacked buckthorns with bow saws and loppers.

Wayne took this group photo with one of the leader’s phones.

Elsewhere, I have been pleasantly surprised by the relatively low numbers of second-year garlic mustard plants in the forest. In about 10 hours’ work I have essentially cleaned them out. This was the low year for this invasive biennial, however, and dense patches of seedlings forecast the need for our workdays to focus on them next year. Three years of pulling, and some controlled burns by forest preserve district staff, have made this rapid progress possible. We are fortunate that garlic mustard had not been established very long in McCormick Woods.

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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.

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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