Mayslake Update

by Carl Strang

Between trips to Indiana for parental care, and vacation days for research, I haven’t spent as much time as usual in Mayslake Forest Preserve. Life goes on there, of course, and I have some glimpses to share.

This summer’s deer have been more secretive than usual. This doe, photographed at the beginning of July, showed no signs of nursing.

This summer’s deer have been more secretive than usual. This doe, photographed at the beginning of July, showed no signs of nursing.

However, she sometimes has accompanied another doe, and this week I saw tracks of a fawn, which I expect to encounter at some point.

There have been a few tawny edged skippers this year, a species I have seen at Mayslake before but not in most years.

There have been a few tawny edged skippers this year, a species I have seen at Mayslake before but not in most years.

A new species for the preserve list was Mydas tibialis, a large and impressive, flower-visiting fly discovered at Mayslake by Nikki Dahlin.

A new species for the preserve list was Mydas tibialis, a large and impressive, flower-visiting fly discovered at Mayslake by Nikki Dahlin.

The rains of spring and early summer, along with the prairie burns, have resulted in Mayslake’s prairies blooming with unprecedented beauty.

The first swamp rose mallow I have seen blooming on the preserve.

The first swamp rose mallow I have seen blooming on the preserve.

Prairie blazing stars are just now peaking.

Prairie blazing stars are just now peaking.

Banks of yellow coneflowers and wild bergamot are providing gorgeous backdrops.

Banks of yellow coneflowers and wild bergamot are providing gorgeous backdrops.

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Plants in Winter: Yellow Coneflower

by Carl Strang

Last year I recorded first flowering dates for most of the forbs at Mayslake Forest Preserve, beginning a study of flowering phenology. Recently I began to seek out those plants to discover their winter appearance. Some are small or frail, and their tops are either withered beyond recognition or are flattened by snow. I will share others in coming posts, comparing the flowering photos with winter ones. To get the ball rolling I will start with a prairie plant, the yellow or gray coneflower. Here is the flower photo.

Here is its winter appearance.

The seeds are mostly but not entirely broken away from the central supporting cores.

Summer Prairie Wildflowers

by Carl Strang

My groundwork for future phenology studies continues at Mayslake Forest Preserve as I record first flowering dates for summer blooming plants, with the greatest number now occurring in prairies and meadows. The first, wild bergamot, has a broad enough ecological range sometimes to grow in open woodlands, too.

Bergamot b

More confined to proper prairies is the yellow (also known as gray) coneflower.

Yellow coneflower b

One of my favorites is the plant from Mars, or so I think of its odd appearance, more commonly known as rattlesnake master.

Rattlesnake master 2b

Butterflies like it, too. Drier prairies are good places to find hoary vervain,

Hoary vervain b

while wetter prairies are home to its congener, blue vervain.

Blue vervain b

Those plants will be much more spectacular looking when they hit their flowering peak, but here I am focused on first blooms of the season. Whorled milkweed, with its linear leaves, has an unconventional look for a milkweed.

Whorled milkweed 1b

Butterfly weed, a milkweed lacking the milky looking sap, arrests the eye.

Butterfly weed 1b

It is protected by internal poisons. Another eye-catcher, the purple prairie clover, is less fortunate. Rabbits love it.

Purple prairie clover b

Towering above nearly all the other prairie species is the compass plant.

Compass plant 2b

Now for some more mints (bergamot was one): the slender mountain mint,

NL mountain mint 2b

the common mountain mint,

Virginia mountain mint b

and germander.

Germander b

The earliest sawtooth sunflower heads always seem to have these odd bits of green popping out of them.

Sawtooth sunflower b

We are late enough in the season that the blazing stars are beginning to bloom. First of these at Mayslake is the marsh blazing star.

Blazing star b

The season’s but half done. There’s much more to come.

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