28 June 2009

Like a Kid in a Candy Store

This past Saturday, I was lucky enough to botanize in southern Indiana with the one of Indiana's botanical rock stars, Mike Homoya. I try to travel around and see plants in other parts of the country and the world as much as possible, but I have severely neglected the southern part of my own state of residence.

We first visited Prairie Creek Barrens in Daviess County, a preserve where the observation of a few remnant rare species prompted the radical restoration act of scraping the sandy substrate to remove River Birch (Betula nigra) that had invaded the site as a result of natural succession. This natural invasion had led to a mostly nonexistent understory. Removing the River Birch and scaping the soil may seem like an extreme form of restoration, but at this site it has led to the restoration of a rich and conservative flora from the buried seed bank.
The photograph above shows a portion of the site where River Birch had not invaded. You may notice a few sedge species. The sedges in this photo include Oklahoma Sedge (Carex oklamomensis) and False Hop Sedge (Carex lupuliformis). Click here to see my post about these sedges on Get Your Botany On!.

The photograph below shows the portion of the site where restoration has taken place. It is difficult to see the variety of species present in this photo, so I will highlight some of them below.
Maryland Meadowbeauty (Rhexia mariana) is one of the more charismatic species present in the wet sand flat community. The family Melastomataceae, to which Maryland Meadowbeauty belongs, is mostly a tropical family. The four pink petals and sharply contrasting yellow, curved anthers make the genus Rhexia one of my favorites. This species is similar to Handsome Hairy (Rhexia virginica), which grows in my neck of the woods, but Handsome Hairy has wider leaves and a slightly winged stem.
Slender Yelloweyed Grass (Xyris torta) is another unique species that often shows up in wet sand flats that have recently been disturbed. It can also be found in bogs. The specific epithet torta means twisted, referring to the twisted stem and leaves. Although the common name of this plant makes it sound like it is a grass, it is not; it is in the family Xyridaceae.
One of the plants that I really wanted to see and that Mike was able to find for me was Blackfoot Quillwort (Isoetes melanopoda), shown in the two photos below. Melanopoda literally means "black foot," and refers to the dark bases of the leaves. The quillworts are technically fern allies, as opposed to angiosperms or gymnosperms.
Below, you can see the inflated bases of the leaves. The sporangia (reproductive parts) form within this inflated leaf base. I have searched for Isoetes on several occasions, but I had never been successful until Saturday... and this success was thanks to Mike. Vegetatively, quillworts look a lot like spikerushes (Eleocharis). Blackfoot Quillwort is found in wet prairies and in depressions on sandstone.
Click here for an interesting write-up on Isoetes at The Vasculum.

A large population of Creeping St. Johnswort (Hypericum adpressum) is present in both the scraped and unscraped areas of the site. This St. Johnswort can look similar to several other species in the genus, but the plant is not woody and the leaves and sepals are revolute-margined (the margins are rolled under). This is an endangered species in several states, including Indiana, where it is only known from 2 or 3 counties. It is found most commonly on pond shores and in wet, sandy soil.
One of the plants that Mike told me we might see was Axilflower (Mecardonia acuminata). Say what? I had never heard of this Scroph, which can be found in the southern United States from Kansas to Texas and east. Looking at photos online, I thought it may look like a hedgehyssop (Gratiola) or a false pimpernel (Lindernia), but after seeing it first hand I don't think I could ever mistake it for anything else. Unfortunately, it was not yet in flower, but it certainly is still an interesting little plant. Axilflower can be found in a range of habitats, including swamps, floodplains, flatwoods, alluvial woods, savannas, bogs, and marshes.
Surrounding the wetland portion of the preserve are rolling windblown sandhills on which prairie restoration is taking place. But this isn't your typical prairie restoration (planting) full of dense Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) and Switch Grass (Panicum virgatum). At this site, care has been taken to collect seed mostly locally and to choose species that occurred in this area based on presettlement notes and records from Charles Deam.
Fringeleaf Wild Petunia (Ruellia humilis) is one of the more attractive species growing in the prairie restoration. This species is similar to the Limestone Wild Petunia discussed in my recent post on Loblolly Marsh; both are way more attractive than the annual petunias used in landscaping. I don't see wild petunias very often in the Chicago Region, so it was really a treat to see both species within a week. Fringeleaf Wild Petunia grows in prairies, open woodlands, limestone glades, and sandy areas.
The plant species that the insects seemed to find most attractive was Narrowleaf Mountainmint (Pycnanthemum tenuifolium). If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you will probably be able to find at least three insects; there were probably 10 or more insects easily visible on the plant when I first saw it. Narrowleaf Mountainmint is similar to Virginia Mountainmint (Pycnanthemum virginianum), but the leaves of Narrowleaf Mountainmint are narrower and have only a faint odor when crushed, and the stems are completely hairless. In Virginia Mountainmint, the leaves are wider and very fragrant when crushed, and the four angles of the stem are pubescent. This is a species of prairies.
A common but still interesting plant that we observed at the site was the prairie species Purple Milkwort (Polygala sanguinea). What is shown below is a raceme composed of many flowers. An individual flower is made up of two enlarged pinkish-purple sepals (commonly referred to in the genus Polygala as "wings"), three very small sepals, and a tube of three small petals, one with a crest at the tip.
After Prairie Creek Barrens, we visited Plaster Creek Seeps Nature Preserve, a Forest Service and TNC property in Martin County, Indiana. Here we saw plant communities unlike any I had seen in Indiana previously. One of those communities was the sandstone glade.
Notice the small, gnarled trees and the exposed sandstone substrate in the photo above. On other portions of the glade, mosses dominated. I don't claim to know mosses, but I think the moss in the photo below may be a Leucobryum. Hopefully someone will correct me if I'm wrong.
Two oak species found in the sandstone glades of southern Indiana but not found in the northern part of the state are Chestnut Oak (Quercus prinus) and Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica).
Leaves of Chestnut Oak are shown above, and those of Blackjack Oak are below.
There weren't a lot of plants flowering in the sandstone glade community. One of the herbaceous plants we found was Narrowleaf Pinweed (Lechea tenuifolia). This species can also be found growing on sand in Black Oak savannas in northwest Indiana.
After spending some time on the glade, we descended to the sandstone ledges. Water was seeping out from spots along the ledges, and was likely dripping from the ledges earlier in the year. It was very interesting to see Sphagnum Moss (Sphagnum sp.), a species typically associated with bogs, growing on these ledges. I had seen this earlier in the year when in Georgia as well. The presence of Sphagnum on a sandstone ledge creates a very unique and interesting plant community.
Also growing on the ledges was what we believe to be Rock Clubmoss (Huperzia porophila). This species is known from much of eastern North America, but it seems to be rather uncommon in every state and province that it is known. Rock Clubmoss grows on damp, shaded, acidic sandstone. Rock Clubmoss is similar to Shining Clubmoss (Huperzia lucidula), but can be distinguished by leaf shape and number of teeth on the leaves (obovate with 1 to 8 irregular teeth in Shining Clubmoss; lanceolate with up to 3 low teeth in Rock Clubmoss).
After examining the ledges, we followed the seeping water into the sandstone seep. This community was very interesting and consisted mostly of species I am familiar with from acidic woods in northern Indiana, including Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis v. spectabilis), and Brome-like Sedge (Carex bromoides).
Another interesting plant common in the sandstone seep was Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus). Isn't that Latin name just about the funnest thing you've ever said? Lizard's Tail is found throughout much of eastern North America, often in swampy woods and other wet soil. As the inflorescence matures, it will droop, which is why the specific epithet is "cernuus" (cernuus = nodding).

By this point, we were thoroughly exhausted, in part from the heat and humidity, and in part from the steep and difficult terrain (for Indiana, that is), so we called it a day. I vowed to try to get back to southern Indiana at least once a year to continue to learn about the unique natural communities present just a few hours from home.

21 June 2009

Loblolly Marsh Bioblitz

This past Friday and Saturday, I attended my third bioblitz of the year, this time at Loblolly Marsh in Jay County, Indiana. As recently as 1997, Loblolly (apparently named for the "stinking river" that once ran through the site) was agricultural field. Thanks to the tireless work of many, and especially Ken Brunswick, subsurface drainage tiles have been removed and what was once wetland is now wetland again. There is also tallgrass prairie in the restored areas, and trees have been planted in select locations to restore forest.

Much of our 24-hour biological inventory took place within these restored communities, but a portion of the inventory occurred in a natural oak-hickory woodland. Our botanical inventory yielded approximately 360 vascular plant species. Some of these were planted or seeded, but the majority were either in the natural woodland or were restored from the existing seed bank after a more natural hydrologic regime was restored.
I was so busy writing down plants and looking for new ones that I didn't have time to take many photos. Those that I did take were mostly of plants along the road.

This is Troublesome Sedge, Carex molesta. I find it often this member of the Sedge family (Cyperaceae) in ditches, along roads, and in former agricultural fields that are naturally revegetating. Although somewhat weedy, this native sedge really is a beautiful plant. It can be found throughout much of eastern North America, in the Great Plains, and in California.

This was a new one for me in Indiana. Pinkladies (or Showy Evening Primrose), Oenothera speciosa, is not native in Indiana, but has persisted along the road at Loblolly Marsh for many years. These flowers are a good three inches across, making a colony of them nothing short of showy. I usually think that plants with flowers this large are too flashy; however, this one doesn't fit in this category, as I find it quite attractive. Pinkladies is a member of the Evening Primrose family (Onagraceae).

Limestone Wild Petunia, Ruellia strepens, is a common plant in northeast Indiana, but it is only known from two historic collections at a single location in northcentral/northwest Indiana. Range-wide, it is know from Nebraska south to Texas and east to the East Coast. I have only ever seen this member of the Acanthus family (Acanthaceae) growing in calcareous soils or in shallow soil over limestone (such as on glades).

The highlight for me in the woods was American Columbo, Frasera caroliniensis, a member of the Gentian family (Gentianaceae). I've only seen this species a couple of times before, and it was not flowering either of those times. American Columbo forms a large, distinctive basal rosette of leaves, making it easily identifiable prior to bolting to a height of up to 8 feet tall. And those flowers are something else, too. Now that's an attractive flower! To see a famous photo of the plant in its full glory, click here.

We had a wonderful time at the bioblitz, and there was a good public turnout as well. While one goal for a bioblitz is to obtain a biological inventory for a site, another goal is public involvement and education. Students and families come to the bioblitz to join the inventory teams, find out how scientists work, and learn about the diversity of life that can be found in a single 24-hour period right in their backyards. It's great to see kids get involved and get excited about nature, and it gives me hope that there may be a next generation of naturalists on the horizon.

20 June 2009

"It's Not Awful..."

Those were Lindsay's first words after trying her Pilothouse Pilsner. A little worried to try it myself after this assessment, I asked if it was any better than "not awful," and she said that in fact it was pretty good. I tried it and said it tasted more like a wheat beer than a hoppy pilsner, and Lindsay agreed.
Looking at the beer, it is cloudy and darker than a pilsner, and actually looks more like a wheat to me. Regardless, it's pretty darn good. Time to start a couple of new batches!

16 June 2009

Whose House Is It?

When we moved into our house in the spring of 2007, there was a Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica) nest on our front porch... or so we thought. Barn Swallows successfully reproduced in this nest of mud, straw, and feathers in both 2007 and 2008.

Then, this spring, we noticed an Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe), as well as a Barn Swallow, visiting the nest in the early spring. On May 1, I told Lindsay I saw the Eastern Phoebe on the nest, and she told me that just a few days earlier she had seen a Barn Swallow on the nest. By May 11, the Eastern Phoebe was doing some house cleaning, adding moss to the top of the nest. It was then obvious that the Eastern Phoebe would be nesting here this year.

In the photograph above, you can see young Eastern Phoebes (five, I think) in the nest. You'll also notice the fresh layer of moss hanging out of the top of the nest.

I am curious to know whether this was an Eastern Phoebe nest taken over for a few years by Barn Swallows, or if it was a Barn Swallow nest taken over by an Eastern Phoebe. Aside from the moss, it looks like a swallow nest to me. Any thoughts?
Either way, it's been fun watching these little birds progress.

14 June 2009

Tick Update

In a recent post, I noted that we were keeping count of the number of ticks found on each of us this year. To date, the standings are:

Bootypants - 64
Scott - 49
Lindsay - 9

This is an adult female Black-legged Tick (also known as a Deer Tick), Ixodes scapularis, the species most well known for being the vector for Lyme Disease. I found this tick during my recent trip to Superior, Wisconsin. To see my plant highlights from this trip, click here.

12 June 2009

Battling Purple Loosestrife

Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) is a perennial herbaceous plant native to Europe and Asia. Many people think this is a "pretty" plant, though to me, it is quite gaudy.
Because of its supposed attractive physical appearance, Purple Loosestrife has been introduced into North America and New Zealand since the 1800s as an ornamental plant. It has since spread to nearly every state in the United States, creating monocultures in wetlands that lead to the exclusion of native plant and wildlife species. It is common in ditches, as seen below, as well as in emergent marshes and sedge meadows, and on pond edges. If you're wondering how a few introduced plants can spread and create such a problem, you will be astounded to hear that a single purple loosestrife plant can produce up to 3 million seeds per year!
In recent years, however, researchers at Cornell University have been studying the natural enemies of this invasive plant in its native range. Where Purple Loosestrife is native, it occurs in small patches, at least in part because it has natural biological enemies; in the absence of these enemies, populations of Purple Loosestrife can run rampant. The researchers have discovered that several beetle species in the genus Galerucella (as well as a few weevil species in the genera Hylobius and Nanophyes) have the ability to keep Purple Loosestrife in check while not impacting other plant species. As these insects reduce populations of Purple Loosestrife, populations of these biological control insects will also decrease. The goal for this method of control is not to completely eliminate Purple Loosestrife, but rather to reduce it to a point that plant and resulting animal diversity can increase.

The photograph below shows eggs of Galerucella sp. on a Purple Loosestrife plant. You may need to click on the photo to increase its size to see the clusters of small cream-colored eggs with hairlike black projections. You'll also notice some damage to the leaves, a result of the introduced insects.
Below is a photograph showing a Galerucella sp. larva, also on a Purple Loosestrife plant. Larvae of these insects are only a few millimeters long.
Finally, the adult stage of Galerucella sp., shown below, on the tip of a Purple Loosestrife leaf.
While botanizing in northern Indiana, I've noticed several places where Galerucella spp. were not introduced but where they are now present, indicating that introduced populations of this biological control agent are spreading to other populations of Purple Loosestrife. Last week, while in Lake Station, I saw the following...
This is definite evidence that the beetles are reproducing, damaging Purple Loosestrife, and spreading to other populations of the invasive plant. Galerucella spp. were introduced at this site, but not in the area of the site where this photograph was taken. Hopefully in a few years, you won't be blinded by the purple haze as you drive through northwest Indiana.

06 June 2009

Good Job, Lindsay!

Lindsay ran in the 5K race at the Sunburst in South Bend this morning. Here she is at about the 2 mile mark.
She finished with a time of 27:43 and was in the top half of all finishers. Nice work, Lindsay!

01 June 2009

A Jasper County Gem

A few months back, one of my coworkers brought in a twig from a shrub on a property that one of her friends had purchased last year. I quickly recognized the twig as Winterberry (Ilex verticillata), a plant often found in bogs and wet, acidic woods, and knew immediately that this would be an interesting place to botanize. We set the meeting date of May 30, which arrived much more quickly than I thought possible.

So on Saturday, I headed out to Jasper County, Indiana to visit the 32-acre property that was purchased for the sole purpose of preserving a woods that was not infested with exotic species. That in itself is quite admirable.

As I pulled in the drive and back to the small gravel parking lot, I knew that I was in for a treat. I saw that the higher areas on the site were somewhat overgrown black oak savanna, while the low-lying areas were swamp forest. This combination of acidic habitats often leads to rare plants and a great variety of species.

The photo above is of a somewhat overgrown black oak savanna, which the landowners hope to burn or selectively thin to restore to expected historic conditions. As we walked, I began keeping a list of plant species that we observed. The overgrown savanna had quite a few remnant prairie and open savanna species hanging on, such as Wild Quinine (Parthenium integrifolium) and Western Sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis), indicating that the area likely had fewer trees in the past.

The swamp forest (above) was also amazing and diverse. In places, it too appeared to have been more open in the past, closing in with trees as drainage in the area reduced the frequency of flooding that would have historically kept the trees from moving in.

We also walked through a small, open area consisting of wet swales and drier low ridges, adding a unique diversity of plants to the site. As we examined this area, we saw the Silver-bordered Fritillary (Boloria selene) below. This butterfly species is found from Alaska through Canada and into the northern half of the Lower 48. Caterpillars of this species feed on violets (Viola spp.), while the adults feed on nectar of plants in the family Asteraceae. This one must be getting an early start scouting out goldenrods, as it is sitting on Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima).

Overall, we saw 237 plant species that I could identify to species, and another 20 that should be investigated later in the year for correct identification. Not too shabby. Of the 237 species, 204 are native to the Chicago Region. The mean C-value (conservatism value, basically a ranking from 0-10 of the fidelity of a given species to a natural community) based on my species inventory was 4.4, and the FQI (floristic quality index, a calculation involving the mean-C value and the number of species) was an extraordinary 73.4. Based on these numbers, this site definitely possesses natural area quality. Based on my qualitative assessment, this site is tremendous.

I was only able to shoot a few photos of plants at the site, as the mosquitoes wouldn't allow for much time to focus on anything but swatting them away. The plant above is False Dandelion (Krigia biflora), a plant often found in prairies, black oak savannas, and wet sand.

Above is the related Dwarf Dandelion (Krigia virginica), both in flower and in fruit. Plants of the Chicago Region notes that "the undisturbed fruiting heads make a beautiful sight when viewed from above," and I can't help but to agree. Dwarf Dandelion can often be found in dry sand in areas with little competition from other plants.

The species above is often found in black oak savannas in the Kankakee River valley. Hairy Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium barbinode) is a plant that I had only seen a few times previously. It can be distinguished from the similar Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium trifoliatum) by its obviously hairy stem nodes.

The interesting plant shown above is Indian Cucumber Root (Medeola virginiana). This species can be found in a variety of acidic habitats; at this site, we found it in moist portions of the swamp forest.

All three of the fern species in the genus Osmunda that occur in the Chicago Region were present at the site. Above is Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea), and below is Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana). Not pictured is Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis v. spectabilis).

You will notice that in Cinnamon Fern, the fertile fronds (the cinnamon or brown parts) are on separate stalks from the sterile fronds (the green "leaves"), while in Interrupted Fern, the fertile fronds "interrupt" the sterile frond. I had only seen Interrupted Fern a handful of times before Saturday, and it was uncommon at this site as well. All three Osmunda species were found in the swamp forest community.

One of my favorite plant families is the Saxifragaceae, of which the plant shown above is a member. This is Swamp Saxifrage (Saxifraga pensylvanica), which is found in a variety of habitats in the Chicago Region, including calcareous and acidic seeps, sedge meadows, mesic prairies, and upland swamps. At this site, we saw Swamp Saxifrage in the swamp forest.

One of the two most exciting finds was Downy Poplar (Populus heterophylla), a tree I had seen only once before. We only saw small trees at the site, though I suspect that at least one large tree of this species is present. Downy Poplar is very rare in the Chicago Region.
The other most exciting find was the plant pictured below, one of the rarest violets in the Chicago Region, Primrose Violet (Viola primulifolia).

I had only seen this species at two locations in the past. One was on the trip that Justin and I recently took to Alabama, where we saw it in an acid seep woodland. The other location was in a moist prairie in Starke County, Indiana. At this Jasper County property, it was growing by the thousands in the swamp forest. According to Plants of the Chicago Region, it is found in "moist sandy soil of marsh borders and in moist open meadows." Maybe this area was more open historically as well.

As you can tell, I had a wonderful 6 hours at the site, and I admire the dedication of the landowners to preserve and manage this property in a way that keeps it as natural as possible. I hope to get back to the site at another time of year to add species to the list, identify some of my unknowns, and gain a better understanding of the natural communities at the site and the processes guiding them.