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.


MartyL said...

Hey Scott,

Interesting post, lots of nice species. The Kankakee Sand Region has so much biodiversity, and there are still many nice pieces like this, esp. south of the river. Speaking of the Starke Co. property with V. primulifolia, I found an outlying patch this spring.

Scott said...

Hi Marty. Good to hear from you. It's always fun when I find out that someone I know is viewing our blog without us knowing about it.

I'm glad to hear that you have found more V. primulifolia. Such a cool violet!

I don't have any time this summer, but next summer I would enjoy getting out to your place again and botanizing with you.

Scott said...


By the way, thanks for the link on your webpage. I've added a link to Big Eastern on our blog as well.

You should also visit http://getyourbotanyon.blogspot.com/, a botany blog to which I contribute. I think you'd enjoy it.