30 September 2009

A Rare Find At Houghton Lake

In 2006, The Nature Conservancy of Indiana acquired a fantastic property in Marshall County. The property, known as Houghton Lake, consists of a fen surrounding a lake that has become alkaline as a result of the calcareous groundwater flowing through the surrounding soil and into a basin. I had visited this property in the past, before it was purchased by TNC, and had assisted with compiling a plant species list that boasts over 180 vascular plant species.

Houghton Lake and surrounding fen

The soil in the fen consists of marl, which is a mix of clay and calcium carbonate that is gray in color and often speckled with remnants of shells. Surrounding this marly substrate at a slightly higher elevation is alkaline peat soil. Typical fen species can be found growing in both of these soils, but the fen itself was likely historically found mostly in the mucky soils surrounding the marl. The marl footprint most likely outlines the historical area of Houghton Lake. As the land was drained for agricultural use, the lake level dropped, exposing marl soils that were then colonized by the encroaching fen species.


In addition to the existing 100+ acres of lake and fen, approximately 90 acres of lower quality natural land and 180 acres of agricultural fields surrounding the fen were purchased by TNC. Stuart Orr, North Central Indiana Land Steward for TNC, is tasked with restoring the degraded and agricultural lands to a more natural state. This past Saturday, Stuart held a work day at Houghton Lake to collect seed to be installed in the area now in agicultural production after subsurface drainage tiles have been removed and ditches have been plugged or filled and a more natural hydrologic regime has been restored. The goal is to restore sedge meadow, wet prairie, and even fen in this area where these communities were present prior to being drained for agricultural use. On Saturday, our target species for collection was Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata). This member of the Asteraceae has a dense terminal spike of discoid flower heads (there are no ray flowers). It is most commonly found in wet prairies, mesic prairies, and sedge meadows throughout eastern North America.

Dense Blazing Star in bloom in a Marshall County, Indiana fen, July 2004

Given my busy schedule, I don't get to attend many work days (in fact, I think this was my first TNC work day), but helping out with these is something that I feel strongly that everyone who visits and enjoys our natural areas should make time to do. I am involved with several local conservation organizations who all hold numerous work days of their own throughout the year, and I try to attend at least one or two of these events per year. This isn't much, but every little bit helps. Site stewards have very limited staff and rely heavily on volunteer work to accomplish their enormous management goals, and they should be commended for the grueling work that they do. It isn't fair to them or to our natural areas to simply visit these sites for pure enjoyment without giving a little back. I encourage everyone to assist these conservation organizations with their management objectives as much as possible. This is also a great way to have a chance to see these preserves and learn more about the plants and animals that call them home.

Dense Blazing Star in seed

In the four or so hours that we were at the site, our small group collected what Stuart thought would amount to 5 pounds of Dense Blazing Star seed once the seed was dried and separated from the stems, involucres, and chaff.

Seed collecting

Near the end of the work day, I had some time to take a few photos of plants and insects at the preserve. A species that used to be dominant in the fen but that has been reduced a bit by management burns is Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa ssp. floribunda). As populations of this low shrub, which is in the family Rosaceae, were thinned by fire, habitat for herbaceous fen species that don't deal well with competition was restored. White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum) in particular has responded well to the prescribed burns. While Shrubby Cinquefoil is a native and desirable fen species, it can suppress the growth of other desirable fen species in the absence of periodic disturbances such as fire or flooding.

Shrubby Cinquefoil

Another characteristic shrubby fen species is Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron vernix). Along with dogwoods (Cornus spp.) and willows (Salix spp.), this native shrub can often encroach on fens, leading to shrub-carr communities when fire or flooding is removed from the system. In the fall, the drooping white berries contrast sharply with the compound crimson leaves, making this member of the Anacardiaceae far more beautiful than it is ever given credit. For some reason, and I assume that it is the dermititis caused by contact with Poison Sumac, this species is considered a noxious weed by the Michigan Department of Agriculture.

Poison Sumac

Many people pigeonhole Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii) as a tallgrass prairie species. While this member of the Poaceae is a dominant component of mesic prairies, Big Bluestem is also a characteristic species of alkaline fens. It can be found throughout most of the eastern two-thirds of North America, growing up to 8 feet tall.

Big Bluestem

Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum) is a member of the Asteraceae that is found throughout the eastern half of North America in wet prairies, fens, bogs, marshes, and swamps. With appressed phyllaries that sometimes have short apical spines, this is a thistle that does not poke you when you attempt to touch the sticky involucre. The specific epithet muticum means blunt and without a point, referring to the shape of the phyllaries.

Swamp Thistle

An easily overlooked composite (Asteraceae) of fens, wet prairies, tallgrass prairies, and streambanks is Purple Rattlesnakeroot (Prenanthes racemosa). Found in southern Canada and the northern half of the United States (except the northwest), Purple Rattlesnakeroot has smooth stems from the base to the middle of the plant (but the stems are pubescent above). The similar Rough Rattlesnakeroot (Prenanthes aspera) is found in drier habitats, has stems that are pubescent throughout, and has cream to yellow-colored ray corollas.

Purple Rattlesnakeroot

In a recent post about another TNC fen property, I included photographs of Lesser Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis procera). The similar Greater Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) grows at Houghton Lake in the drier portions of the fen. This member of the Gentianaceae has wider leaves than Lesser Fringed Gentian, and the petals are fringed both along the sides and along the apex. The flowers of Greater Fringed Gentian also seem to be a deeper blue than those of Lesser Fringed Gentian. Greater Fringed Gentian is found mostly in states and provinces surrounding the Great Lakes, but it is also known from the northeastern and southeastern United States, North Dakota, Quebec, and Manitoba.

Greater Fringed Gentian

Meadow Spikemoss (Selaginella apoda) and Hidden Spikemoss (Selaginella eclipes) are two very similar species in the Selaginellaceae. Both are easily overlooked in wet areas, as they often are well hidden beneath dense herbaceous vegetation. They also look a lot like mosses in the genus Mnium. Meadow Spikemoss is found in swamps, meadows, marshes, pastures, damp lawns, open woods, and streambanks, in basic to acidic conditions. Hidden Spikemoss is found in moist to wet calcareous areas, swamps, meadows, pastures, and open woods, but rarely on rock. I believe that the plant in the photograph below, taken at Houghton Lake, shows Hidden Spikemoss, which has median leaves with long acuminate tips (versus acute tips in Meadow Spikemoss).

Hidden Spikemoss

The best I can tell, the meadow katydid in the photograph below is a Short-winged Meadow Katydid (Conocephalus brevipennis), a common species of the eastern United States. This species usually has short wings (as the common name suggests) and has a dark brown band that runs from the top of the head down the back. This individual is a female, as evidenced by the long ovipositor.

Short-winged Meadow Katydid

The singing insect below is what I believe to be a Round-tipped Conehead (Neoconocephalus retusus). This species has a shorter, rounder cone than most other members of this genus, and there is a narrow black line across the front of the cone (that can be seen if you click on the photograph to enlarge it). The song of the Round-tipped Conehead is very intriguing, as it consists of a long, raspy buzz that sounds like an electric short.

Round-tipped Conehead

Finally, at the end of the day, we happened upon a very interesting moth hanging out on one of the blazing star inflorescences we had collected. Stuart guessed that maybe it was a Blazing Star Borer Moth (Papaipema beeriana). When I got home and downloaded my photos, I compared this photograph with those in my books and online, and it appeared that Stuart's guess was correct. We've sent several photos to moth and Papaipema experts, and they agree that in fact this is the fairly rare Blazing Star Borer Moth. If you only ever click on one photo on our blog, you have to click on this one and look at the eyes of this moth. Amazing! As the common name suggests, the Blazing Star Borer Moth is dependent upon blazing star for survival of the species. Females deposit eggs in the soil at the base of a blazing star plant in the fall. When the eggs hatch in the spring, the larvae climb to the base of the blazing star plant and bore into the stem to feed. In late summer, the larvae burrow into the soil and pupate prior to metamorphosis into an adult moth.

Blazing Star Borer Moth

So there you have it... if I hadn't attended this work day, I wouldn't have had the chance to see these interesting plants and insects or to learn about this rare moth. This is incentive enough for me to attend more work days.

25 September 2009

Such Gracious Hosts

The milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) are an astonishing group of plants. The eighty-some species, varieties, and subspecies known to occur within the United States have flowers of nearly every color of the rainbow, ranging from magenta to red to pink to orange to yellow to green to white to cream. The genus is widespread, as at least one member of the genus is known from the flora of 49 of the 50 United States (there are no species of Asclepias in Alaska). The flower structure is quite unique, with horns and hoods in addition to petals and sepals. A few of our favorite milkweed photos from our collection are shown below.

Prairie Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii), Chicago, Illinois

Showy Milkweed (Asclepias speciosa), Boulder, Colorado

Purple Milkweed (Asclepias purpurascens), LaPorte, Indiana

Fewflower Milkweed (Asclepias lanceolata), Orlando, Florida

Largeflower Milkweed (Asclepias connivens), Orlando, Florida

In addition to their beauty and botanical intrigue, milkweeds also play a very important ecological role. Most people are familiar with the link between milkweed and the Monarch butterfly (Danaus plexippus). A female Monarch lays eggs only on milkweed plants. After the eggs hatch, the larvae feed exclusively on milkweed. Once they are adults, Monarch butterflies feed on nectar from plants in a variety of genera, one of those being, you guessed it, Asclepias. Because the milky sap of milkweed plants is toxic and bitter, the caterpillars that eat the foliage of milkweed plants are also toxic and bitter. In fact, the cardiac glycosides present in milkweed sap actually bioaccumulate in the caterpillar, causing the toxicity levels in the caterpillar to be greater than those in the milkweed leaves. The toxins and bad taste acquired as a caterpillar carries into the adult stage of the insect. Therefore, milkweed does not only nourish the Monarch caterpillars, but it also helps to protect them as they go through their entire life cycle.

Monarch (Danaus plexippus) on Field Thistle (Cirsium discolor)

Monarch caterpillar feeding on Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

But that's nothing. The Monarch is the charismatic "poster child" for the ecological value of milkweeds (and host plants in general), but Patrick Dailey of Lewis and Clark Community College did a study in which he found 456 other insect species using milkweed plants! With all of the attention given to Monarchs, the rest of these species can easily be overlooked and underappreciated. Below are five insects that rely on milkweeds to the point that they even have "milkweed" in their common names.

Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar (Euchaetes egle) on Common Milkweed

The Milkweed Tussock Caterpillar (Euchaetes egle) is the larval stage of the Milkweed Tussock Moth. Groups of individuals of this caterpillar, which are found throughout the eastern half of North America, have been known to defoliate milkweed and dogbane (Apocynum spp.) plants late in the year. Bats, which are able to consume Milkweed Tussock Moths without experiencing a bitter taste, are a major predator of this species. To avoid being eaten by these bats, Milkweed Tussock Moths have evolved to be able to mimic the high-pitched clicking sound made by moths that do taste bad to bats.

Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus) on Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa)

Another insect that can be found on milkweed is the Large Milkweed Bug (Oncopeltus fasciatus), which ranges in size from 10-18 mm. This species, which is known from the eastern and southwestern United States as well as Ontario, feeds on the seeds of milkweed, and thus can often be found on the pods. As a result, Large Milkweed Beetles acquire the bitter taste and toxic qualities of the milkweed sap. Large Milkweed Bugs are also known to feed on flower nectar.

Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii) on Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata)

The Small Milkweed Bug (Lygaeus kalmii) ranges in size from 10-12 mm, and is found throughout most of the United States and southern Canada. This insect feeds on flower nectar and milkweed seeds, but also has been known to scavenge and hunt other insects when there isn't a lot of milkweed seed or nectar plants available. Like many other insects that feed on milkweeds, Small Milkweed Bugs are toxic to many potential predators.

Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis) on Common Milkweed

The Swamp Milkweed Leaf Beetle, or Milkweed Leaf Beetle (Labidomera clivicollis) is found in the eastern two-thirds of the United States, as well as in northern Mexico, where it feeds on leaves and flowers of plants in the milkweed family (Asclepiadaceae). This 8-12 mm long beetle overwinters as an adult on the ground, often hidden in leaves of mullein (Verbascum spp.).

Milkweed Aphids (Aphis sp.) on Swamp Milkweed

Milkweed Aphids (Aphis spp.), also known as Oleander Aphids, feed only on plants in the Asclepiadaceae and Apocynaceae. Specifically, they feed on the milky sap, causing them to be poisonous to would-be predators. Milkweed Aphids are introduced in North America. All of the individuals in the photograph above are female. In fact, males aren't necessary for reproduction, as these aphids reproduce assexually. I believe that these aphids are either Aphis nerii or Aphis lutescens.

You will notice that none of these insects are very well camouflaged with their surroundings; in fact, they are all brightly colored. Bright colors in nature are often indicative of an organism that will taste bad or cause harm if eaten, which is the case for all of these milkweed-feeding insects. This is a form of aposematism, which is a condition in which an organism is colored or constructed in a way that indicates special capabilities for defense. It's no wonder that milkweeds are so popular amongst the arthropod world!

19 September 2009

Swamp Angel Nature Preserve

The Nature Conservancy held a "member hike" at one of their premier northeastern Indiana preserves on September 13, 2009, and I was fortunate enough to have a free day so that I could attend. The preserve is known as Swamp Angel. It was named after the love interest of the main character in the novel Freckles, written in 1904 by Indiana wildlife photographer, amateur naturalist, and author Gene Stratton-Porter. In the novel, Swamp Angel disapproved of deforestation for agriculture and other development.

TNC Land Steward Beth Mizell led a brief but informative two-hour hike through a variety of plant communities, discussing the active management that is taking place at the property while we walked. While I would have loved to spend more time botanizing the entire 92-acre property, I very much enjoyed scratching the surface in the savanna and fen communities of this outstanding preserve. The photograph directly below shows a Black Oak (Quercus velutina), White Oak (Quercus alba), and Shagbark Hickory (Carya ovata) -dominated savanna located on a kame (a gravelly mound deposited by a glacier). This community is characterized by large, open-growth trees and an open understory, and it is dependent upon fire to maintain this structure.

Below is a photograph typical of the fen community. Fens are generally grassy and sedgy communites. This time of the year, grasses and sedges such as Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), Bluejoint Grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), Twig Rush (Cladium mariscoides), and Indian Grass (Sorghastrum nutans) are obvious, as are composites including Bristly Aster (Aster puniceus), Flat-topped Aster (Aster umbellatus), Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum), Spotted Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatoriadelphus maculatus), Giant Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus), Dense Blazing Star (Liatris spicata), Riddell's Goldenrod (Oligoneuron riddellii), and Swamp Goldenrod (Solidago patula). Fens are amazing, particularly because it seems that there is something different in bloom every week of the growing season. They are particularly exciting for me in the early summer, when the sedges (Carex spp.) are in fruit.

Without active management including selective shrub removal and burning, this fen would undergo natural succession and become a shrub-dominated (often called shrub-carr) system. We saw evidence of this succession in pockets of shrubs including Poison Sumac (Toxicodendron radicans), Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa), Red-osier Dogwood (Cornus stolonifera), Pussy Willow (Salix discolor), and Sageleaf Willow (Salix candida).

One of the most charismatic fen species this time of the year is Lesser Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis procera), shown directly above and below. There aren't many flowering plants that can match the gorgeous blue of this four-petaled crowd-pleaser. To see my post at Get Your Botany On! on the differences between this species and the very similar Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita), click here.

Another late-flowering fen species is Grass of Parnassus (Parnassia glauca), shown in the photograph below. Contrary to what the common name suggests, this species is traditionally placed in the Saxifrage family (Saxifragaceae), or sometimes in the Grass of Parnassus family (Parnassiaceae). The egg-shaped leaves and mesmerizing pattern of venation on the petals make this quite an attractive plant. I have to believe that the green veins on the white petals, coupled with the golden false nectaries inside the flower, have evolved for the sole purpose of guiding insects to the center of the flower, where they then collect and disperse pollen.

A less conspicuous but regular component of fens in northern Indiana is Kalm's Lobelia (Lobelia kalmii), which is treated as a member of the Bellflower family (Campanulaceae) and sometimes of the Lobelia familiy (Lobeliaceae). Pictured below, this species has narrow stem leaves and slightly broader, spatulate basal leaves. The two upper petals remind me of the ears of a jackrabbit.

What makes a wetland a fen is the fact that it is a groundwater-driven system; this groundwater has often become calcareous after flowing through adjacent uplands with limestone substrate. Many scientists consider a fen a system with neutral to alkaline water chemistry, as opposed to a bog, which is acidic. However, I have also read scientific papers that define a fen as a groundwater fed wetland, regardless of chemistry, and a bog as a former kettle lake with no groundwater influence. Using the latter definition, a fen can be a rich fen (neutral to alkaline, nutrient rich) or a poor fen (acidic, nutrient poor). I tend to use the second definition, and Swamp Angel seems to be a good example of a fen with both rich and poor components. While much of the area we saw at Swamp Angel was dominated by fen plants that grow in neutral to alkaline conditions, Beth also took us to a portion of the fen where plants that grow in soils with lower pH values were dominant. This area still was groundwater fed, and was not located in a depression. There are, however, also kettle lakes at Swamp Angel, which muddies the waters a bit, so to speak. The photograph below shows one of these acidic areas bordering a kettle lake.

Within this area, we were rewarded with three parasitic plants: Round-leaved Sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), Flatleaf Bladderwort (Utricularia intermedia), and Purple Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia purpurea). That's right, these species actually get most of their nutrients from insects that they capture! They have adapted this method of attaining nutrients because they live in nutrient poor habitats. All three of these species have different mechanisms for capturing prey.

Round-leaved Sundew has small green leaves with tiny sugary mucilaginous glands on short red stalks. The bright color and tasty glands attract insects, which then become stuck to the leaf. The plant then uses enzymes to digest its prey. That just doesn't seem fair.

Flatleaf Bladderwort has tiny bladders attached to its leaves. These bladders have miniscule hairs surrounding a trap door that is triggered when the hairs are touched. Because of negative pressure within the bladder, when the trap door opens, water and prey rush into the bladder, and the opening quickly slams shut, trapping the prey within the bladder in the blink of an eye. The prey is then digested. This is the black hole of the plant world, I guess.

Purple Pitcher Plant, pictured below, has leaves that are modified into pitchers that collect rainwater. These pitchers are showy and have a sweet smell, and nectar is secreted around the opening, all serving to attract potential prey. Nectar trails also line the outside of the pitcher, getting stronger towards the opening, luring ground insects up the leaf and to the trap as well. The strongest concentration of nectar, however, is beneath the lid at the back of the leaf. Without being able to resist these sweet juices, an unsuspecting insect has to traverse along the waxy inner surface of the pitcher. This results in most falling into the pitcher. They are unable to escape the trenches of the pitcher in part because of the downward-pointing hairs lining the inside of the pitcher, and they eventually drown or die from exhaustion. The prey is then digested, in part as a result of enzymes in the leaves, and in part by mosquito and midge larvae, and the plant then absorbs the nutrients. This all reminds me of the scene from Batman when the Joker falls into the vat of acid.

Because Purple Pitcher Plant flowers from May to July, we weren't able to see its bloom during our field trip. Below is a photograph of the intriguing purple-red flower that I took at another site in northern Indiana in May 2006.

In the brief time that we were at the site, I recorded 68 plant species within the fen, and another 30 on the kames. Nutrient rich fens are typically also very rich floristically.

This field trip made quite an impact on all who attended. You can read an account from another of the trip participants by clicking here. To see a slideshow of the trip from yet another participant, click here.

15 September 2009

A Handsome Range Extension?

While walking our trails this afternoon in North Liberty, St. Joseph County, Indiana, I heard an insect song that I didn't recognize. Imagine my surprise when I tracked down the source of this song only to find a Handsome Trig (Phyllopalpus pulchellus)!! What a coincidence... I blogged about finding this species further south in Indiana just yesterday. I later saw another individual on our property, and I think I heard more, so we may have a healthy population of this species.

From the information that I can find, this species hasn't been documented in the northern 1/3 of Indiana. Below is a range map from Elliott and Hershberber's The Songs of Insects.

I tried to get video of the Handsome Trig calling, but it isn't the easiest insect to photograph, let alone video. Each time that I got the camera close, he would scamper to the underside of the blackberry leaf. I guess those constantly moving palps are pretty darn good at sensing vibrations and predators.

14 September 2009

I Do Say, That Is One Handsome Trig!

What the heck is a trig? That's a question that I would have had until my recent obsession with trying to learn as much as possible about the singing insects. The trigs (short for Trigoniidae, the subfamily of this group of insects) are small crickets that are sometimes also called bush crickets. Female trigs have a long, sword-shaped ovipositer (seen easily in the second photograph below), which has led to the group also being called sword-tailed crickets.

The photographs immediately above and below were taken on our property in northern Indiana, and depict a Say's Trig (Anaxipha exigua), which was named for early American entomologist and naturalist Thomas Say. Say's Trigs can often be found in large numbers on woody vegetation in grassy areas. An identifying characteristic of this species is the dark stripe on the light-colored face. Although they are small (approximately 1/4 inch long), Say's Trigs are extremely loud and can be heard from over 100 feet away.

One of my favorite singing insects so far is the Handsome Trig (Phyllopalpus pulchellus). As you can see below, it sure is a handsome insect... just look at those contrasting colors! For an excellent description of this species, just translate the Latin name. Pulchellus is translated as "beautiful," and Phyllopalpus means "leaf-feeler." The Handsome Trig, also known as the Red-headed Bush Cricket, uses its palps (the fingerlike appendages near the mouth) to investigate its surroundings. These palps also vibrate rapidly when the insect is threatened. This species is another tiny insect (1/4 - 1/3 inch) that produces an enormous sound. I photographed this Handsome Trig near Logansport, Indiana.

Most of the information from this (and all of my singing insect posts) is from The Songs of Insects by Lang Elliott and Wil Hershberger.

09 September 2009

Garden Update

My parents often ask me how our garden is doing, so I figured I would post a photo of our recent harvest to show them.

We have recently picked tomatillos, green peppers, jalapeno peppers, cherry tomatoes, pepperoncinis, banana peppers, lemon cucumbers, wax beans, cantaloupe, broccoli, zucchini, black beans, corn, watermelon, carrots, and tomatoes; lettuce, spinach, raddishes, and green beans are done for the year. Our next few days will be spent canning, making salsas and sauces, and snacking on the leftovers, as we continue to gather more from our productive garden.

07 September 2009

While You Were Resting...

Many of us use a three-day holiday weekend to rest, relax, and catch-up on sleep. Not Lindsay, apparently. On Saturday morning, Lindsay and her dad participated in the Blueberry Festival Bicycle Cruise, a 31-mile bicycle tour through rural Marshall County, Indiana.

Then, this morning, this same fitness duo ran in the Blueberry Stomp 15K. That's about 10 more K's that I can run! This race took them through downtown Plymouth and the surrounding areas.

They finished in approximately one hour, 23 minutes. Pretty darn good for Lindsay's first race of longer than 3.1 miles. In the photo above, they are at about the 1 mile mark. Below, they are heading for the finish, at about the 9 mile mark. They actually still look like they're enjoying themselves, don't they? Don' ask me what Lindsay is doing in the photo... doesn't seem like ideal running form to me, but I guess it worked.

Congratulations, Lindsay!

05 September 2009

Lindsay and Scott's Orchid Farm

As I stated in my July 4, 2009 post on this blog, when Lindsay and I bought our property 2 1/2 years ago, we didn't buy it for its floristic diversity. Regardless, from the time we purchased our approximately 11 acres, I have had the desire to sample transects across our land so that I can track changes to the plant community over time. We have plans to plant trees to restore the mesic forest that was likely present here at the time of European settlement, and it will be interesting to see how the understory changes as the trees mature. This weekend is my first open weekend in quite some time, so today I decided to begin my pre-planting sampling.

This is what most of our property currently looks like. Lots of Tall Goldenrod (Solidago altissima). Underneath the goldenrod, Kentucky Bluegrass (Poa pratensis) is abundant and Hungarian Brome (Bromus inermis) is common, but there are several other species that are consistently showing up in my sampling quadrats: Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans), White Avens (Geum canadense), Rough Avens (Geum laciniatum var. trichocarpum), Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), Panicled Aster (Aster simplex), and others.

At the far west end of our property, trees such as American Elm (Ulmus americana) and Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) have begun to recolonize the land. This portion of our property currently looks like this...

Quadrat sampling is unparalleled in terms of methodology for compiling a complete plant inventory for a site. Sure, a reasonably complete site inventory can be conducted by reconnaissance surveys, but smaller species, seedlings, and those underneath the dense growth of herbaceous vegetation can easily be missed. When sampling quadrats, however, one is on their hands and knees, wading through taller vegetation to ensure that no species within a given quadrat goes unrecorded.

That's how I discovered the plant pictured above this afternoon. This is Purple Twayblade (Liparis liliifolia), the second orchid species that we've found on our property (the first was Platanthera lacera). So far, I've located two populations of Purple Twayblade on our property; one of simply a single plant, which I found in a quadrat under lush growth of herbaceous species, and one of 20+ plants in an area being colonized by trees. The two photos below show flowering Purple Twayblade in Griffith, Indiana on June 7, 2005.

Before we bought our property, if someone had told me that there was an orchid on the land, this is the one I would have guessed first, as it is able to withstand and often thrive in disturbed soils. Purple Twayblade grows in dry to moist soils in both forests and old-fields. According to Mike Homoya's Orchids of Indiana, this species is most commonly found in well-drained, mildly acidic soils supporting young regrowth forest on land previously pastured or cropped. I have observed Purple Twayblade on several occasions in these exact conditions.

While finding Purple Twayblade on our property isn't necessarily significant, it is still exciting to know that we have two species of orchids on our land, which was used as a hog farm not that long ago, and which I expected to be nothing but Tall Goldenrod and pasture grasses. It also adds another piece to the puzzle as we try to understand the intricacies of the land and what it was prior to settlement.