20 August 2010

Pine Station and Clark and Pine Nature Preserves

For each of the past several years, Shirley Heinze Land Trust has asked me to lead one of their member hikes at northern Indiana preserves. This year, my hike was at Pine Station and Clark and Pine Nature Preserves in Lake County. The hike that I led took place a couple of weeks ago, and I wanted to post some of the highlights.

The two dedicated state nature preserves are on opposite sides of Clark Road, with Clark and Pine on the west and Pine Station on the east. The highlight plant at these preserves is the State Endangered American Blue Hearts (Buchnera americana, shown above), a plant of moist sandy prairies with a scattered distribution throughout the eastern United States. American Blue Hearts is considered "one of our very rarest plants" according to Plants of the Chicago Region (1994), and it is considered the plant responsible for initially bringing legendary botanist Floyd Swink to Chicago (be sure to see this link for an account on Floyd, including the story about him, the great Julian Steyermark, and American Blue Hearts).

Clark and Pine Nature preserve consists of shallow swell-and-swale topography, with aquatic plants such as Water Shield (Brasenia schreberi), White Water Lily (Nymphaea odorata), and Variegated Yellow Pond Lily (Nuphar variegata) dominating the swales and mesic prairie plants dominating the swells. When standing at this site, it is always amazing to think of all of the development and destruction that has taken place immediately surrounding these preserves, yet that this kind of quality still exists on much reduced postage stamp parcels. In fact, Clark and Pine Nature Preserve is said to harbor more species of concern (plants and animals combined) than any other nature preserve in Indiana. Another of these state listed species, Purple Bladderwort (Utricularia purpurea, State Rare, shown below) is so common at this site as to form a purple haze over the swales in July and August.

One of our first field trip observations as people were arriving to hike the preserves was an enormous Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) caterpillar feeding on Sandbar Willow (Salix interior) along the road. This caterpillar, immortalized below, was nearly as large as my index finger, both in length and girth. And let me tell you... I have one hefty index finger!

As we were observing and photographing this caterpillar, we found another green caterpillar, that of and IO Moth (Automeris io) feeding on the same colony of Sandbar Willow. As I was telling those in attendance not to touch this caterpillar, shown below, because those bristly barbs may sting, someone assured me that yes, they do sting, as they had just rubbed up against it and felt its wrath.

Sand mining took place historically at Pine Station, leaving swaths of panne community in areas that were historically mesic prairie swells. Near the Great Lakes, when sand is excavated down to the water table, a unique and rare flora often results, yielding an expression of a seed bank that must be thousands of years old (see my commentary on this topic posted at Get Your Botany On!). The dominant plant species in the man-made panne shown below include Twig Rush (Cladium mariscoides), Golden-seeded Spike Rush (Eleocharis elliptica), Baltic Rush (Juncus balticus var. littoralis, State Rare), Hair Beak Rush (Rhynchospora capillacea), and Low Nutrush (Scleria verticillata). Plant species of conservation concern are common to abundant in this scrape.

One of the plants that often shows up in these scrapes but that occurs naturally in calcareous sands and fens is Kalm's Lobelia (Lobelia kalmii, below). This delicate plant is much more attractive to me than its more conspicous and gaudy relatives Cardinal Flower (L. cardinalis) and Great Blue Lobelia (L. siphilitica), which are much more generalist species in terms of where they will grow.

Another species of concern, Common Bog Arrow Grass (Triglochin maritimum, State Rare, below), is more abundant in this panne than I have seen it anywhere in the state. According to Derek Nimetz of Indiana Department of Natural Resources - Division of Nature Preserves, this species has done extremely well where recreational 4-wheelers have driven through the site. Species like this require periodic disturbance, as they need their space and don't do well in the presence of much competition. Thanks, illegal 4-wheelers!

While walking through the panne, I scared up a Great Egret (Ardea alba, State Special Concern, below), whose white feathered body made for a statuesque subject against a cloudless sapphire sky.

As expected, Pine Station and Clark and Pine Nature Preserves proved an excellent location for a late July field trip.

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