29 October 2011

It Ain't Over Quite Yet

In keeping with tradition, below are photos of Greater Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis crinita) from a wet sand prairie in Griffith, Indiana.  It seems that each of the last three years, I've posted photos of this species from different sites and different habitats.

It is difficult not to love the fringed, blue blooms of Greater Fringed Gentian.

I saw these plants flowering earlier this week.  Although fall has nearly seized the last of summer's blossoms, a few of the hardiest plants are putting forth a final effort before frost drapes us with dormancy.

The Field Botanist

My coworker Abby recently sent me the quote and picture of an engraving below, which reminded her of her first summer of monitoring with Tony and me. I liked them so much that I created a poster out of them...


A happy 9th anniversary!

23 October 2011

The Forsaken Flora

Ever wonder, as you're cruising along the interstate at 70+ mph, what plants are growing in the harsh environment created by asphalt-induced higher temperatures, vehicle-created winds, and runoff including road maintenance chemicals?  If you're like most people, probably not... there are plenty of other things to think about, like talking on cell phones, eating, and putting on make-up.  But if you're like me, observing the highway flora is a top priority.

Fetid Marigold thrives in a narrow band along the highway shoulder

Here in the Great Lakes region, our highway flora consists of an interesting assemblage of plants native to the Atlantic coast, plants native further west and south of here, opportunistic Midwestern natives, and your typical Old World weeds.  One of the most conspicuous is the low-growing, malodorous composite that forms a yellowish- to reddish-colored band immediately adjacent to the highway shoulder.  This is Fetid Marigold (Dyssodia papposa), a plant native through the Great Plains south to Texas, but introduced in the eastern and western thirds of the country.

Not much else grows in the zone with Fetid Marigold

Fetid marigold is so named because of the characteristic strong, unpleasant odor that is emitted from the glands on the phyllaries (you can see these glands in the photograph below).  The Latin name for the genus (Dyssodia) is Greek for "disagreeable odor."  In fact, in the 1800s, C.W. Short included on the herbarium specimen label of one of his collections of this species that "This plant is so abundant, and exhales an odor so unpleasant as to sicken the traveler over the western prairies of Illinois, in autumn."

The orange-colored glands on the phyllaries contain a watery liquid with the characteristic odor of Fetid Marigold

Fetid Marigold has an interesting history in the Chicago Region.  After being introduced to the area in the 1800s, it spread to nearly every road and trail throughout the region.  Between approximately 1930 and 1970, Fetid Marigold nearly disappeared from this area, but beginning in the 1970s, it again began to spread.  Now it can be found along most of our highways.

The habitat in which Fetid Marigold grows is not conducive to the growth of many other species

Another conspicuous composite found along our roadsides is Seaside Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens).  Unlike the previous species, however, Seaside Goldenrod has been introduced around the Great Lakes region from the Atlantic and Gulf Coast states, where it grows in sandy soils and on the edges of salt marshes near the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.  I have seen this goldenrod thriving in tiny cracks in concrete along Lake Michigan in Chicago, where no other plant dares to grow.

Seaside Goldenrod is tall and showy with fleshy, leathery foliage

Of the goldenrods found in the Chicago region, Seaside Goldenrod is one of the most attractive, as its individual flowers are quite large for a Solidago. Seaside Goldenrod has leathery, waxy leaves characteristic of many plants that grow in the harsh conditions adjacent to the ocean, making it well suited for the similarly windy and salty conditions that exist along our highways.

Notice the large flowers of Seaside Goldenrod

Saltmarsh Aster (Aster subulatus, or Symphyotrichum subulatum) has similar native and introduced ranges in the United States to those of Seaside Goldenrod, and the two are often found growing together.  Known locally in the Chicago region as Expressway Aster (for obvious reasons), this aster is somewhat inconspicuous, as it has very short light lavender ray flowers that are not much longer than the phyllaries.  It is an annual aster with smooth and somewhat succulent stems and leaves.

Saltmarsh Aster has short (but obvious) ray flowers

Saltmarsh Aster appears late in the season but can form near monocultures in places of high salinity.  At a location I visited for work twice in 2011, it was undetectable during my June visit, but abundant when I was back at the site in September.

Near monocultures of Saltmarsh Aster can be formed in moist to wet areas with high salinity

Another annual aster that grows in the salty zone along our highways in the Great Lakes region is Rayless Aster (Aster brachyactis, Brachyactis ciliata, or Symphyotrichum ciliatum).  Unlike the previous two species, Rayless Aster is native in the western United States and Canada, as well as in Eurasia.

Rayless Aster can be somewhat inconspicuous

Rayless Aster is probably the most inconspicuous of the species in this post, especially because its ray flowers, as the common name implies, are absent or undeveloped.  However, when in fruit, the fluffy pappus is quite noticable.

Although the ray flowers are lacking, the spreading involucral bracts are helpful in the identification of Rayless Aster

This just scratches the surface regarding some of the plants that make their home in one of our harshest environments.  Although all of these plants are non-native around the Great Lakes, they perform the difficult task of growing in an area that is too salty, windy, and sediment-covered for most of the other plants in our flora to survive, while at the same time going almost completely unnoticed even though they are probably amongst our most frequently seen plants.  Some of the other plants that frequently are found with these four composites in this unique habitat include Quack Grass (Agropyron repens), Common Ragweed (Ambrosia artemisiifolia), Hairy Aster (Aster pilosus), Triangular-leaved Orach (Atriplex prostrata), Expressway Sedge (Carex praegracilis), Oak-leaved Goosefoot (Chenopodium glaucum), Chicory (Cichorium intybus), Horseweed (Conyza canadensis), Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota), Barnyard Grass (Echinochloa crusgalli), Tall Fescue (Festuca arundinacea), Squirrel-tail Grass (Hordeum jubatum), Burning Bush (Kochia scoparia), Willow Lettuce (Lactuca saligna), Salt-meadow Grass (Leptochloa fusca var. fascicularis), Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Knee Grass (Panicum dichotomiflorum), Common Reed (Phragmites australis), Sidewalk Knotweed (Polygonum arenastrum), Alkali Grass (Puccinellia distans), Alkali Bulrush (Scirpus maritimus var. paludosus), Green Foxtail (Setaria viridis), Lesser Salt Spurrey (Spergularia marina), Sheathed Rush Grass (Sporobolus vaginiflorus), Sea Blite (Suaeda calceoliformis), Narrow-leaved Cattail (Typha angustifolia), and Hybrid Cattail (Typha x glauca).

If you're ever in search of a new county or state record, I recommend looking for these rapidly spreading highway plants.  Three of the species above were new county records where I found them in Dane County, Wisconsin a few weeks ago.

17 October 2011

Still Time To See Sallies

When I received my most recent volume of Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science, I found myself looking at a Four-toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) on the front cover, and immediately thought of my searches for this species earlier this year (click here and here) with Lee Casebere, Scott Holaday, and Bill Ringer.  Upon looking at the first article, I was excited to read about the surveys for Four-toed Salamanders that Lee had done with Michael Lodato in Indiana during the past several years [Casebere, L.A. and M. Lodato. 2010. The Four-Toed Salamander (Hemidactylium scutatum) in Indiana: Past and Present. Proceedings of the Indiana Academy of Science. Vol. 119 (2)].  After reading the article, I emailed Lee to let him know how much I enjoyed the article and that I hoped we could look for Four-toed Salamanders again soon because I needed to get some new photos of them (since the only time I'd ever seen one previously was several years ago in Michigan).  It didn't take long for Lee to write back and thank me for my compliment, and soon enough we had plans to go look for salamanders at Koontz Lake Nature Preserve on 15 October.

Our target, a Four-toed Salamander

It didn't take long to find our first Four-toed Salamander. Although this species was listed as endangered in Indiana until very recently, it was still a treat to find several of them on this blustery autumn day.

A white belly with dark spots gives away the identity of a Four-toed Salamander

The telltale identification feature of Indiana's smallest salamander is the polka-dotted ventral side, with dark spots on a white belly.  Other good identification features are the scaly back (this species was once known as the Scaly Salamander), the dryer texture, and the constriction at the base of the tail (where the body and tail meet).  Oh yeah, and they have four toes on their hind feet.  Males and females look similar, but the males have blunt snouts, whereas those of the females are rounded.

At up to 3 inches long at the most, Four-toed Salamanders are Indiana's smallest salamander species

The geographical range of the Four-toed Salamander includes much of the eastern half of the United States and into Canada to Nova Scotia, with a more concentrated distribution in the northeastern U.S., along the coastal plain, and around the Great Lakes.  Disjunct populations occur in the Ozarks, in the Florida panhandle, and in eastern Louisiana.  In Indiana, Four-toeds are found in sphagnum and tamarack bogs, near woodland springs, in swamps, and in forests with vernal pools.  Sedge clumps or mosses seem to be essential, as the species uses these microhabitat features for nesting sites.

Note the scaly skin and the constriction at the base of the tale in the Four-toed Salamander

Although Four-toed Salamanders were our target for the day, we had good luck with other species as well.  Blue-spotted Salamanders (Ambystoma laterale) were abundant.  Although they can be impossible to distinguish from triploids and hybrids of the Ambysoma jeffersonianum complex without genetic analysis, Lee felt pretty confident that the individuals we were seeing were most likely true Blue-spotted Salamanders, which seem to be confined in Indiana to the northern quarter of the state.

The coloration of this handsome Blue-spotted Salamander reminds me of one of the poison dart frogs in the rainforest

Slightly larger and definitely stockier than the Four-toed Salamander, Blue-spotted Salamanders rarely exceed five inches in length.  The species is known from the eastern provinces of Canada, from the New England states, and from around the Great Lakes.  In Indiana, they are often found in moist, sandy woods.

The third species that we saw was the one that we most expected to see, Redback Salamander (Plethodon cinereus).  There are two common color morphs of this species: one with dark sides and a wide red to orange midline stripe (the striped morph), and one uniformly dark above (the unstriped morph).  A third color morph (the red morph) is uncommon in Indiana and only found in southeastern Indiana; it is uniformly red to orange above.

Probably the brightest and largest Redback Salamander (striped morph) that I've ever seen

For more information on the habits, habitat, and range of the Redback Salamander, see my earlier post that includes information on this species.

The unstriped morph (leadback) Redback Salamander (above) can be confused with the Ravine Salamander (Plethodon richmondi), which is restricted in Indiana to the southeastern part of the state

Lee told me that this was one of the best days he has ever had in terms of number of salamander individuals observed; it was certainly my best ever salamander day as well.  In our three-and-a-half hours together in the field, we tallied 7 Four-toed Salamanders, 20 Blue-spotted Salamanders, and 31 Redback Salamanders (16 striped morph and 15 unstriped morph).  After Lee left, I spent another half hour and found an additional 4 Blue-spotted Salamanders and 1 unstriped morph Redback Salamander.  There probably aren't many days left this year when the sallies will be active, so get out there soon if you plan to find them before the snow falls!

09 October 2011

Wisconsin Point In August

When I was in Superior, Wisconsin this August for work, a few of us took some time on our day off to visit Wisconsin Point, part of the largest freshwater sandbar in the world.  Although many people visit Wisconsin Point to see the historic lighthouse, we were there to see interesting plants.  Below are some of the highlights.

Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus) is an attractive legume of sandy beaches and gravelly shores that has a broad geographical range, known from four continents (North America, South America, Asia, and Europe).  The hard coat and high buoyancy of its seeds allow them to remain viable for many years as they float to far reaching parts of the world.  Although its populations are stable on the shores of Lake Superior and Lake Michigan in Wisconsin, Beach Pea is listed as endangered in Indiana and Illinois and threatened in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. 

Within North America, Beach Pea is known primarily from the Pacific Coast in the northwestern United States and north into Canada and Alaska, from the Great Lakes coastal beaches, and from the Atlantic Coast in the northeastern United States north into Canada.  There are also a few records from shores of inland lakes.  Several varieties of this species have been described.

The grapeferns that I see most frequently in northern Indiana are Rattlesnake Fern (Botrychium virginianum) and Cutleaf Grapefern (Botrychium dissectum), so it was nice to see another species for a change.  The plant in the photograph above is Leathery Grapefern (Botrychium multifidum).  All of the plants in the population had very short fronds, barely 7 cm long to a bit longer than 7 cm.  This fern is primarily known from much of the northern half of North America, but it is listed as endangered or threatened in several states.  It is most often found in fields, but is also found in forest openings.

We were lucky to see the orchid shown above and below, as it nearly blended in with its surroundings.  This is Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain (Goodyera tesselata), a plant primarily of the Upper Great Lakes and New England states, as well as the adjacent provinces in Canada.

Endangered or threatened in several states, Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain grows in forests ranging usually from dry to moist, but often with rich soils.  It is sometimes found in white cedar swamps and on margins of tamarack-spruce bogs.

Like other members of the genus Goodyera, Checkered Rattlesnake Plantain persists as an underground plant for many years before sprouting a basal rosette (shown above).  The basal rosette then persists for several years before the plant produces a flowering stalk.  After flowering, the visible part of the plant that flowered dies, and a new basal rosette is produced.

Although a common element of the boreal forest, I was very excited to see so much Narrowleaf Cowwheat (Melampyrum lineare), as this species is listed as rare in Indiana; it is also considered threatened and endangered in other states within its range.  Narrowleaf Cowwheat is a species with an affinity for boreal regions, but it is also found in several states throughout the Appalachian Mountains.

Narrowleaf Cowwheat is sometimes parasitic on the roots of other plants.  It grows in moist to dry forests  (often in pine woods and boreal forests) and in bogs.

I always enjoy getting out to see some of the natural areas when we are working in the northwoods.  Many of the plants that are somewhat common there are uncommon or nonexistant in northern Indiana, so a trip into the field makes being away from home for a week or more a bit more tolerable.

02 October 2011

Highlights From A Trip To The Kankakee Sands Region

It is hard to believe that October is already upon us.  After one of the busiest summers I've ever experienced, I began to look back through some of my 2011 photographs and noticed that I had not posted about a fantastic Sunday botanizing outing in the Kankakee Sands region of Indiana and Illinois in late July.  Stephanie Frischie of The Nature Conservancy of Indiana (Kankakee Sands Project) was my guide as we visited several preserves in the Hoosier and Prairie states.

Pembroke Savanna
We spent our time primarily in two plant communities, sand savanna and wet sand prairie, with a bit of time spent in sand flatwoods.  I was very impressed by the open aspect of Pembroke Savanna Nature Preserve on the Illinois side of the state line.  Many of the "savannas" in northwest Indiana would be more acurately categoriezed as woodlands, as there is less of a prairie and grass component with more forbs and shade tolerant species present, and as there are more trees per acre than in a classic savanna.  However, the plant community at Pembroke Savanna, as seen above, was quite open and fit my concept of a true savanna.

Platanthera ciliaris inflorescence
Many rare plants can be found in these sandy, acidic communities.  One of our targets for the day was Yellow Fringed Orchid (Platanthera ciliaris), a species known from many states and provinces in the eastern half of North America, but listed as endangered or threatened in 10 of them, including Indiana and Illinois.  It is much more common southeast of here, in the moist pine savannas of the coastal plain.  We saw a large population of this species in a moist to wet sand prairie/savanna in an Illinois preserve.

Platanthera ciliaris flower
As you can see, the flowers of this orchid are a striking yellow to orange color that is unmatched in the plant world.  Yellow Fringed Orchid grows in bogs, meadows, seepage areas, and moist to wet sand.  Although it seems to prefer open areas in nearly full sun, it can survive in small amounts of shade, and I have seen one location where one plant survived and flowered under dense shade of an oak woodland that was historically more open.  Without some form of disturbance (fire, seasonal water fluctations, selective clearing of woody vegetation, etc.), extant populations of Yellow Fringed Orchid will cease to exist.

Polygala cruciata var. aquilonia
The flora of the moist to wet sand flats in the Kankakee Sands region is similar in many respects to the flora of the Atlantic coastal plain, and another of the species with coastal plain affinities that we were searching for and found was Drumheads (Polygala cruciata var. aquilonia).  In the broad sense, Cross Milkwort (as it is also konwn for its leaves that are generally in whorls of four) has a very similar geographical range to that of Yellow Fringed Orchid.  The plants that we see in northern Indiana and Illinois, as well as in the northern half of the species' range, are var. aquilonia; var. cruciata is found throughout the southern half of the species' range.

Polygala cruciata var. aquilonia inflorescence
Drumheads is a species of conservation concern in nine states.  It can be found in moist to wet soils, often in sand but sometimes in peat. It seems to do will with some form of disturbance, such as scraping the soil.  We found this species in sand flatwoods at Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area in Indiana.

Polygonum careyi
Yet another species more at home on the coastal plain that we saw in openings within sand flatwoods at Willow Slough Fish and Wildlife Area was Carey's Smartweed (Polygonum careyi).  This species is most common in the New England states along the Atlantic Coast, but is also found in disjunct populations throughout the Great Lakes states and at a few locations in the Appalachians; it is also known from one county in Florida.  Carey's Smartweed is listed as endangered, threatened, or extirpated in six states, including Indiana and Illinois.  I have only seen this rare smartweed at one other site in Indiana.  Like the previous species, it needs some form of disturbance for its populations to be maintained, and it responds well to fire.

Polygonum careyi inflorescence
Carey's Smartweed could potentially be confused with the much more common Pinkweed (Polygonum pensylvanicum), as both have stalked glands on the stem below the inflorescence.  However, Carey's Smartweed has distinctly fringed ocrea, whereas Pinkweed has unfringed ocrea.  Carey's Smartweed grows in swamps, bogs, clearings, and on shorelines. 

Aureolaria pedicularia var. ambigens
Although not as rare, I was excited to see Fernleaf Yellow False Foxglove (Aureolaria pedicularia var. ambigens) growing in dry sand in a scrubby oak flatwoods at Carl Becker Nature Preserve in Illinois.  In the broad sense, this species (including all of its varieties) is known from much of the eastern United States.  Three varieties (var. ambigens, var. intercedens, and var. pedicularia) are known from Indiana; a fourth variety (var. austromontana) grows in the southeastern United States.  The plant in the photograph above fits var. ambigens because of the densely glandular-pubescent upper stems and branches.  Aureolaria pedicularia is a species of conservation concern in five states.  This oak parasite grows in dry sandy soils in savannas, forests, and thickets, as well as on stabilized dunes.

Rhexia virginica
We ended our outing with a quick stop at Hopkins Park Cemetery to see, among other things, the strongly contrasting yellow stamens and pink petals of Handsome Harry (Rhexia virginica).  Listed as threatened in two states,Virginia Meadow Beauty, as it is also known, is documented from most of eastern North America where it grows in wet sandy soils in swamps, thickets, prairies, seeps, swales, marshes, and in sandstone depressions in upland forests.  Within the Chicago Region, there is nothing that can be confused with this species, even vegetatively, as it has a sharply quadrangular (to somewhat winged) stem and opposite, ovate, toothed leaves with three distinct impressed veins and stiff hairs that stand perpendicular to the leaf blades.

Thanks to Stephanie for showing me around this very botanically interesting region of the country.