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.

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