16 July 2012

May and June, Oh Where Have You Gone?

It is hard to believe that it was 13 May when I started drafting this post, at the time called "Catching Up," about my outings from 21 to 30 April. It's been a busy year, to say the least. Since that time I've botanized and birded in six states (a few of them more than once); I am finally getting a chance to catch my breath.  If I stopped taking photographs right now, I would have plenty of material to get me through the depths of the (hopefully white) winter that lies ahead.

In trying to catch up, my next couple of posts, at least as I am planning them, will just be highlights of the last several months.  I'll hit on sites and species in more detail later in the year.  This post contains photographs from four botanical outings in Indiana in late April.

Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis)
Back on 21 April, I joined John Henry Drake for some botanizing in Lake County, Indiana.  I don't often think of this northwestern Indiana county that borders Lake Michigan as being much of a mesic upland forest county, so I was surprised and excited to see Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis) and Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) on this day.  Showy Orchis is found throughout the eastern half of North America, but is considered a species of conservation concern in five states.  It is less common in the southeastern United States than it is throughout the rest of its range.  This orchid is found in deciduous mesic forests, primarily those with more calcareous substrates.  Goldenseal has a similar range to Showy Orchis, but it is considered a species of conservation concern in 12 states.  It's status in several states is a result of being overcollected for use as a medicinal plant; Goldenseal has been used in a variety of ways, including to treat cancer, diarrhea, liver problems, fevers, pneumonia, heart ailments, and skin ailments, to name a few.  Unlike Showy Orchis, which grows as individual plants, Goldenseal grows in large, dense colonies.

Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis)
At the same preserve was a sandy mesic to wet prairie and savanna, more expected plant communities for this part of the state.  The following three species were photographed in these more open habitats.

Northern Sweetgrass (Anthoxanthum hirtum)
One of the most pleasant grasses in the Chicago region is Northern Sweetgrass (Anthoxanthum hirtum, aka Hierochloe odorata and Hierochloe hirta ssp. arctica.)  I originally learned this grass as Hierochloe odorata, and it appears there is some disagreement in the correct latin name for this graminoid, which ranges from the New England area to the upper midwest to the western United States and into northern North America to Alaska.  There must be, however, agreement by all who have ever crushed and smelled the leaves that the vanilla scent emitted by the foliage of Northern Sweetgrass ranks up there with any other scent in nature.  Crush the leaves and let them dry out in your pocket, and at the end of the day you'll have double the aroma.  As a result, this grass was used by numerous Native American groups in religious ceremonies.  Northern Sweetgrass can be found in wet meadows and marshes.

Azure Bluets (Houstonia caerulea)
Azure Bluets (Houstonia caerulea) is a small perennial plant in the madder family (Rubiaceae) that is found throughout much of the eastern half of North America.  Also known by the common names Quaker Ladies and Innocence, Houstonia caerulea tends to grow in sandy or rocky areas with little competition from other species.  The flowers, though only a centimeter or so across, are quite large relative to the rest of the wispy plant.

Canadian Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis ssp. canadensis)
Many plants obtain nutrients through their roots from the soil.  Some plants are carniverous and get their nutrients from insects that they trap in modified leaves.  Other plants are parasitic and steal nutrients from surrounding plants.  Canadian Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis ssp. canadensis) is a hemiparasitic plant, meaning that it can act as a parasite, but that it can also obtain nutrients from the soil.  Found throughout the eastern two-thirds of North America, Wood Betony, as it is also often commonly known, grows in dry open woods, savannas, and prairies.  Canadian Lousewort was used as an edible and medicinal plant in a variety of ways by Native Americans, including as a spinach-like vegetable, as a love charm, and to reduce internal swelling.  The flowers can be entirely yellow, yellow with some red, or entirely red in color.

The following day, Keith Board and I botanized together in central Indiana.  Our primary target was Kittentails (Besseya bullii); in addition to finding our target, we saw numerous other plants of interest.

Kittentails (Besseya bullii)
Kittentails is definitely an interesting plant that seems to be becoming more and more rare over its geographical range.  Known only from a handful of states near the Great Lakes, and listed as a species of conservation concern in all of them, Bull's Coraldrops, as it is also known, grows in dry, acidic areas with sandy or gravelly substrate.  It doesn't compete well with other vegetation and can tolerate full sun or partial shade.  All of the populations that I am aware of are found on gravelly slopes or bluffs above rivers or lakes.  Unfortunately, due to the odd weather year we are having, most of the plants we found were already entirely finished flowering, but a couple of plants, such as the one pictured above, had a few of the more terminal flowers still intact.

Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata ssp. umbellata)
Like Canadian Lousewort, Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata ssp. umbellata) is a hemiparasitic plant.  The only member of the sandalwood family (Santalaceae) in the Chicago region, Bastard Toadflax (so named because of the apparent resemblance of its leaves to those of toadflax [Linaria spp.]) is known from much of Canada and the eastern United States.  It can be found in a variety of dry to mesic loamy and gravelly habitats, including black soil prairies, hill prairies, savannas, open woodlands, and prairie fens.

Sanddune Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum var. capitatum)
Certainly a highlight for me this spring was seeing the charismatic Sanddune Wallflower (Erysimum capitatum var. capitatum, also known as Erysimum arkansanum) in two different hill prairies.  Another common name for this species, Western Wallflower, hints that its geographical distribution is primarily in the western United States, but it ranges to the Atlantic Ocean in scattered counties east of the Mississippi River. Because of its extensive geographical range, habitats in which Sanddune Wallflower is found are also varied: hillsides, valley bottoms, deserts, open woodlands, sandy mesas, chaparral clearings, and alpine areas, to name a few.

Narrowleaf Stoneseed (Lithospermum incisum)
Another species that is much more common west of Indiana, in this case primarily through the central United States and into Canada, is Narrowleaf Stoneseed (Lithospermum incisum).  The specific epithet incisum is a reference to the fringed (or incised) petals on the trumpet-shaped flowers.  Fringed Puccoon, as it is also commonly known, grows in sandy and gravelly prairies.

Cleft Phlox (Phlox bifida ssp. bifida)
Cleft Phlox (Phlox bifida ssp. bifida) is an attractive, low-growing plant of the middle portion of the United States, ranging from Michigan south to Tennessee and west to Kansas.  It is very similar to Phlox bifida ssp. stellaria, but Phlox bifida ssp. bifida has petals cleft about half way to the base, whereas Phlox bifida ssp. stellaria has petals cleft only about one-quarter of the way to the base.  Phlox bifida ssp. stellaria also is known from a smaller geographical area, as it is only recorded from Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky.  Phlox bifida ssp. bifida grows in sandy or gravelly soils in plant communities including prairies, barrens, savannas, and glades. 

Pride of Ohio (Dodecatheon meadia ssp. meadia)
Being from Ohio, I am happy to use the common name Pride of Ohio for such an interesting plant as Dodecatheon meadia ssp. meadia.  If I were still living in the buckeye state, I probably would have learned this species by this common name, but in Indiana we tend to call it Shooting Star; it was also once referred to as Prairie Pointers.  These common names also seem appropriate, as the flowers look somewhat like shooting stars, and they are pointed and often grow in prairies.  They also remind me of the shuttlecocks that are used in badminton.  Pride of Ohio is known from the eastern half of the United States, where it is found in black soil prairies, hill prairies, limestone glades, fens, and rocky woodlands.  It can increase dramatically following fire, which acts as a disturbance and removes thatch that can prohibit the growth of this species over time.  The flowers do not contain nectar, and as a result the plant has adapted to release pollen at a certain frequency which is created by the buzz of the wings of several species of bees (particularly bumblebees).

Crowpoison (Nothoscordum bivalve)
I've been in the field with people who have seen the plant in the photograph above and said "what onion is that?"  I've answered that question with "smell it," and they soon find that it lacks the onion or garlic scent of the genus Allium.  That's because, although this species has been treated as an Allium in the past, it is not currently treated in the genus Allium, and, in fact, one of its common names is False Garlic.  Such is the plight of Nothoscordum bivalve, Crowpoison, a plant known from the southern portion of the eastern half of the United States and south into South America.  In Indiana and Ohio, two of the northernmost states in which it occurs, Crowpoison is a species of conservation concern.  Crowpoison grows in glades, prairies, fields, and open woods.  There is apparently disagreement on whether or not this species truly is poisonous, so if you eat it and live, be sure to let me know.

Leonard's Skullcap (Scutellaria parvula var. missouriensis)
I have always found the skullcaps (Scutellaria spp.) to be an interesting group of plants, and some of my favorites in this genus are the shorter stature species with small leaves.  At the two sites where Keith and I botanized, we found Leonard's Skullcap (Scutellaria parvula var. missouriensis, formerly treated as Scutellaria parvula var. leonardii), a plant known from much of the eastern half of North America.  Leonard's Skullcap is listed as a species of conservation concern in a handful of states at the northern and eastern ends of its range.  A similar taxon, Scutellaria parvula var. parvula, has leaves and stems that bear stalked glands. Unlike many plants in the mint family (Lamiaceae), the leaves of Leonard's Skullcap don't have a minty odor; they do, however, smell faintly like mushrooms when thoroughly crushed (a characteristic of the genus).  Leonard's Skullcap is found in sand prairies, on hill prairies, in barrens, on glades, and in open woodlands.

Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)
With the very hot spring that we had in 2012, many plants bloomed at least several weeks earlier than previously recorded early bloom dates.  As a result, Virginia Spiderwort (Tradesantia virginiana) had a very abnormal growth form where we saw it, as many of the flowers were just a centimeter or two above ground, giving it the appearance of the Missouri and Arkansas endemic Wild Crocus (Tradescantia longipes) (so much so, in fact, that I had to pull up the Tradescantia key in Flora of North America on my phone while in the field to make sure that we didn't have a plant new to the state and outside of its known range). Normally, Virginia Spiderwort is more difficult to tell apart from Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis) or Long-bract Spiderwort (Tradescantia bracteata); it is distinguished from the former by having pubescent sepals and pedicels (glabrous in T. ohiensis), and from the latter in that the hairs on the sepals are not glandular (T. bracteata has stalked glands on the sepals).  Virginia Spiderwort is known from many of the states and provinces in eastern North America, though it is primarily found in the middle of its range, where it grows in open woodlands and fields.

Common Goldstar (Hypoxis hirsuta)
Common Goldstar (Hypoxis hirsuta) is found throughout most of the eastern half of North America.  Because of the grass-like leaves and bright yellow, star-like flowers, another common name for this species is Yellow Star Grass.  This diminutive monocot is found in a wide range of plant communities, including prairies, hill prairies, savannas, open woodlands, fens, and glades.

The following Saturday (28 April), I decided to hike several miles along the St. Joseph River in St. Joseph County, Indiana with hopes of relocating an historic population of Kittentails.  Unfortunately, there were no Kittentails to be found (though I did find habitat at several locations), but I came away with new county records of a couple of plant species, as well as photographs of several other interesting plants.

Tinted Woodland Spurge (Euphorbia commutata)
Although it is found throughout much of eastern North America, I was surprised to find Tinted Woodland Spurge (Euphorbia commutata) during my hike, as this species is very uncommon in northern Indiana.  It can be found growing in mesic forests, in sandy open woodlands, on calcareous outcrops, and in sloping woods along streams and rivers.  Like other plants in the genus Euphorbia, the broken stems and leaves of this species produce a milky sap; there are reports that this sap is poisonous and that it can cause a poison ivy-like rash.

Aunt Lucy (Ellisia nyctelea)
Even more surprising was finding Aunt Lucy (no, not your Aunt Lucy... I'm talking about Ellisia nyctelea) stalking about the slopes along the river in a spot near the Tinted Woodland Spurge plants that I found.  This find was an apparent county record, as Aunt Lucy was previously known mostly from counties along the western boundary of Indiana, with additional populations in a couple of scattered counties in the central and northeastern parts of the state.  Over its entire range, Aunt Lucy is known generally from states and provinces throughout the entire continent with the exceptions of the northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest portions.  The county distribution maps, however, show that this only member of the genus Ellisia is much more strongly distributed through the Great Plains and into the Midwest, with an additional cluster of counties in the eastern United States and scattered counties elsewhere.  You can find Aunt Lucy in mesic woodlands, floodplains, along streambanks, and in waste areas; it does best in areas with recent disturbance, as it cannot persist with heavy competition from other plants.

Robin's Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus var. pulchellus)
In an area more typical of habitat for Kittentails, I came across a large population of Robin's Plantain (Erigeron pulchellus var. pulchellus).  This composite (Asteraceae), known from the eastern half of North America, is found in rocky woodlands, savannas, dune woodlands, bottomland woods, prairies, and on streambanks.  Robin's Plantain has larger flower heads than other members of the genus that grow within its geographical range.

On the following day (29 April), I visited Stockwell Woods in LaPorte County, Indiana to collect and photograph a new county record that I observed in a post-flowering state in 2011.  Although I drove to the site specifically for the first plant pictured below, I couldn't resist spending a bit more time botanizing the preserve on this beautiful June-like April day.

Fernleaf Phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida)
Fernleaf Phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida) is known from Iowa to Arkansas and east to the Atlantic Ocean, but in Indiana it is found in the southern three-quarters of the state, minus the east-central counties.  That's why I was so surprised last summer to find the remains of a population of this species growing in LaPorte County in northwest Indiana.  This population was expectedly introduced and has escaped, but the species can be found growing under natural conditions in rich rocky forests, mesic forest slopes, and floodplains.  As a member of the waterleaf family (Hydrophyllaceae), Fernleaf Phacelia looks somewhat similar to and is sometimes confused with Virginia Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum). 

Birdfoot Violet (Viola pedata)
In a sandy savanna dominated by Black Oak (Quercus velutina), the showy spring wildflower Birdfoot Violet (Viola pedata) was in bloom.  This charismatic, low-growing violet has deeply lobed leaves that are evocative of, you guessed it, a bird's foot.  The plants at this location and throughout most of northwest Indiana are V. pedata var. lineariloba; another variety, V. pedata var. pedata, has bicolored flowers, with the two upper petals a dark purple and the two lateral petals and spurred petal a lilac-lavender color.  Birdfoot Violet is found within the eastern half of North America, primarily in areas with sandy or rocky substrate, in prairies, glades, savannas, open woodlands, and on sand dunes.

This concluded a busy April of botanizing, but little did I realize at that time just how much busier the next couple of months would be.  Hopefully I have time to summarize my May, June, and July botanizing expeditions before August is upon us.