30 September 2012

Worth the Trip (and the Resulting Lack of Sleep)

Memorial Day weekend is always exciting for me, as it means a trip to somewhere in Michigan to meet up with old friends and participate in the Michigan Botanical Club Spring Foray.  This year's foray was centered in Pellston, Michigan (in the Tip of the Mitt) at the University of Michigan Biological Station.  In typical Scott fashion, I pushed the limits of human sleep requirements on this fine weekend.  I worked until after 5 PM on 25 May, then came home and packed my things.  I was finally able to get to bed around 9:30 PM for a three hour nap before heading out for the six hour drive to the field station.  I arrived just in time for a quick breakfast prior to heading out on my first field trip. 

Lake Huron Tansy
On Saturday I joined an all day field trip to Sturgeon Bay Dunes, led by Kathy Bricker.  One of the highlights of this trip was seeing the state-threatened Lake Huron Tansy (Tanacetum bipinnatum ssp. huronense).  In the United States, this taxon is only known from four states, and it is of conservation concern in the three states (Wisconsin, Michigan, and Maine) in which it occurs in the Lower 48.  It is also known from Alaska and much of Canada, and looking at the species in the broader sense, it is circumboreal, also occurring in Siberia.  In the Great Lakes region, Lake Huron Tansy is only known from calcareous sand dunes along Lake Huron and Lake Superior. 

Ram's Head Lady's Slipper
We also made a quick stop along a roadside to see Ram's Head Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium arietinum).  This intriguing orchid is a species of conservation concern throughout its United States range (it is known from nine Great Lakes and New England states; it also has a limited range in Canada).  It is most commonly found in calcareous soils of coniferous and mixed forests.  Ram's Head Lady's Slipper is a small orchid that can easily be overlooked.  The only other time I've seen it was when I was taking a brief bathroom break in a boreal forest in northernWisconsin and I looked down and noticed an odd orchid that was just past peak bloom... after finishing up, I bent down and found that I'd happened upon a new county record of Ram's Head Lady's Slipper that without the benefit of my small bladder would have continued to go unnoticed for an unknown number of years.

Dwarf Lake Iris
Caving to the pressures of a flora-happy group that had little regard for getting back to the field station on time, Kathy made another roadside stop to show us Dwarf Lake Iris (Iris lacustris), a Great Lakes endemic known only from Michigan, Wisconsin, and Ontario in areas bordering Lake Huron and Lake Michigan.  Some believe that this species should at best be considered a variety of the larger Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata), a species with a more southern distribution.  Dwarf Lake Iris is a rhizomatous species that can form near carpets in the calcareous soils in which it is found, but due to its limited geographical range it is considered federally threatened.  Plants at this location were nearly past bloom when we saw them, with just a few holding onto flowers.  Dwarf Lake Iris is the state wildflower of Michigan.

That evening, instead of getting to bed early like my body told me to, I decided to stay up until after midnight visiting with friends.  The next morning, I was up by 6:30 AM with high hopes of seeing more rare plants on an all day field trip to the eastern Upper Peninsula peatlands with Brad Slaughter.

Dragon's Mouth
Brad does not disappoint.  After an hour long drive and some confusion in getting our group of several vehicles together, we all made it into Eckerman Fen where we saw a mix of calciphiles and acidophiles growing in mucky soils and sphagnum hummocks.  Although a couple of the sedges were highlights for me, the group seemed to enjoy Dragon's Mouth (Arethusa bulbosa) more than any of the other plants we saw in bloom.  I have to admit... even this sedgehead was a bit mystified by the enormous pink blooms of the Dragon's Mouth plants, which occur on relatively short stems growing out of the sides of sphagnum mounds.  Dragon's Mouth grows in bogs, fens, swamps, and sedge meadows in the northeastern states and provinces of North America.

Tussock Cottongrass
We then made a stop at a very different type of peatland community, Trout Lake Muskeg.  The flora was expectedly not as rich here as at the fen because the soil chemistry was more acidic, limiting the number of species that can tolerate site conditions.  However, we still saw a nice mix of plant species, including Tussock Cottongrass (Eriophorum vaginatum var. spissum).  This circumboreal sedge is found in the northeastern parts of North America in bogs, peaty meadows, and similar habitats. 

Small Yellow Lady's Slipper
As most of our group headed back for dinner, Brad, Rob Liebermann, and I decided to forgo the meal that was covered by our foray registration fees and to continue on to Summerby Swamp to visit another fen community.  As expected, a rich flora awaited us.  Though there were many highlights, it was nice to see a good example of Small Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin), with small lips (pouches), purple sepals and petals, and distinctly vanilla-scented flowers.  For comparison, there were also individuals of Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens) on the site; these had (slightly) larger lips, green (or at least with less purple) sepals and petals, and flowers with no odor. This elegant orchid is known from fens, wet prairies, and open forests in calcareous soils throughout much of the northern half of North America but is of conservation concern in many of the states in which it occurs.

When we arrived back to the field station, the sun was already beginning to fall below the northern Michigan horizon, and I knew I had to get on the road for home soon.  By 10 PM, I was on my way, stopping to sleep at a rest stop for an hour to help me get home safely by 4:00 AM on 28 May.  Another whirlwind, in a way considered one of the dumber things I've done given that I drove 12 hours round trip for 20 hours or so of botanizing, and given that I slept only 10 hours during this 72-hour period.  But as you can see here, and as I hope to show in posts this winter if I ever get caught up on the rest of the year of botanizing, it was defintely worth the trip.