Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Trip to Nan Weston Preserve

 Monday afternoon I decided to take a drive out to the Nan Weston Preserve, a local Nature Conservancy parcel that is famous for its spring wildflowers.  Early to mid-May is THE time to be there, and since May was nearly over, I figured I'd better get myself out there to see what all the fuss was about.

You'd think that with a big ol' sign like this that the entrance would be easily spotted (Easudes Road), but I drove right by it without seeing it at all.  When I turned around and headed back, I watched the odometer (about 1 miles west of Sharon Hollow Rd., on the left), and there it was.  No driveway, and barely a parking area - it's no wonder I missed it on my first pass.

I immediately found flowers to photograph.

 This is one of the baneberries, but I'm unsure which (didn't bring my field guide with me, 
and inevitably, the photograph doesn't show the part(s) one needs for accurate ID).  
Red baneberry's flower raceme is usually about as wide as it is long, whereas 
the raceme on the white baneberry is usually longer than wide and each 
individual flower stalk is rather stocky.  If I had to make a guess, I'd say this is red.

 The obvious star of the day was the mayapple, which was growing 
in great profusion and at the peak of its flowering.  
Some of the blossoms were over two inches across - simply enormous!

White trillium carpeted what seemed like every acre of the forest in this 250+ acre parcel 
of land. the majority of the blooms were well past their prime, but even in their decline, 
they were impressive simply because of their numbers.

As one leaves the first stretch of woodland, one crosses a powerline easement.  
The path is well-worn, an indication of how well-used it is.

A variegated violet with a furry throat.  

Sarsaparilla was starting to flower.  Most of these plants have three balls 
of flowers, but I found one this day that had four. 

As they age, white trilliums turn pink.  Most today were quite pink, but
one or two white ones were still hanging on. 

One of the great features of this preserve are is the fantastic set of boardwalks
and bridges.  These are well-built and pretty well-cared for. 

I've gotten the impression from Michiganders with whom I've spoken that
Beech Scale Necrosis has not struck here in Michigan.  No one here seems
to appreciate what a treasure they have in their American beech trees.
Not a single one, even the ones that have fallen down, has been hit
by this awful disease, a combination of an invasive scale insect and a native
nectria fungus.  I haven't seen such beautifully pristine beech trees
since I was a kid, back in the '70s and early '80s. 

 Maidenhair ferns were nearly as prolific as the mayapples.

 Adding a welcome splash of color to the lush green and white landscape was
golden ragwort.  This knee-high plant apparently likes to have its feet wet,
for every soggy area along the trail sported patches of floral sunshine.

These ants were terribly focused on the remains of a caterpillar they discovered.

There was quite a lot of miterwort in bloom, too.  I'm not used to seeing more than
a stem or two of this delicate plant, but here there were lots and lots
at the peak of their blooming. 

This pair of white violets are a conundrum.  They look very different - the one above
with petals spread out and the one below with a very furry throat 
and sort of recurved petals. 

 And yet, they were seeming growing together on the same plant (see below).  Logic dictates that they are two separate species, just living cheek by jowl with each other.  I await species confirmation from my violet expert friend, Jackie.

 There were plenty of insect finds today, although most, like the tiger and spicebush butterflies, did not sit still long enough for me to photograph them.  Still, I found lovely examples of a leaf roller (above) and tent caterpillars (below)

 Solomon's plume (aka: false Solomon's seal) 
was only juuuuust starting to blossom.

I was too late for the squirrel corn and Dutchman's breeches.
Next year. 

I had originally thought that this was one of the baneberries, but
upon consultation with Newcomb's I discovered I was wrong.
  In my attempt to key it out, I kept ending up on the toothworts, 
but I'm not buying it.  Suggestions welcome!

A sea of mayapples.

 There were lots of wild geraniums in bloom,

and plenty of the wild blue phlox.
Thanks to the plentiful rain this spring, the woodland vernal pools
were all quite full.  Mosquitoes have begun to hatch. 

There are two trail loops at Nan Weston.  The one I took had a spur that
went to the Mill Pond.  It's the most river-like "mill pond" I've ever seen! 

A loud rustle and flapping of wings startled me from this tree across the water.  
I watched as a turkey vulture flew away.   Before long, however, it returned.
Could there be a nest here?  I stuck around and waited.

 Before long, it flew out again.  It didn't go far, soaring around above 
the canopy.  Because the weather was starting to get iffy, I didn't stick
around to see if it returned to the tree, but I suspect it did.

Two more spots of bright color were the orange fungi (above) and
lovely red oak leaves (below).  How nice that not quite everything in the 
spring is green. 

I returned to my car just as the first raindrops started to fall.  Several storm cells went by the rest of the afternoon, dropping at least another inch of rain.  And as I sit here now, typing up this post, a severe thunderstorm is rolling overhead.  The sky has been nearly as dark as it is at 9:30 PM, and the thunder has been rolling steadily for the last hour and a half.  Yes, it's been a very wet spring, but the spring flowers certainly seem to be enjoying it.

Friday, May 20, 2011

'shroom Season

 Last night I got home late - after 8 PM.  The dog was chompin' at the bit to go out, so I looped leash around his neck and out we went.  He gave a good long watering to the grass under the birdfeeders, and we struck out for the mailbox.  As we crossed the lawn, I looked down and there are my feet was this wrinkly mushroom:

Oo!  Is that a morel?  I looked around, and there was another one.  After much debate, I dragged the dog to the car, grabbed the camera, and started to photograph them.

I recalled the false morel Gary had shown us during the Work Bee a couple weeks ago, so I turned the mushroom over to check.  Sure enough, the stem attached to the base of the cap - this was the real thing.

I wandered back and forth across the yard, looking for more.  There was one!  And another!

Soon I had a whole bowl full of morels.

Now, I'm not really a mushroom person, but I knew some of the folks at work were.  So I bagged up my harvest and brought them in, much to my coworker's delight.

These particular morels are yellow morels (Morchella esculenta), apparently sometimes called white morels.  There are also black morels.  These are the edible ones.  They can be identified by the stem/cap setup described above, but also, if you cut them in half lenghtwise, they are hollow inside.

There is also the half-free morel, which is connected to the stem about half-way up the inside of the cap.  These are also edible.  For a good description, visit the Michigan Morels website.

False morels, and beefsteak morels, are poisonous.  They are solid inside, the cap is attached to the stem way up at the top interior part of the cap, and they are not considered pitted, just wrinkly.

From The Great Morel Page, I've swiped the following information about these mushrooms:  Typically they are found in moist areas, around dying or dead Elm trees, Sycamore and Ash trees, old apple orchards and maybe even in your own back yard. Ground cover varies and it is very likely that each patch of mushrooms you come across may be growing in totally different conditions. It is a common practice of shoomer's to hit their favorite spots year after year.

This has been a rather wet spring, and I've been hearing people talk about collecting morels for about a month now - it is apparently quite the thing to do here in Michigan.  As I've said before, I'm not much of a mushroom person, but I do enjoy finding and photographing them, and if I can harvest them for the enjoyment of my friends, I am happy to do so.  Therefore, I join the ranks of many Michiganders in being delighted to find these epicurean delights growing on my own property...and I was able to add one more thing to my life list of found natural objects.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Weak Stomach? Pass This By

 Last weekend, I was driving home and passed an opossum napping permanently along the side of the road.  Raccoons and 'possums are quite prominent roadside decor around here, so I wasn't too surprised to see it.

Two or three days later, I drove by and it was alive with flies.  A cloud of large black flies swarmed around its decaying corpse.  I decided that the dog and I would walk different routes for the next few days.

Last night, we walked along this stretch of road.  I had my eyes open for the body, for I didn't want Toby to get interested in it.  But when I looked, I didn't see it.  No lump or bump along the side of the road was visible.  Could it be that something carried it off?

As I approached the area where I knew the body had lain, a low rise was visible at the roadside - the flattened remains of the body.  I thought "someone must've driven back and forth over it," but when I got closer, the truth was revealed.  (This is where those with weak stomachs should turn away.)

 That cloud of flies had laid their eggs EN MASSE!  All those eggs hatched and the voracious larvae had consumed most of the 'possum's flesh.  This was why there was so very little left:  they had eaten it all!  Not only that, but rising from the writhing mass were heat waves.  You know, that wavy the air looks on hot days right above the pavement of the road, or the hood of your car.  The mass of maggots were generating enough heat to create heat waves!

 I'm a curious sort, though, so I had to get closer.  The movement of those maggots enthralled me so much that when the dog and I got home, I grabbed the camera and we hopped in the car.  We drove back to the scene of the "crime" so I could photograph it.

Only a video, however, could capture the movement.  So, here's the video I shot.  Note how the larvae seem to flow or slide down the flesh, across the bottom, then back up the side and across the top only to slide back down again.  It was like watching a current of water. It's almost beautiful.

I have in my collection of books a great little volume titled "Corpse," which talks about the history of forensics in determining time of death.  Insects are the key to nailing down the time of death, but even knowing species and how quickly they detect the gasses a body gives off the moment it expires (yes, it can be that fast), the exact time of death can still only be estimated.  It's a fascinating subject, but, admittedly, not for everyone.

Well, it is headed for 7:30 PM and I need to get home to feed the animals and find some dinner for myself.  Another long day at the office, but I had to share my maggot story before I called it a night.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

New Blog

Alrighty - after posting that I had no garden blog any more, I went out and made one. 

For those who wish to follow my exploits in trying to turn some marginal agricultural land gone to seed into a small holding that will allow me to be self-sufficient, come on over to my new gardening blog:  Homemade Harvest.  See you there.

What's Wrong with GMOs?

I may not have a gardening blog now (but I will once more, once my life settles down), but I still think it is important to share information about our food, where it comes from, and just what is in it.

For several years, I've been an advocate for non-GMO foods (GMOs are Genetically Modified Organisms).  Many proponent of GM foods claim that these plants are really no different than plants from seeds that have been bred over generations to select for specific traits, except they've done it faster by splicing in genes at the molecular level.

Somehow, though, I find it hard to believe that Round-Up, a potent herbicide, could be bred into plants without some sort of molecular tampering - it isn't a natural product that would occur in a plant via mutation or through cross-breeding by humans.

Ditto certain fish genes I've heard are now in plants.

If you don't believe that GM foods are something to be avoided, read this article from the Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Company.  It will open your eyes and raise your hackles.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Quadrillium - and an Abundance of White

 Yesterday I joined a group of nature enthusiasts for a drive to Goll Woods, a patch of "virgin forest" in northern Ohio.

Goll Woods is a rare treasure - a large plot of land that was purchased in the days when the midwest was being settled, and yet the owner, Mr. Goll, chose not to develop this parcel.  It remains one of the few original patches of Ohio forest left in existence. 

Goll Woods is lowland forest, along the Tiffen River, which this day was still flooding some of the trails.  As such, many of the plants here like to have their feet wet. One of the trees that's quite famous here is the burr oak, which grows to significant proportions (you'll see one shortly).  Apparently one blew over recently and the rings, when counted, aged the tree to over 500 years!

Goll Woods is noted on the internet and in wildflower circles as THE place to go for wildflowers.  It was, unfortunately, a rather cool and overcast day, so many of the flowers were closed, but this stretch of the Toadshade Trail was just carpeted with white trillium!

And nestled among the hundreds of tri-petaled flowers,

I found this four-petaled one!  Would that make it a Quadrillium?

Here is a tally of some of the other flowers we found this day:

 Dwarf Ginseng

Ohio Buckeye (a tree)

Toadshade (a new flower for me) - one of the trilliums


(and lots of Jacks just starting to unfold)

Early Buttercup (very soft and fuzzy stem)

Large-flowered Bellwort

A white trout lily!

Sharp-lobed Hepatica

Dutchman's Breeches (we also saw Squirrel Corn)

Miterwort (poor photo - sorry)

Nodding Trillium
Update:  we have some debate among members of the group as to which trillium this actually is.  
Some say nodding (T. cernuum), while others say drooping (T. flexipes).  The way to tell these two very similar species apart is to look at a) the petals - on nodding trillium they are strongly recurved (they bend backwards), whereas on drooping, they remain pretty straight, and b) the anthers- on nodding they are brown and on the drooping they are cream-colored.  Of course, my photo is of the wrong angle of this particular plant to really determine either. 

This lovely garter snake was nestled in the leaves and I almost stepped on it.  What was very odd about this reptile was that it was VERY warm!  The sun wasn't shining, so this perplexed us mightily  Could it have been warming up from the decaying leaves?  I find this not too likely - decay wasn't happening that fast.  Might it have been a female, and she was warm because she was gravid?  The body was quite stout.  Garter snakes are one of the species that give birth to live young (the eggs hatch internally), so this might explain the stoutness, and maybe even the warmth.  Hm...looks like I need to do a little more research.

Here is Jean next to one of the HUGE old burr oaks.  
Admittedly, Jean is vertically challenged, but even so, this is one big tree.

Wild Blue Phlox


White Clintonia - we think.  If so, another new plant for me.

Wild ginger with an itty bitty bud just to the left.

We came across this mystery violet.  Very long spur (see below), no hair inside the throat.

 Jackie - any ideas?  You are my violet go-to person!
Update:  Long-spurred Violet (Viola rostrata) - thanks, Jackie!

Mayapples were everywhere, but not blooming yet.  
This patch had some lovely mottled leaves.

A few wood anemone were hiding among the spring beauties.

And Sugar Maples!  Not a tree I'd expect to see in a wetland, since they tend to prefer drier, rockier soils.  
I guess one just never knows what one will find when it comes to Mother Nature.