Blooms, Butterfly and a Bird

Last week, the Tuesday Morning Group met over at the Nan Weston Preserve out near Sharon Mills.  It was prime spring wildflower time, and although the morning was quite chilly, especially with the wind blowing, we found lots of flowers in bloom.

One that still boggles my mind to see is flowering dogwood.  To me this is a southern species (it’s the state tree of Virginia), but it grows here in southern Michigan, and it was in bloom that morning.

Just a short distance down the trail the large-flowered trilliums (trillia?) were starting to bloom.  Such a lovely flower.

The rue anemone threw folks for a loop for a while.  The name comes from the shape of hte leaves, which look like the leaves of meadow rue.  Yet some were convinced this was wood anemone.  A quick consultation with a field guide soon set everyone straight.

Jack-in-the-pulpits started to emerge about a week prior, so it was a perfect day to find these strange-looking flowers in bloom…a perennial favorite of mine.

Violets.  Which ones?  If I had to make a stab in the dark I’d go with northern blue violets, which are fairly common.  But that’s back in northern NY – I’m not sure about here in MI.  I confess, I haven’t taken the time to key them out.

Tucked down among the leaves was a lovely dwarf ginseng.

Another favorite is miterwort.  From a distance this sparsely-flowered spike doesn’t look like much, but up close the tiny flowers look like snowflakes.

Large-flowered bellwort was going strong.  We saw several patches and individual stalks of this drooping yellow flower.  The first time I saw this flower, about two or three years ago, I was amazed by its size, for up until then I had only ever encountered its cousin the sessil-leaved bellwort.  Both are lovely, but this one is just lovely on a larger scale.

This flowering tree (or was it a shrub?) struck me as quite attractive.  Too often we go through life unaware of the flowers that are blooming above our heads.  Tree flowers are quite lovely, but they don’t occur (usually) at eye-level, so we miss their splendor.  As a result, tree flower ID can be tricky, especially when one hasn’t taken the time to look at the rest of the plant!  So, if anyone recognizes this flower, please let me know!

We were treated to a splash of color thanks to a few blossoms of the wild blue phlox.  Most phloxes people see are garden varieties, mostly pinks and white, which are planted along rocky gardens or sloped edges of the property.  But this blue-ish (purple-ish) beauty is a native plant, and one that will become quite prolific out at Nan Weston as spring progresses.

The plant below confounded me.  A niggling bit of my mind kept telling me “you’ve seen this before,” but I just couldn’t place it.  I tried looking it up in my trusty Newcomb’s, but it turns out I was keying it out incorrectly.  I was looking under “7 or more parts” where I should’ve been going for “parts indistinguishable.”  Anyway, thanks to my good friend, and former Michigander, Jackie, I can now tell you this is goldenseal!  I think the last time I actually saw goldenseal was when I worked in NJ, and we planted it and some ginger in one of the gardens of the Special Use Trail, so it’s been, oh, nearly 20 years.  Goldenseal is one of those medicinal plants that are now quite rare in many places thanks to over-harvesting.

I love Dutchman’s breeches.  I love the yellow and white colors, I love the shape, and I love the way they hang on the stem, which is very similar to their cousin the bleeding heart.  I also love them because of their name, and because until moving to Michigan they were a rare flower find for me.

Spring beauty is a plant that lives up to its name.  While this group of beauties is quite pink, sometimes the flowers look more white.  We saw some “white” ones on this walk, and several people said to me “I thought they were pink.”  If you look closely, however, you will see that the petals are actually white, but they sport pink stripes.  Sometimes the stripes are quite bold and prominent (like below), while other times they are pale and thin, difficult to discern at a distance.

Another violet.  Yellow violets are a bit easier to ID – there are fewer species of them!  With the deeply heart-shaped leaves below, this one is easily identified as the smooth yellow violet.

Now, how can you not love a plant that is named “squirrel corn”?  Like the Dutchman’s breeches, this plant is related to bleeding hearts, and indeed it looks like a skinny white version of its cousin.  The name, however, comes from the bit underground:  the tubers supposedly look like kernels of corn, or yellow peas (I guess “squirrel pea” just doesn’t have the same ring as “squirrel corn” does).

And another violet.  This one is very easy to identify, thanks to that long spur that is sticking out the back.  The name?  Long-spurred violet!

Look carefully in the center of the photo below and you will see a red admiral butterfly.  This was my second red admiral of the season.  It just seems too early for these butterflies.  I had thought they might overwinter as adults, but apparently they leave these northern climes by late summer or early fall (Sept/Oct).  But, they don’t seem to mind chilly weather, for they leave Texas and Florida to head back north in the spring, often arriving by mid-April, like this one apparently did.

Bedstraws are often overlooked because they aren’t spectacularly showy flowers, but I like them none the less.  This one, I believe, is sweet-scented bedstraw, a woodland denizen that blooms in late spring and into the summer.  True to their name, bedstraws used to be used to stuff mattresses…not to the colossal thicknesses of today’s mattresses, but enough to give the sleeper a little protection from a hard, and possibly drafty, surface.

I promised you a bird, too.  Sadly, I don’t have any photos of the birds we saw this morning, but I can tell you that the bird that caused the most excitement was the Louisiana water thrush, which sang to us from the treetops overhead about 3/4 of the way through this walk.  The group was hushed and we all peered into the trees to see our quarry, which sat quite patiently for most of the group to see.

The spring wildflowers (and birds) should still be worthwhile out at Nan Weston.  If you want to go, make the turn off Sharon Hollow Road onto Eusades Rd. (a dirt road) and look for the very small pull-off on the south side of the road.

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About Dahlem Center

The Dahlem Center is a non-profit nature center/environmental education center located on almost 300 acres just south of the city of Jackson, Michigan. The Center is one arm of the Dahlem Conservancy, which includes land conservancy and stewardship in its mission.
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2 Responses to Blooms, Butterfly and a Bird

  1. I can help you with two plant IDs. The shrub with the spiky yellow flowers is Northern Prickly Ash, staminate variety. The pistillate flowers are borne on a separate shrub. And I think you already know the name of Goldenseal (the petal-less flower with spiky white yelllow-tipped anthers), since we shared some email about it. A very rare flower in New York, but I don’t know if that’s true in Michigan. I hope that bedstraw you found was Fragrant Bedstraw, but I’m afraid it looks more like Cleavers, an introduced species that’s horribly invasive out here in NY.

  2. Oops! I was mistaken about Cleavers being non-native. But not about it being invasive.
    Just wanted to add a note about Northern Prickly Ash. If you pick a twig and chew on it, your lips and tongue may go numb. Another name for this shrub is Toothache Tree. But the effect only lasts a half-hour or so. I tried it once, so I know.

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