Weekend Plans

Right now the sun is out and it is a beautiful autumnal day – temps in the low 60s.  Ahhhh!  More rain is in the forecast, however.  Hm.  I hope that Saturday is going to be clear, because this Saturday, 22 September, the first day of Autumn, we are having our first ever Faerie Fest and Dragon Days!  Hooray!

Now, there are a number of folks out there who will be scratching their heads wondering what in the world something like this has to do with “environmental education.”  Well, it all comes down to beginnings.

As we all know, from various posts, articles, TV shows, movies, books, interviews, speeches, etc., people have become disassociated from nature, and the kids of today are the most disassociated of all.

In order to get people back out into nature, it has to be fun…especially for kids.  If kids have fun outside, then they want to go outside.  And by spending time outside, using their imaginations, kids will develop a connection with nature.  Dare we say a love for it?  As they grow up, this passion will turn into interest, and eventually into a sense of stewardship for the land.  In a word (two words):  environmental education…without the doom and gloom.

So, it all starts with having fun outside…and using one’s imagination.  And that’s where our Faerie Fest and Dragon Days comes in!

For months this event has been in the works, and this week we’ve pulled out all the stops to get ready.  Staff and volunteers have been busily collecting “stuff” for the Faerie House Depot to “sell” – pods, nuts, shells, twigs, cones, bark…

Yesterday Carrie and I zipped out to the the grassland to look for bones and milkweed pods.  We ended up making some nice discoveries.

We collected some bones from a deceased deer – perfect for someone to add to a dragon lair, don’t you think?

We even ran into a small dragon!

No, wait…that’s a praying mantis.  She was NOT happy that we found her, for we spent the next 15 minutes or so trying to photograph her.

Looking at the size of her abdomen, we suspected she was just trying to find a place to lay her eggs.  So, we finally moved on…we had STUFF to find.

Our eyes were drawn to the Glacial Pond – what was that ring of yellow all around it?  Dead plants?  Something flowering?

I stalked closer, but couldn’t see.  Finally Carrie was brave enough to sally forth…

Look!  The pond is dried up!  That’s Carrie, stand out in the middle, where there should be water.  The ground was dry enough to hold our weight with only a little squishing.  And all that yellow?  Hundreds and hundreds of flowers!

Hm…now what could these be?  At first all I could think of were Bidens, but these were too big for Bidens, surely.  Marsh marigold came to mind, but it’s the wrong time of year for those.  Bur marigold popped into my head, but only because I saw it mentioned on the blog of a dear friend back in NY – I’ve never seen that particular plant.  When we looked at them up close, Carrie and I concluded they must be a type of Coreopsis.

So, I’m sitting here writing this and I get my Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.  I look up all the Coreopsises (Coriopsi?) and none fit…not even remotely.  I then take a stab at keying it out, based on the photos.  And guess what! Larger Bur Marigold – page 392.  And, furthermore, the genus of this yellow autumnal flower is…wait for it…BIDENS!  Bidens laevis, for those who’d like the whole scientific name.  Gosh, I love it when I’m right!

But the fascinating things were only just becoming apparent.  The ground was covered with fragile, loopy, brown things – the dried out stems of the water lilies.  Carrie had a lot of fun with these, and we gathered quiet a few – perfect for building faerie houses surely!

But wait – there’s more!  Check out these “roots” we found:

And up close:

How cool is that?  What a fascinating thing.  It is part of the water lily…and it must be old, based on the size.  Either that or they grow very fast.

Poor memory that I have, I don’t recall if what we have out on this pond are fragrant white water lilies, or spatterdock.  I believe it’s spatterdock, and these rhizomes (underground stems, not actually roots) match the images I’ve seen for spatterdock rhizomes.  They are edible, in case anyone ever wants to try.  Apparently native peoples would harvest and dry the roots to later consume for their starch content, often in the form of flour.  There’s a lot of potential flour out in that pond.

This tiny little lobelia caught my eye – surprising since it was so small and nestled in amongst all the other tall vegetation.  Water lobelia has a rosette of leaves at its base…that’s not this.  Kalm’s lobelia has long, slender, thread-like leaves…again, no match.  These plants were mostly prostrate – very low to the ground and almost creeping in nature.  Maybe it’s not a lobelia at all?  I am flummoxed.

Opposite leaves with 3-4 shallow teeth.  (According to Newcomb’s, the leaves are entire, not toothed.)

Shoot me your ideas!  Update:  my botany friend from NY nailed it:  False Pimpernel (Lindernia dubia).  It’s a member of the figwort family…not a lobelia at all (but it sure looks like one).  This plant likes wet areas, which this usually is, so, voila!

Out on the higher ground I came across two brilliantly pink flowers:  smartweed.  Is it the terrestrial form of water smartweed, or is it swamp smartweed?  The length of the flower spike suggests the latter, which can have spikes up to six inches long!  It also likes wet shores, which this apparently is this year, although “wet” may be a relative term.

One of our goals this trip, besides the bones, was dried milkweed pods.  Most of the pods that have come in for the Faerie Fest have been green  – not ripe yet.  Still, hope springs eternal, and soon we saw the telltale signs that our goal was not far off:  milkweed seeds were floating on the wind.

So, things are pretty much ready for the Faerie Fest.  The Neighborhoods are posted (Dragons’ Lair, Pearidise, Waterside, Garden Glen and Woodland Glade),

the supplies are gathered and sorted for the Faerie House Depot,


and head wreathes

have been made for staff and volunteers, and vendors have gathered their wares to sell (or at least I hope they have).

So if you are looking for a day of fun outdoors, with friends, family or by yourself, then join us this Saturday, 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM, for our first ever Faerie Fest and Dragon Days.  There will be medieval dancing, swordplay, a Dragon Egg Hunt.  The Faerie Queen, the Tooth Fairy, an Ogre and a Troll will be patrolling the grounds.  We’ve got a magician who will make the rounds, vendors selling fairy and dragon thangs, and of course, the whole reason for the day, opportunities to build faerie houses and dragon lairs for the homeless pixies and wyrms of Dahlem!

Hope to see you there!  (Rain?  Rain, schmain – we won’t let any stinkin’ rain keep us indoors – we hope it won’t keep you inside, either!)


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 Weekend Plans

  1. Sounds like a fun event! Congratulations on finding the Large Bur Marigold; that’s a threatened plant in NY, and the USDA site doesn’t show it for Michigan. Your tiny blue flower that looks rather like a lobelia is probably False Pimpernel (Lindernia dubia), which likes that kind of damp area. Enjoy the lovely autumn!

  2. Thanks, Jackie – I knew you’d probably get it (which is why I posted three photos…to give you enough info)! The illustration in Newcomb’s for the false pimpernel is pretty poor – doesn’t show the flowers, but the leaves sure match! And it’s not even in the Audubon wildflower book.

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