Botanical Foray

We had a mystery flower out in the fen, so we had to go out and try to identify it, right?  It was cloudy and looked like it could threaten rain at any moment, but regardless, we piled into the golf cart and headed out.

Along the way to the fen, we encountered some other flowers, like this lance-leaved loosestrife.  It’s a lovely little yellow flower, and one that can be easily over-looked if one isn’t paying attention.  Look for it in the open area by the shelter just before the grasslands.

DSC_0074 lance-leaved loosestrife Right now our native bee balm, or monarda, is coming into its own.  The fields all over are just loaded with plants whose buds are ready to burst.  Be careful not to confuse it with the spotted knapweed, which is also blooming right now and is the same light lavender color.


I was very excited by this plant, which is growing in our grasslands right alongside the trail.  It is a new life plant for me: colicroot, Aletris farinosa.  It’s a member of the lily family, which one would realize easily by the leaves, but the leaves are not “out” right now.  They will be visible at the base of the plant later in the season.

DSC_0079It has a variety of other, very colorful, names, like unicorn root (don’t you love that?), crow-corn and white stargrass.  And, it was one of the five original ingredients in Lydia Pinkham’s Vegetable Compound, which was used (until the 1930s) by women who suffered from “female complaints”.

DSC_0082 colicroot And just because I find such things interesting, here is a copy of the label from the famous compound.  You can still buy the product today, but the formula has changed somewhat.  Of the original five ingredients, only two remain, neither of which is colicroot.

Lydia_E._Pinkhams_cures_and_claimsAnother tall white spire of flowers is also in bloom right now:  Culver’s root.  This plant, too, has a history of medicinal uses; it is known to be high in potassium and magnesium and is used as a relaxer and supposedly has a “tonic effect” on the liver and stomach.  Good for diarrhea, purifying the blood, reducing fevers, and syphilitic conditions, according to one website.   Bees like it, so that’s a good enough reason to plant it in my book, and it’s native.


As mentioned the other day, the coneflowers are starting to bloom.  Right now the grey-headed coneflowers, with their narrow, back-swept yellow petals, are beginning to dot the grassland.

DSC_0086Mmm! If you see this flower, take a leaf, roll it between your fingers and give it a sniff.  Ahhh!  It will clear your sinuses, and refresh you at the same time.  This is narrow-leaved mountain mint, and it’s delightful fragrance will have you coming back for more!  Look closely and you will see little purple dots inside each tiny white flower.


For lily fanciers, now is the time to go out and see two of our native lilies:  the Turk’s cap,


and the Michigan.  They look very much alike, and unless you know what to look for, you might not be able to tell them apart.  The easiest thing to look for are the stamens – the long dangly parts sticking out from the center of the flower.  On the Turk’s cap (above), they extend well past the curved flower petals, while on the Michigan (below), they are much shorter.


Now, this lovely yellow flower is the one that had us going out to the fen.  After seeing the other loosestrife earlier, I knew this what what we had here, but it couldn’t be the same species – the leaves are all wrong!  It took some searching, but we finally discovered it is narrow-leaved loosestrife, a plant that favors the alkaline conditions of our fens.


I still remain amazed that sundews are in the fen.  Apparently they aren’t too picky:  acidic bog or alkaline fen, it’s all good to them.

DSC_0117 round-leaved sundew

And who wouldn’t be impressed by a flower in a pin-striped suit?  I just love this flower – white with green stripes.  It is, quite simply, dapper.  Grass-of-Parnassus; aka bog-star.  Is it a grass (as the name would have you believe)?  Nope.  It’s in the saxifrage family.  No one seems to know why it’s called a grass.  It is on the flag of the British county Cumberland, though…just a bit of trivia for you when you go to your next cocktail party.

DSC_0127 grass-of-parnassus

On the far side of the fen is a tall plant with large yellow flowers.  How large – oh, they can be 1-2″ across, these blooms.  It is great St. Johnswort, an impressive member of the Hypericum family, and one that is native to our lands (unlike common St. Johnswort, which is not).  In some states this wetland plant is threatened or even endangered, but it seems to be doing okay here in Michigan.  That said, please do not tramp through our fen to get a close-up look at it!  The fen is a fragile ecosystem, and we saw significant evidence today that folks have been tramping through it.  Ladies tresses (an orchid), sundews, grass-of-Parnassus…lots of plants were crushed under the trespassers’ feet.

DSC_0128 great st. johnswort So, here at the midway point of July, with summer in full swing (despite the refreshingly cool temperatures we are enjoying right now), our grassland and fen flowers are getting ready to put on their annual show.  Now is the time to come out with your cameras and field guides to enjoy the blooms of the season.  While you are at it, bring along your binocs and your dragonfly and butterfly books – there is so much to see in our open spaces!


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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