Wildflowers

Meadow wildflowers

This was actually supposed to be yesterday’s Sunday Snapshots, but I’ve been without internet for the last couple of days. I’m housesitting for my parents while they’re away touring the GaspĂ© Peninsula of Quebec. The internet was acting up on me when I arrived, and then it quit altogether. I finally left the modem and router unplugged for the night. This morning they seem to be functional again. The up-side to being without a connection for a while is that one tends to find one’s productivity greatly increases without the distraction… I made some good progress with the moth guide, and that’s a good thing.

Dan actually called yesterday to make sure I was alright as he hadn’t heard from me, and I hadn’t posted to the blog – which seemed a funny point to notice, but then, I do try to keep it regularly updated. Providing the connection here continues to cooperate (knock on wood) I should be back to normal.

Meadow wildflowers

The photos today are from the meadows that make up about a quarter of my parents’ 65-acre property. It might be the loveliest summer wildflower display I’ve seen. Certainly our own fields at Tay Meadows are only intermittently scattered with flowers; most fields I see are mostly grass. I attribute the profusion of flowers here to the fact that the area was grazed over by horses for a while, before my parents bought the place. The horses would have eaten the grasses but largely ignored the wildflower vegetation, which allowed the flowers to get a strong foothold in the soil – one of the reasons that artificial wildflower gardens often fail is that the grass, which is a stronger competitor, moves in before the wildflowers can become fully established. Whatever the reason it’s there, it makes for quite a lovely scene.

Meadow wildflowers

I didn’t actually pause to identify all the species of flower present in the meadow while I was out there – we’ve had so much rain here this spring that the swamps and vernal pools that are normally nearly dry by July are still quite full of water, and have been breeding mosquitoes like mad. I didn’t put any bug spray on as I quite dislike the stuff and only use it if I anticipate having to pause in one spot for long periods (for instance, when we’re out doing MAPS I have to apply it, though I’m careful to cleanse my hands afterward).

From the photo, though, I can spot the following species: Black-eyed Susan, Ox-eyed Daisy, Cow Vetch, Red Clover, Alsike Clover, Yellow Hop Clover, Philadelphia Fleabane, and St-John’s Wort. And although I don’t think any made it into the photos, there’s also Bird’s-foot Trefoil, Swamp Vervain, and Common Yarrow, that I noticed out there.

Meadow wildflowers

Promises

Trout Lilies

I suppose it must simply be because of this early spring we’ve experienced this winter, all the snow gone by mid-March, but I seem to be getting ahead of myself this year. I was absolutely convinced that by this time last year the slope leading down to the water at the lake house had been carpeted in wildflowers. That I hadn’t yet seen any wildflowers here I attributed to the fact that we were slightly farther north, didn’t have same sort of nice exposed eastern slope, and – yes, I’ll admit it – I still miss the lake house and have a slightly biased view of it having been a better-quality habitat. Or richer in biodiversity, anyway. I hadn’t seen any evergreen hepatica leaves in our forest here, and so I just figured all those lovely spring wildflowers that I seemed to remember popping up at the cusp of April, the hepaticas and spring beauties and Dutchman’s breeches, must not occur around here.

I’m slowly coming to realize that, as much as I loved that spot, and it did perhaps have a slightly higher number of provincially rare species, much of what was found there I can also find here. I went out into the woods yesterday afternoon to see if there were any signs of spring ephemerals yet. Any at all, and I was fully prepared to not find anything, since, after all, I hadn’t spotted any hepatica and it should be visible as soon as the snow’s melted. I was pleased when I came across a patch of Trout Lily in one of the little patches of trees left in the middle of the first meadow. Just the leaves so far, the flowers will be a while to come yet. But it will still be nice to have that splash of colour on the forest floor.

Dutchmen's Breeches

I wandered through another patch of trees without seeing anything, and then ducked into an area that’s effectively just part of the expansive woods that fill the neighbour’s property, distinct only in that a cedar rail fence runs through it, half a dozen meters from the edge of the trees, defining the boundary between the two properties. I found some more Trout Lily, and then, a short distance away, some frilly leaves that I recognized at once. Dutchman’s Breeches! I looked more carefully, and sure enough there was another patch, and then another. One or two even had flower stems with half-formed flower buds on them, promising of good things to come. Oh, how exciting!

Dutchmen's Breeches

I pushed on, looking more carefully now. Probably they hadn’t been present a week ago when I wandered through, or maybe I just wasn’t looking in the right spots then, but now as I looked I discovered there was quite a bit of the wildflower. In one spot, on a fairly steep east-facing slope, there were even a couple of plants with nearly fully-formed flowers. That’ll teach me to doubt!

white trillium

I found a few other things while searching the forest floor, too. I turned up two trilliums, this one with a flower bud. I don’t think of trilliums as blooming until two or three weeks after this other stuff, so this individual seems quite early to me. It looks like it will be a white flower – perhaps not a great surprise, as that’s the most common colour in our forests.

Spring Beauties

In a few spots there were these small, tapered leaves, growing in pairs, scattered in patches. I didn’t know what they were and I walked right by them at first. Then one caught my eye: it had flower buds! Looking more closely, it turned out that these were Spring Beauties, not yet opened. Another I hadn’t expected to see here! Neither the Dutchman’s Breeches nor the Spring Beauties grew in the mixed-wood forest where I grew up, and I’d come to regard them as a Carolinian species. I knew that pseudo-Carolinian habitat extended up from the Kingston area along the Frontenac Arch, where we were at the lake house, but figured we were too far north here for them, especially when there weren’t any hepaticas. I know, I know – I hinged quite a lot on the presence or absence of those hepaticas.

flowering grass sp

And finally, a flowering grass, which I almost passed by before I realized it was blooming. I’m not sure what species this is; I tried looking it up, but without success. There are just so many species, and searches are complicated by all the cultivated varieties available for gardens. So it will have to remain unidentified.

This afternoon I looked up my wildflower post from last year. Sure that it had been in the first week of April, I was surprised to discover I’d posted it on April 17. The photos used in it were taken on April 14. So we really are right on time this year.

Tuesday Miscellany

Kingsford Lake

I’m a day late with my weekly miscellaneous wrap-up. We had some internet issues yesterday that took most of the day to sort out, which prevented me from doing anything online. It’s somewhat eye-opening to see just how much time is spent on the internet – or how much one relies on it for reference – by way of how inconvenienced one is when it’s no longer available.

The forest has completely greened up over the last few weeks, and the landscape around here is very much beginning to resemble the high-summer state that we first saw it in when we arrived last summer. It’s beginning to look like we’ll be moving at the beginning of July, not quite a month shy of the date we moved in last year. I have to admit, I am really going to miss being on the water. This house has spoiled me, and despite having spent the first 96% of my life not on waterfront, I suddenly feel like I can’t bear to move away from it. However, our prospective new house reminds me a lot of where I grew up, and I’m sure I’ll feel right at home there, too, once we’re moved and settled.

Blue-eyed Grass

Our landlord came by this afternoon to mow the lawn, which Dan and I had been dutifully ignoring. We have no lawnmower, in part because we both prefer to have long-grassed “meadows” rather than lawns, which are much more beneficial to wildlife. I personally think they’re more interesting to look at than a mowed lawn, too. However, long grass does have a certain unkempt feel that can put off many prospective house-buyers. I was a bit sad to see it mowed, because the wildflowers in it were just starting to appear and bloom. One of the first to come out were these Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium angustifolium) flowers. If everyone’s lawn turned into these when left to grow, do you think anyone would mow it?

Johnny Jump-ups

Our neighbour up the lake started some seeds indoors this winter, and was extremely generous, sharing some of her extras with me for my “garden”. Among the plants she gave me were these johnny jump-ups, members of the violet family (the common name has been applied to a number of species, but I think these are probably Viola tricolor). They’re just beginning to bloom, the first one opened yesterday. As I was inspecting the plants one day earlier this week, something caught my eye. Can you see it?

Lepidopteran eggs

It’s a cluster of small, pale green eggs. I assume these are lepidopteran eggs, but what species, or even whether moth or butterfly, I don’t know. There are a few species that feed on violets as caterpillars – several species of fritillary target violets exclusively, for instance, or the Giant Leopard Moth which we saw caterpillars of around here last fall. I’m planning to let them hatch, and then when the caterpillars come out moving them into another container with some violet leaves and seeing if they’ll eat those. If so, I’ll try to raise them that way; if not, I guess I’ll reluctantly give them back (some of) my johnny jump-ups. Hopefully the plants will have grown up a bit more by then.

Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia

I spotted this Goldenrod Crab Spider, Misumena vatia, “hiding” out among the flowers of my Allium. It was so well hidden, it immediately caught my eye when I looked at the flowers (as I do every day to admire them). I’m not sure she was having any luck in catching anything, as I never saw her with a meal… but given that she doesn’t make a web, perhaps she ate at other times of the day.

misc8

Speaking of eating… Last weekend I bought some Japanese Lanterns, Physalis alkekengi, perennials that produce really neat orange “paper” seed pods in the fall. I remember, growing up, my mom used to have a patch that we’d sometimes collect the “lanterns” from for flower arrangements. I always really liked them, so when I stumbled across them in the nursery I couldn’t resist buying a pack. When I got home I planted them into a nice big pot and set them in the sun. As I do with all my plants, every day I’d check on them to see how they were doing. A few days ago I noticed they had been found by a few beetles, who were sitting in a nook in the leaves. I didn’t think much of it, until yesterday I noticed that holes were starting to appear in the leaves. Hey! Those are my plants! Sure enough, it turns out the beetles (left) are Three-lined Potato Beetles, Lema daturaphila. They favour plants in the family Solanaceae. And guess what family Japanese Lanterns belong to? I’m debating whether to just let them munch, or to try to remove them (repeatedly; I assume they’ll return). So far the damage seems to be restricted to just a couple of leaves on a couple of plants.

With him is a Clavate Tortoise Beetle, Plagiometriona clavata. There are also two of these on my little plants. They also eat plants of the Solanaceae. Now it’s starting to get a bit crowded…

Chestnut-sided Warbler

This morning Dan and I went out to do a bit of final site scouting for the first of our three MAPS stations, Hemlock Lake. Although it wasn’t strictly necessary for me to tag along (I won’t really be “needed” until the actual banding begins, whereupon you really need two people in order to operate efficiently and safely), I chose to come so I could help out a bit, but also so that I could do a bit of early-morning birding. I so rarely get up at dawn these days, by the time I’m awake and going, the birdsong is starting to slow down for the day. I take Raven out later in the afternoon usually, hardly the best time of day for birding.

It turned out to be an unusually quiet morning, possibly because it was also a rather cool morning by recent standards. However, we did still encounter a good variety of nice species, including the Chestnut-sided Warbler, above, and the Northern Waterthrush, below, both of whom will be breeding at the site this summer. Who knows, in a few weeks these guys may even be sporting a shiny new band.

Northern Waterthrush

W Week – Wildflowers

Sessile Bellwort, Uvularia, sessilifolia
Sessile Bellwort, Uvularia sessilifolia

May is my second-favourite month, behind only September. And it’s not just that May is my birth month. It’s the month where the earth really begins to wake up, at least here in my home province of Ontario. The month where the trees start to leaf out, and the insects really begin to emerge, and the birds start to flock back, and the garden starts to fill out, and the temperatures start to rise. And the woods are all abloom with wildflowers.

Early Meadow Rue, Thalictrum dioicum
Early Meadow Rue, Thalictrum dioicum

Often called spring ephemerals for their fleeting appearance in the brief window between snow melt and closed canopy, most of these species have evolved to spring up relatively quickly to take advantage of the sunlight that pours through the leafless branches onto the forest floor in early spring. So many of these species start blooming before the trees are noticeably in bud. Many continue to bloom even after the leaves have started to fill out, but very few forest wildflowers start to bloom once the canopy has closed up for the summer. By that point, the forest floor is too shady for any but the most shade-tolerant of species.

Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia
Common Blue Violet, Viola sororia

I’ve already profiled one of my favourite wildflowers, the Red/Wild/Canadian Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), and I talked a bit about some of the first ones to appear in our semi-wooded yard. Here are a few more that I’ve noticed have sprung up in the forests around us over the last couple of weeks.

Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum
Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum

Early Lowbush Blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium
Early Lowbush Blueberry, Vaccinium angustifolium (I think; this one was challenging to ID. Some bushes were pinkish like this, some were whiteish. Growing on the rock barrens on the east side of the Park. Note the grasshopper nymph on the lefthand side, which I only noticed when editing the photo.)

Wild Blue Phlox, Phlox divaricata
Wild Blue Phlox, Phlox divaricata

Downy Yellow Violet, Viola pubescens
Downy Yellow Violet, Viola pubescens

Common Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana
Common Strawberry, Fragaria virginiana

Miterwort, Mitella diphylla
Miterwort, Mitella diphylla, above and below

Miterwort, <i>Mitella diphylla</i>

Floral surprises

Wildflowers

Now that the snow has melted out of the forests, and the lake has opened up, there’s the opportunity to take the boat across the water to the park to do a bit of hiking there again. I haven’t been in to the park to hike since last fall, and although much of the park along Kingsford is very similar to much of the non-park along Kingsford, it was still with some anticipation that I pushed the boat into the water. Raven didn’t share my enthusiasm. Although she’s getting more comfortable with splashing in the water, as long as her feet can touch bottom, and she’s come to enjoy car rides, sitting at the window with a big grin on her face, she is still rather apprehensive about the boat. I suppose that’s to be expected; she hasn’t had occasion to be in it since before the snows fell. We’re trying to get her over it by always making sure there’s a good romp at the other side. But in the meantime, she sits huddled by the driver with a worried expression and the occasional whimper.

Round-lobed Hepatica

We had a really nice hike. Just a short one, I didn’t want to be gone too long, although I could easily have spent the whole day out. It was one of those perfect-weather days. Aside from a brisk breeze when you were down at the water, the temperature was just right – warm enough to be comfortable in a t-shirt, but not too warm to cause sweating. We walked across a couple of ridges, ending up at a small vernal pool where frogs were chirping. Unfortunately, Raven discovered it before I did, so by the time I reached it the frogs were no longer chirping. I called her back to me and we sat still together at the shore for a few minutes, hoping the frogs would feel danger had passed and start up again, but they didn’t. Ah well. Can’t really beat last weekend’s encounter anyway.

Round-lobed Hepatica

Over the last week or so I had been checking the forests for wildflowers, watching for the first signs of some of my favourites. The hepatica have started blooming, and in some spots, particularly open south-facing slopes, they are prolific. However, there had been little sign of anything else. I found the odd green shoot here or there, but nothing I could definitively identify. I figured that the wildflowers were still a week or two away, so while I continued to watch, I wasn’t really expecting to see anything.

Round-lobed Hepatica and Spring Beauties

So it was with a bit of pleasant surprise that I spotted a couple of Spring Beauties blooming beside the trail leading down to our dock. Small flowers, pale with pinkish stripey veins. Although they are widespread throughout the east, I only consciously recall encountering them when I was down on Pelee Island. I’m not sure why I would have missed seeing them around my parents’ old place, since it seems unlikely that they would have been absent. Over in the park, there were areas where they were so abundant they sprinkled the forest floor like garnish on a cake. And as delicious to the eyes as the cake is to the tongue. Speaking of tongue, apparently these flowers grow little tuber-like nodules on their roots which are edible and somewhat tasty when boiled.

Bloodroot

I was so focused on the Spring Beauties that I nearly missed these Bloodroot, not two feet away. Bloodroot is one of my favourite forest wildflowers, one of those species that you can see dozens of times and still point it out and say, “Look! Bloodroot!”, each time anew. There were actually a few patches of it blooming on our southeastern-facing slope, but I encountered none in the park, not even furled-up leaves with the promise of becoming broad, snowy blossoms. Bloodroot, of course, takes its name from the orange-red juices that seep from the stem and veins when broken. Native Americans would use this colour as a dye, but more interestingly it can also serve as an effective insect repellent. Provided you don’t mind your face and skin being smeared with orange.

Dutchman's Breeches

As I carried on down the trail to the dock I started paying more attention to the green stuff that was poking up from the fallen leaves. Up on the slope there was a large wash of it, and using my binoculars to get a closer look, it resolved into Dutchman’s Breeches – blooming! An extensive patch of the stuff, all with short spikes of white-and-yellow flowers. This is another species that I’ve only encountered on Pelee Island. It has a more southerly distribution but is still found through much of the east. It is related to the cultivated bleeding hearts found in many gardens (an Asian species, of course, although we also have native North American ones). The deeper flowers of the Dutchman’s Breeches requires pollinators with long proboscises, and their primary visitors are bumblebees, such as the Tricolored Bumblebee below.

Dutchman's Breeches and Tricolored Bumble Bee

I didn’t see any blooming in the park, either, although I did find a few that were getting close. It will be interesting to revisit the park in a week or so once everything’s opened up and blooming. I have a feeling, from what I saw today, that it will be a veritable blanket of wildflowers covering the forest floor.