Currently Flowering: Late June

This is the second edition to a recurring series highlighting flowering species within Oakland Township’s parks. Several of the species covered in this edition can be found in the beds at Bear Creek Nature Park. Over the past several weeks the stewardship team has worked to maintain the native diversity within the beds. We highly encourage you to check them out!

Wild Four O’clock (Mirabilis nyctaginea)

This species can be seen in the beds at Paint Creek Cider Mill. The bright fuchsia flowers of this perennial are dotted by bright yellow anthers (the pollen producing plant organ). This species has two specialist feeders. Both the four o’clock moth (Heliodines nyctaginella) and the wild four-o’clock bug (Catorhintha mendica) feed on this species. The common name four-o’clock is quite fitting, as the flowers of this species cannot be admired in the early morning. Rather, its blooms open in late afternoon (hmm, say about four o’clock-ish?) and remain open through the night. By morning, these night owl blooms are closed. Wild four o’clock belongs to the family Nyctaginaceae, the four o’clock family. This species’ native range is slightly southwest of the Great Lakes. It has spread further north and has established populations in southeastern Michigan.

Common Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

This perennial can be immediately spotted as you pull into the parking area of Bear Creek Nature Park. Common spiderwort cheerfully stands (up to four feet high!) in the bed that divides the lot. This species has an extended blooming period of around one and a half months. This is due in part to only a few flowers blooming on an individual plant at one time. This plant is a favorite snack of rabbits and deer, and is pollinated by several bee species. Common spiderwort belongs to Commelinaceae, the dayflower or spiderwort family. Check it in the morning to see the full floral display. Spiderwort flowers often close by the end of the day.

Bear Corn (Conopholis americana)

Have you ever come across this species and thought it was a mushroom? If so, you are not alone. In fact, the nature of this species is akin to fungi in a significant way. This species does not perform one of the hallmarks of the plant kingdom- photosynthesis. Rather, this species is entirely parasitic. Like many species of fungi, bear corn penetrates the roots of host trees and thieves nutrients from them. Bear corn has specialized roots, called haustoria, that allow for this parasitism. This species specifically targets the roots of oak trees, but generally coexists well with them. This species belongs to the family Orobanchaceae. The bear corn pictured here was found at Charles Ilsley Park.

Prairie Phlox (Phlox pilosa)

These delicate flowers are beloved by a myriad of insects. You will find them to be quite busy with faunal visitors in the beds at Bear Creek Nature Park this time of year! Swallowtails, American painted ladies, and many skipper butterfly species visit prairie phlox. Prairies phlox even has a specialist feeder, the prairie phlox flower moth. Native phlox species look somewhat similar to dame’s rocket, an aggressive invasive species found in Michigan. An easy way to distinguish the two is to count the petals; dame’s rocket has four petals, whereas our native phlox species have five. Additionally, prairie phlox is quite low growing, commonly only reaching six inches to one foot high. Dame’s rocket can grow up to four feet high. Prevalence of this species is closely tied to the occurrence of fire in its preferred prairie habitat. Prairie ecosystems rely on wildfires to aid in the cycling of nutrients and limiting establishment of trees and shrubs, which increases the availability of sunlight. This species belongs to Polemoniaceae, the phlox family.

Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca)

Milkweed season is upon us! A perfect place to view the unfurling blooms (and smell their lovely fragrance) are the native plant beds at Gallagher Creek Park. This species can reach up to five feet in height and has large, oblong leaves that occur in opposite pairs. As can be seen in the photos above, the flowers of this species are arranged in spherical clusters. You will often find common milkweed in large groups. This is due to vegetative reproduction- through rhizomes! Rhizomes are thick underground stems that send up shoots, creating new plants. These underground stems allow for common milkweed to form dense colonies. Common milkweed, and other milkweed species, are famed for their association with the monarch butterfly, as this species is a crucial food source for monarch caterpillars. A documented additional 450 insects are known to feed on common milkweed (can you spot the ant and boxelder bug in the photo on the left?). This plant contains organic compounds known as cardiac glycosides that can potentially make insects toxic to predators when consumed in high enough quantity. The name milkweed comes from the opaque white latex that discharges from the plant when injured. Common milkweed is in the dogbane family, Apocynaceae.

Bristly Greenbrier (Smilax tamnoides)

While this vining species may not be your friend on a hike as it is covered in sharp, needle-like prickles, it is a lovely native plant worthy of highlight. This species is dioecious, meaning that the male and female flowers occur on different plants. Photographed here are male flowers. Though tough to see clearly, there are clusters of pale stamens (the male reproductive organ) located in the center of six green tepals. The ringlets seen in the photos above are tendrils, which are modified plant organs that serve to anchor vining plants. Come late fall, female plants of this species will be dotted with small inky berries. These berries are consumed by raccoons and many bird species (namely thrushes). The flowers are visited by flies and bees, and the foliage is nibbled by the caterpillars of several species of moths (such as spotted phosphila, turbulent phosphila, and curved-lined owlet). This species is common in forest edges and floodplains. The photos above were taken at Watershed Ridge Park.

Vernal Pools: A Wetland Wonderland

Marquette’s Migration and the Blue-Spotted Salamander Surveys

My friends and I carefully tip-toed on the closed, wet road of Peter White Drive in Presque Isle Park in Marquette, Michigan on a rainy spring night. The air was crisp, filled with bellows of cheerful people of the Marquette community. The trees of Presque Isle Park surrounded the paved road, allowing the small creatures who travel over the pavement a sense of safety and peace when they make it to the other side.  

A blue-spotted salamander from Presque Isle Park in Marquette, MI

Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to conduct blue-spotted salamander surveys in Marquette. These adorable, tiny amphibians are painted with what looks like flecks of blue sky scattered along their dark bodies. Blue-spotted salamanders are shy creatures that awake to the rising moon. They inhabit forested areas and are most commonly found at vernal pools in spring. Unlike other salamanders, the blue-spotted salamanders do not lay eggs in clumps, but rather with individual eggs flickered amongst leaves and sticks on the bottom of a vernal pool.

Two blue-spotted salamanders being observed under a lamp

The road closure in Presque Isle Park begins at the end of March and continues until the end of April each year, allowing amphibians to safely cross the street. Rainy weather, and 35-45 degree temperatures provide further inspiration for several salamanders, toads, and frogs to continue their travels to the vernal pools. One perfect, rainy night, my good friends and I counted 112 blue-spotted salamanders and two wood frogs!

A wood frog found with the blue-spotted salamanders, together on their vernal pool expedition!

This migration makes local news and is a huge opportunity to participate in citizen science! Thanks to an evening, annual road closure in Presque Isle Park, the blue-spotted salamanders can safely travel from their burrows to vernal pools, where they lay their eggs in the same pool they were born in. If you’re looking for an evening adventure, I highly recommend joining Marquette’s blue-spotted salamander surveys. Just watch your step!

Salamanders and Vernal Pools Throughout Michigan

Marquette is a long drive from southeast Michigan. Fortunately, Oakland Township has plenty of vernal pools bursting with life. You can travel just 10 minutes from home to witness these wondrous habitats found in our parks.

A vernal pool found at Charles Ilsley Park

Vernal pools are temporary ponds that are formed by the melting of winter snow or early spring rains. They are a true sign of spring! Vernal pools- or vernal ponds (“vernal” meaning spring) – typically dry out by the end of the summer, but flow with biodiversity while they are present! These pools are temporary nurseries for amphibious offspring, made possible by the lack of predatory fish. While vernal pools thrive in the early spring, they can still be found throughout the parks in June. If you come across one, it is likely in its beginning stages of drying out. The vernal pools at this time of year, depending on their size, may have significantly less water in them compared to spring.

The larval stage of the salamander with gills and tail fins. In June the salamander eggs have hatched and look like this larva.

Vernal pools can be found throughout Oakland Township’s parks. Various species from frogs, fairy shrimp, and salamanders inhabit these ephemeral ponds! On a lovely hike through Bear Creek Nature Park, Charles Ilsley Park, or Cranberry Lake Park, you just might hear the bullfrog sing or see a peaceful wood duck floating on a vernal pool.

Eastern redback salamander at Blue Heron Environmental Area. Photo by Camryn.
Gray tree frog at Watershed Ridge Park.

Why are Vernal Pools Important?

Vernal pools are important for forest ecosystem health. Not only are they a nursery for amphibians, they are a temporary source of food and water for numerous species such as raccoons, ducks, and egrets. They are often called the “Coral Reefs of Northeastern Forests” for their bursts of biodiversity, several species can be found here if you look a little closer into the water.

If you would like to get up close and personal with vernal pools, grab your bug spray and muck boots for Michigan’s Vernal Pool Patrol! This program allows community members to participate in community science to collect information on identifying, mapping, and monitoring vernal pools statewide. The Michigan Vernal Pool Database, where this information is submitted, can be used to guide management decisions on vernal pool conservation. After attending some training (held in early spring each year), you will be ready to contribute to the Michigan Vernal Pool Database! If this is something that interests you, follow this link to the Michigan Vernal Pool Patrol website.

Alyssa Radzwion from Oakland Township Parks and Ian Ableson of Six Rivers Conservancy observing tiny life in a vernal pool at Bear Creek Nature Park in 2019.

If you ever see a vernal pool, consider taking a moment to enjoy its beauty and small wetland critters. Vernal pools can teach us to enjoy the little things in life, and appreciate them while they are still here with us. Yes, life gets busy, we live in a world that requires us to always be on the move. But by living this way, we just might forget about the little things. Tell your friends and family you love them, take your dog out for a walk, buy that stranger in the coffee shop their latte. All it takes are the little things to make someone’s day.

What the Turtles Taught Me

During my first month working in Oakland Township Parks, I was rewarded by the sighting of three Blanding’s turtles! These creatures seemed assured in my presence; their heads stuck out of their shell gallantly with a smile. I inched closer to get a better look. 

Two of the Blanding’s Turtles (Emydoidea blandingii) I saw during my first month at the parks. The left turtle was at Bear Creek Nature Park and the right at Watershed Ridge Park.

To my astonishment, they didn’t startle as I moved toward them. It was like their mind was elsewhere, and I left with envy at their mellow state. I admit I rarely experience a blank, light consciousness. In modern times, information is infinite and often a click away. There is so much to process at all times, that it is too easy to get lost in the constant happenings. In the presence of the smiley turtle, I saw the possibility of a different existence.

Turtles are the oldest living reptiles, even older than dinosaurs. Not only are turtles evolutionarily archaic, but they also have lifespans similar to humans: In 2016, a recaptured Blanding’s Turtle near Ann Arbor was believed to be 83 years old! Standing a short distance from them, their detached calm radiated onto me. This species, like so many others, is under threat and is currently listed as a species of special concern in Michigan. They take 14 to 20 years before reaching sexual maturity and have large home ranges (both wetland and upland). Yet, on my early visits to the parks, there they were. Obviously, humans are not turtles. They don’t have to pay rent and taxes or check their email. But that doesn’t mean they can’t teach us how to live on Earth. They have, in fact, been around the sun longer.

Snapping turtle (Chelydra serpentina) laying eggs last week at Gallagher Creek Park.

Lucky for us, Michigan is in the center of the Blanding’s range. According to the Michigan Natural Features Inventory, Oakland County has the highest occurrence of Blanding’s turtles in all of Michigan.  Keep an eye out for a domed shell and bright yellow neck that is characteristic of a Blanding’s turtle. You can report a rare species observation here https://mnfi.anr.msu.edu/species/report on Michigan Natural Features Inventory’s website.

Because we are in late spring, you are most likely to see female Blanding’s and Snapping turtles. They may be crossing roads, trying to find areas to nest. If you are fortunate enough to witness a Blanding’s turtle laying eggs on your property, you could build even build a nest protector to ensure hatchling success! See https://www.nohlc.org/install-a-turtle-protector.html for instructions. These would need to be checked daily so hatchlings do not get trapped. If you see a turtle on the side of the road and it’s safe, move them to the side of the road they are facing. After you’re done, maybe stand a short distance away and stay in their company. Who knows, you may just learn something.

Sharing those moments with the turtles, I now understand their influence. Without language or expression, I could feel their sureness. I picked the invasive garlic mustard near them and worried that my conservation efforts were never going to be enough. Seeing these turtles whose lineages have remained mostly unchanged, I am reminded to take a moment outside myself. It’s a constant inner battle to exist with the same assurance as those turtles.

Like the turtle, my existence spans past space and time, and yet as humans, we are caught in our own self-made troubles. These long-lived, traveling species are not equipped to cross a busy road. Neither are they able to protect their nests from the increasing urban predator populations. Therefore, this species’ life history is at odds with the increasing urbanization and fragmentation caused by us. Their very presence should be a lesson to see that there is a vastly complex world that should not be ignored. As long as we continue to have turtles as neighbors, we can be reminded that life is bigger than ourselves.

Currently Flowering: Early June

Take a peek through the lenses of the stewardship team as we highlight native species that are currently flowering throughout the parks! This will be a recurring series, updated throughout the summer season as new plants unfurl their beautiful blooms. The majority of the species highlighted this week can be found in the native plant beds at Gallagher Creek Park. Since construction of the beds in 2019, the stewardship team has worked diligently to promote and maintain native plant diversity. We are happy to report that the beds are flourishing. They are abuzz with activity as happy pollinators weave through the blossoms. We hope that you get to spot these species on your next walk through our parks!

Golden Alexanders (Zizea aurea)

The aptly named golden alexanders are seen here in a photo from a native plant bed at Gallagher Creek Park. Golden alexanders is a perennial herb belonging to the carrot family (Apiaceae)! The upper leaves of this species are divided in two, whereas the lower leaves are divided in threes. The small yellow flowers of this species are arranged in a large umbel. This species is a larval host to the black swallowtail.

Common cinquefoil (Potentilla simplex)

Common cinquefoil is pictured here at Lost Lake Nature Park. As its name suggests, it is common. However it should not be overlooked! Its dainty flowers only last around a month, and are a joyous addition to the groundcover of a variety of habitats. This herbaceous species can be identified by its deep leaf venation and serrated leaves. The 1/2″ flowers have five yellow petals and roughly twenty stamens (pollen producing flower organ). Common cinquefoil belongs to Rosaceae, the rose family. The leaves of this species are often eaten by small mammals, and the flowers are visited by small flies and bees.

Golden ragwort (Packera aurea)

Golden ragwort can be seen at Paint Creek Heritage Area- Wet Prairie (photographed here). The flowers occur in clusters and are a shade of deep yellow. On a single flower, petal number can range from several to more than a dozen. Stewards Camryn and Cassie are pictured showing the height of golden ragwort, which can reach up to two feet. Golden ragwort belongs to Asteraceae, also known as the daisy family. Though past its peak flowering season, this species is too beautiful not to share!

Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus)

Robin’s plantain is shown here in the native plant beds at Gallagher Creek Park. The petals occur in a range of colors. Seen here in white, they can also be shaded lavender or blue. The basal leaves of this species are notably hairy and soft. This species, like golden ragwort, belongs to the family Asteraceae. Robin’s plantain propagates through stolons or rhizomes.

Sand coreopsis (Coreopsis lanceolata)

Sand coreopsis can be found in abundance in Gallagher Creek Park’s native plant beds. This species is impossible to miss! It’s voluminous flowers perch proudly on peduncles that can reach up to 2 1/2 feet high. The photo on the right shows a coreopsis flower visited by a pearl crescent, a native butterfly. Pearl crescents lay their eggs on the leaves of various aster species. Sand coreopsis is a member of the Asteraceae family.

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)

Wild lupine has been seen in many parks over the past two weeks including Bear Creek Nature Park, Gallagher Creek Park, Charles Ilsley Park (pictured here), and Nicholson Prairie along the Paint Creek Trail. The palmately compound leaves of wild lupine are deeply divided into numerous leaflets. Flowers occur in clusters on stems that can reach up to two feet in height. The flowers are most commonly blue/purple, but can range from pink to white. Wild lupine belongs to Fabaceae, the legume family. Like other species within this family, lupine forms a symbiotic relationship with a group of bacteria called rhizobia. Rhizobia colonize and form nodules on the roots of legumes, wherein they fix and provide biological nitrogen to their host plants. This symbiosis is beneficial to the host plant, as nitrogen is an essential plant macronutrient.

Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Wild columbine is pictured here at Bear Creek Nature Park (left), and Gallagher Creek Park (right). This species is easily identified by its bell-shaped ‘drooping’ flowers. Five red and yellow petals are surrounded by five, paler red sepals. Wild columbine belongs to the family Ranunculaceae, also known as the buttercup family. This species attracts a variety of wildlife, including hummingbirds, butterflies, hawk moths, bees, and birds. It is a larval host to the columbine duskywing butterfly. When admiring this species, the lyrics of Townes Van Zandt’s 1969 song ‘Columbine’ never fail to get stuck in my mind…

“Cut yourself a columbine,
Tear it from the stem,
Now breathe upon the petals fine,
And throw ’em to the wind.”

…Except follow better ecological practices than Townes- don’t cut them!

False Solomon’s-seal (Maianthemum racemosum)

The slightly hairy stem of false Solomon’s-seal supports alternating oval-shaped leaves. The stem terminates in a cluster of dozens of small white flowers. This photo was taken at Cranberry Lake Park, where you can also find this species cousin, true Solomon’s seal! True Solomon’s seal can easily be distinguished from this species by its small, drooping, bell-shaped flowers. This species is within the lily group. False Solomon’s seal is able to colonize areas through sturdy rhizomes. This species is occasionally browsed by deer.

Foxglove beardtongue (Penstemon digitalis)

Foxglove beardtongue can be seen in Gallagher Creek Park’s native plant beds and surrounding natural areas. Seen in the photo on the left is a flower stalk with many emerging tubular blooms. Small hairs can be found on the white flowers. The opposite leaves of this species are glossy and lightly toothed. Foxglove beardtongue belongs to the plantain family, Plantaginaceae. This species is frequently visited by bumblebees, and occasionally even hummingbirds.

Hairy beardtongue (Penstemon hirsutus)

Hairy beardtongue can be seen in Gallagher Creek Park’s native plant beds, and several spots along the Paint Creek Trail. The drooping, slender flowers of this species are pale violet in color. The hairy stem is a key identifier of this species, as seen in the photo on the right. Like foxglove beardtongue, this species belongs to the family Plantaginaceae. The descriptor ‘hairy’ is derived from the fifth stamen of the flower. This special stamen is infertile and has a cluster of small hairs.

Check back in toward the end of June for a new list of native flowering species. Among the species highlighted will be milkweeds, which will begin to flower over the next several weeks. There are eleven native milkweed species to the state of Michigan. Keep an eye out to see which species we find within Oakland Township’s parks!

Meet Emma: Devotee of Ecology

We’re excited to welcome our 2022 seasonal stewardship crew! Camryn Brent, Cassie Stitzman, and Emma Campbell joined us in the last few weeks and will be out in the parks doing much-needed ecological restoration work until the end of the summer. This week Emma Campbell shares her introduction. We are inspired by her lifelong interest in plants and ecology! Help us welcome her to Oakland Township.
-Ben

My name is Emma Campbell and I am thrilled to be working as a land stewardship technician this summer. I am a born and raised Ohioan. For the past four years I have lived a little over five hours south of Oakland Township, in Athens, Ohio. There I am a student at Ohio University and will be graduating with my Bachelor’s in Field Ecology and a certificate in Environmental Studies in December of this year.

Taking a needed snack break at a campsite along the Zaleski State Forest backpacking trail.

I have had the great privilege of being born into an outdoorsy family. Spending summers in the panhandle of Florida with my native landscaper grandfather instilled in me a love of plants.

My grandfather showing me some trees in 2001.

This love of plants broadened into a passion for ecology in late high school and early college. In my sophomore year of high school I stumbled upon an article about Lycorma delicatula, the spotted lanternfly. L. delicatula is an invasive planthopper native to southeastern Asia that was first spotted in Berks County, Pennsylvania. This led me on a deep-dive of the effects of invasive species in ecosystems as a teenager. Over the course of several years I saw its rapid spread throughout the northeast, eventually making landfall in my home state in 2020. From there I learned to recognize invasive species everywhere I went. This further opened my eyes to the long-lasting effects of human disturbance.

As my interest in ecology unfolded, I became fascinated by the unseen. I am captivated by soil ecology and the importance of microbes in plant-soil interactions. Plant productivity is tied closely to the nutrients made ‘available’ to them by a whole host of soil microbes belonging to archaea, bacteria, and fungi. I am considering continuing my education and obtaining a graduate degree in soil sciences in the future.

At Ohio University I have worked as a research assistant on several species within the genus Lycopodiella. Plants within this genus are referred to as the bog clubmosses. As their name suggests, they commonly occupy bogs and wetland areas. My research involves collecting morphological data to identify hybrids. Several specimens that I have worked with were collected in southern Michigan region.

I am greatly looking forward to exploring natural areas in and around Oakland Township this summer. I am an avid hiker and backpacker. On many weekends throughout the summer you can find me donning a well-loved 1970’s aluminum frame backpacking pack passed down to me from my parents. I am planning a weekend backpacking trip to North Manitou Island later this summer. I would love any and all suggestions for Michigan trails before I head back south!

Preparing native seed mix for planting at Blue Heron Environmental Area.

Since starting two weeks ago, I have already learned so much from my co-workers and fellow seasonal stewards. I am confident that I will come away from this season with expanded knowledge and a solidified appreciation for all things Michigan.