As runners and bikers sail along beside you on the Paint Creek Trail, perhaps you, like me, wonder if they notice all the beauty around them. But sometimes a walker misses glorious sites as well. This week and last, Oakland Township Stewardship Manager Ben VanderWeide alerted me to two beautiful wildflowers that I would have missed! Both were gracing lesser known areas of our park system, areas full of life and a surprising variety of native wildflowers. I thought I should share them with other walkers, runners and bikers who might have missed them, too.
The Wet Prairie (Paint Creek Trail): Michigan Lilies and More
A “wet prairie” sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it? Prairies are always sunny, but the soil can range from wet to very dry. Sometimes, in the flood plain of a stream, or other area with a shallow water table, special fire-adapted wildflowers and grasses find a footing. Conditions are perfect at this spot on the trail. The original channel of Paint Creek and its floodplain cross this 10 acre parcel on the west side of the trail. Last fall, we published a blog of the autumn flowers that bloomed here last year. And in June, we showed the stunning native Yellow Ladyslipper orchids (Cypripedium parviflorum) hidden in the grass. Now look at this summer bloom!
How’s that for a spectacular native plant! The Michigan Lily (Lilium michiganense) might remind you of the non-native Orange Day-Lily (Hemerocallis fulva) or what we used to call “Roadside Lilies.” But this is a much fancier, native lily. They don’t last long in hot weather – and deer frequently eat the buds before they bloom, which prevents them re-seeding. So we’re lucky to have them this year! Take a look as you hike or bike near the prairie.
Other native wildflowers are blooming on the Wet Prairie now too. Of course, orange Butterfly Milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) dots the area. Here’s Ben’s photo from last summer.
Native Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa) tilts its blossoms to the sun near the trail, too.
The lavender blooms of native Showy Tick Trefoil (Desmodium canadense) are drying in the heat but the Joe Pye (Eutrochium maculatum), a native wildflower that likes moist feet and sunlight, is just getting ready to go!
Insects swoop from plant to plant in the Wet Prairie searching for either food or shade. Here a female Widow Skimmer dragonfly (Libellula luctuosa) pauses on a bare twig.
This young male Eastern Pondhawk dragonfly (Erythemis simplicollis) still has chevrons on his tail. As he matures, a waxy coating will move up from the tip of his tail, turning his abdomen light blue. Eastern Pondhawk males fiercely defend about 5 square yards of territory from “intruders,” according to my insect “guru,” the Bug Lady at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
A modest brown butterfly paused for a moment on some dried flower heads. I think it’s a Columbine Duskywing (Erynnis lucilius), but it may be another Duskywing. I love its striped antennae.
Native False Sunflowers (Heliopsis helianthoides) shine golden in the shade beneath the trees just south of the Wet Prairie.
The prescribed burns and removal of invasive shrubs have given the native Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia hirta) lots of room just at the edge of the tree canopy south of the Wet Prairie.
That Other Wildflower Surprise – Gallagher Creek Park
Ben notified me too about another native that’s blooming right now at the little 15 acre park at the corner of Silverbell and Adams Road. So I hurried over to see it, of course, and wow! So many native flowers, so much birdsong, a frog, dragonflies, butterflies – all kinds of life is emerging in that small park at the headwaters of Gallagher Creek! I plan to dedicate a piece to it very soon. But this week I wanted to share this elegant spike of white blossoms called Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginicum) because its blooms only last a couple of weeks. So if you want to see it, hurry over to Gallagher Creek Park, too. The flowers are just to the west of the parking lot, swaying gracefully in the tall grass.
It’s wonderful to have friends who share their discoveries with you. Thank you, Dr. Ben! I hope some of you readers will use the comment section when you make discoveries in our township parks. The more eyes we have looking, the more beauty we’ll discover in the meadows, prairies and forests when we’re “Out and About in Oakland!
Footnote: My sources for information are as follows: Ritland, D. B., & Brower, L. P. (1991); Stokes Nature Guides: A Guide to Bird Behavior Volumes 1-3, Allaboutbirds.org, the website of the Cornell Ornithology Lab at Cornell University; Wikipedia; http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org; Herbarium of the University of Michigan at michiganflora.net; various Michigan Field Guides by Stan Tekiela; Butterflies of Michigan Field Guide by Jaret C. Daniels; University of Wisconsin's Bug Lady at www4.uwm.edu/fieldstation/naturalhistory/bugoftheweek/ for insect info; http://www.migrationresearch.org/mbo/id/rbgr.html for migration info; invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman; experienced birder Ruth Glass, bird walk leader at Stoney Creek Metro Park for bird identification; Birds of North America Online; Audubon.org; Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes, Trees in My Forest by Bernd Heinrich, Winter World by Bernd Heinrich, Savannah River Ecology Lab (Univ of Georgia); Tortoise Trust website www.tortoisetrust.org; An Orchard Invisible: A Natural History of Seeds by Jonathan Silvertown; The Ecology of Plants by Gurevitch, Scheiner and Fox; other sites as cited in the text.