Category Archives: Garlic Mustard

This Week At Bear Creek: Youngsters Everywhere, My First Monarch and Nature’s Medicine Cabinet.

Well, the sun is shining!  It’s a bit cooler than the usual July (fewer mosquitoes!) but summer is proceeding at  Bear Creek Nature Park nonetheless.

Blog post and photos by Cam Mannino
Blog post and photos by Cam Mannino

Young are still being born and raised, almost grown fledglings are trying out new skills and all over the park, wildflowers grow leggy from the rain, reaching upward as they compete with neighboring plants for the sun. Among those plants are more that illuminate our local history.


Raising Young:

Eastern Chipmunks (Tamias striatus) are “chipping” loud and long.  Females often do this as way to ward off intruders from their territory, though some also believe that they’re issuing a mating call which may be the case this week, since their second breeding season is June to August.   Here’s one sitting on a rock in the sun, doing her aggressive or perhaps  flirtatious best, her small body  twitching with every “chip”!

Chipmunk chipping
A female chipmunk generally “chips” to warn intruders to stay out of her territory or she could be issuing a mating call at this time of year.

And up in the trees, female birds are still sitting on clutches of eggs or warming nestlings on a cool morning.  Here’s a Cedar Waxwing (Bombycilla cedrorum) sitting on her nest.  According to the Cornell Ornithology Lab, she can make up to 2500 individual trips to construct it!

cedar waxwing in nest
A female Cedar Waxwing may take take 2500 individual trips to build this nest in 5-6 days!

Fledglings are bigger and more confident now.  Here’s a fledgling Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) with his rose and beige breast feathers beginning to replace the brown spotted ones of the smaller fledgling posted last week.

Bear Creek bluebird
An almost mature Eastern Bluebird will have a rosier breast once all his feathers come in.

As you enter the park from Snell Road, listen for a young Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia) practicing his trill at the top of a small tree on your right.  He’s been there every time I’ve gone in the last week.  His song’s a little rusty yet and he opens his beak just a bit farther than a mature bird, I think, but he’s catching on! Here’s a link to his “sewing machine” sound – a few squeaks and tweets following by a staccato trill.  I think the second “song button” on the link sounds most like our young Song Sparrow.

juvenile song sparrow singing
A fledgling Song Sparrow throws his head back and practices his “sewing machine” trill.

Down at the eastern end of the Center Pond, a young Wood Duck (Aix sponsa) floats quietly beneath the overhanging branches of a shrub. There are two siblings keeping each other company there at the moment.

young wood duck
A young Wood Duck floats among the duckweed at the eastern end of the Center Pond.

And above the lawn that extends in front of the playground, two Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) soared above the clover-covered grass catching insects (mosquitoes, I hope!) on the wing. Though they have cobalt blue backs like the Tree Swallows (Tachycineta bicolor ) I talked about earlier, these agile flyers have rusty red breasts rather than white ones.  I only got a photo of them on the wing so here’s a link to see them up close.

barn swallow
Barn Swallows soar above the lawn near the playground. They’re distinguished from Tree Sparrows by a rusty red breast.

Beloved Monarchs, Long Distance Travelers, Arrive!

At last, I’ve seen my first Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus) of this summer.  Flitting quickly from blossom to blossom, this female searched for nectar from  Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata) in the eastern Old Field.  Unfortunately, the flowers aren’t open yet, perhaps delayed by  unseasonably cool temperatures.   A Monarch who left Mexico in the spring went through 3 generations to get here, turning from egg to caterpillar to chrysalis to butterfly at each stop along the way – and yet the third generation retains the knowledge that its forebear lived at Bear Creek last year!  If this butterfly’s eggs eventually produce another caterpillar and another butterfly, that lovely creature  will make the whole 2,000 mile trek back to Mexico in one long haul.  Amazing.  Monarch populations were up slightly this year but are still down 90% in the last 25 years.  May this one prosper and multiply!

female monarch butterfly - Version 2
A female Monarch Butterfly explores the buds of Swamp Milkweed in the eastern Old Field.

Nature’s “Medicine Cabinet”: Wildflowers Tell Local History

Last week, I featured  some of the plants that were here when Indians lived in our township, some native wildflowers that probably greeted early European settlers and the non-native grasses and flowers that  were planted by farmers for pasture and silage.  This week, I thought I’d share some of the plants used or brought here by those settlers, some for their reputed medical benefits.

NOTE FROM OAKLAND TOWNSHIP PARKS AND RECREATION: DO NOT pick or consume wild plants in our parks. In addition to being potentially poisonous, many wild plants are endangered because of over-harvesting. Oakland Township ordinances prohibit removal, destruction, and harvesting of plants within parks. Leave plants for wildlife and other park users to enjoy!

“Worts”:  Plants for Healing

According to Wikipedia,  “A word with the suffix -wort is often very old…It was often used in the names of herbs and plants that had medicinal uses, the first part of the word denoting the complaint against which it might be specially efficacious.”

For example, this delicate little flower on a long stalk growing profusely on the Snell path into the park is called Nipplewort (Lapsana communis) because, some say,  it was thought at one time to increase the flow of breast milk.  It’s a widespread non-native these days!

Nipplewort, an invasive non-native, may have been brought by settlers to our area as a treatment for increasing the flow of breastmilk. Some herbalists still think it works that way today.

I’ve already discussed the beautiful native with the terrible name Spiderwort which folks must have thought of as a cure for spider bites.  It’s still used by herbalists today and is still blooming in the driveway circle at the Snell entrance.

spiderwort with buds
Spiderwort is a “wort” plant that must have been thought useful against spider bites and other skin problems. It’s still used by herbalists for various ailments today.

The most well-known “wort” these days is Common St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum)a plant used as a common herbal supplement around the world.  According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information, it’s been used as an herbal treatment since the time of the Greeks, so  I’m guessing the plant arrived here in someone’s garden for that very reason.  Unfortunately,  this species of St. John’s Wort is  invasive,  poisonous to livestock and also crowds out other plants, including our  native St. John’s Worts, which thus far, I’ve not come across.

Common St John's Wort Hypericum perforatum
St. John’s Wort is used as an herbal supplement but it also toxic to livestock.

A native Bear Creek wildflower thought to be medicinal by herbalists is Heal-All (Prunella vulgaris) .  It was used by Indians to treat superficial wounds and is used to some extent that way in Europe today and for other ailments in Chinese medicine as well.  Fortunately, bees and butterflies like this native plant too!

heal all
Heal-All doesn’t quite live up to its common name, but it was used by Indians to treat superficial wounds and is also still used as an herbal treatment in Europe and China..

“Banes”:  Plants for Warding Things Off

And then there are the “bane” plants, which people believed could ward off or even be toxic to other species.  I’ve already discussed Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron species), which is meant to be the “bane” of fleas and may have been used at one time in straw mattresses for just that reason.  It’s prolific in Bear Creek this year, the most I’ve ever seen there!

daisy fleabane
Daisy Fleabane was thought to be the bane of fleas, of course! Good for mattress stuffing.

And now, growing on the west side of the Snell entrance path, among the trees, is Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra), a native plant with “bane” in its name because it is toxic to humans.  Wikipedia claims it was used to make poison arrows by Native Americans.  So don’t eat them.  You wouldn’t get them down anyway, probably; they’re extremely bitter! They are attractive to the eye though!

Red Baneberry
Native Red Baneberry is toxic but tastes so bitter no one would want to eat it!

Chicory (Cichorium intybus), on the other hand, is neither a “wort” or a “bane.  It may have arrived here as a coffee substitute as it is still used in some herbal drinks.  But farmers could also have planted it as  part of their pasturage for livestock. It’s considered an invasive species since it’s seen all along roadsides, but in Bear Creek, it seems to be coexisting with our native plants.  I have to admit that I love its pale blue color, so rare in nature, and the pinking-scissors edge of the petals.

chicory opening
Chicory, a potentially invasive non-native plant, may have come here as a coffee substitute or as part of planting pasturage for livestock.

And this week, I also saw the white/light pink version of Chicory, which I’ve never seen at Bear Creek before.

white chicory
A white/pink version of Chicory, rather than the usual blue.

A Few Last Minute Native Plants

Before they finish blooming, I want to mention three other humble native plants before their blossoms are entirely gone.  The first might have been named by a woman long ago, Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana).  The “thimble” is the fruit and it disperses its seeds by tumbling along the ground.

Thimble weed?
The “thimble,” the fruit of Thimbleweed, tumbles in order to spread its seed.

White Avens (Geum canadense), a very modest woodland native is one of the plants that can live near/under Black Walnut trees but it grows elsewhere in the woods of Bear Creek as well.

white avens
White Avens appears all over Bear Creek and is one of the new native plants that can live beneath Black Walnut trees.

And lastly, this delicate plant has almost finished flowering for the year.  Now it will start making little burrs that spread by sticking to animal fur or your pant leg!  You’ll spot Enchanter’s Nightshade (Circaea canadensis) along many dappled woodland paths in the park.  It’s no relation to Deadly Nightshade.  It was given its exotic name because it lives in the shade and its genus, Circaea,  was named after the enchantress, Circe, from Greek mythology who supposedly used it in her magic potions.

enchanter's nightshade
Enchanter’s Nightshade is not related to the deadly kind and got its exotic name by preferring dappled light and from being supposedly used in magic potions by Circe, a mythological Greek enchantress.

The woodland paths and sunny Old Fields of Bear Creek still carry memories of our local history in the wildflowers that bloom there.  That idea intrigues me and makes even the most humble plants at my feet more interesting.  Hope it does for you, too.

*Quick footnote:  My sources for information, as well as Oakland Township Stewardship Manager Dr. Ben VanderWeide, are as follows: Stokes Nature Guides:  A Guide to Bird Behavior Volumes 1-3,, the website of the Cornell Ornithology Lab at Cornell University; Wikipedia;; Herbarium of the University of Michigan at; various Michigan Field Guides by Stan Tekiela; Butterflies of Michigan Field Guide by Jaret C. Daniels, and invaluable wildflower identification from local expert, Maryann Whitman.














Garlic Mustard Pull at Blue Heron Environmental Area at 9 am this Saturday!

Join us at Blue Heron Environmental Area on Saturday, April 25 starting at 9 am. This diverse woodland supports a variety of native plants, migrating birds, and wildlife. You can help us keep it beautiful. We’ll meet in the circle drive at 3320 N. Rochester Rd. More details below. Hope to see you there!

On April 11 we pulled about 150 pounds of garlic mustard and dame's rocket. Can we beat that number this week? (L to R) Debbie, Ben, Eric, Mackenzie, Colton, and Karla pulled 5 bags of garlic mustard and dame's rocket!
On April 11 we pulled about 150 pounds of garlic mustard and dame’s rocket. Can we beat that number this week? (L to R) Debbie, Ben, Eric, Mackenzie, Colton, and Karla pulled 5 bags of garlic mustard and dame’s rocket!
  • Where: We’ll meet in the circle drive at 3320 N. Rochester Road. Look for the Parks pickup truck and a small “Volunteer Workday” sign.
  • When: Saturday, April 24, 2015, starting at 9 am. In the event of inclement weather, the event will be cancelled.
  • Who: Anyone! This event is free, with no experience necessary. We’ll train you to do the work.
  • Why: Help keep the park beautiful! We will be pulling garlic mustard. We will be competing in the Garlic Mustard Challenge (, so help us get a big haul! Come out on Saturday to enjoy beautiful areas and hang out with great people! The weather looks great too!
  • What: Bring water and gloves, and wear closed-toed shoes and long pants. We’ll have extra gloves if you can’t bring your own.

You will need to sign a release form before we begin working. Families are encouraged to attend! All minors will need permission from a parent or guardian to participate, and minors under 14 will need to have a parent or guardian present. We will have lots of fun, so plan to come and share this opportunity with others! The schedule of upcoming workdays can be found at the Volunteer Calendar.

This Week at Bear Creek: Frogs, Turtles, and Snakes – Oh My!

Look for this feature early each week! Cam Mannino shares her latest observations, photos, and inspirations from Bear Creek Nature Park. Thanks Cam!

April 5-11, 2015

Cam at Bear Creek Nature Park.
Post and photos by Cam Mannino

What a week for amphibians and reptiles! One of the best features of Bear Creek Nature Park is its vernal pools. These temporary pools appear from runoff in the spring and slowly evaporate with warmer weather. Vernal pools are perfect places for spring frogs – plenty of water and no fish to eat their eggs! So the park is now filled with their music.

Those of you who live near Bear Creek no doubt are being serenaded each night by the Spring Peepers (Pseudacris crucifer) tiny (1”-1.5”) nocturnal frogs that trill and hunt all night long. This one was sleeping on a leaf but woke when its picture was taken a few years ago.

Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)
Spring Peeper (Pseudacris crucifer)

During the day, Chorus Frogs and Wood Frogs carry on the concert. Last Saturday, Wood Frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) floated in the pool near Gunn Road. They pulse their sides to emit a duck-like croak and propel themselves forward in the water looking for mates.

Wood frog makes circles in the water.
Wood frog makes circles in the water.

I spent an hour trying to spot a Chorus Frog (Pseudacris triseriata) from the small bridge over the vernal pool just north of the playground. Their piercing, ratchety calls literally made my ears ring as I scanned the web of branches in the dark water. Finally I saw this tiny male’s vocal sack ballooning beneath his bulging eyes as he sang. Quite a thrill!

Chorus frog mid cheep
Chorus frog mid cheep
Chorus frog full cheep
Chorus frog full cheep

As amphibians emerged from the mud at the edge or bottom of vernal ponds, reptiles were seeking spring sunlight. Like amphibians, they are cold-blooded animals which can’t regulate their body temperature. So basking is important. A graceful Eastern Garter Snake slipped off the warm path and under a log as I approached.

Eastern garter snake
Eastern garter snake

And a Painted Turtle (Chrysemys picta) let its dark shell absorb the heat near the center pond.

Painted turtle
Painted turtle

Near the marsh, a tiny Brown Creeper (Certhia americana) spiraled up a trunk, hunting with its long, curved beak for spiders and insects in the bark. It moves like a nuthatch, but is smaller (4-5”). Here it is from a distance.

Brown creeper at Bear Creek
Brown creeper at Bear Creek

The Mourning Cloak (Nymphalis antiopa) is often the first butterfly to appear in Bear Creek, having probably overwintered in tree bark. It can survive before the flowers bloom because it feeds on tree sap and decaying material. This Saturday’s Mourning Cloak fluttered off into the bushes, but here’s a slightly tattered one from later in a previous season.

Mourning cloak
Mourning cloak

And a favorite species appeared in the park again this week, a small flock of human volunteers who worked steadily and diligently pulling large patches of sprouting Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata ) just south of the parking lot.

A second-year garlic mustard plant rosette early in the spring.
A second-year garlic mustard plant rosette early in the spring.

By eliminating this leathery-leaved invasive plant near the parking lot and trailhead, Ben hopes to prevent their seeds from being tracked into the park on the unsuspecting feet of park visitors. Many thanks to this cheerful, hard-working crew for a thorough job!

(L to R) Debbie, Ben, Eric, Mackenzie, Colton, and Karla pulled 5 bags of garlic mustard and dame's rocket!
(L to R) Debbie, Ben, Eric, Mackenzie, Colton, Karla, and Cam (not pictured) pulled 5 bags of garlic mustard and dame’s rocket!

Cold weather activities: sharing invasive species data

The early November cold snap and snow barrage slowed down my outdoor work last week, so I sat down to start the winter activity of data entry and updating records. Doesn’t sound as exciting as chopping away at buckthorn or ripping out garlic mustard with your bare hands, but keeping good records of invasive species locations helps us efficiently find and treat patches each year.

We collect information on the location, area, and density of invasive plant species during the growing season using GPS units and enter it into our Geographic Information System (GIS). We use the  data ourselves at Oakland Township Parks, but I believe that sharing this information can help fight invasive species not just in Oakland Township, but in Oakland County, Michigan, the Upper Great Lakes, and throughout the US. So I registered for an account with the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) and worked with them to upload 1657 records of invasive species from our parks in Oakland Township. Their website states that “The Midwest Invasive Species Information Network (MISIN) is a regional data aggregation effort to develop and provide an early detection and rapid response (EDRR) resource for invasive species in the Midwest region of the United States.” By catching invasive species early, control measures are much more cost effective and have a better chance of success (see this earlier post to learn more). We only have patchy records for most of our invasive species because they are nearly ubiquitous throughout the parks (for example, glossy buckthorn and autumn olive). Two species that we have fairly complete coverage of include garlic mustard and Phragmites, fairly recent arrivals in the parks.

Garlic Mustard

Most of those records were garlic mustard (1315 records) that resulted from stewardship staff combing parks each spring to locate patches of this invasive plant. The map below shows the distribution of the garlic mustard records in Michigan. These maps probably reflect two things: 1) the actual occurrence of the species and 2) monitoring effort. It is hard to separate the two, so I usually interpret these maps as just broad scale patterns of occurrence.

Records of garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) in Michigan, according to the MISIN database. The larger the symbol, the more records from that region. This map indicates that the most garlic mustard is found in the Detroit area and just south of Traverse City.
Zooming in to Oakland Township, you can see several “epicenters” of records for garlic mustard. These epicenters reflect the areas with high monitoring effort, our township parks.
Zooming in again to Bear Creek Nature Park, we start to get an idea of the distribution of garlic mustard at a fine scale within the park. The map indicates that most of the garlic mustard is found on the south side of the park and around the borders. These are the areas that have a greater history of disturbance. The cluster of points in the bottom left is the wooded area next to the Paint Creek Heritage Area Wet Prairie along the Paint Creek Trail
MISIN is cool because you can click on a point and see details about the area and density of an invasive species patch. This patch in Bear Creek Nature Park has an area of less than 1000 feet, with patchy density.

To check out the distribution of garlic mustard in other Oakland Township parks, just head over to Click on “Browse data,” then search by species. You can also help us pull garlic mustard next spring. Check out the workdays at this link, and put them on your calendar!

The stewardship crew pulled lots of garlic mustard in 2014. Help us make 2015 even more successful!
The stewardship crew pulled lots of garlic mustard in 2014. Help us make 2015 even more successful!


Phragmites might be a terrible invasive species, but it is easy to spot! During August and September 2014 the stewardship crew treated 10.5 acres of Phragmites in Oakland Township parks. Those 10.5 acres represent all the Phragmites patches we had records for at the time (I found a few more since September), so our Phragmites records are fairly complete within our parks.

Phragmites in Oakland Township. Notice that the locations generally correspond to the township parks. The township parks probably don't have more Phragmites than the surrounding areas, but they have been surveyed more completely.
Phragmites in Oakland Township. Notice that the locations generally correspond to the township parks. The township parks probably don’t have more Phragmites than the surrounding areas, but they have been surveyed more completely.
Gallagher Creek Park has some of our largest Phragmites patches. This map shows the distribution of those patches in the park.
Gallagher Creek Park has some of our largest Phragmites patches. This map shows the distribution of those patches in the park.

We can’t target invasive species for treatment unless we know that they exist! If you’d like to help us get complete records of Phragmites in Oakland Township, download the free MISIN app for your smart phone. It’s easy to use, and it only takes a few minutes to add a point. To make it even better, Phragmites is easy to see in the winter when the leaves are off the trees. Put your smartphone to work today to help our parks!

Phragmites along Mead Rd. at O'Connor Nature Park.
Phragmites along Mead Rd. at O’Connor Nature Park in summer 2014. With persistent treatment, we hope that this patch will be gone in a few years.

Caring for Natural Areas in Our Parks

Hello! This blog is a new outreach by the natural areas stewardship staff at Oakland Township Parks and Recreation. We believe that our natural areas are very important both for the health of native plants and wildlife and for the people of Oakland Township. In many cases, our natural areas protect examples of habitats that used to be common in southeast Michigan, but have mostly disappeared as the area was settled, farmed, and developed for houses. These natural areas provide beautiful places for us to enjoy nature, the wetlands filter sediment and pollutants from water, and various habitats provide food and shelter for wildlife.

The stewardship staff is out in the parks daily controlling invasive species, collecting native seed, planting native plants, and monitoring naturals areas to see how they change over time. We plan to post updates of our activities, fun facts, and pictures of the cool things we see. We have some big projects planned for this year. Check back often to learn more about them!

We would love your help to keep these areas beautiful! Check out our Volunteer Opportunities page and the calendar of upcoming volunteer workdays to see how you can get involved!

Caring for Natural Areas in Our Parks
Oakland Township stewardship technicians (L to R – Jonah, Matt, and Alex) have been busy pulling garlic mustard in the parks this spring. If you see them out there, introduce yourself and thank them for their hard work!