Tag Archives: Butterfly weed

Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie Volunteer Workday this Saturday, 9 am – noon!

Come to the Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie this weekend to help with natural areas stewardship! This park along the Paint Creek Trail has a rich variety of plant species in a unique prairie area. We will stroll through the prairie to learn a little bit about its history and the plants growing in it. We will then be pulling spotted knapweed in the prairie and cutting invasive woody shrubs from nearby areas to keep them from crowding out the sun-loving prairie plants. We may also collect some seeds if they are ready for harvesting.

  • Where: Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie. Meet in the parking lot at Silverbell Road along the Paint Creek Trail. If the parking lot full, you can park at the Paint Creek Cider Mill and walk south 5 minutes on the trail to the prairie area. Remember that the bridge on Orion Road between Snell Rd and Collins Rd is closed.
  • When: Saturday, July 26 from 9 am – noon. In the event of thunderstorms, the event will be cancelled.
  • Who: Anyone! This event is free, with no experience necessary. We’ll train you to do the work. Most tasks are relaxing and do not require an Olympic athlete.
  • Why: Why not? We will be remove non-native invasive shrubs and preparing an area for planting native plants. Come out on Saturday to enjoy beautiful areas and hang out with great people! And food after we finish working!
  • What: Bring water and gloves, and wear closed-toed shoes and long pants. We’ll have extra water and a few gloves if you can’t bring your own.

We will have light snacks and water available. 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.

Cheerful Checkerspots, Munching Monarchs, and Delicate Damselflies

Summer flowers are emerging with gusto, and chances are if you watch a flower for a few minutes you’ll see a butterfly, bee, or other pollinator stop by for a quick snack of nectar or pollen. When they stop, these insects will get pollen on their bodies, either intentionally or not, and spread it to the next flower. We depend on pollinators for many of the foods we enjoy every day, including the strawberries you might be picking this weekend.

One of the pollinators I found this week was this Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton) in a sedge meadow at Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie. It was probably resting before finding its next meal, maybe the mountain mint I found flowering nearby!

This Baltimore Checkerspot is chilling on the leaf of a New England aster at Paint Creek Heritage Area - Wet Prairie.
This Baltimore Checkerspot is chilling on the leaf of a New England aster at Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie.

On a butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa) also at Paint Creek Heritage Area Wet Prairie we found a monarch caterpillar (Danaus plexippus). Loss of breeding ground is one factor contributing to the recent decline of monarchs throughout their range, so these milkweeds provide critical habitat for these beautiful butterflies in their breeding grounds.

This monarch caterpillar is feeding on the orange-flowered butterfly milkweed. As the larva feeds on the milkweed, it gets toxic chemicals that it uses to protect itself from most predators.
This monarch caterpillar is feeding on the orange-flowered butterfly milkweed. As the larva feeds on the milkweed, it gets toxic chemicals that it uses to protect itself from most predators.

Finally, after finding these plant-feeding butterflies, I stumbled upon a fierce, dark-winged predator. Like most damselflies, the ebony jewelwing (Calopteryx maculata) feeds on gnats, aphids, and other flies. This individual was very cooperative during the photo session, calmly letting me snap a few close-up photos.

This ebony jewelwing uses the hairs on its legs to catch flies for its next meal.
This ebony jewelwing uses the hairs on its legs to catch flies for its next meal. Click on the pictures to check out the hairs!

What insects have you seen in the parks? Leave a comment below to let us know!

Prairie Flowers: A Changing Mosaic of Color

It’s too easy to just visit an area once and think you know it. Visit your favorite woods, stream, or prairie once a week this summer and really pay attention to what you see. It is always changing.

I was reminded of this constant change while preparing for upcoming invasive shrub removal at the Paint Creek Heritage Area Wet Prairie. I couldn’t find the blue-eyed grass I’d noticed a week earlier, and the prairie grasses were growing quickly! What I really enjoyed, though, were the new flowers that had opened, spreading swaths of new color into the patchwork of the prairie.

The first yellow flowers of shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa) had just emerged, foretelling a golden show in the coming week. You might recognize this attractive shrub because it is sometimes used in landscaping. Shrubby cinquefoil is fairly common just beyond the park sign along the Paint Creek Trail, so you won’t have to look very hard to find it.

Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa) is a low shrub that is found in open, wet ground in high quality natural areas.
Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa) is a low shrub that is found in open, wet ground in high quality natural areas.

Pale purple spikes dotted the prairie. This species was a new one for me – my best guess is pale spiked lobelia (Lobelia spicata), but let me know if think otherwise! The “3+2” pattern of the petals resembled the close relative cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis): notice the 3 bottom lobes of petals and the 2 top lobes. The delicate purple flowers seemed to be more abundant in slightly disturbed areas.

Pale spike lobelia (Lobelia spicata) splashed delicate color throughout the prairie. Another flower that should be easy to spot if you get out to the wet prairie this week.
Pale spiked lobelia (Lobelia spicata) splashed delicate color throughout the prairie. Another flower that should be easy to spot if you get out to the wet prairie this week.

I’d noticed hairy beard-tongue a week or so earlier, but I can’t resist showing it to you. Like a lot of  common names, hairy beard-tongue is a rough translation of the Latin name, Penstemon hirsutus. Scientists were very descriptive when they named these plants! Hairy beard-tongue likes sandy, open ground, including prairies and the oak barrens that used to be abundant in this area.

Hairy beard-tongue is an attractive plant and does well in landscaping. Help out native pollinators and add some flair to your flower beds!
Hairy beard-tongue is an attractive plant and does well in landscaping. Help out native pollinators and add some flair to your flower beds!
If you look closely at hairy beard-tongue (Penstemon hirsutus), you'll notice what looks like a hairy tongue coming out of the middle of the flower.
If you look closely at hairy beard-tongue (Penstemon hirsutus), you’ll notice what looks like a hairy tongue coming out of the middle of the flower.

Lastly, butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) is getting ready to pop! Next week we’ll have a glorious display of deep orange milkweed flowers all along the Paint Creek Trail north of Silverbell. Don’t miss it!

The orange of the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) flowers is beginning to color the flower buds.
The orange of the butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) flowers is beginning to color the flower buds.

Let me know if you see these plants flowering at Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie, or if you see something new!