Swallowtail Caterpillar in the Native Plant Gardens

Many of the Oakland Township parks have landscaping beds with native plants. Look for the native plant beds at Bear Creek Nature Park, Marsh View Park, along the Paint Creek Trail at Gunn Road, and in front of the Paint Creek Cider Mill.

Why native plants? The short answer is that these plants provide food and habitat for wildlife including pollinators like butterflies and bees. We also know that since these plants are native to the area, they won’t become problem invasive plants if they escape from the gardens. And native plants are beautiful! You can learn more about native plants and find out where to buy them at the Michigan Native Plant Producers Association website.

This morning I found this swallowtail caterpillar in the native plant beds at Marsh View Park. It was crawling on a little bluestem plant. I’m not sure what species of swallowtail it is, but the caterpillar looks most similar to the images of black swallowtail or anise swallowtail caterpillars I found at the Butterflies and Moths of North America website. I’m curious to learn the species, so let me know if you identify it!

A swallowtail caterpillar I found in the native plant beds in the parking lot at Marsh View Park this morning.

A swallowtail caterpillar I found in the native plant beds in the parking lot at Marsh View Park this morning.

A wider view of the native plant bed in the Marsh View parking lot. This bed has an attractive native bunchgrass, little bluestem. Can you find the caterpillar?

A wider view of the native plant bed in the Marsh View parking lot. This bed has an attractive native bunchgrass, little bluestem. Can you find the caterpillar?

Here is a picture from the native plant bed at the Paint Creek Cider Mill.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrichium sp.) in the native plant beds in front of the Paint Creek Cider Mill.

Blue-eyed grass (Sisyrichium sp.) in the native plant beds in front of the Paint Creek Cider Mill. It flowered in May and June this year.

If you are a gardener, or would like to learn more about native plants, you can help with upkeep of our native plant beds. You would be trained to recognize the native plants. You would also get to help us design and continue to develop the native plant landscaping. Contact me (Ben VanderWeide)  if you’d like to learn more!

Volunteer Workday at Bear Creek Nature Park this Saturday, 9 am – noon!

Come to Bear Creek Nature Park this weekend to help with natural areas stewardship! This popular park has many unique habitats, but these areas need our help to keep invasive plant species out and native species in. After a brief tour of our native plant beds to learn a few plants, we’ll be tending to the native plant beds, preparing an area for native plant installation, and removing non-native, invasive shrubs (think buckthorn).

  • Where: Bear Creek Nature Park. Meet in the parking lot at the south end of the park off Snell Road. Remember that the bridge on Orion Road between Snell Rd and Collins Rd is closed.
  • When: Saturday, July 12 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.

Around noon we’ll get out the grill and share some food! We’ll bring some basic food (hot dogs/veggie burgers, buns, condiments, chips), so you can just enjoy what we bring if you’d like, or bring food to share. 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.

Milkweed Fireworks

One of my favorite past times of Independence Day, the 4th of July, is going to a big fireworks show. As I wait on the lawn at my favorite watching spot, the sun sets and small fireworks spring up all around with a “hiss” and a “pop.” The last light fades in the west, and people start to get antsy. Then, suddenly, I hear a deep boom, the kind that vibrates in my chest, and I know the show has started. The sky blossoms with vibrant colors, dark flashes, and artful shapes. The crowd “ooohs” and “aaaaahhhhs.”

In a happy coincidence, this is also the perfect time to take in milkweed fireworks, the spectacular flowers that look just like exploding fireworks. You don’t even have to wait until dark to view them! These native wildflowers provide food for pollinators, including monarchs. We have 11 species of milkweeds that currently grow in Michigan,  so the four species I have below are just the beginning.

To start, take the common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. Their bunches of flowers resemble the really big fireworks that explode in a big orb of colorful light, way up in the sky.

The beautiful spheres of the common milkweed inflorescence are not so common. In fact, they are quite beautiful!

The beautiful spheres of the common milkweed inflorescence are not so common. In fact, they are quite beautiful! These plants are in our native flower beds at the entrance to the Paint Creek Cider Mill.

I also enjoy the fireworks that resemble a cloud of falling stars, or a weeping willow. There is a milkweed for that too! Check out our woodland species, poke milkweed (Asclepias exaltata). The drooping flowers are gorgeous, not to mention the cool leaves!

Unlike most milkweed, poke milkweed can grow in fairly shady areas. We also have this one in the gardens in front of the Paint Creek Cider Mill.

Unlike most milkweed, poke milkweed can grow in fairly shady areas. We also have this one in the gardens in front of the Paint Creek Cider Mill.

The special thing about fireworks is that their bright colors contrast so deeply with the dark night sky. These last two milkweeds rival those fireworks with their brilliant colors. Swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnata, grows in wet areas.

This beauty lights up the shores of Lost Lake Nature Park with its deep purple flowers. While it usually grows in wet areas, it can tolerate somewhat dry areas in a garden.

This beauty lights up the shores of Lost Lake Nature Park with its deep purple flowers. While it usually grows in wet areas, it can tolerate somewhat dry areas in a garden.

Finally, one of my favorite milkweeds is butterfly milkweed. As I predicted a few weeks ago, the grand finale of the milkweed fireworks show is on display right now at the Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie! You need to check it out. Park at the lot at Silverbell on the Paint Creek Trail, and hike north one or two football field lengths. You can’t miss butterfly milkweed, Asclepias tuberosa, lighting up the prairie with its orange flowers.

The grand finale, this milkweed takes the show. A beautiful milkweed for your garden, this species form clumps instead of spreading widely.

The grand finale, butterfly milkweed, takes the show with its orange display. A beautiful milkweed for your garden, this species form clumps instead of spreading widely.

Get out there and check out the milkweed fireworks show this weekend!

What’s Flowering? Lupine and Puccoon along the Paint Creek Trail!

The purple spikes of wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) and yellow splashes of hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens)  are fading in the oak barren remnants along the Paint Creek Trail. Both species flower in May and early June each year, and are toward the end of their flowering periods this year. These plants give us small reminders of the special plants that used to be more widespread in the oak barrens of southern Michigan, but have mostly disappeared. As these plants have disappeared, many of the pollinators (think bees, moths, butterflies, and wasps) that rely on these native plants have declined or disappeared too.

Purple spikes of wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) flowers along the Paint Creek Trail on May 30, 2014.

Purple spikes of wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) flowers along the Paint Creek Trail on May 30, 2014. The leaflets on the leaves of wild lupine all radiate from a central points, an arrangement called “palmately compound” leaves.

The yellow flowers of hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens) along the Paint Creek Trail. The soft hairs on the leaves distinguish this species from hairy puccoon, which has course hairs.

The yellow flowers of hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens) along the Paint Creek Trail on May 30, 2014. The soft hairs on the leaves distinguish this species from hairy puccoon (Lithospermum caroliniense), which has course hairs.

Oak barrens, which used to cover about 2% of Michigan and 28% of Oakland County, are a type of savanna that typically has low tree cover.  The ground cover in oak barrens contains prairie species in open areas and forest species in the shaded areas under widely spaced black and white oaks.  Oak barrens are fire-dependent, which means that they need fire to keep them from becoming closed forest. Plants like wild lupine and hoary puccoon depend on fire to maintain their open habitat. Before European settlement, lightning strikes and fire intentionally set by Native Americans maintained oak barrens in this open state. As European settlers moved in, the open oak barrens changed quickly. Farmers plowed many savannas in the Midwest because they had few trees.  Settlers also extinguished the frequent, low-intensity fires that the oak barrens needed to survive. Within a few years, trees quickly grew, the canopy closed, and the open oak barrens became forests.

As we work to restore oak barrens in Oakland Township, we collect seeds from the native plants in our prairie and oak savanna, including wild lupine and hoary puccoon. We hope that by restoring oak barrens, both native plants and animals will benefit. If you’d like to help collect seeds, or learn more about prairie and oak barrens restoration, please check out our volunteer opportunities!