Saturday, June 18, 2011

North Dakota Plants

A perfect balance of sun and breeze found its way into my room this morning to wake me up. The bright warm rays were the kind that promised a perfect day, and it was. On a normal day, there seems to be less plant diversity. But when the sun finally shows itself, the prairies open up and fill with life. Even so, though, it takes a well-trained eye to pick out the gems within the dense grasses. 

 Goat's beard (Tragopogon dubius) and red baneberry (Actaea rubra) beginning to fruit. Goat's beard is a common aster that turns its head towards the sun. The flower opens only when the sun is out and closes by mid day. 

 A brand new violet for me, western Canada violet (Viola canadensis var. rugulosa). This species differs from its Canada violet (Viola canadensis) by having much larger leaves that come to a pinched point. The larger leaves creep below the soil and emerge inches from the plant, which is different than V. canadensis.

 Roundleaf serviceberry (Amelanchier sanguina). Serviceberries are known to be challenging to separate, though, this one stuck out to me like a sore thumb. The leaves have a dull serrate look to them and the tips are obtuse, giving the leaf an overall round look. 

 Bellflower (Campanula rotundifolia) and yellow sundrops (Calylophus serrulatus). In Ohio, the harebell is endangered, though, I was lucky enough to see patches along the Ohio islands when I worked at Middle Bass Island State Park. Yellow sundrops are not found in Ohio.

 Green sage or terragon (Artemisia dracunculus) and fringed sage (Artemisia frigida). Sages are an important community in the west but have spred dramatically through overgrazing. The epithet of fringed sage, frigida, refers to it occupying cold regions.

White penstemon (Penstemon albidus) and indian breadroot (Pediomelum esculentum). Penstemons are often a signal of prairie habitat. This species runs right down the center of the prairie belt, thus, does not exist in Ohio. Indian breadroot has a similar distribution with an interesting population in New York. Plains Indians valued this genus above all other wild edibles for the hardy tubers they produced. In late summer, the leaves and stalks fall off and blow away.

 An expired marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) and a dwarf leadplant (Amorpha nana). Like Indian breadroot, dwarf leadplant is a legume. Legumes contain a symbiotic relationship with rhizomatic bacteria that fixes nitrogen into a useable food source for plants. Thus, an abundance of legumes are an indicator of rich prairies and lush plant communities.


Wednesday, June 8, 2011

North Dakota Lady's Slippers

Who says North Dakota lacks in the wildflower department? The wildlife refuge I work for in North Dakota (Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge) owns and manages twenty-eight waterfowl protection areas (WPA), which include some of the healthiest native plant communities remaining in the state. Yesterday, my supervisor handed me a project to monitor existing populations of lady's slippers - a dream job for me. As I cruised the first area on an ATV, I didn't know what to expect. Before long, I was forced to park the vehicle and walk the rest of the way due to such a heavy abundance of "slippers."

Greater yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin) is a northwestern variety of C. parviflorum. Ohio has the eastern variety "lesser yellow lady's sipper" (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum), which is endangered there. The last variety of C. parviflorum is the most common (var. pubescens), which is a larger species that prefers less exposed areas such as woodlands. The species above, nor any species I found that day, are currently listed in the county I found them - Foster county.

The most abundant species I found was small white lady's slipper (Cypripedium candidum), which covered the sedge meadows by the hundreds. 

 Deeper into the areas, I came across groups of C. parviflorum var. makasin among C. candidum plants, which are two that have been well documented to create a hybrid, C. x andrewsii. Mind you, I haven't been able to find either of these species in distribution maps for Foster county. They have been found about two counties to the north according to bonap.org and other sources.

 Soon after I found a group of plants that stuck out like sore thumbs. They were in prime maturity with an ivory color to the lip and maroon - yellow sepals. I immediately thought C. x andrewsii. This plant had never been documented in this county before. I only found these plants near populations of both yellow and white slippers. Flora of North Americas article on C. x andrewsii.

 As if the day hadn't given me enough pleasure, I stumbled upon a small cluster of plants on the very last area I visited. The plants seemed taller than all the others I had seen but perhaps that is due to their added exposure. Anyway, I saw hundreds and hundreds of small white lady's slippers throughout the day and none came remotely close to this extreme and beautiful variant. The lips were speckled with pink glitter and the tongue had a heavy splash of red. A truly beautiful variant!

I can only hope for more opportunities like this. In a couple of weeks, I hope to add to this post with showy lady's slipper (C. reginae) as well.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Prairie Potholes Birding Festival

Some may say I am crazy for waking up at 3am during the weekend to look at birds in a field but they will likely never experience such an exciting and memorable weekend in their life. The tour bus was full of people from all walks of life, from all parts of the country and world. In fact, I sat next to a guy from the neighboring town of my hometown in Massachusetts. Small world!

So I began the trip as a stubborn beginner who favors flora over most anything and ended as a passionate birder. That's right I said it. And I even have a "list" now, which is packed full of prairie birds such as the highly saught after "big three" grassland sparrows: LeCount's, Nelson's, and Baird's along with many others. A truly unforgettable weekend that will stay with me to the end. 

On the hunt for Sprague's pippet.
Searching for the Baird's and Nelson's sparrows. 

Along the way, we stumbled upon an old buffalo wallow, which was used in historic times by buffalo to scratch their itchy hides. The soil surrounding the rock has been removed or compacted from traveling herds in need of a scratch.

A marbled godwit fluttering above our spotting scopes.


A willet flying by.

 A lifer for even some of the most experienced birders on the trip - a white-faced ibis. This species was a nice surprise considering they are somewhat uncommon in ND.

Nelson's sparrow showing off his ochre head striping. 

 Another grassland sparrow - clay colored sparrow. We also found many grasshopper, swamp, and savannah sparrows.

 A nest of the grassland bird, the chestnut collard longspur.

 Of course I had to catch up to the rest of the group a couple of times as I passed many prairie wildflowers such as the western wallflower and an old prairie crocus which already flowered this season.

Prairie smoke in bloom!

Other lifers for me include the Townsend's solitaire, Virginia rail, sora, cattle egret, snowy egret, Swainson's hawk, among many more. All in all, an unforgettable weekend!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Three New Violets

Well, it's certainly been a slow start to spring here in Stutsman Co., North Dakota, although, It's nice to have two springs in one year. In the short time I've had the pleasure of hiking the prairies in and around Arrowwood National Wildlife Refuge, I've been reminded of why I am so passionate about plants - because of wildlife. Sofar, my species richness has multiplied, including dozens of new passerines, shorebirds, and mammals. Moose, fishers, marbled godwits, and thirteen-lined ground squirrels are just to name a few. My aspiration has always been to ultimately use my knowledge of flora to manage for wildlife. Both flora and fauna have always captured my attention like nothing else.

This past week, I had the opportunity to visit some of my favorite native prairie patches around the complex after work. There, I found three violet species that are completely new to me among many other wildflowers - two are not found in Ohio and one is endangered there. I hope to find a couple of other western violets this week to add to this post.
Prairie violet (Viola pedatifida). A very similar looking plant as birdfoot violet (Viola pedata), though, birdfoot violets lack a beard and often have larger, more fragrant flowers. I found dozens of these plants throughout a recently burned prairie, which has been known to be an effective management tool for this species. This plant was found on a dry slope among little bluestem and is an indicator species of rich remnant prairies.

Western dog violet or sand violet (Viola adunca) was growing all throughout the prairie and on the edge of a small woodland. Another common name, hookspur violet, describes the stubby spur on the flower similar to longspur violet. 

I originally thought this could be Northern bog violet (Viola nephrophylla) but noticed conspicuous stipules and stemmed flowers on my plant unlike the description of N. bog violet. 

Nuttall's violet is one of my favorite. I'd eventually like to find ND's other lance-leaved violet, sagebrush violet (Viola vallicola). This is a fairly common violet throughout the prairies in ND, which was discovered by one of the most influential western botanists, Thomas Nuttall.