Trout Lily Reproduction

Erythronium americanum

Clump of Yellow Trout Lily (L) and developing stolon (R)

Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) is a common spring ephemeral in Michigan. Most colonies consist of some two-leaved flowering plants and numerous single leaved non-flowering plants. Many of the non-flowering plants are not seedlings but are produced via stolons. Stolons, from Latin stolo meaning shoot, twig, or branch, are runners that extend on top of the ground and then the tips burrow into the ground sometimes emerging again. New plants develop and root at these tips. Normally the stolons are covered by the duff, but areas with disturbed duff expose the coils of stolons. Plants in the colonies I examined had 0 to 3 stolons each. In a good year a single stolon produces up to four new plants. Look for the stolons in rich woods. They can be found even after the leaves have died down.

Erythronium americanum

Yellow Trout Lily leaves and stolons (L) and Canada Mayflower leaves with Trout Lily stolons (R)

Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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Geranium Pollination

Geranium maculatum

Wild geranium in flower

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum) is a common woodland species in southern Michigan. Heather Holm in her book Pollinators of Native Plants explains the plant’s mechanism for insuring cross-pollination. The outer anthers develop first and discharge pollen. Next the inner anthers discharge pollen. This two-step process allows for a longer period of pollen production. Only after the anthers dry up does the stigma become ready to accept pollen. I photographed a selection of flowers in Tenhave Woods in Royal Oak on May 24th. Flowers were in all stages of development from bud through the beginning of seedpod formation. While the plants did not strictly follow Holm’s description, the pollen had developed first in most plants, and plants lacked pollen when the stigma was ready to receive pollen.

Geranium maculatum

Closeups showing development of pollen

Geranium maculatum

Closeups showing anthers withering (L) and receptive stigma with pollen grains (R)

While photographing Geraniums I found a Cuckoo Bee (Nomada sp.) pollinating the flowers. Holm in her book explains that Cuckoo Bees “lay their eggs in the nests of ground-nesting bees.” This one was feeding on nectar, moving rapidly from flower to flower.

Geranium maculatum

Cuckoo Bee (Nomeda sp) on Wild Geranium

In the future, I will pay closer attention to how pollen develops in different plant species. I find it interesting to observe the varied mechanisms by which plants maintain genetic diversity.
Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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False-puffball Slime Mold

Enteridium lycoperdon

False-puffball Slime Mold development and changes in less than 24 hours.

Recently, my friend John pointed out a white blob on a rotting log in Royal Oak’s Tenhave Woods to Mushroom Mary and me. It looked similar to a puffball but not one that I was familiar with. I took a photo with my phone and returned later in the day to photograph it with a better camera. It had already changed shape. It was a slime mold. Mushroom Mary identified it as Enteridium lycoperdon also known as Reticularia lycoperdon. It has the common name of False-puffball. I began a series of photos showing how the fruiting body developed.

Enteridium lycoperdon

False-puffball Slime Mold further development.

Slime molds are an odd bunch. For most of its existence, a slime mold lives as an organism with many nuclei but only one cell wall and is referred to as the plasmodium. During this stage, it moves, feeds, and dispels undigested organic matter. When mature, the plasmodium will form a fruiting body and produce spores. This happens over a period of hours to days, and the change is quite dramatic. Although it is known that exhaustion of food supplies and changes in temperature, moisture, and pH can trigger the change, the process is not fully understood.

False-puffball produces a relatively large, single, fruiting body called an aethalium. When I first saw it, its surface had a defined structure. This surface smoothed over in less than a day.

Enteridium lycoperdon

Closeup of surface of False-puffball Slime Mold showing changes in texture. The left and center images are less than 24 hours apart.

False-puffballs occur around the world with most records coming from North America and Europe. Africa, Asia, and South America also have a few records. (The distributions of all slime molds are poorly known.) False-puffballs produce brown spores. A similar species, Tapioca Slime Mold (Brefeldia maxima), produces black spores.

If you find a slime mold try to watch it for a few days. Some last only forty-eight hours. It’s fun to observe them changing and eventually disappearing. Watch one if you can.

I thank Mushroom Mary for teaching me about slime molds and for identifying this one. I also thank John for pointing out a “white lump” on a log that most people would have just passed by.

Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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Which trees keep their dried leaves throughout the winter?

Fagus grandifolia

American Beech in winter

A winter walk through a woods in Michigan will reveal deciduous trees holding their dried leaves from last fall. Marcescence is the technical term for plant parts that wither but do not fall off. It can refer to leaves, flowers, or fruit. In deciduous leaves an abscission layer forms at the base of the petiole (leaf stem). In most deciduous leaves the abscission layer hardens on the twig side in the fall, the leaves drop-off, and this layer protects the bud-scar on the twig. In marcescent leaves, the abscission layer does not function until buds break in the spring. Andrew Hipp at The Morton Arboretum explains this in greater detail.

Some species are more marcescent than others. Oaks, Beeches, Hornbeams, and Hop-hornbeams commonly hold their leaves. Younger trees exhibit marcesence more often than mature trees. Stress from drought or disease can cause marcescence in any deciduous species .

The color of the winter leaves is normally distinctive but hard to describe. With a little practice you can learn to identify these trees at a distance. Of course, looking at the shape of the leaf, winter bud, or the bark can confirm your identification.

Fagus grandifolia

American Beech leaves in winter

Marcescent leaves on American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) bleach from tan to a ghostly cream-color during the winter. Looking closely at a twig you will see long buds that confirm the identification.

Ostrya virginiana

Hop-Hornbeam leaves and winter bud

Hop-hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)  has winter leaves that tend to curl. Once again, with practice the color is distinctive. Blue-beech or Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) is similar to Hop-hornbeam but with lighter brown leaves.

Carpinus caroliniana

Blue-beech winter leaves

Oaks (Quercus spp.), especially the Black Oak group (subg. Erythrobalanus), tend to hold their leaves. Some years ago, when Dr. Warren Wagner was studying Shingle Oak (Quercus imbricaria) we learned to identify the species when we drove by. Shingle Oak leaves are tan or “potato-brown color.” Other oak species have a darker, reddish-brown color. Shingle Oak is Michigan’s only simple-leaved oak. Its leaves look more like bay leaves than what we in the north think a “typical” oak leaf should resemble.

Shingle Oak – L                                                                     Pin Oak – R

It is fun to walk through a winter woodlot and identify the leaf-holding species. In Tenhave Woods, in Royal Oak, you can see where the ridges run through the woods by looking at the location of the Beech trees. Hornbeams ring the low swamp forest. Winter often is the best time to get an overview of an area when you can see farther and having the ability to identify some species from a distance is helpful.

Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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What Are the Yellow Balls on the Jack Pine?

Peridermium harknessii

Pine-Pine Galls sporing on Jack Pine

Last summer I was asked by a friend what the yellow balls infesting his Jack Pines (Pinus banksiana) were. They were obviously some kind of gall forming rust and were quite striking even from a distance.

Peridermium harknessii

Pine-Pine Galls sporing, note spores on needles and bark below left hand gall.

The rust was Peridermium harknessii and it goes by a variety of common names such as Western Gall Rust, Pine-Pine Gall Rust, and Rust Pine Yellow Disease. It has been placed by some taxonomists into the genus Endocronartium.

Peridermium harknessii

Pine-Pine Galls are inconspicuous when not sporing.

Peridermium harknessii

The bright yellow spores are unmistakable.

It is common in the Jack Pine Plains near Grayling. The yellow spores appear in late May or June from the semi-spherical galls. A gall will produce spores for several years. The woody gall remains on the branch or trunk throughout the year and will persist after the branch dies. It is not a serious pest in Michigan and the hosts are killed only if the rust infects the main trunk of small trees. Infected mature trees often only lose a few branches.

Peridermium harknessii

The remains of a Pine-Pine Gall persist long after the branch dies.

Unlike many rusts, Pine-Pine Gall Rust has a single host cycle. Meaning that it spores and directly infects other pines. I have only seen this species, in Michigan, on Jack Pine but it has been reported on Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris). My blog post regarding Poison Ivy Rust presents further details on the life cycles of various rusts.

Look for this colorful species in late spring.
Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

I recently found a stink bug in my kitchen. It was a Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (Halyomorpha halys). This invasive insect is native to Japan, Korea and China. The first North America record was from Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1998 and it reached Michigan in 2011.

Halyomorpha halys

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

The adults overwinter in houses, barns, garages, and outbuildings. Adults are 12-16mm [1/2-5/8 inch] long and shaped like a shield. Their antennae are dark with light bands. Light spots are also found on the edges of their bodies. This is the only species of stink bug commonly found inside a house during our Michigan winter. It can occur by the hundreds in some homes.

Halyomorpha halys

Brown Marmorated Stink Bug

Brown Marmorated Stink Bugs will not bite humans. They can be a major pest on fruit trees and damage the leaves and fruit of apples, pears, peaches, cherries, corn, tomatoes, peppers, soybeans, and others. Luckily they only raise one brood in Michigan.
Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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What is Killing the Jack Pine?

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Last Fall, my friend Trapper Dave contacted me and asked what was killing the Jack Pine (Pinus banksiana) in a Kirtland’s Warbler planting near his cabin in Oscoda County. This planting was the subject of an earlier blog post. Needles on branches and entire trees suddenly turned brown. We checked other plantings and found dead trees several other places in Oscoda, Crawford, and Montmorency counties. Several of these stands were two year old Kirtland’s Warbler plantings and we became concerned about the impact this die-off might have on this endangered bird.

Trapper Dave contacted the DNR and a helpful Forest Health Technician replied that, “We have had several reports from roughly a four county area of this type of mortality. The pictures you sent are consistent with other pictures we have received from this area… I’ll be sure to send you a some more information once we are able to make a diagnosis.”

Later we received a report from the Diagnostic Services at Michigan State University. They identified Sphaeropsis canker (Sphaeropsis sp. or spp) as the cause of the die-off. From the limited sample, submitted by the Forest Technician, they could not identify which species it was or even if more than one species is involved. The genus is poorly understood and probably has many undescribed species.

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Jack Pine needles showing Sphaeropsis shoot blight

I looked up the fungus in Tree Maintenance (6th edition) by Pirone, Hartman, Sall, and Pirone. They list another newer generic name, Diplodia but use Sphaeropsis. They write that the fungus “overwinters in infected needles, twigs, and cones. In spring, the small fruiting bodies release egg-shaped, light brown spores… The fungus grows down through the needles and into the twigs, where it destroys tissues as far back as the first node.” (page 425).

Sphaeropsis shoot blight

Close-up of needle showing Sphaeropsis shoot blight spores

Several sources state that the spores overwinter in the cones but I could not find spores in the half-dozen cones I checked. The fungus kills the branches quickly. Die-off appeared over a two-week period but the trees must have been infected for most of the summer.

A USDA Northeastern Area Fact Sheet states, “Sphaeropsis shoot blight, formerly called Diplodia shoot blight, is worldwide in distribution and can infect many conifer hosts. Although many pine species are reported hosts, this disease causes severe damage only to trees that are predisposed by unfavorable environmental conditions. …Other predisposing environmental factors include poor site, drought, hail or snow damage, compacted soils, excessive shading, insect activity or other mechanical wounding. In the north-central United States, the most common hosts are Austrian, Scotch, mugo, red and jack pines grown in ornamental and windbreak plantings.”

We need to monitor the extent of the shoot blight damage in the Grayling area. It is a native fungus attacking a native tree that should have defense mechanisms. It was a dry year in the Grayling area so this may have made the trees more susceptible to infection. I am concerned that the USDA lists Jack Pine plantings, which of course is what we do for Kirtland’s Warbler, as being more susceptible to the infection. I did not find the fungus in the half dozen naturally occurring Jack Pine stands that I checked. If you find this fungus please report the location in the comments section of this blog post.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Eastern Ironclad Beetle (Phellopsis obcordata)

Phellopsis obcordata

Eastern Ironclad Beetle on shelf fungus

Last August, I found a beetle, resembling a woodchip, sitting on a shelf fungus along the old growth trail in Hartwick Pines State Park. On this field trip I was looking at fungi with a friend or I probably would have overlooked this well camouflaged beetle. It was an Eastern Ironclad Beetle (Phellopsis obcordata). According to bugguide.net they eat “fungi associated with decaying trees in old growth boreal forests.” I love when a beetle reads and follows the rules. The larva burrows inside the fungus eating pathways. The adults feed on the surface of the fungus. I have visited Hartwick Pines several times a year over the last four decades and I still find new things to see. You never know what you are going to find.

Phellopsis obcordata

Eastern Ironclad Beetle

 

Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Cottonwood Gall Aphids (Pemphigus populitranversus)

Pemphigus popilitranversus


Cottonwood Gall

While I was raking leaves off our small “lawn,” my wife (knowing full well the answer would be yes) asked me if I wanted to see a leaf gall. It was formed on the petiole of an Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides). I checked bugguide.net and identified that a Cottonwood Gall Aphid caused the gall.  Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid is another common name for this species.

Pemphigus popilitranversus

Cottonwood Gall                  Left hand gall showing transverse split

It is a hollow gall, not quite round, with a transverse split. It occurs along the petiole (the stem of a leaf) just below the blade. I cut a few open and found a waxy substance but no insects. They might have exited through the slit. I opened one more and found the adult aphid.

Pemphigus popilitranversus

Interior of Cottonwood Gall    L – shed skin                 R – adult winged aphid

I Googled the scientific name and the phrase “life cycle” and found Roberta Gibson’s informative and fun blog “Growing with Science (The Poplar Petiole Gall Aphid was the “Bug of the Week” in May of 2015.) She explains the aphid’s life cycle. Aphids seldom have straight forward life cycles. They over winter as eggs on Cottonwood twigs. They hatch in the spring and feed on the leaf petioles, causing the plant to produce the gall. Then the insect moves inside. It becomes a winged adult and exits through the slot in the gall’s side. They complete their life cycle on the roots of cabbage, turnips, or another member of the mustard family (Brassicaceae). Another common name is Cabbage Root Aphid. The aphids complete their life cycle by flying back to Cottonwoods and depositing eggs on the twigs or bark.

This is a great time of year to look for galls. Get outside and enjoy Nature. Also, check out Roberta’s blog and website. Even though she is based out of Arizona many things she writes about occur in Michigan.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Don’t Touch That Beetle: Oil Beetle (Meloe sp.)

meloe-sp-oil-beetle-1During a recent work session at the Royal Oak Arboretum one of the Boy Scouts found a large purplish-black beetle. It was part of the Blister Beetle group called an Oil Beetle (Meloe sp.). They exude an yellowish oily substance from the base of their legs that forms blisters if it contacts human skin. They placed the beetle in a large plastic cup and the cup’s bottom was spotted with oily liquid when I first saw it.

This genus consists of six species in the Northeastern United States. I am not sure which species this one is. I am happy to know the genus of an insect.

Meloe sp.

Female Oil Beetle

The females are about twice the size of the males. This female was 40mm [1.5 inches] long and seemed sluggish. They overwinter as eggs and perhaps she had laid her eggs and was reaching the end of her life. This is a flightless, parasitic beetle. The eggs hatch in the late spring and the larva are described as alligator-like. Climbing onto a flower they wait for one of the solitary bees to land and quickly latch on to its back. The Oil Beetle larva rides the bee back to its nest and feeds on the developing bee larva and possibly some of the pollen in the nest. It then pupates and emerges in the fall to mate and lay its eggs.

It is fun to find a new insect in an area that I visit often. You never know what you are going to see when you just get out and look.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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