Spring Beauty in Michigan

Claytonia caroliniana Claytonia virginica

L – Carolina Spring Beauty R- Eastern Spring Beauty

Michigan has two species of Spring Beauty: Eastern Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) and Carolina Spring Beauty (Claytonia caroliniana). Spring Beauty is one of earliest spring wildflowers. It flowers before the trees leaf out. A month after flowering the plants have set seed and begin to yellow. Michigan Audubon’s Warner Sanctuary has acres covered with Eastern Spring Beauty. Six weeks after the plants were in full flower I could not find a sign of the plants above ground.

Claytonia virginica  Claytonia caroliniana

Spring Beauty Flowers showing range of color
L -aberrant 6 petaled flower with very dark color C- pale pink flowers R- nearly white flowers

Both of our Spring Beauties have white flowers that are streaked with pink veins. Some flowers lack these veins and are pure white. Other flowers are so heavily streaked as to appear pink. There is usually much variation in any population. They have pink pollen and normally 5 petals.

Claytonia virginica

Eastern Spring Beauty

Eastern Spring Beauty has narrow leaves without a distinct petiole (leaf stem). Where the two species occur together it starts flowering about a week later than Carolina Spring Beauty but their flowering times overlap.  In Michigan, Eastern Spring Beauty occurs mostly south of the Bay City to Muskegon Line but there are some records north of that line.

Claytonia caroliniana

Carolina Spring Beauty

Carolina Spring Beauty has broad leaves with distinct petioles. In Michigan, it occurs mostly north of the Bay City to Muskegon Line.

Most species of plants have a distinct chromosome number. Spring Beauties have a wide range of numbers and appear to breed successfully with plants of other numbers. Reported chromosome numbers for Carolina Spring Beauty are 2n=16, 24, 25, 26, 27, 36, 38. For Eastern Spring Beauty 50 cynotypes (chromosome numbers) have been recorded ranging between 2n = 12-190. Eastern Spring Beauty in the Great Lakes region has numbers below 2n=28 with the higher numbers coming from farther south.

There is still time to find Carolina Spring Beauty blooming in northern Michigan. Get out and look for this pretty plant if you can.

Copyright 2015 by Donald Drife

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Michigan Morels

Morchella esculenta

Common Morel in natural habitat

First, do not identify morels solely from information on this blog. It is best to learn them from an experienced collector of mushrooms or by going to one of the Morel festivals. Two good guides are A Morel Hunter’s Companion: A Guide to True and False Morels,” by Nancy Smith Weber and James A. Weber. It is a Thunder Bay Press publication. Also, May is Morel Month in Michigan by Heather Hallen, Tom Volk, and Gerard Adams is a Michigan State Extension Publication available on line.

As with any wild food, the first time you eat it you should keep an uncooked sample. Some people are allergic to an otherwise non-poisonous plant. Peanuts are not poisonous but many people cannot eat them. Caution is always needed when eating wild foods. Never eat a raw wild mushroom.

True Morels have a hollow stem and cap. The cap is pitted and the lower edge is joined to the stem in most species. In Half-free Morels the stem attaches to the cap about a third of the way up the cap.

False Morels often have a stem that is filled with fine cotton-like structures. The stem and cap join at the top. False Morels have wrinkled caps. They are poisonous.

Michigan has three main true morel species. Common Morel, Yellow Morel and Gray Morel are all common names for Morchella esculenta. This might be a complex composed of several species.  M. crassipes is sometimes split from it. See the webpage Morels of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I do not have enough experience with this species to have an opinion as to its validity. I found Common Morel last weekend (May 9th) northeast of Grayling, Michigan. It was in an Aspen stand. This species appears when the White Trillium (Trillium grandiflora) is flowering.

Morchella esculenta

Common Morel in ground, and sectioned showing hollow interior

Common Morel varies in color from a pale, dirty yellow to gray. It is normally 5 to 15cm (2 to 6 inches) tall but much larger individuals are known. Its cap ridges are the same color as the bottom of its pits.

Morchella elata

Black morel

Black Morel (M. elata) normally has a narrow, more pointed cap. Its cap pits are lighter than their ridges, at least when they are mature. I often find Black Morels on higher ground in White Cedar (Thuja) swamps. It must be a location that dries out in the summer. Also I find them under Wild Black Cherries (Prunus serotina).

Morchella semilibera

Half-free Morel

Half-free Morel (M. semilbra) is our smallest true Morel. The other true Morel species have the cap fused with the stem for most of the caps length. Half-free Morels have their caps fused for only the top portion.

Now is the time of year to go looking for morels. Have fun, but be careful. Happy hunting.

Copyright 2015 by Donald Drife

Webpage Michigan Nature Guy
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