Mayapple: A Favorite Fruit

Podophyllum peltatum

Mayapple in flower and in fruit

Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) is common in rich woods in southern Michigan. Flowering in the spring, its fruit ripens in the late summer, and then the plants die back for the season. Emerging in early spring, plants resemble small umbrellas on the forest floor. Early leaves are sometimes frost damaged which causes reddish spots in the center of the leaves. Leaves are peltate with the petiole (leaf stalk) attached in the center of a mostly round leaf blade. Plants with single leaves do not flower. Larger two-leaved plants have flowers hidden under the leaves. Mayapple flowers produce no nectar to attract pollinators. I see bumblebee queens gathering pollen from the flowers. Some studies seem to indicate that pollinators are attracted by other nearby woodland flowers then visit Mayapples. I saw one bumblebee visit a Mayapple flower after feeding on Wild Geranium nectar. Fruiting is not needed because colonies reproduce via rhizomes.

Podophyllum peltatum

L-flowering plant                         C-non-flowering plant                    R-reddish plant damaged by frost

All parts of the plant including the seeds are poisonous except for the flesh of the ripe fruits. Another common name is Wild Mandrake eluding to its poisonous nature. A friend became ill after eating ripe fruit so use caution if you experiment with eating this plant. Whenever I eat a new species of wild food I always keep an uncooked sample and eat only a small amount. You can have an allergic response to a plant other people safely eat. I have found ripe fruits only three times in my life. Twice, I found single ripe fruits  and only once did I find enough to make jam. Raccoons followed us through the colony and climbed into the basket as I carried it picking fruit. Fruits have a sweet citrus flavor.

Podophyllum peltatum

L- typical Mayapple flower                 C & R-doubled flower showing extra parts

I found a colony along the Red Cedar River on the campus of Michigan State University with multiple carpels (forma polycarpum) and additional flower parts. Beal Botanical Garden’s collection manager gathered a few plants for their garden and gave me a single non-flowering plant. Seventeen years later they form a stand of 80 stems in my woodland garden. They have never set fruit.

Allodus podophylli

Mayapple Rust on upper and lower sides of leaf

A bright orange rust, Mayapple Rust (Allodus podophylli) occurs on Mayapples. This is the only species of rust reported from Mayapple. It disfigures the plants but normally causes no harm. I find the aeciospores attractive when magnified. Mayapple Rust requires no alternate host and completes its lifecycle on the Mayapple. This rust was placed in the artificial genus Puccinia until recent studies placed it in the long disused genus Allodus.

Allodus podophylli

Aeciospores of Mayapple rust

Now is the time to look for ripe Mayapples. Get out in a rich woods in southern Michigan and see what you find. It might not be a Mayapple but it’s always fun just to look.

 

Copyright 2017 by Donald Drife

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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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Rudbeckia Insect Gall

Rudbeckia laciniata

Green-headed Coneflower

Green-headed Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) also goes by the common names Tall Coneflower, or Yellow Coneflower, or Cut-leaf Coneflower.  It is commonly seen in the wild and also in so called “prairie plantings.” It is tall, sometimes reaching 10 feet (2.5m) in height, with yellow disk and ray flowers. The ray flowers are not reflexed.  It has a smooth stem and pointed leaf tips.

Asphondylia rudbeckiaeconspicua

Green-headed Coneflower flowerheads deformed by Asphondylia rudbeckiaeconspicua

Asphondylia rudbeckiaeconspicua

More Asphondylia rudbeckiaeconspicua galls on Green-headed Coneflower

A naturalist friend of mine recently brought me a few galls from her garden in Royal Oak that developed on her Green-headed Coneflowers. It proved to be Asphondylia rudbeckiaeconspicua, one of the Gall Midges. Bugguide.net only had records from Iowa and Virginia. I submitted photos for Michigan. The blog, Field Biology in Southeastern Ohio has an Ohio record. iNaturlist.org has records from Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania being the type location (the place that the original specimens came from). Wong et al lists it from southern Manitoba.

Asphondylia rudbeckiaeconspicua

Closeup of gall larva and sectioned Asphondylia rudbeckiaeconspicua gall along with another affected flower.

I’m wondering if this gall is common but overlooked in Michigan. I have checked eight colonies in Michigan without finding any additional galls. This is the only gall I have ever seen on the genus Rudbeckia. If you find this gall you can submit your photos to bugguide.net.
Copyright 2015 by Donald Drife

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Indian-pipe: Michigan’s Ghost Plant

Monotropa uniflora

Indian-pipe

Recently, in Tenhave Woods, located in the city of Royal Oak, I was shown a colony of Indian-pipe (Monotropa uniflora). For over 40 years I have been studying these woods and this is the first time I have seen Indian Pipe there. I believe it is a recent colonizer. This is a nice group of several hundred plants.

I have marked the location of flowering plants in a colony of Indian-pipe near Grayling. The plants seldom appear in the same spot from year to year but new clumps come up several yards [meters] away. Some years the plants do not appear above ground at all.

Monotropa uniflora

Indian-pipe

Because Indian-pipe does not require sunlight to produce its food it can grow in dark places on the forest floor. This flowering plant is often mistaken for a fungus because it lacks green leaves. When you see a cluster of these pure white plants in a shaft of sunlight they appear to glow, granting the plants an ethereal quality. Locally this plant is called Ghost Plant.

Indian-pipe plants are 4 to 6 inches [10 to 15cm] tall with a single hanging flower. Flowers hang downward but straighten up and point skyward after pollination. Soon after the plant is pollinated, it begins to turn black, giving it another common name of Corpse Plant. Dried seed capsules will sometimes persist through the winter.

Monotropa uniflora

Indian-pipe after pollination

Lacking chlorophyll, Indian-pipe gets its nutrients by parasitizing different fungi, taking food from but not giving anything to the host fungi. The host fungi attaches to the roots of living trees and takes nourishment from  the tree but also gives back nutrients in a saprophytic relationship. This complex relationship between Indian-pipe, fungus, and tree might best be termed symbiotic.

Indian-pipe is currently placed in the Heath Family (Ericaceae) but it has been placed in the Shinleaf or Wintergreen Family (Pyrolaceae) or in the Indian-pipe Family (Monotropaceae). Where it is placed depends on your definition of what a plant family is. Recognizing the broad Heath Family is the best given the latest DNA evidence. You can recognize Pyroloideae as a  subfamily  of Ericaceae if you wish.

Hypopitys monotropa

Pinesap

Pinesap (Hypopitys monotropa) is similar to Indian-pipe and at one time was placed in the same genus as Monotropa hypopithys. It is also a leafless flowering plant. It has multiple flowers on a stem and is cream colored or even reddish but never pure white. Its individual flowers are smaller than the flowers of Indian-pipe.

Hypopitys monotropa

Pinesap after flowering and in winter

Indian-pipe has a long flowering season. I have seen it in bloom from June through the end of September. Go out and look for it.
Copyright 2015 by Donald Drife

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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’s Naturalized Teasels

Dipsacus laciniatus

Cut-leaf Teasel

Dipsacus fullonum-habit-white flower-lavender

Wild Teasel habit, white flower, lavender flower

Dipsacus-laciniatus-habit-flower-seedhead

Cut-leaf Teasel habit, flower, seedhead

Michigan has two naturalized species of Teasel: Wild Teasel (Dipsacus fullonum), and Cut-leaf Teasel (Dipsacus laciniatus). Both were originally from Europe but now are found commonly in southern Michigan but rarely in the north. Being tall plants, often 2m [7 feet] high, they are easy to spot along highways. Dried “winter bouquets” sometimes use the attractive heads either naturally or spray-painted. They bloom starting in the center of the head and moving outward toward the top and bottom. Both species are biennials, developing a basal rosette of leaves the first year and flowering in the second.

Dipsacus fullonum leaves

Wild Teasel leaves

Wild Teasel has stem leaves that have entire (smooth) margins but sometimes they have prickly margins or even coarse teeth. The flowers are normally lilac colored but can be white or cream-colored. This species was first collected in Michigan in 1844.

Dipsacus laciniatus leaves

Cut-leaf Teasel leaves

Cut-leaf Teasel is not listed in many wildflower books. Its stem leaves are pinnatifed (with deep lobes) or bipinnatfid (with the lobes, lobed again). Their leaf bases join and sometimes will hold water. The genus name Dipsacus is said to be derived from the Greek word dipsa meaning to thirst, based on this characteristic. This species is taller on average than the Wild Teasel and often forms large colonies. Normally the flowers are a dirty white. The earliest records are from 1894.

Basal rosettes of Dipsacus fullonum-l and D. laciniatus-r

Basal rosettes of Wild Teasel-l and Cut-leaf Teasel-r

Both species are in flower now and easy to find in southern Michigan. Take a close look at teasel and learn to separate the two species. These are impressive plants.

Note: The nomenclature of Teasel is confusing. Dipsacus fullonum was called D. sylvestris and is so-named in older wildflower books. D. fullonum was applied to a European species,now called D. sativus, that has not yet been found in Michigan.
Copyright 2014 by Donald Drife

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Blueberry: a Taste of Summer

Vaccinium augustifolium Flowers and Fruit

Low Sweet Blueberry
Flowers and Fruit

Low Sweet Blueberry (Vaccinium augustifolium) is the common species we see in the sandy uplands near Grayling, Michigan. It has clusters of bell-shaped flowers in June and the fruit ripens in July. The bushes are short, less than 3dm [1 foot] tall and it is hard on my back to bend for hours picking berries. Wild blueberries are smaller but sweeter than their domestic cousins.

Vaccinium augustifolium habit

Low Sweet Blueberry

In years when a hard frost occurs during flowering time or the spring is too dry blueberries yield little if any fruit. Some years the only plants bearing fruit are at the edges of fields that have tall trees surrounding them and protecting the plants from frost. In a dry year, we sometimes find a few berries on bushes growing in a depression that collects some water. In a good berry year, there are acres of fruiting plants. Low Sweet Blueberries are deep-rooted and survive wildfires. The best picking is often two to five years after a burn. Competing plants are gone, sunlight reaches the plants, and the sterile sand is enriched.

Vaccinium augustifolium Fruit showing variations

Low Sweet Blueberry Fruit showing color variations

Vaccinium augustifolium in pail showing fruit color variations

Low Sweet Blueberries in pail showing fruit color variations

Low Sweet Blueberries form a variable species complex. Berries are blue with a solid glaucous bloom, or purple with a gray striped bloom, or shiny black. The leaves are green or glaucous green. The fruit types do not breed true from seed. Shiny black fruit can produce offspring with blue fruit. The extreme plants are distinctive and have been named as separate species or varieties of V. augustifolium but appear to me to be only forms. I know of no pure stands containing only one fruit type. It seems best to treat this as a single variable species.

Vaccinium augustifolium Undersides of leaves

Low Sweet Blueberry Undersides of leaves

Difficulties in classifying this species however do not distract from my pleasure of eating the fruit. A handful of blueberries eaten on a hike is a treat. Blueberry pancakes and pies are a highpoint of my summer. My family has a scale for rating the quality of the blueberry crop. A bad year is when less than a handful is found. Next is a pancake year (1 cup full), a pie year (4 cups), and then an abundant year. In an abundant year, such as this year, you pick enough for pancakes, pies, and to freeze a few for a rare winter treat.

Blueberry Pancakes and Pie

Blueberry Pancakes and Pie

The short bushes are hard to pick from but it is worth the work. Get out while the picking is still good but watch out for bears.
Copyright 2014 by Donald Drife

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Michigan’s Wild Strawberries

 

Fragaria vesca Fragaria virginiana  Woodland and Wild Strawberry

Woodland-l-and-Wild-r- Strawberry flowers

Michigan has two species of native Strawberries. The Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana) and Woodland Strawberry (F. vesca). If you have never eaten a native Strawberry you simply have not experienced life. The fruit is about 6mm (1/4 inch) long and all the flavor of a large commercial Strawberry is packed into its small size. I found a handful of each species last weekend near Grayling. Michigan. Wild Strawberries are sweeter and juicer than the Woodland Strawberry but I will eat both.

Fragaria vesca Fragaria virginiana  Woodland and Wild Strawberry

Woodland-l-and-Wild-r- Strawberry Fruit

The two species normally are easy to tell apart. Wild Strawberries have more or less spherical fruit. The strawberry fruit is called a fruiting receptacle and this species’ seeds are on the surface of the fruit in tiny depressions. Fruiting Wild Strawberries have their fruit held beneath the leaves. The terminal tooth on the bluish-green leaflets is smaller than the adjoining teeth.

Fragaria virginiana Wild Strawberry Fruit

Wild Strawberry Fruit

Woodland Strawberries have elongate fruit and its seeds stick-out from the surface of the fruit. Their fruit is held above the leaves. The terminal tooth on the bright green leaflets is the same size as the adjoining teeth.

Fragaria vesca   Woodland Strawberry Fruit

Woodland Strawberry Fruit

Wild Strawberries grow in many habitats. When they are found in old orchards or under Wild Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) trees, Grape Ferns (Botrychium spp.) often grow with them. Wild Strawberries tend to be semi-evergreen. Sometimes they still possess last year’s leaves when the plants flower in the spring.

Get out and look for strawberries along the edges of abandoned farm fields. They are ripe now and worth the time it takes to find, pick, and eat them.
Copyright 2014 by Donald Drife

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Michigan’s Bellworts

Large-flowered Bellwort - L, Sessile Bellwort - R

Large-flowered Bellwort – L, Sessile Bellwort – R

Two species of bellworts occur in Michigan. They are Large-flowered Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) and Sessile Bellwort or Merrybells (Uvularia sessilifolia). The Lily Family (Liliaceae) was broken into more natural groups resulting in placement of the Bellwort into the Lily-of-the-valley Family (Convallariaceae).

Uvularia grandiflora Large-flowered Bellwort - L,  U.  sessilifolia Sessile Bellwort - R

Large-flowered Bellwort – L, Sessile Bellwort – R

Large-flowered Bellwort has bright yellow flowers on plants 25 cm (10 inches) tall. The leaves are perfoliate meaning that the stem pierces the leaf. The undersides of the leaves have short hairs. Flowers appear on the plant before it is fully developed resulting in a weak looking plant. It occurs throughout Michigan. Bumblebees use Large-flowered Bellwort as an early nectar and pollen source.

Uvularia grandiflora Large-flowered Bellwort - L,  U.  sessilifolia Sessile Bellwort - R

Large-flowered Bellwort – L, Sessile Bellwort – R

Sessile Bellwort has pale yellow flowers on plants 15 cm (6 inches) tall and is a more delicate plant than the other Bellwort. Its leaves are sessile meaning that they lack a petiole (a leafstalk). The undersides of the leaves are glaucous. The plant has a unique distribution. It occurs in southeastern Michigan, eastern and extreme southern Ohio, extreme southern Indiana, and the southern tip of Illinois. It is found in central and western Wisconsin and then the west end of the Upper Peninsula. See the Flora of North America map. I know of no other plant or animal with this peculiar range.

Bellworts are flowering in southern Michigan now. Get out into a rich deciduous woods and see if you can find them.
Copyright 2014 by Donald Drife

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