Review: “Michigan Shrubs & Vines”

The University of Michigan Press recently released Michigan Shrubs & Vines: A Guide to Species of the Great Lakes Region by Burton Barnes, Christopher Dick, and Melanie Gunn. This is a companion volume to Michigan Trees by Burton Barnes and Warren Wagner.

Species accounts are similar to the ones in Michigan Trees. Two pages for each species with a page describing size and form, bark, leaves, stems-twigs, winter buds, flowers, fruit and distribution. The section on site-habitat shows that the authors know these plants in the field. A notes section contains interesting tidbits that might include: growth habits, origin of common and scientific names, world distribution, or uses by Native Americans. A second page shows line drawings of the shrub and its key characters. I applaud the authors decision to use drawings instead of photographs. The selected drawings show the key characters and are excellent. Not every shrub is treated at this level. Some are only mentioned under the heading similar species.

From the species accounts I learned that Leatherleaf (Chamaedaphne calyculata) occurs in bogs in Japan. That Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) seeds “may remain viable in the soil for decades.” Also, that there are 58,000 Bearberry seeds to the pound. Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) contains “methyl salicylate, closely related to the main ingredient in aspirin.” Leatherwood’s (Dirca palustris) fruit is correctly described as “pale green to yellowish-green when ripe.” Many guidebooks get this wrong stating it is purple or dark red which the fruit becomes if dried or rotting.

Michigan Shrubs and Vines contains a set of workable keys (and a section on how to use them including line drawings of many of the plant parts). The keys stress vegetative characters and allow identification without flowers and most of the time without fruit. I ran a dozen species through the keys and they worked flawlessly.

The final section of the book is headed “Ecology of Shrubs and Vines.” It distills some of Burt Barnes’ insights regarding ecology in a manner that laypersons will understand. This section alone is worth the price of the book. Shrub reproduction strategies, climate change, specific site factors, and Michigan’s four regional landscape ecosystems are among the topics discussed.

This book will allow you to identify Michigan’s shrubs and vines and then place them into the bigger ecological picture. It can be ordered from the University of Michigan Press and should be in the library of every naturalist in Michigan.

Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Another Pollinator Book

Xylocopa virginica

Eastern Carpenter Bee

Bees of the Great Lakes Region and Wildflowers to Support Them: A guide for farmers, gardeners and landscapers by Jason Gibbs, Ashley Bennett, Rufus Isaacs and Joy Landis published by The Michigan State University Extension (Bulletin E3282) is a new publication on pollinators. It begins with a short but readable section on “Bees and their biology” and includes descriptions of their nests, and a wonderful photo labeling the anatomy of a bee.
The book contains many helpful hints for identifying bees and was written by people who know the insects. Groups of bees (for example Leaf-cutter, Cellophane, and Mason Bees) are described and then illustrated with high quality color photographs. A section is included on “Wanna-bees” showing Flower Flies, Beetles, and Moths.

Leaf Cutter Bee

Leaf Cutter Bee


The final half of the book identifies native plants that support bees. Color photos show each plant species. Helpful information describing growing conditions, blooming period, height, bee species that use the plant, and recommended companion plants are given for each species. This should prove helpful to gardeners and landscapers as they plan plantings.

Agapostemon species

Green Sweat Bee



The book is spiral bound and pocket size (3 1/2″ X 5″). It contains 110 pages. Reasonably priced at $10.00, this guide can be ordered from the MSU Extension website. I will be carrying this handy guide in the field next year.




Copyright 2015 by Donald Drife

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Good Garden Bugs: A Review

Good Garden Bugs: Everything you need to know about beneficial predatory insects is a new guide by Mary Gardiner. But, it is more than a guide to identifying and attracting beneficial insects. It also explains the life cycles and unique behaviors of these insects. Although this is not a gardening blog I wanted to call attention to this book because it meets the purpose of this blog which is to get people out and looking at nature.

Climaciella brunnea

Wasp Mantid Fly

This book is packed with useful information. The photographs are excellent and aid in identification. Most are taken from the website I have mentioned this site in previous blog posts and use it all the time. Many of the species are illustrated at different stages of their life cycle. Some life cycles are shown with line drawings. The section on extrafloral nectaries is fascinating. Extrafloral nectaries are “glands found on leaf surfaces and margins, petioles, leaf and flower bracts, and sepals that provide nourishment to natural enemies”. I need to study these more. Another section shows how to build a bee or wasp hotel to provide shelter and nesting areas for these beneficial insects.

Lacewing larva

Lacewing larva covered with parts of prey and sand

The insects selected for the guide include most of the common insect species and a few interesting but rarer species such as the mantis fly. Using this guide I identified an insect that I photographed two years ago. It is a Lacewing larva. The feather-legged fly is listed (see blog post). A concise introduction to the wasps helped me to sort out that group. A chapter is devoted to insects of the water garden. Spiders, Predatory Mites, Pseudoscorpions, Scorpions, and Centipedes are also included. Bees and Bumblebees are not included because, while they are beneficial insects, they are not predatory.

The author grew up in Michigan and is currently an associate professor in the department of entomology at Ohio State University. This guide is written with the layperson in mind and is accurate without being overly technical. My only complaint is that the scientific names used in this book are not indexed. This guide should prove useful throughout Michigan. Look for it at your local library.
Copyright 2015 by Donald Drife

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Review: “The Kirtland’s Warbler”

William Rapai’s book The Kirtland’s Warbler: The Story of a Bird’s Fight against Extinction and the People Who Saved It covers the first 170-years of the Kirtland’s Warbler from the first specimen in 1841 through the 2010 warbler census. The University of Michigan Press is to be commended as it continues its tradition of providing sound scientific writings in a readable format. The known population has fluctuated from approximately 330 birds in 1974 and 1987 to over 3500 by 2010. After the 1987 census Doug Middleton (an amateur ornithologist) remarked to me that there were more Kirtland’s Warblers in museum cabinets that currently alive. Since the book was written the population has increased to over 4000 birds.

As I write this review, I sit in the heart of “Kirtland Country.” I am only 15 miles from where Norman Wood discovered the first Kirtland’s Warbler nest. A small plaque marks the location. Across the road is Doug Middleton’s stone cabin used for many years as a base for his studies of the Kirtland’s and other Crawford County warblers. I’m in the Jack Pine Plains and during the spring I often hear Kirtland’s Warblers singing.

Nathan Leopold was one of the first to study the Kirtland’s life history. Leopold is better known for the Leopold and Loeb murder in 1924. Before committing this crime, Leopold collected and had mounted a Kirtland’s nest, young, and a male and female adult bird. Through Doug Middleton’s intervention, this habitat study was presented to the Cranbrook Institute of Science and was on display for many years. I saw it numerous times as a boy.

Rapai documents several unique attempts to study the bird. Both Josselyn Van Tyne (curator of birds at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology) and Harold Mayfield (another amateur ornithologist) attempted unsuccessfully to hand rear young birds. Another plan put forward was to trap the warblers and keep them in captivity each winter. This would remove the hazards of migration and the mortality on the wintering grounds but the plan was never implemented.

In 1971, the Kirtland’s Warbler Advisory Committee was formed. They recommended a Cowbird trapping program and a plan for managing Jack Pine habitat. These have been the keys to the bird’s recovery.

The tragic 1980 Mack Lake fire is also mentioned. Started as a “controlled burn” it lost containment, burning 20,000 acres and killing one firefighter. I walked the area of the fire a week after it burned helping to assess the plant life. I also helped to cut cross-sections of downed, dead trees to determine their ages. I visited the area several times over the next few years as the Jack Pine and other vegetation regenerated.

Rapai points out that the Robin is not technically Michigan’s State Bird and chronicles the attempts to name the Kirtland’s Warbler as the state bird. The Robin was designated the “state bird” via a non-binding resolution and retains that status largely because of tradition.

Rapai mentions the past studies of the warbler’s droppings and current studies being done with pieces of warbler toenails, feathers, and blood samples. Isotopes from these samples reveal what types of food the birds eat, even months earlier when they were on their wintering grounds. He outlines future threats to the bird and calls for continued vigilance to protect the bird’s population

This excellent book preserves the story of the bird’s recovery and the people that worked to make it happen.

Reviewed by Donald Drife

Copyright 2013 by Donald Drife

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