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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Robert Gasiorowski: Naturalist

Robert Gasiorowski

Bob Gasiorowski leading Nature Walks 1975

Royal Oak’s nature community lost a good friend last month with the passing of Robert (Bob) Gasiorowski. I met Bob in the summer of 1972 when a notice appeared in the Royal Oak Daily Tribune announcing a series of morning hikes in Quickstad Park. Bob served as the city naturalist and led the hikes. Each session began with a lecture by Bob in his classroom in Kimball High School and then we would head to Quickstad for a nature walk. Topics included: pond life, insects, birds, trees, wildflowers, mammals, and more. Bob shared his infectious passion for all facets of the natural world. The nature program ran for several years, adding summer evening walks and an evening lecture program. I made my first public speaking presentation, with much encouragement and coaching from Bob, to this group.

Tenhave Woods in Quickstad Park still exists because Bob fought for its preservation. The city was under pressure to remove the undergrowth and thin the trees so the park would become “safer”. Bob and John Lindell, the director of Royal Oak Parks and Recreation, protected these marvelous woods from destruction. As a compromise Tenhave Woods was fenced.

Blue-headed Vireo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Magnolia Warbler

Blue-headed Vireo, Red-bellied Woodpecker, and Magnolia Warbler in hand during bird banding work in the 1970s.

Bob’s data from the 1970s provides a baseline for us to measure the health of the woodlot. We have several decades of his bird banding records. These form the base of our bird list. As part of a 1971 NSF Summer Institute for teachers at U of M Dearborn, he identified and measured hundreds of trees in Tenhave Woods. This quantitative analysis allows us to measure the changes in tree species composition. Under Bob’s direction, the first vascular plant list for the park was compiled.

Naturalists of Bob’s caliber are rare.  Most people specialize in one facet of natural history. They study birds, or plants, or insects. Bob studied everything.  I’m lucky to have had many people who instructed me about the natural world. Bob taught me to diligently observe nature. To measure and record the world around me. Get out a stopwatch and time how many calls a minute a Robin makes. Measure the size of that tree or flower. Use a thermometer and discover the difference in temperatures between the sunny and shady sides of a rock. Quantify Nature but never lose the wonder of Nature. Do not overlook the beauty of a spring woods in full bloom or the music of a wren’s song. He taught me to put Nature into the hands of children. Share with them the wonder. Bob was happiest when he was teaching and especially loved to teach young children. He told me, “If a child sees a bird through binoculars then they probably will not look at one through a B-B gun sight.”

Bob Gasiorowski receiving the first “Robert Gasiorowski Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2007, presented by Don Drife and Bob Muller

Bob Gasiorowski receiving the first “Robert Gasiorowski Lifetime Achievement Award” in 2007, presented by Don Drife and Bob Muller, and watching in 2008 as the award is given to another recipient.

The Royal Oak Nature Society would not exist without Bob’s program as an example. It is fitting that their highest honor is named the “Robert Gasiorowski Lifetime Achievement Award” and that he was the first recipient. Bob spent a lifetime learning and then teaching about Nature. I will miss him.

 

Thanks to Robert Muller for providing photos from the 1970s.
Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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That’s not a Duckweed

Ricciocarpos natans

Purple-fringed Riccia

Purple-fringed Riccia (Ricciocarpus natans) is not a flowering plant. It is an aquatic liverwort. It is found worldwide except where there is permanent ice. Floating on a pond it resembles a Duckweed and often grows with them. It differs in its butterfly shape and the fringe of purplish scales on the underside of the plants.

Ricciocarpos natans

Purple-fringed Riccia upper and lower surfaces

Duckweeds are flowering plants, capable of producing seeds. Purple-fringed Riccia reproduces via spores or plant division. Spores are produced inside the thallus. A thallus is a flat plant body not separated into stems and leaves. The plants are buoyant because they have many air chambers. A nice colony is found in Dragonfly Pond, Tenhave Woods, Royal Oak, Michigan. This is an interesting plant which should be sought in ponds throughout Michigan.

Ricciocarpos natans

Purple-fringed Riccia section showing air chambers and developing spores

Copyright 2016 by Donald Drife

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Anther Variations in Yellow Trout Lily

Last weekend at the Royal Oak Nature Society’s Open House I was asked about the two types of Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) that grow in Tenhave Woods. Some plants have yellow anthers and other plants have brown to red anthers.

Erythronium americanum

Anther Color in Yellow Trout Lily Tenhave Woods

I did a search of the literature and found Oliver Farwell’s 1938 description of Erythronium americanum var. rubrum. He writes, “In this region we have two very conspicuous variations of this species that could readily be differentiated by size of plants and flowers alone. The smaller one, with green leaves mottled with paler green or dirty white, with mostly entire stigmas, and with yellow stamens, is the typical variety of the species; scapes are from 5 to 10 inches high, with a yellow flower 0.75 [19mm] -1.35 inches [34mm]  long….The larger variety [var. rubrum] is one third to one half larger in all its parts; the stigma is usually three-lobed, and the stamens are red, the leaves being mottled with brownish purple” (Oliver A. Farwell, Notes on the Michigan Flora VII, in Papers of the Michigan Academy of Science, Arts, and Letters Vol. XXIII, 1937. Published 1938). His plants were collected in Houghton County in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. There is no doubt that these entities are the two types we have in Tenhave Woods. What I don’t know is the significance of them.

Erythronium americanum

Yellow Trout Lily with Yellow Anthers, Tenhave Woods

Erythronium americanum

Yellow Trout Lily with Reddish-brown Anthers, Genesee Co., Michigan

Fernald, in the eighth edition of Gray’s Manual of Botany, writes regarding this species “highly variable, needing more study.” He does not mention Farwell’s var. rubrum although he must have known about the name. Gleason, in the New Britton and Brown Illustrated Flora states, “races with yellow and with brown-red anthers exist and some students of the genus have suspected that two species are included.” Fassett in his Spring Flora of Wisconsin merely comments, “anthers yellow or reddish-brown”. Fassett was well known for using names for minor forms of plants but ignored Farwell’s named variety. The Flora of North America states, “filaments yellow, lanceolate; anthers yellow, chestnut brown, or lavender; pollen yellow or brown” but makes no taxonomic distinction.

The plants appear to be distinct and found over a large range. More study is needed including, marking plants to discover if the anther color is consistent from year to year, taking measurement to see if there is a size difference, looking for other characters to distinguish the plants, and looking for intermediate plants. Farwell’s
characters of leaf mottling and size do not hold true in my limited test
sample. After study, we can then hopefully determine if the plants are distinct species, subspecies, varieties, or forms.

Flower Parts

Flower Parts

Here is a review of the parts of a flower. Anther: the part that produces pollen. Filament: the thin structure that supports the anther. The anther and filament combine to make up the stamen. Stigma: the sticky part that receives the pollen. Style: the structure that supports the stigma. Ovary: where the seeds develop. The stigma, style, and ovary combine to make up the pistil.

 

 

Copyright 2013 by Donald Drife

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Spring Wildflowers II

Sanguinaria canadensis

Bloodroot Tenhave Woods, Royal Oak, MI

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) is a common Michigan wildflower. Red plant juices flow through all parts of the plant, whence the common name. The juices were used as a non-permanent fabric dye and by the Native Americans as body paint. In southern Michigan, it flowers in April. Large colonies are found in rich woodlots. It reproduces by rhizomes that can form large clumps and by seed. The seeds are myrmecochorous, meaning ants distribute them.

Dicentra cucullaria

Dutchman’s-breeches, Tenhave Woods, Royal Oak, MI

Dutchman’s-breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) is another common Michigan wildflower. It is often found with bloodroot and blossoms at the same time. The common name comes from the shape of the flower that resembles a pair of upside-down pants.

Erythronium americanum

Yellow Trout Lily, Tenhave Woods, Royal Oak, MI

Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum) is a member of the Lily Family (Liliaceae). As now recognized Michigan has only two genera in the lily family, Erythronium and the true Lilies (Lilium). The remaining genera that once formed this large family have been moved into ten other families. Other common names for this species are Dog-tooth-violet, Yellow Adder’s Tongue, and Yellow Fawn Lily. This is one of the problems with common names and a good reason to use the scientific name. The yellow hanging flowers and mottled leaves are the key characters of this plant. This species has yellow anther individuals and red-brown anther individuals.

Erythronium albidum

White Trout Lily

White Trout Lily (Erythronium albidum) is a similar species with white flowers and the leaves less mottled. It is absent north of Bay City in the Lower Peninsula and is only found in the western Upper Peninsula. It trends to grow in floodplains and is locally common.

 

 

 
 

Copyright 2013 by Donald Drife

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Witch-hazel Michigan’s late-bloomer

Hamamelis virginiana, Michigan

Witch-hazel flowers

Witch-hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a large shrub or small tree that blooms in the fall in Michigan. It grows in the Lower Peninsula and the western half of the Upper Peninsula. Outside of Michigan, it grows throughout the eastern United States reaching its western limit in Texas and Oklahoma. It is the last of our native woody plants to blossom. The flowers appear in most years after the plant has dropped its leaves. The yellow flowers with their four wiry petals form a pretty sight in the fall woods.

Hamamelis virginiana, Witch-hazel, Michigan

Witch-hazel, Oakland Co., Michigan

Hamamelis virginiana, seedpod,

Witch-hazel, Tenhave Woods, Oakland Co., Michigan.

The seeds ripen about the same time as the plant flowers. The seedpods shoot the seeds ten to fifteen feet. When I was a boy in Middle School, I had a Witch-Hazel branch with seedpods in my bedroom. (Doesn’t every boy go through this stage?) During the night, I heard a strange “Ping.” The seedpods were drying out and shooting their hard BB-sized seeds against my bedroom mirror.

Spiny Witch-hazel Gall

Spiny Witch-hazel Gall

This plant also produces Spiny Witch-hazel Galls. An aphid crawls into a leaf bud and secretes an enzyme. The irritation causes the plant to produce the gall around the aphid. The aphid reproduces within the gall and the gall provides a food source for the young. The life-cycle is more complex than this involving a secondary plant species host and some broods that are solely females. I cut open a gall from my garden, expecting it to be solid, but instead I discovered it was hollow. Several female aphids (the ones with wings) and at least one male were inside.

I love to see these flowers on their bare branches as I walk though the fall woods. Get out into a rich woods and see if you can find these last flowers of the year.

Spiny Witch-hazel Gall

Spiny Witch-hazel Gall with Aphids