New Addition to the Southeastern Wisconsin Flora Part I

October Lady’s-tresses

Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata Catling (Orchidaceae).

Inflorescence of October lady's tresses

Inflorescence of October lady’s tresses

October lady’s-tresses is generally a more southern species, but it may be extending its range northward, or “new” populations may have been overlooked in the past, because October lady’s tresses blooms, as its name implies, after most botanists have completed their surveys for the year.

Typical plant in habitat

Typical plant in habitat

October lady’s-tresses was first discovered in far southwestern Wisconsin in 1990. It had had not been found outside of that area in Wisconsin until this last October. While visiting Jericho Woods in Waukesha County this fall, the property owner showed me a small patch of orchids. At first I was confused by them, because they did not fit the description of any of the lady’s tresses species known from SE Wisconsin. However, when I sat down with my regional floras (Swink and Wilhelm, Gleason and Cronquist, Voss and Reznicek), it became clear very quickly that the plants were Spiranthes ovalis var. erostellata, the nearest known occurences of which are actually from DuPage and Kendall Counties in Northeast Illinois–still more than 100 kilometers away.

Basal and stem leaves

Basal and stem leaves

The population consisted of approximately 30 plants growing under a closed canopy of bur oak and American elm in association with a shrub layer dominated by common buckthorn and hybrid bush honeysuckle. The population was in peak flower on October 3, 2014.

October lady’s tresses is unique among the several lady’s tresses species in southern Wisconsin and the Chicago Region in having small, wholly white flowers, peak flowering in very late September / early October, a preference for shaded habitats, and an acute labellum (lower petal).

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False Foxgloves

The time when days start to become noticeably shorter, the nights more crisp, and the colors on the landscape more rich-late August into September-is one of my favorite times of the year. Several species of false-foxgloves blooming on prairies and savannas add charm to the season. Below I briefly profile a few that I have seen thus far this year.

Small-flowered false-foxglove (Agalinis paupercula), an annual, is a common species in SE Wisconsin. It occurs, sometimes in great abundance, on stream banks, in fens, and in low prairies. It favors the conditions created after fires or in areas that otherwise have sparse vegetation.

Small-flowered false foxglove blooming in low prairie.

Small-flowered false foxglove blooming in low prairie.

The short pedicels (floral stems) of small-flowered false foxglove help distinguish it from other species.

The short pedicels (floral stems) of purple false foxglove help distinguish it from other similar species (e.g. Agalinis tenuifolia), and the short corolla tube relative to the corolla lobes and overall smaller flowers distinguish it from Agalinis purpurea.

Eared false-foxglove (Tomanthera auriculata) was long thought to be extirpated from Wisconsin. Now, two extant populations are known. At this site, which was burned this spring, there may have been a hundred thousand or more plants in a three or four acre area. I missed peak flowering, but there were a few hold-outs. This annual species is partially parasitic (hemiparasitic), and heath aster (Symphyotrichum ericoides) is the favored host.

Eared false-foxglove has broader leaves than small-flowered and purple false-foxglove

Eared false-foxglove has broader leaves than small-flowered and purple false-foxglove

Large-flowered yellow false-foxglove (Aureolaria grandiflora) occurs in oak savannas. It is hemiparasitic and requires the presence of members of the white oak group such as bur oak (Quercus macrocarpa) and white oak (Quercus alba). These plants were growing in remnant savanna on a small “island” rising nearly 100 feet out of surrounding marsh.

Large-yellow false-foxglove

Large-yellow false-foxglove

Annual Yellow false-foxglove (Aureolaria pedicularia) is similar to the former species, but it requires members of the red oak group, particularly black oak (Quercus velutina) and northern pin oak (Quercus ellipsoidalis) as hosts. It is often found in sandy oak barrens.

Annual yellow false-foxglove growing beneath black oak

Annual yellow false-foxglove growing beneath black oak

Annual yellow false-foxglove up close

Annual yellow false-foxglove up close

All of the above species are pollinated primarily by bumble bees. I dropped the ball not getting any bees in the photos.

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The White Deer at the Orchid Patch

Beauty is common if you look for it, but it is truly rare to step into the wild’s inner sactum, a place and condition apart from time and humanity. For me, I am always oblivious until I am there, when some element of the wild jolts me outside of my consciousness and into a place of pure feeling (the description is embarrassingly corny, but it’s the best I’ve got). And I am only ever there briefly, because almost as soon as the feeling hits, the mind reflects. I was there most often as a child. Now I’m lucky to be there once in years.

Most recently, I was at the Utica Lake tamaracks searching for the little yellow lady’s slipper, which had been reported there in the 1970’s. The tamaracks are thick with poison sumac and exotic shrubs like hybrid honeysuckle and glossy buckthorn. It is a traverse that requires balance, patience, and focus. The tamaracks are bisected by a small stream that drains Utica Lake. The canopy opens around the stream, and when I stepped out into the open, I had found about a dozen of the little yellow lady’s slipper orchids. I had also found another orchid, the showy lady’s slipper, which is even rarer in SE Wisconsin. The opening there provides just enough light for these orchids to hang on.

The little yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin)

The little yellow lady’s slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. makasin)

The showy lady's slipper (Cypripedium reginae). This orchid is becoming increasingly rare, because it requires ample light, and the boggy areas it prefers, often with some intrusion of calcareous groundwater, are increasing choked with glossy buckthorn.

The showy lady’s slipper (Cypripedium reginae). This orchid is becoming increasingly rare, because it requires ample light, and the boggy areas it prefers, often with some intrusion of calcareous groundwater, are increasingly choked with glossy buckthorn. This orchid blooms a few weeks after the little yellow lady’s slipper. I had to return to get a shot of it in flower.

As I stood there with the orchids on the sedges of the bank, a branch snapped in the tamaracks across the stream. I looked up from the orchids, and my eyes were quickly drawn to a large, white form approaching through the trees. For a brief moment, I did not understand what I saw, and I felt something akin to wonder and terror together. It was a white deer. I muttered an expletive, and it turned tail and ran, leaving me there standing stupid with a cloud of mosquitos and deer flies.

I didn't raise my camera in time to catch the deer, and it wouldn't have been right anyway. I did happen upon a spot where it had bedded down and left behind white hairs.

I didn’t raise my camera in time to catch the deer, and it wouldn’t have been right anyway. I did happen upon a spot where it had bedded down and left behind white hairs.

A white deer is not a miracle. Neither are orchids or tamaracks. The moment on the bank had nothing to do with any of those things apart from the others. It was everything, and I would describe it as everything that was there as well as everything that was not. There was no meaning or message. The experience was limbic. Still, there was something best described as spiritual. I felt like I was the deer. I wonder if it wasn’t how a deer, a wolf, or a bird feels all of the time. Or something that man has lost in looking.

A few more elements from the tamaracks….

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)

Starflower (Trientalis borealis)

Mitella_nuda_2014_1 Naked mitrewort (Mitella nuda). These stood 3-4 inches tall, their nickle-sized leaves looking like decorations pinned to the mossy logs and roots [/caption]

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