Wednesday, October 28, 2015

You're Umbel ievable!

I'm sitting here tonight getting a first taste of my most recent home brew, this one is a rauchbier, a German style of beer characterized by smoky notes.  I smoked two types of malt barley (Hordeum spp.) on my parents' smoker for about 5 hours, this mimics the way malts were once dried over a wood fire for use in brewing.  I used alder (Alnus spp.) wood chips to smoke, boiled a wort of malt, hops (Humulus spp.), even added some Irish Moss (Chondrus crispus), a type of seaweed which acts as a clarifying agent for brewing.  Let it sit, add some corn (Zea mays) sugar and bottled it up.  Anyways, a side hobby I enjoy tinkering with.

I'm going through some photos from awhile back and saw a few wildflowers which share a complex and distinct form of flowering part, an umbel.  Michigan Flora Online defines an umbel as:

"An inflorescence in which the pedicels arise from the same point or nearly so; in a compound umbel, each primary ray bears an umbellet."

Think fireworks on the end of a stem.  Onions, carrots, milkweeds, ginsengs...

A good example of an umbel(s) are the flowers of Yellow Pimpernel (Taenidia integerrima) a relatively uncommon species here in Ontario and a member of the Apiaceae (Carrot) family.  It can be found in sandy or rocky savannahs, woodlands or forests, in my experience you're likely to find it on a slope, probably a south-facing one.  When I see Yellow Pimpernel I always like to start looking a little closer, it's just one of those plants that tends to be accompanied by other goodies.  The plants in the photo below (not quite showing their pale yellow petals) were found growing at the Reid Conservation Area a couple of years back.  As I recall, a nice patch of Pale Vetchling (Lathyrus ochroleucus), which shares the same habitat was located nearby.  Reid Tract is a great spot to explore!

A very common example of a compound umbel, also in the carrot family, would be Wild Carrot (Daucus carota).  Basically the umbels have umbels.

While in the Lambton Shores area in 2012 I came across this hard-to-miss plant growing on a roadside beyond the reach of the mower.  Almost more flower than leaf, this is Carrion-flower (Smilax lasioneura).  Fortunately this young plant was a couple months from producing the fragrant berries from which it derives its name.

I'm heading to Windsor on Friday for work and if the weather is nice I hope to check out some favourite spots.  One of my favourite spots is home to maybe 4 of the 6 or so (known) Tall Green Milkweed (Asclepias hirtella) in Ontario.  If ever I could somehow get a photo of my facial expression I think it would be the day I looked at this plant kind of squinty-eyed, head tilted, mouth half open mouthing the words "No".  Needless to say it was a good day.  Almost equally as humourous to me was Paul Pratt's reaction that afternoon when I stopped by the Nature Centre to show him the tiny image on my SLR screen, he said in an calm but inquisitive voice "Huh, where did you find that?".  I like Reid Tract but I love the Ojibway Prairie Complex. 

Check out that umbel!

Monday, October 26, 2015

Can't Stop, Won't Stop! Salamander Migration

The nights may be cooling off, the days growing shorter, but a few good rainfalls and we're still seeing plenty of salamander movement as they move about the forest to locate suitable overwintering sites. 

This Ambystomatid salamander was what I consider to be 'teenager-sized'...a juvenile about 9.5cm in length (adults in this particular location are coming in around 18cm in length on average I believe.

A young Eastern Newt.  In my opinion these are by far the most docile salamanders I come across.  Red-backed are fast, the Ambystomatids are impressively strong and squirmy, but these guys don't seem to be too concerned with escaping danger.

Red-backed Salamanders are plentiful in the Dundas Valley, I carefully flipped a flat stone the size of a dinner plate a couple of weeks back to find 3 Eastern Newt and 14 Red-backed!  I try to limit the flipping of rocks or at least be very careful in their replacement as some stones off the perfect micro-habitat for a species.

The 'leadback' phase of the Red-backed Salamander, just as fiesty!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Work Avoidance at Sudden Bog

Despite some pretty gusty winds today was a pretty nice day to be outside.  I had to make a run down to Hamilton mid-day to pick up a tree order.  With an order of Butternut saplings in the bed of the truck I opted for the scenic drive back past to Waterloo making my way past Valens Conservation Area, to the west of Cambridge.

It was about 3:30pm and I made the decision to do some late season botany at Sudden Bog just outside Cambridge.  I've posted about this spot before, by far one of my favourites with the variety of habitats.  My favourite areas to explore are the dry upland ridge forests some of which take on the feel of woodland or savannah habitats in places.

Staying within view of the truck (don't want those Butternuts getting nabbed!), I ascended a rocky slope to an area dominated by a canopy of Red Oak (Quercus rubra) and White Oak (Q. alba).  Shrubs included Round-leaved Dogwood (Cornus rugosa), Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)  and a fair amount of New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americana).  The groundcover was what I was most interested in, you never know what could pop up here given the high quality habitat.  Northern Bedstraw (Galium boreale) was common alongside Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata), Heart-leaved Aster (Symphyotrichum cordifolium) is just finishing bloom.  I spotted the plant below which I first thought looked like Toadflax, but the leaves were too narrow and sharp and some stems had underdeveloped flowering parts that kind of resembled mini asparagus.

After a few minutes the wheels started turning and I realized it was a Milkwort species (Polygala spp.).  It doesn't help that Michigan Flora (and a few other references I've checked) differentiate Racemed Milkwort (P. polygama) from Seneca Snakeroot (P. senega) by the size and colour of flowers.  Both are listed as rare in Waterloo Region.  The species in the photo is Seneca Snakeroot.

Not much to go on for flowers.

The roots are tough little corms shallow in the soil.

Bastard Toadflax for comparison, you can see the leaves are more rounded, more of them, and the flowering parts (if there were any) are easily differentiated from the Milkworts.

I was also curious to see if I could find Goldie's Fern (Dryopteris goldiana) deep in the forest at the base of slopes but nothing popped up during my short search, just a tonne of Marginal Fern (Dryopteris marginalis).

The marginal sori which give this fern it's name.

My short hike today convinced me I need to get out and enjoy a good hike or two before things wither away completely. 

Monday, October 12, 2015

Annual Glen Morris Bike Trip

This afternoon Alyssa and I made a trip down to Glen Morris to go for a bike ride on the Cambridge to Paris Rail Trail.  The trail is great at all times of the year, forest slopes thick with spring ephemerals, groundwaterfed swamps and marshes, prairie bluffs, it's got it all.  Access is the only issue, some of my favourite spots are kilometres from any dead end road or formal trail head so bicycle is my preferred method of transport.

With a Thanksgiving dinner lined up for this evening we took the shorter option, starting at Glen Morris and traveling south to the north end Paris.  We saw a few Eastern Gartersnake basking on the trail and in some open woodland areas.  I think we had a high of 22ÂșC today.

The picture below is one of my favourite vistas, standing in among a patch of tallgrass prairie at the crest of a steep bluff, looking south toward Paris.

Many of the Smooth Aster, Sky Blue Aster ad Heart-leaved Aster are past flowering, this Frost Aster (Symphyotrichum pilosum) caught my eye.  Frost Aster is quite common in this area and is most easily identified by the densely hairy stem (akin to frost).

The dry banks and moist channels along the trail are quite something right now with a selection of Dogwoods (Red Osier, Alternate-leaved, Grey, Silky and Round-leaved), the orange and yellow warm season prairie grasses and the Witch Hazel (photo below) are lime green going on gold.

Just aching for a prescribed burn!! Why aren't more cyclists flicking their cigarette butts? Ha!

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hitting the Pavement in Fort Erie

Yesterday I was doing some work at a site in Fort Erie and had the chance to zip down to the waterfront afterwards.  A few years back I spent a week or so at a section of waterfront a little further east, a few photos from a previous post here.  This section of the waterfront, Windmill Point, has a small access for the public which gives way to dunes, limestone pavement and beaches composed of crushed shells.

Upon popping out of the trees you are greeted by dunes stabilized by Marram Grass (Ammophila breviligulata) with the odd Switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) also present.  These dunes (as well as the rocky shoreline) serve as valuable habitat for the provincially endangered Fowler's Toad.

The fruits of Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis).  This shrub prefers wetter conditions and can form extensive swamp thickets in some areas.  The leaves tend to be in whorls of 3 on the stem, but younger shrubs can have some leaves in 2's.

Among the large Eastern Cottonwood the back dune contains a fair number of Hop-tree (Ptelea trifoliata).  The leaves really bear a resemblance to Poison-ivy!

The odd Red-osier Dogwood still holding onto a bloom.

Among the rocky areas I found a fair amount of Big Bluestem with smaller amounts of Little Bluestem, Canada Wild Rye and the long, tall seed heads of Cordgrass (Spartina pectinata).

Given the more 'challenging' conditions offered by shallow soils on the lakefront, Obedient Plant (Physostegia virginiana) tends to stay in check much better than the monster in my garden here at home.  This picture shows the fruit capsules forming, only a few rough-looking flowers were hanging on at this time.

So many nooks and crannies to explore, the Google Earth imagery shows hundreds of small broken limestone plates beneath the water extending out into the lake.

A few patches of Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale) were nice to catch in bloom.

Kalm's St. John's Wort (Hypericum kalmianum) is rare in Niagara Region and not overly common throughout much of Southern Ontario, check out the BONAP distribution map here.

I was most excited to catch Low Calamint (Clinopodium arkansanum) otherwise known as Limestone Calamint.  This member of the mint family has distinct 'pocked' leaves.  It's also rare in the region.

The plant has prostrate-growing leaves which don't resemble those of the previous/next photos, the leaves certainly gives off a strong mint odour when crushed.

It seems like 2016 will involve a trip or two down to Fort Erie, I'm looking forward to coming back!