Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sedge ID, a few comparisons

I joined a few friends yesterday on the Bruce for an annual Puttyroot (Aplectrum hyemale) survey.  We were pleased with 47 of the small pin-striped leaves, an increase over last year (perhaps just the luck of a few more not being covered in leaves).  On the drive up we got to wondering a bit more about the nomenclature; as it turns out, Aplectrum comes from "a" - without and "plectron" - spur, referring to the lack of a spur on the flower.  "hyemale" - winter in reference to the persistent leaves.  Anyways, a grey and snowy day (Wiarton was on pace to receive 10-15cm) didn't yield any photos. 

So I'll talk sedges.

According to the NHIC species list, there are 248 species belonging to the Carex genus - the sedges, in (or once known from) Ontario.  Looking further into the data:
  • 1 is listed as SX (Extirpated): Twisted Sedge (Carex torta).  This species of gravelly river shores is found in Erie County, New York, so not too far from Fort Erie, but known historically from Middlesex County and Peel Region.
  • 3 are listed as SH (Historical): Short-leaved Sedge (Carex fuliginosa), Long's Sedge (Carex longii) and Hooker's Sedge (Carex hookeriana).  Hooker's Sedge is actually also species considered exotic to Ontario.  Long's Sedge is known from St. Clair and Wayne County right across the river in Michigan, maybe one day it'll pop up in Ontario once again.  It was known from Leeds & Grenville.
  • 11 are listed as SE (Exotic): Spiked Sedge (Carex spicata) would probably be the most commonly encountered exotic species.
  • 64 are listed as S3-S1 (Rare, of varying degrees) 
I enjoy playing with the microscope camera in our lab at work and took a bunch of shots this summer.  The first 2 photos here are Porcupine Sedge (Carex hystricina) and for comparison, 3 and 4 are Sallow Sedge (Carex lurida). 

Porcupine Sedge tends to have more veins on the perigynia (the individual, fleshy seed capsule), 15-20 versus the 7-12 of Sallow Sedge.  The latter also has plumper or wider perigynia.

Another pair of sedges that are somewhat similar, photos 1 and 2 are Brome-like Sedge (Carex bromoides) while 3 and 4 are Dewey's Sedge (Carex deweyana).

Michigan Flora notes that Dewey's Sedge tends to be more robust with wider perigynia.  Brome-like has visible nerves (veins) on the ventral face of the perigynia.  Generally speaking, Dewey's is found upland and Brome-like in swamps.

A few more random shots, the next two are Inland Sedge (Carex interior).  An important consideration in sedge ID is the arrangement of male and female flowers, The spiky portion at the tip of Inland Sedge is the female (pistillate) part with the narrow beige portion below being the male (staminate) part.

The perigynia each contain an achene or 'nut' inside the broad 'pouch'.  A style leads from the achene (inside the beak, the tapering portion), to the stigma, the spindly hairs poking out of the top.  If there are 2 stigmas, the achene is flat or lenticular, 3 stigmas and it is three-sided or trigonous.  All of this to say hand lenses and microscopes come in handy.   

Scale shape, length and colour are also important.  The whitish scales below are those of Loose-flowered Sedge (Carex laxiflora).  Along with the Ovales section, the Laxiflorae can bee some of the more difficult sedges to ID.

A few Ontario sedges resemble a medieval mace, ok, scratch that, almost all of them do, but some more than others.  The 2 photos below are Smooth-sheathed Sedge (Carex laevivaginata).  It tends to grow in riparian areas and is most easily identified by the long perigynia beaks and leaf sheaths.

The firm, thickened leaf sheath differentiates this species from Awl-fruited Sedge (Carex stipata) which has a more loose, papery sheath.

I thought I would throw in a few grasses for good measure.  The first two are the spikelets of Deer-tongue Panic Grass (Dichanthelium clandestinum).  Alot of species in this genus require fruits, a hand lens and a ruler for identification but once you're into the keys it's not too difficult to narrow things down.  This rare species can grow over a meter tall and has very broad (think bamboo) leaves, but many of the other panic grasses are shin height and somewhat the same upon first glance.  

Finally, Grove Meadow Grass (Poa alsodes).  I was happy to find this as part of an inventory I did near Cambridge this year; not considered rare in in Waterloo Region but not overly common either.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

A quiet birdfeeder

I'm working from home this afternoon and was just on my way to the kitchen when I spotted something a little different about the laundry line pole where I hang my bird feeders.  A Cooper's Hawk (at least that's what I think it is based on the striping and tail) was waiting patiently for some of the abundant House Sparrows to return to the feeder. 

At 600m from the nearest 'natural' park - Breithaupt Park, and over 2km from the Grand River, I don't get a tonne of interesting bird activity where I live in my 1950's era, moderately treed neighbourhood.  Next to watching the Chimney Swifts chatter about overhead on a warm summer night, hawk visits rate pretty high on the list for wildlife sightings here at home.

The hawk flew off about 10 minutes ago at the hand of a couple squawking, tail-flicking squirrels, but it's still pretty quiet out there!

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Turkey Point: 2011 Throwback

Laid up with a cold this weekend, I didn't get outside much.  I did, however, sort and bind a complete set of Atlas of the Rare Vascular Plants of Ontario.  It's dated, Argus and White released it in 4 parts between 1982 and 1987, but a classic no less.  It came to me as 2 empty orange binders and a messy stack of papers in a box and I soon found out that I was dealing with several loose leaf copies all mixed together like a game of 52 Card Pickup.  Anyways, a good reference to have on hand and a good task for an inside day.

I thought I'd post a few of my favourite photos from a trip to Turkey Point back in 2011.  I spent the day exploring around the Spooky Hollow, Normandale Fish Hatchery and Turkey Point Provincial Park area which always yields lots of interesting finds.

The sun was beaming through the canopy right onto the leaves of this American Chestnut (Castanea dentata).  One hundred years ago these trees were commonly occurring in many sandy forests in Southern Ontario and today, at the hand of Chestnut Blight (Cryphonectria parasitica), they have been decimated to a handful of locations where they hang on.  The MNRF website notes that in 2004 there were and estimated 120-150 mature trees in the province and about 1000 smaller suckering trees.

Many which do survive grow as suckers of 5-10m which then succumb to the fungal blight and may or may not sucker again.  I have heard that at one point 1 in 4 trees in Eastern North America was a Chestnut and you can only imagine the influence that mast-producing trees would have on wildlife populations.  There are organizations such as the American Chestnut Foundation and the Canadian Chestnut Council which support DNA analysis and propagation programs.  It would be great to see this species make a comeback but so far I don't think there has been much success in finding resistant stock.

One sandy opening in the forest contains a sizable population of Spotted Bee Balm (Monarda punctata).  I've always admired the tiered flower structure of this plant with the chalky-looking leaves.  It's related to Wild Bergamot (M. fistulosa) and Scarlet Bee Balm (M. didyma), all of which have the distinct stems and flowers of the mint family.  I'm not much of one for tea, but in dealing with this cold I found myself sipping on a mint family tea yesterday; Blue Hyssop (Agastache foeniculum) and Virginia Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum virginianum).  It was actually quite nice with a spoon of honey.

At Turkey Point PP, there are plenty of interesting plants to be found including Virginia Goat's Rue (Tephrosia virginiana).  I posted awhile back about running into this on a trip to the Mazomanie Oak Barrens in Wisconsin.  I found myself doing some hypothetical trip planning this weekend, back to Wisconsin, plenty of spots to see but the Blue River Sand Barrens and Spring Green Prairie look interesting.

Lastly, an Endangered violet that I've yet to see in flower (one of these days), the Birdsfoot Violet (Viola pedata).  With the lichen for scale, you can appreciate that a non-flowering plant could easily be overlooked. 

Off to Huron County for the start of this week, I'd love to check out Port Franks or the Pinery after work but darkness at 5:08pm kind of puts a damper on those plans.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Exploring Sudden High and Low

I decided to head down to Sudden Bog today to continue exploring some of the dry forest habitats that can be found atop the moraine ridges.  One route that I like to take passes a wonderful view of the Waynco Prairie.  The photo below is the view from a high point on West River Road looking across the Grand River to the Waynco Prairie.  I think it's one of the most picturesque vistas in the county (minus the Autumn Olive in the foreground).

Over to the Sudden Tract, things are getting pretty quiet on the wildlife front, tonnes of oak, maple and beech leafs to wade through.

The bright pink and orange fruits of Running Strawberry-bush add a bit of colour to the yellows, oranges and browns.  I remember Jane Bowles once telling me that this species is a great indicator of Carolinian forest (based on it's range here in Ontario).  A quick browse through my county floras list and sure enough, those counties where it is rare more or less mimic the boundary of what is considered to be Carolinian.

I was kind of surprised to find a couple dozen of the regionally rare Golden Alexanders (Zizia aurea) growing in what seemed to be a fairly disturbed stand of poplars.  Reading further into it this member of the carrot family can be found in both higher quality and more degraded sites.

Trying to bushwack my way to a knoll of oaks I came across another rarity, Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium corymbosum) growing in a peaty wet depression.

A few herbaceous plants could still be found on a steep Sugar Maple-Red Oak slope including lots of Blue-stemmed Goldenrod and the plant in the photo, Wild Licorice (Galium circaezans).

Walking along Beke Road, a narrow and muddy gravel road, I spotted about a dozen Cedar Waxwing going to town on Winterberry.

Two similar Viburnums growing near to one another, the first photo is Nannyberry (Viburnum lentago) which tends to have more serrate leaf margins and grows in mesic soils.

The second, Wild Raisin (Viburnum cassinoides) has more of less smooth leaf margins, sometimes bluntly toothed, and tends to grow in wet soils.

High up on one of the moraine ridges I found a couple of Sicklepod (Arabis canadensis).  The photo below shows the papery seeds of this biennial species of the Mustard family.

Sudden Tract has tonnes of Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra), ranked provincially as S3 (rare to uncommon).  The bark sticks out, I'm not sure how to describe it, kind of like Black Walnut meets Butternut.  It's more ragged looking than Bitternut Hickory but not nearly as much as Shagbark.

A whole-lotta Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides).