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A Sea of Yellow

The early morning fog and haze forecasted a hot and humid day ahead of us, and by 9:00 this morning we were well on our way toward a Guamish day.  Still, hazy, hot and humid weather is not enough to deter the stalwart members of the TMNG.  We met at The Ecology Farm and headed out to the Wickwire Field, which last year was taken out of production and planted with native grasses and forbs (flowering plants).  Some of you may recall that last year it was a sea of partridge peas, a lovely yellow flower.  This summer the field is yellow again, but with entirely different blooms:  brown- and black-eyed Susans.

DSC_0290It is an impressive sight, but not one that one should take for granted, for hidden in amongst the Susans were not only other yellow-rayed flowers, but a few other flowers (and grasses) besides.  Our goal this morning was to do an inventory of what was blooming out there.  We had three new people with us: Leah and her two young daughters – welcome!

DSC_0268 Although not nearly as numerous, there were quite a lot of bee balm (aka: wild bergamot) in bloom…and many more on the way.  This native Monarda is a favorite of bees and even hummingbirds, although we didn’t see any of the latter out in the field today.

DSC_0261 bee balm

There are so many yellow-rayed flowers.  In fact, I am inclined to believe that most prairie/grassland flowers are yellow-rayed…and the differences between species can be difficult to ascertain.  Some are easy to get to genus (sunflower, coreopsis), but from there they can be tricky.  You have to be sure to note leaves, stems, hairiness (or lack thereof), color of the disc flowers, etc.  You see, what you are looking at below is not A flower, but a whole bouquet.  Each yellow “petal” is a ray flower…a whole flower in and of itself!  And what we think of as the “center” of this “flower” is a collection of disc flowers.  Yes, indeed, this plant has two types of flowers that make up the flowerhead: rays and discs.  Daisies, sunflowers, tickseeds, coreopsises, cup plant, elecampane, compass plant, camphorweed, rosinweed, Jerusalem artichoke…they are all in the same category.  And if you purchase a bunch of wildflowers to plant because they have some great names, just be aware that you might end up with a garden full of tall yellow flowers that look alarmingly similar to each other.

DSC_0263 coreopsis or tickseedNot having a photo of the leaves, I’m not 100% which this (above) is.  We are leaning toward coreopsis.

Fortunately, not everything out there was yellow.  We had a few purple coneflowers in bloom,

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and butterflyweed, which is a member of the milkweed family.

butterfly weed

The sharp eyes of one of our group also found this purple prairie clover, or at least I think that’s what it is.  It’s not one that is in Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide.  If it IS purple prairie clover, it is a great find because this plant is believed to be extirpated in the wild in Michigan.  The flowers in this field were planted from a seed mix, so it is delightful that this flower was in the mix!

DSC_0273 purple prairie clover

These tall leafy stalks are all over the field, and it took a while to figure out what they are.  We wanted them to be Liatris, because that would be fabulous once in bloom, but they aren’t.  I was thinking they were one of the early asters, with little tiny white flowers that aren’t quite in bloom yet, but I don’t think they are.  No, after exhaustive searching through books, I believe this is horseweed, aka marestail and fleabane.  It gets tiny white flowers, and is considered a weed, commonly found in fallow fields and where tillage is reduced.  That certainly describes this field!

DSC_0274 horseweed maybe

We were rather surprised to find this lone purple loosestrife plant!  Purple loosestrife is a plant of wetlands, so what is it doing in this dry field far from water?

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The native grasses are also coming up.  Indian grass is already in bloom – many grasses are blooming early this year, no doubt due to the drought.

DSC_0278 indian grass

We also saw some little bluestem grass doing very well.

DSC_0276 little blue stem

We weren’t familiar with this grass, but it’s silvery-grey-green color was a lovely contrast out in the field.

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The blue vervain was either just getting started blooming, or just ending.  Either way, it wasn’t as dramatic as it has been in the past, and this was the only one we saw.

DSC_0286 blue vervain

The real eye-catcher of the day, however, were the deformed Susans:

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The one below had so many stems fused together that it was easily three inches across!  The flowerhead was nearly the size of a softball!

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We hope in the next couple of years to build a new trail that goes into the Wickwire field, complete with a viewing tower/platform from which one can look down on the sea of wildflowers, and also view the grasslands birds (and other wildlife) from above.  In the meantime, do take a walk out there and see if you can add to our list of summer wildflowers.

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