Sunday, October 27, 2019

Visting Michigan--Late Summer Splendor

forest in central Michigan

There are lots of places to see in Michigan. I attended the University of Michigan and over the years visited many parts of the state. I had the opportunity to return this fall. The trees were tall and green, the forest dotted with meadows and ponds.

Here is a look at central Michigan habitats, roughly the area near Grand Rapids.
Hardwood forests of oak (Quercus) maple (Acer) and beech (Fagus )(above) are broken by flower-filled meadows.

The yellow flowers are goldenrods (Solidago, sunflower family, Asteraceae). The problem is there are seventeen (17!) species of goldenrod found in Michigan and I don't have the kind of close up photos needed to separate them.

forest gap

Sleepy streams rolled through the forests.


Here's a larger open area with a massive bloom of red flowers (blanket flower, Gaillardia pulchella sunflower family, Asteraceae, about Gaillardia and photos, link)
Michigan meadow
Meadow. The red flowers are blanket flower (Gaillardia pulchella)
Michigan is a transition area: the Eastern deciduous forest reaches nearly its western end and the tallgrass prairie its eastern edge. The two plant communities weave together, forest on wetter spots,  prairie where it is drier.

Below is a bit of prairie with a stand of big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii, grass family Poaceae, about big bluestem link).


By early fall ,the plants are mostly in seed. Those that are still flowering are gambling the first frost will be late. Generally they have small flowers which can quickly ripen their small seeds. But often plants mass small flowers together to make a strong visual display, attractive to pollinators but also humans.

Here is a goldenrod. The bright yellow flowers attract bees and butterflies and provide very important late season food sources for those insects. Goldenrod is associated with allergies but it does not cause them. It is insect-pollinated and so doesn't scatter its pollen or, in fact, make very much pollen. However, it comes into flower--becomes visible--at the same time ragweed (Ambrosia, also sunflower family) blooms. Ragweed has inconspicuous green wind-pollinated flowers and puts lots of highly allergenic pollen into the air. (More on ragweed link). People see goldenrods when they start sneezing but the goldenrod is not the cause.

goldenrod and little bluestem, central Michigan

The brown grass with the white tuft of seeds taking up half my photo is little bluestem, Schizachryium scoparium, an important prairie grass (about little bluestem link).

Late asters and a different goldenrod.
aster and goldenrod, central Michigan
late aster and goldenrod
The sunflower family is named after the asters, Asteraceae. In a recent analysis, the actual asters, genus Aster, have been restricted to Europe (with one Canadian exception) and the American species, looking very like European asters, with simple ring of white or pale ray florets around a central group of yellow disc florets, have been put into the genera Almutaster, Canadenathus, Eurybia, Oreostemma, Seriocarpus and others, but especially Symphyotrichum. There are so many species in this group that Symphyotrichum has 85 species. Most are generally called aster as a common name. Thus, the widespread New England aster is now Symphyotrichum novae-angliae when it was formerly Aster novae-angliae. If you are just learning scientific names, it is no big deal, but if you learned them long ago, then these changes are a dis-aster.

Below, a mass of native wildflowers in a naturalistic garden, especially the two coneflowers, the pink Echinacea and the yellow Ratibida (about coneflowers link).

Michigan flowers

And one last look at the forest

ferns in forest, Michigan

Most of these places were very close to houses and development. You don't have to go far to see lovely environments and beautiful flowers in central Michigan.

Comments and corrections welcome.

Note: photos are from July to September, several locations and from years between 1968 and 2019.

Kathy Keeler, A Wandering Botanist

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