Tuesday, December 2, 2014

List of Plant Resources

     There are many great field guides out there and excellent websites for plant identification, but finding useful ones can be difficult, depending on where you live.  Here is a list of resources that I find useful.  This list is particularly applicable to the southern Illinois region, but includes other regions as well.  If you have any suggestions for the list, please leave them in the comments section.

Plants Resources for Southern Illinois

Field Guides
  • The Flora of Illinois by Robert Mohlenbrock.  Southern Illinois Press.  4th ed. 2014.
  • Illustrated Flora of Illinois series by Robert Mohlenbrock.  Southern Illinois Press.  Various years.
  • Forest Trees of Illinois by Robert Mohlenbrock.  Illinois Department of Natural Resources.  2006.
  • Trees of Illinois by Linda Kershaw. Lone Pine. 2007.
  • Trees of Illinois by Stan Tekiela. Adventure Publications, Inc. 2006.
  • Illinois Wildflowers by Don Kurz.  Cloudland.net publishing.  2004.
  • Plants of the Chicago Region by Floyd Swink and Gerald Wilhelm. 
  • Plant Communities of Southern Illinois by John Voigt and Robert Mohlenbrock.  Southern Illinois Press.  1964.
  • Flora of Illinois by George Jones, 3rd edition.  American Midland Naturalist.  1963.
  • Flora of Southern Illinois by by Robert Mohlenbrock and John Voigt.  Southern Illinois Press.  1959.

  • Indiana Wildflowers by Kay Yatskievych.  Indiana University Press.  2000.

  • Wildflowers of Iowa Woodlands by Sylvan Runkel and Alvin Bull.  University of Iowa Press.  1979.
  • Wildflowers and Other Plants of Iowa Wetlands by Sylvan Runkel and Dean Roosa.  University of Iowa Press.  1999.
  • Wildflowers of the Tallgrass Prairie by Sylvan Runkel and Dean Roosa.  University of Iowa Press.  1989.

  • Plant Life of Kentucky by Ronald Jones.  The University Press of Kentucky.  2005.
  • Wildflowers and Ferns of Kentucky by Thomas Barnes and S. Wilson Francis.  The University Press of Kentucky.  2004.

  • The Flora of Missouri volume 1 by George Yatskievych.  Missouri Botanical Garden Press. 1999.
  • The Flora of Missouri volume 2 by George Yatskievych.  Missouri Botanical Garden Press. 2006.
  • The Flora of Missouri volume 3 by George Yatskievych.  Missouri Botanical Garden Press. 2014.
  • Trees of Missouri by Don Kurz.  Missouri Department of Conservation. 2003.
  • Shrubs and Woody Vines of Missouri by Don Kurz.  Missouri Department of Conservation. 1997.
  • A Key to Missouri Trees in Winter by Jerry Cliburn & Ginny Wallace.  Missouri Department of Conservation. 1990.
  • Ozark Wildflowers by Don Kurz.  Morris Book Publishing.  1999.
  • Missouri Wildflowers by Edgar Denison, 6th edition.  Missouri Department of Conservation.  2008.

  • Newcomb’s Wildflower Guide by Lawrence Newcomb.  Little, Brown and Company.  1977.
  • Wildflowers by Roger Tory Peterson and Margaret McKenny.  Houghton Mifflin Company.  1968.
  • Wildflowers of Tennessee, the Ohio Valley, and the Southern Appalachians by Dennis Horn and Tavia Cathcart.  Lone pine Publishing.  2005.
  • Vascular Flora of the Carolinas by Albert Radford et. Al. University of North Carolina Press.  1968.
  • Wildflowers of Wisconsin and the Great Lakes Region: A Comprehensive Field Guide by Merel Black and Emmet Judziewicz. Univerity of Wisconsin Press, 2009.
  • Wildflowers in the Field and Forest: A Field Guide to the Northeastern United States by Steven Clements and Carol Gracie Oxford University Press, 2006.
  • The New Britton & Brown Illustrated Flora of the Northeastern States and Adjacent Canada by Henry A. Gleason.  NY Botanical Garden, 1968.
  • Manual of Vascular Plants of the Northeastern States and Adjacent Canada by Gleason and Cronquist. NY Botanical Garden. Reprint 1991.
  • Manual of the Grasses of the United States by A.S. Hitchcock. Dover edition, 1971
  • Field Guide to Native Oak Species of Eastern North America by Stein, Binion & Acciavatti.  USDA, 2003.


Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Rare Plants and Northwestern Illinois Nature Preserves

     You know you have a cool job when you do the same thing on your day off as you do when working. Such is the case with many botanist photographers and I am no exception.  Recently I went over to the northwestern portion of Illinois to take a look around at the natural areas there and to photograph some rare plants in flower.  The first site for the day was Sentinel Nature Preserve in Mississippi Palisades State Park, in Carroll County.  I met my mentor and former IDNR heritage biologist for this region, Randy Nyboer, and hoped to see the display of Trilliums the park is known for.  We were a little late for the peak bloom, and that morning it got so cold it even snowed a little, so the wildflowers looked a little beat up.  Plus some large red oaks had fallen on some of the large patches so photographing the flowers was difficult, but nature is chaos and the scene was still beautiful.
Large-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)
     This site is one of only a few in Illinois that has the Ill-scented Trillium (Trillium erectum).  Like most flowers that are maroon, this plant has a foul smelling odor that attracts pollinators like flies, ants, and beetles.
 Ill-scented Trillium (Trillium erectum)
     We continued on up the trail to find more rare plants I have not seen or photographed before.  I expected to find Jeweled Shooting Star (Dodecatheon amethystinum) in the forest near the cliff edge.  There are three species of Shooting Star (Dodecatheon spp.) in Illinois.  The common one is called Shooting Star (Dodecatheon meadia) and can be found throughout the state in prairies and woodlands.  There is a rare one in southern Illinois called French's Shooting Star (Dodecatheon frenchii) and the Jeweled Shooting Star in Illinois is restricted to the northwestern part of the state.
Jeweled Shooting Star (Dodecatheon amethystinum)
     Near the Jeweled Shooting Star is the prominent feature of the park and the nature preserve.  The palisade is a rock cleavage that boldly projects itself against the backdrop of the Mississippi River.  The rock is dolomite, a type of limestone, and harbors some obligate species like Purple Cliffbrake Fern (Pellaea atropurpurea) and Baby Lip Fern (Cheilanthes feei).
The Mississippi Palisade and Purple Cliffbrake Fern (Pellaea atropurpurea)
     Another area we looked at contained a hill prairie that was supposed to be of Illinois Natural Areas Inventory (INAI) quality.  Unfortunately this area had seen too much trampling and abuse to be considered high quality, at least the vast majority of it anyway.  We did find a small patch of Bastard Toadflax (Comandra umbellata) and Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens).  The area also provided for a wonderful panoramic view with the Mississippi River in the background.
Hill Prairie above Mississippi River
Your blogger with the Mississippi River in the background
     The last species of note for me at this site was a fern that I had not seen before.  I have observed almost all of the species of ferns in Illinois and so I am very interested in learning the few I had not yet seen.  This is why Randy gave me a weird look when I was so excited to observe Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteri).
Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteri)
     We took a brief look for any Yellow Lady Slippers (Cypripedium pubescens) but most of them near the trail had long since been poached.  We accidentally forgot all about checking on Canada Violet (Viola canadensis) and went back to our vehicles.
     Not wanting to return to the office work we were planning to do, we decided to continue on to another high quality nature preserve.  We drove a short distance to Ayers Sand Prairie Nature Preserve, also in Carroll County, where we could observe plants that are adapted to sand.
Ayers Sand Prairie Nature Preserve and Dwarf Dandelion (Krigia virginica)
     Dwarf Dandelion (Krigia virginica) is something I had not seen before and so while probably not very exciting to most botanists, it was exciting to me.  We walked around to see what species were in full glorious bloom and I noticed another sand species I had not observed before, mostly because I don't regularly botanize sand communities in the counties I wander.
     In the Scrophullariaceae, Blue Toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis) is named because the leaves of the plants resemble those in the Linum genus, which are called Wild Flax.  Toads were also believed to seek refuge beneath the branches of these plants, hence the name "toadflax."  Sounds like a stretch to me but still a neat plant to observe.
Blue Toadflax (Nuttallanthus canadensis)
     The most exciting observation here was seeing the mass bloom of the Bird's-foot Violet (Viola pedata).  I had seen plenty of this one before, but never in such great abundance.
Bird's-foot Violet (Viola pedata)
     If it were a nice day we could have hoped to see some Ornate Box Turtles (Terrapene ornata), but it was still cold and rainy so they were hiding.  The rain also caused us to head back to the vehicles and call it a day.  But I rarely make it over to this part of the state and I wanted to see more.  I remembered seeing a sign for Apple River Canyon State Park on my drive over so I decided to return home the way I came so that I could take the 6-mile one-way drive into the canyon.
Apple River Canyon State Park, Jo Daviess County, Illinois
     I specifically wanted to see the Bird's-eye Primrose (Primula mistassinnica) and I knew that it grew on the moist cliffs along the Apple River.  The area was easy to find and there was a parking lot directly across from it.  I looked around on the cliffs from the other side of the Apple River but I didn't see any purple flowers and the river looked deep so I wandered upstream to photograph the canyon.
     Then I remembered I had my binoculars so I returned to my car and when I scanned the cliff again, I saw clumps of little purple flowers, mostly high up on the cliff.  I looked at the deep water in front of me and thought, getting wet is not going to stop me from going over there and getting a photograph!  However, I was able to find a spot downstream that was wide and was able to wade in my knee boots to the other side without getting wet.  But all the good specimens were beyond reach with my camera!  I photographed one here and then one there, but couldn't find any to my liking.
     I returned to the spot I started at and went the other way and managed to find a suspended ledge I could scramble up on and there I found exactly what I was looking for.  Several very happy clumps of blooming plants.  I smiled in satisfaction and vowed to return later in the summer when another rare plant would be in flower on this very same cliff, a plant known as Sullivantia (Sullivantia sullivantii).
Bird's-eye Primrose (Primula mistassinnica)
     It was another great day of botanizing in the wonderful state of Illinois.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

The Venomous Snakes of Illinois

     People often erroneously refer to snakes as “poisonous,” but the proper technical term is venomous. The difference is that poison is ingested and venom is injected. If the toxin is from eating or touching the organism, then it is poison. If the toxin is from a bite by an animal, then it is venom.
     The Timber Rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus) is one of four species of venomous snakes in Illinois. The name “crotalus” comes from the Greek “krotalon” and means “a rattle,” while “horridus” means “dreadful.” However, these beautiful creatures are not to be feared and people are usually surprised to learn that they are actually very docile animals. They rarely need to strike since they can warn any perceived threats by shaking their rattles.

     A rattlesnake adds a new segment to its rattle every time it sheds. The rattle is completely hollow and there is nothing inside; rather the rattling sound comes from the ends of the rattle segments hitting one another when the snake moves it tail rapidly.
Some snakes have weak tail muscles and are unable to move their tails fast enough to make a rattle sound. This seemingly deleterious condition is actually advantageous in the human dominated landscape, and is a great example of evolution at play.
     If someone wants to find a rattlesnake and kill it or remove it from nature, it is a lot easier if they are given an audible clue, as rattlesnakes are very cryptic and secretive and can be difficult to locate in the wild. People who love to kill snakes are perhaps outrivaled only by those who want to collect them for the pet trade. In some places still, people have events in which the purpose is to find and kill as many rattlesnakes as possible.
     Rattlesnakes that cannot produce an audible rattle when threatened are not heard and therefore not found and killed. In South Dakota for example, this is leading to populations in which the majority of the rattlesnakes cannot rattle. The environment has selected the favorable trait, for better or for worse. The media would like to suggest it is for worse, claiming the snakes are now silent killers and should be feared. But conservationists hope this allows the species to rebound, and although the long term effects of this are largely unknown, it is a case of evolutionary biology in progress.
     Cottonmouths (Agkistrodon piscivorous) are very restricted in Illinois and only occur near large wetlands, mostly in Jackson, Johnson, and Union counties in southern Illinois. “Agkistrodon” means “hooked tooth” and “piscivorous” means “fish-eater.” These snakes are also sometimes called water moccasins, but that is a misleading name. People often use it whenever they see a snake in the water. However, all snakes swim and there are 5 different species of watersnakes (Nerodia sp.) in Illinois which can look similar and are much more likely to be encountered.

     One place where cottonmouths can be seen in abundance is at LaRue Pine Hills Ecological Area in Union County, Illinois. On any given day in the spring and fall, many can be seen crossing the gravel path, known as the “snake road.” Called the annual snake migration, many animals, not just snakes, move from the steep upland woods across the gravel road to the vast floodplain swamp. Due to the local tradition of driving this road to run over snakes, the road is now closed for two months in the spring and fall to allow for this fascinating wonder of nature. In fact, 65% of the reptiles and amphibians that occur in Illinois can be found at this single 2811-acre site. All collecting is prohibited.
     Cottonmouths have very whitish mouths that they like to open as a defense posture. Some people claim to have been charged by this species of snake and this perceived aggression has led to the unfortunate phrase, “the only good snake is a dead snake.” In my experience, if you leave a snake alone, it will leave you alone. There is a reason why the vast majority of snake bites involve these things; young men, alcohol, and getting bitten on the hand.

     In actuality, every organism has its place in the food chain, every organism has inherent biological value, and every organism has the right to exist and prosper. However, humans tend to play favorites and snakes are rarely on the list, although they should be, mostly because they are excellent at rodent control.
So be kind to snakes, even the venomous ones.

     Although seldom seen, the most common of the four venomous snakes in Illinois is the copperhead (Agkistrodon contortrix). Despite being morphologically variable, their cryptic appearance allows them to hide extremely well. In fact, one time while in the company of Southern Illinois University Zoology professor Matt Whiles, he pointed to an area in the front of his yard, and mentioned that he had seen copperheads there in the leaves. We looked closer and then spotted a copperhead hiding in the leaves.
     Another time while leading a group in nature, I noticed a juvenile copperhead coiled up among the base of a cliff after most of the group has walked right by it. Funny story, at the same time exactly one week later, I told another group about seeing a copperhead in that spot the week before and when we got there, the snake was in the exact same place!

     “Agkistrodon” means “hooked tooth” and “contortrix” means “twisted” or “intricate”, referring to the dorsal pattern on this species. It is very useful to notice this pattern in order to distinguish this species from watersnakes, such as the northern watersnake (Nerodia sipedon). Notice that the dark portions of the bands are shaped like an hourglass, or Hersey’s kisses, whereas on the watersnake, the pattern is the opposite. Of course there are other more subtle differences. All venomous snakes have elliptical pupils and nonvenomous snakes have round pupils. Venomous snakes also have triangular heads and although this may seem like a minor feature, once you observe a lot of snakes, this becomes readily apparent. Notice whether the head is the same size to slightly larger than the body of the snake, or if the base of the head is noticeably larger than the body of the snake.

     One of the situations in which copperheads are frequently found is in the wood pile in rural areas. They are a social species and are known to hibernate with other venomous snakes like timber rattlesnakes, as well as nonvenomous snakes, such as black rat snakes. Their bite is rarely fatal and most individuals are bitten while attempting to kill the snake. It’s best to just leave them alone.

     The last venomous snake in Illinois to be presented on this page is the rarest of the four. The eastern massasauga (Sistrurus catenatus) is type of rattlesnake native to the once expansive prairie of Illinois. Most of this prairie was wet prairie and it has been converted to agriculture. Now most of the massasaugas are gone. However, scattered populations can still be found in extreme northern Illinois and as far south as Clinton County. They are listed as state endangered in Illinois and are a candidate for federal listing.
     “Sistrurus” comes from two Latin words which translate to "rattle tail.” The epithet “catenatus” means “chained”, describing the dorsal pattern. The word "massasauga" is believed to mean “great river mouth” in the Chippewa language and it refers to swampy habitats found near the mouth of rivers in which these snakes can be found. Also called prairie rattlesnakes, this species spends a lot of time utilizing burrows created by crayfish. They come out of the ground in spring, covered in mud, and bask in the grass on warm sunny days, like the individual in the photo.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Little Grand Canyon Ecological Area, Jackson County, Illinois

     This strenuous hike will challenge even the most adventurous hiker.  In southern Jackson County, the Little Grand Canyon displays the most unique sandstone ravines in the state.  The trail is a 4-mile loop that is great from either direction from the parking lot.  Descending the trail at the north end, you will walk through a small pine stand and slowly hike down the ridge to an overlook.  After you round the corner, look for rue anemone, pussytoes, false dandelion, bee-balm, and other dry woodland plants.  Many rare plants exist at this site so please stay on the trail. 
Krigia biflora - False Dandelion
     The trail winds its way to a steep sandstone ravine that will take you to the bottom of the canyon.  Rocks steps have been created in the sandstone and are easy to follow.  Flowing water often occurs in the sandstone chute, so extreme caution should be exercised.  As you make your way into the canyon, look for dutchman’s breeches, toothwort, pale corydalis, squirrel corn, and spring beauty.
Trail into the Little Grand Canyon
     Some very interesting plants grow in the natural area.  During the Illinoian glaciation over 100,000 years ago, plants adapted to northern climates flourished here and when the glaciers retreated, these “glacial relic” species persisted in moist, shaded, north-facing, sandstone ravines like the Little Grand Canyon.  The characteristic example of this is bishop’s cap, and the tiny snowflake-like flowers can be seen in flowering spikes covering the sides of the cliffs along the creek.  Other relic species include partridge berry, shining clubmoss, and sphagnum moss.
Mitella diphylla - Bishop's Cap
Mitchella repens - Partrige-berry
     In the floodplain area at the base of the ravine is a rich display of spring wildflowers like liverleaf, bellwort, white trillium, celandine poppy, bloodroot, as well as many fern species.  
Hepatica acutiloba - Liverleaf
Stylophorum diphyllum - Celandine Poppy and Trillum flexipes - White Trillium
     Blue cohosh, Forbe’s saxifrage, doll’s eyes, dwarf phacelia, and wild leeks are uncommon plants that call this area home.  Flowering shrubs include pawpaw, redbud, and flowering dogwood.  At least one orchid has been seen along the trail and venomous snakes are known to inhabit the area. 
Saxifraga forbesii - Forbe's Saxifrage and Caulophyllum thalictroides - Blue Cohosh
Allium triccocum - Wild Leek
     The trailhead is located south of Murphysboro.  From Highway 127, follow Orchard Hill Road west to Hickory Ridge Road.  Go straight (west) 7 miles to the entrance road to the site.
The Little Grand Canyon