Friday, January 4, 2013

Winter Wildflower Hike

When we entered Kalamazoo Nature Center, the person at the front desk mentioned a Winter Wildflower hike. My mind thought, "Wildflowers in Winter?" and my mouth asked, "Did you just say wildflower?" Indeed, wildflowers in winter.

Love the textures on this wall! Find their trail map here, with descriptions of what might be found on the varying hikes.

Peter J.F. Stobie, the Education Director led the hike. He is an excellent interpreter, or teacher in my world. Yes, I googled him . . . awards, publications, quotes, etc. There is a reason he is the Education Director. He used voices, props, jokes, story telling, acting, tools, etc. to engage his mixed age audience. Check out the cute hats on the kids on the right--these were hand made by someone at their recent art and gift show. Who doesn't want a blue jay hat? Seeing these are enough to inspire me to attend the show late in 2013 . . . and admission was free on this day in 2012!

On to our hike . . . we looked at many seeds on the wildflowers. Our leader reminded us numerous times that, "Every plant has a purpose, every plant has a story."

We saw several plants. One was a type of goldenrod. This post has several good pictures of varying goldenrod at the end. We also looked at bottle brush grass with its triangular shapes/placement of seeds and flowers.

One small tree had over 20 galls. An insect laid an egg in the stem and secretes saliva to protect the egg. These insects will emerge in the spring. The galls do not do significant damage to the trees, yet are part of the natural cycle of things.

We visited another fen on this hike. He explained a meadow is like a meadow with water coming into. In contrast, a bog is similar yet only has rainwater to add to the water. In this case there is a spring and river that flows through it. The water here is alkaline or acidic, like orange juice rather than water in our terms. There were several questions throughout the hike. One was about the green plant growing in the water. It's an evergreen, called watercress. It's popular in salads. He cautioned to only use wild edibles when with an expert and to know where it comes from. He said it was best to eat it fresh from a local restaurant that sources the product. You can even grow your own, as it's highly nutritious.

I loved seeing this gorgeous red on our last hike at Pokagon State Park in their nature preserve. However, it's one of the plants that starts creeping in when a fen starts its natural progression to change. They use prescribed burns here to keep the redosier dogwood at bay from the fen. The center uses habitat management to attract certain wildlife. One of the families on the hike mentioned being on the trails and being able to see part of this recently--what a sight!

This was a neat find . . . we have raspberry canes in our backyard so I knew the waxy red stems with thorns easily. What is interesting is the egg sac.  Of course there was some acting involved, yet we learned this was a praying mantis egg case, holding around 100 eggs. He talked about the foam the mother secretes to protect the babies, much like insulating foam spray we might use in household construction projects.

I've often seen this plant on our walks at Leiber Nature Preserve. I immediately knew the leaves of the mullen plant would be fuzzy from previous interaction, yet I also learned it can be abrasive. It has been known as Quakers Rouge in the past as women would rub the bristles of the leaves on their cheeks to produce red cheeks as a natural rouge. He cautioned this would not be a good toilet paper! It has also been called Candlewick as it has been dipped in animal fat or wax to be used as a torch or candle.

We also looked at thistle, after an interesting story on Scotland and Vikings. I didn't realize we were going on a history tour, too, but it all weaves together to tell the stories of the plants. The thistle is now the national symbol of Scotland and thistle is a tiny black seed often used in birdfeeders. This Michigan Wildflowers index has several pictures of thistles, yet I'm not sure which exact species is below.

Evening primrose was another star of our show. It has a beautiful yellow flower, sweet smell, and blossoms at night. Moths pollinate it, so it has been used in various studies with moths.

We also looked at Queen Anne's lace and heard another story of the Queen of England tatting lace, pricking her finger, and a spot of blood landing on her project. There are often spiders or earwigs in the flowers, along with a tiny purple flower. It's also known as wild carrot, as the root smells like carrots. This is a non-native plant.

Our fearless leader found a few Goldenrod Fly galls in this area of the hike. The first one had a hole pecked by a woodpecker to eat the pupa inside.

He had us step back so he could use his knife and cut the gall open.

We were then invited to take a closer look . . .

And see the Goldenrod Fly pupa up close and personal!

We also checked out wild bergamot. To see pictures of these in summer is quite different! We smelled this. It is also known as bee balm.

A bark beetle took a liking to this tree as we saw natural hieroglyphics.

My kids weren't on this hike, so it was interesting to see other moms struggle with similar issues we have, such as younger kids keeping up (needing to carry the 2-3 year olds often), boys (and girls) wrestling along the trails, kids getting cold, etc. While there may not be solutions to all of the issues, it's worth it to get out. Our children benefit from it! We benefit from it! I enjoyed talking to the other moms and hearing what they're doing to get their children outside in the Kalamazoo area.

Back at the center, a display was put up to test our skills and knowledge and extend the learning experience. I'm definitely learning more!