Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Spring Wildflower Walk at Maple Wood Nature Center

Maple Wood Nature Center has a beautiful building, active wildlife viewing window, and delightful woods. It backs up to property that is now owned by Acres Land Trust with connected trails, making the natural area of the preserve even larger. We were scheduled to be out in LaGrange today, so were delighted there was also a wildflower walk this afternoon. Scott Beam is the naturalist at Maple Wood and is a fountain of natural knowledge. In this video, he explains the opportunities to learn about nature with LaGrange County Parks and encourages us all to get outside. I can relate to his sentiments on teaching as it is very much a part of me as well.

Here is a review I did of a winter hike we took at Maple Wood last winter. It includes some pictures of inside the nature center. There aren't as many hands-on things for the children; however, there are excellent guide books, a great wildlife viewing window, and many, many stuffed animals and a few displays of nests and such. We found a nest nearby. 

Why are rocks so interesting to climb? Love the hugging! I didn't even pose that. We started the wildlife hike with a look at various wildflower guide books. Each are set up differently and have strengths and weaknesses. Scott mentioned his favorite is Newcomb's Wildflower Guide . I was happy to have my own copy along, though his looks like it has been used more. He likes that the color and shapes are grouped together. It contains a series of yes/no questions to help narrow down the wildflower choices. I've used this key to identify wildflowers in the past and it is very handy! He also had Peterson's (A Field Guide to Wildflowers: Northeastern and North-central North America (Peterson Field Guides) ), which he said is very dependable. He also mentioned the descriptions are right by the drawings, which is handy. It has been around for a long time. The National Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Wildflowers is good for beginners as it has many pictures instead of drawings like the others; however, we often find the plant without the flower and it can be more difficult to identify with just the pictures. These guides do have good helps in grouping types of flowers. He suggested knowing how the guidebooks are set up. Get to know "families" of plants (mentioning a plant that was part of the parsley family later). He also recommends paying attention to the ranges of plants (don't expect a plant native to Oregon to be in the woods here). 

Scott explained that the early explorers of the Americas always brought at least 1 naturalist--they basically named America. There skills and knowledge were invaluable. I liked that he was direct and gave my sons things to keep their interest, like looking things up in the guidebook, looking for a specific color out in nature, or telling them to leave the branches alone or put a stick down. 

Several people attended the hike! I really liked the view on the right. My oldest is turning into such a caring brother! Several times throughout the hike he would find something interest or of the color he was assigned and then wait patiently with his hand up while he waited for people to discuss what he found! 


There were vernal ponds in various places on the property. The frogs were out in full force! Here is a post I made linking to calls of frogs in our area. Scott mentioned the chorus frogs sound like running a finger down a comb. They can be found at Dallas Lake and Pine Knob parks in LaGrange. We heard wood frogs and gray tree frogs right here, with a untimely spring peeper here or there. Scott said the spring peepers are usually heard at night rather than during the day. The Chorus Frog and Pickerel can be found at Pine Knob. There are thousands of frogs there. They quieted down as we approached, yet standing still the eventually started moving around and calling out again. Wood ducks stand watch nearby. Woodpeckers were drumming in the distance. Things are moving slightly late this year in regards to timing. 


Toothwort is on the right. Scott encouraged us to look for patterns and watch the names, including scientific ones. The scientific name of this one is dentaria, which is appropriate for the more common name. Also, plants ending in "wort" were thought to have medicinal properties, whether they really did or not.

Wild Anise Root is on the left. It is a member of the parsley family. I thought he said this plant on the right is a type of Wild Geranium, though please correct me if I'm wrong. My son discovered this as he was looking for red things. He waited patiently with his hand up to share his discovery.

This is the leaf of the Hepatica. Note the three lobed leaf.

What a beautiful little flower amongst all the brown leaves! Note the fuzzy stems on the Hepatica--these are so soft! I couldn't even feel it!

Trillium is a gorgeous spring flower. Note the flower ready to open on the right. Scott said he has one section of the woods that he calls Trillium Acres as there are thousands of trillium in one area. I'm sure it is beautiful!

We found the start of Trout Lily, a good indicator of soil quality. Garlic mustard was also found, though Scott has been working hard for years to get rid of it from the area. It is a tasty wild edible in hummus or pesto, yet is very toxic and invasive to the area. We all should be trying to get rid of this plant! It is a plant my boys know and actively pull. 

My now 5 year old has been good at finding sprouting nuts and seeds. He was proud of this sprouting hickory nut. On the right are ramps--these are edible and very tasty! 

A girl on the hike found this interesting spiking element on a twig. Scott said it belonged to a beech tree and we found one nearby.

Here is a small Mayapple starting to come out. We've been finding these other places as we brush aside the leaves from the ground. These remind me of fairy umbrellas later in the season. 

A Christmas fern hung on all winter under the snow. It was a lot warmer closer to the ground under the snow than it was out with the wind chill factor. 

My son found some hickory nuts while we were out. These had a much thicker hull than others we usually  found. They are from the Shagbark Hickory tree. Scott said these taste like butterscotch! The taste of hickory nuts vary widely, from very bitter to very delicious! 

The picture on the left contains violets. These are more heart shaped than the garlic mustard. The plant on the right is spring beauty

I loved people using guidebooks. Check out my son in the background doing the same thing! What beautiful moss! 

We found several examples of this scarlet pixie cup mushroom. How distinct. It's great to see such bright colors in the spring! 

The name is so appropriate, especially after we've looked at fairies during our nature preschool time. Looking under logs gave us new places to explore as well.

This is Dutchman's Breeches, a lovely little wildflower that should look like pants blowing in the wind very soon! I loved that having a guidebook along and seeing others using a guide book inspired my son to crack ours open as well. He is learning how to use the index and find information in the book. 

Scott really gets into his work! Someone found a shield bug! My son carried it around for bit.

This guy kept finding maple samaras and showing them to me. Some were sprouting. He's been on a great streak of finding sprouting seeds--it's great for this time of year! He also uncovered recently sprouted maple seeds coming up from the ground. Most of the woods are maple trees, so it makes sense there were many starting to come up. He also found a beetle right here and thought maybe this is where it lives. I would agree. 

What a great find! My son was messing with something on the trail with his stick and wondered about it. It was an owl pellet upon further discovery! Scott pulled out his knife, digging around. He found several bones inside. My son was excited! Me, too! I've never found an owl pellet in the wild--he had great eyes today!

A downed shagbark hickory on our way back--you can really see the crevices under the bark! I've read that bats will often roost during the day under the bark like this. 

We scored maple suckers as a treat after our hike. They were only 25 cents each and were delicious. I'd say I could almost convince the kids for a return hike if there were still maple lollipops!

Of interest, Scott's colleague and collaborator on many things, Pete Stobie from Kalamazoo Nature Center, does an excellent winter wildflower hike! They are both engaging and knowledgeable. 

Maple Wood recently finished their run of maple syrup and are replenishing the wood stash.