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Phenology Report, June 21 2022

Maiden Pink
Photo by iNaturalist user lynnharper
One of John Latimer's favorite flowers, the maiden pink.

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It was the summer solstice this week! John and his phenology friends on the Season Watch Facebook page have agreed that seasonal events are running a week behind average, compared to two to two-and-a-half weeks behind in April and May. So, we're catching up, but not back to 'normal' yet!

Plenty of flowers are blooming right now, including the pale pea (a white flower with a slightly orange-yellow cast) and the smooth vetch (a purple flower). Both of these flowers are pea-like in structure, with a long, tubular shape and prominent lip going up or down. They are popular with insects because the tubular shape concentrates nectars and makes for efficient feeding. They are vine-like, using tendrils that wrap around other plants or structures to 'climb' for more sunlight. In addition, pea plants are nitrogen fixers; they take atmospheric nitrogen and convert it into a form useable for photosynthesis. Without nitrogen fixers, nitrogen would be 'trapped' in the atmosphere and unusable to most plants.

Black-bindweed has a similar growth pattern to peas; it twines its way up other structures or plants. Black-bindweed has "tiny, tiny, tiny white flowers, just tiny balls like the head of a straight pin," and red stems. Those flowers have just begun to bloom. Hedge bindweed, in contrast, has large flowers similar to morning glories. Hedge bindweed has shield-shaped leaves, while morning glories have heart-shaped leaves.

Photo by iNaturalist user danielatha
The small flowers of the black-bindweed.

The starflower, bluebead lily, and wood anemone have finished flowering. Bunchberries have tiny white flowers surrounded by large white sepals that look like petals and are in peak bloom. Wild lupine is blooming too! Look for this beautiful plant along Highway 169 by Virginia near Mountain Iron, on Harris Town Road in Grand Rapids, or in other roadside areas (I found a big patch of it at Dodge Nature Center in West St. Paul!). The tall buttercup is blooming in the ditches as well. Sometimes called blisterplant because it can irritate your skin, the tall buttercup has bright, shiny yellow flowers. The shininess comes from a layer of clear cells over the petal that acts as a varnish! Finally, one of John's favorite flowers is in bloom: the maiden pink. It is "as pink as anything you'll ever see," grows best in sandy soils, and prefers open areas. It's been blooming for about a week and has created patches of shocking pink in hayfields and other open spaces.

In swamps and bogs, you'll see the wild arum (aka wild calla). If you're familiar with the calla lily used in floral arrangements, you'll think of a large, white 'flower' (actually a modified leaf) with a prominent spadix. The wild calla is similarly dramatic and worth searching through the bogs and swamps! The bog laurel is ending its flowering season, though you may find a few remnants. As you hop from hummock to hummock, you'll see many Labrador tea plants blooming! They have a 2-3 inch disc containing 50-60 small white flowers. The cotton grass seeds have beautiful white tufts of cottony material, and the low cranberry has gorgeous, pink flowers with characteristic folded-back petals. To round out the display, the blueflag irises are in peak bloom! Quite a show!

Calla lily
Photo by iNaturalist user roxannel3288
Calla lily

Back on the high ground, the highbush cranberry, round-leaf dogwood, pagoda dogwood, nannyberry, and downy arrowwood all have large discs of white flowers. These species are all woody-stemmed, opposite-branching shrubs, and some have some tasty fruit! For instance, the low cranberry and nannyberry are well worth picking. John hasn't found much use for the highbush cranberry, and the dogwood berries are good food for bears. The hazels are showing evidence of nuts, so it looks like it'll be a good year for hazelnuts!

In the trees, the silver and red maples are dropping their 'helicopter' seeds (about a week later than average). John reports that his red maples had a good year, producing many seeds. In contrast, the silver maples have only a fraction of their usual output: due to the cold April weather, the male flowers were burnt by the frost. Therefore, many female flowers were unpollinated and failed to produce seeds.

John's also been keeping an eye on the insects! He reports that the dragonflies are "absolutely innumerable and colorful." He's seen the pondhawk, the 12-spotted skimmer, the widow skimmer, and the chalk-fronted corporal! To identify dragonflies, John recommends using your smartphone. When it lands, zoom in with your camera and take a picture. Take a step closer, stop, then take another photo. Rinse and repeat until you are happy with the photo or the dragonfly flies off! You can then post the photo to iNaturalist, consult an online resource,  or use a field guide to identify the dragonfly (John recommends Dragonflies of the Northwoods by Kurt Mead).

Eastern pondhawk
Photo by iNaturalist user wildreturn
Eastern pondhawk

John reports that the monarch and swallowtail butterflies are abundant in some areas but not others. He's seen plenty of them, while his compatriots Dallas Hudson and John Weber have seen very few. The tiger swallowtails (we have both Eastern and Canadian varieties) are yellow and black, while the monarchs are orange and black. John has also seen a black butterfly with a bright white band along the outer edge of both wings (think of a set of tilted white parentheses with their bottom points touching): the American white admiral butterfly! He saw his first one of the season on June 16th (a week later than usual). In addition, a small checkerspot butterfly has been fluttering around, with orange and black wings measuring just 1-1.25 inches across. John has seen many other butterflies ("too numerable to mention," he reports), and he recommends using the same slow approach with your cell phone camera to identify them.

John concludes by saying, "get out, get some time in the sun, kill a few mosquitoes, and enjoy all that nature has to offer at this time of year!"

Remember that you can send in your reports, anecdotes, and observations! We would love to hear from you (or your children/grandchildren). Contact me (smitchell@kaxe.org) or John (jlatimer@kaxe.org), or text 'phenology' to 218-326-1234.

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