My family and I were in Door County, Wisconsin this weekend. I was leading a couple of field trips at the Ridges Sanctuary Festival of Nature, and I hadn’t really botanized in northern Wisconsin for about 10 years. Spring peepers are still going strong up there, and the woods are dripping with black throated green warblers. The trees are about as far along as ours, but the understory is perhaps 2 weeks behind us, especially on the east side of the peninsula, which is on Lake Michigan and much colder than I had realized compared to the west side, which abuts Green Bay. Several of the northern wildflowers were in bloom, things I haven’t typically seen flowering in my summer visits north: gaywings, labrador-tea, goldthread, arctic primrose, dwarf lake iris (everywhere! a magnificent species that is like a weed up there), floral buds on pitcher plant and starry Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum stellatum). The sedges were not far along. Carex leptalea, C. stricta, and C. aquatilis were only in flower. There were early fruits developing on Carex arctata, C. debilis, C. viridula (I am not 100% sure on this species, but pretty sure), C. eburnea, and almost mature fruits on a few species: Carex pedunculata, what I believe was C. peckii, and C. castanea along the bike trail, where it was fairly exposed. Carex comosa wasn’t even showing flowers. By contrast, the C. eburnea in our front garden has nut-hard achenes and darkened perigynia, and our C. sprengelii is starting to shed fruits.
On returning to the Arboretum yesterday, I found spittlebugs on Lactuca, Rumex crispus, some Asteraceae not yet in flower. This morning I realize they are everywhere: on Canada goldenrod and Symphyotrichum not yet in bloom, on yellow sweet-clover (Melilotus officinalis) in flower, on basal leaves of Queen Anne’s lace. I’ve surely missed them on other species. Erigeron is in bloom, along with Medicago lupulina and the common oldfield clovers, Trifolium pratense and T. repens. Maianthemum racemosum is in full bloom. Inflorescence bracts have started opening on Allium canadense, the wild onion that lines the roads through the East Woods. The sedges of section Ovales are in fruit (at least Carex molesta and C. normalis, and probably others that I am not seeing). White bear sedge (Carex albursina) culms are arched over with ripe achenes. Uvularia grandiflora is in fruit, Virginia bluebells are yellowing and dying back. The leaves are fully out on the trees.
At 6:30 the east end of the woods is dominated by indigo bunting, red-eyed vireo, eastern wood peewee and robins. A bluejay calls and a common yellowthroat sings from the field. By 6:45 the sun is relatively high, but it’s still dark under the maples. Thalictrum dioicum and Osmorhiza claytonii fruits are ripening. Thalictrum thalictroides fruits are almost ripe, and cleavers (Galium aparine) has fallen to the ground laden with hard, ripe, bristly achenes. I bite one, hoping that it’s spicy — it’s not. Why did I think it would be? At 7:00 a pack of coyotes yips and howls from the east prairie. I am on the hilltop overlooking the ephemeral pond that was full of chorus frogs six weeks ago. The coyotes stop after 30 seconds. I wish I’d been there to see what got them riled up. A great crested flycatcher and red-bellied woodpecker start calling. Mosquitos are everywhere, but not quite as bad as last week, and much better up here on the hilltop than down in the woods. I hear what sounds like the call note of a black-billed cuckoo… I follow it but do not find it, and I’m not sure.
I walk down toward the Big Rock Visitor Station and up along the Heritage Trail. Hop hornbeam fruits are the length of squirrels’ toes, soft and just forming. Virginia waterleaf (Hydrophyllum virginianum) is fruiting, capsule soft and hairy, enclosing a few translucent ovules. Notchbract waterleaf (Hydrophyllum appendiculatum) is in full flower throughout the woods, and it looks beautiful. Many sedges are ripening or almost dropping their perigynia: Carex rosea, C. sparganioides, C. normalis, C. hirtifolia, C. grisea, C. cephaloidea, C. jamesii. I have my eyes on the ground, scanning for sedges and daydreaming, when a deer bolts off to my left. I look up. I haven’t been paying attention. This section of the woods atop the moraine, looking down over the kettle ponds, is magnificent: oaks opening onto wetland to the south, an open field to the north, the perfect balance between shade and sun. The shallow pond down below, which I swear I walked through as a dry depression this winter— I think I can’t be right on this — is covered with duckweed. Something moves on the surface, then a frog calls. I follow it and wait. It calls once more but I don’t find it, and after several minutes I let it be.
I ride out the service road that runs along Hidden Lake. Awful dame’s rocket (Hesperis matronalis) is blooming. Back at the visitor center, I finish writing up my notes and wait for the cafe to open. A green frog calls, and now that I listen to it, I think this is what I was hearing also up at the pond along the heritage trail. Plant scraps are out of my pocket and on the table in front of me. The sun is bright, mowers are going, walkers are coming into the Arboretum. I feel exactly as I did when I was a kid and it was summer, and I had the morning to myself, and I’d look at the clouds and decide it was a good day to bike down to the dirty river by our house and horse around. The cafe is open now. I’ll get a coffee, read through these notes, and get back to oaks.