Sunday, April 29, 2012

Round-Leaved Ragwort

Round-Leaved Ragwort (Packera obovata formerly Senecio obovatus) is prettier than its name sounds. This late Spring wildflower grows in moist woods throughout the eastern US.   The multi-flowered stems are much higher than the early Spring wildflowers, creating an eye-catching display.  Like other wildflowers in Kalamazoo, it seems to be blooming early this year.

Only the leaves at the bottom of the plant (the basal leaves) are round.  The leaves higher on the stem are longer and almost feathery.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Red Admiral

Red Admirals (Vanessa atalanta) are a colorful butterfly that migrates from the south each Spring. They are widely distributed in the US, Canada, and Europe. Apparently they are returning earlier this Spring.  The Kalamazoo Nature Center seemed to be filled with them last week.

Sunday, April 22, 2012


May is usually the time to find morels (Morchella esculenta) in Kalamazoo but the season varies, which makes finding these elusive mushrooms even more difficult. The last couple of years, I've come up nearly empty-handed.  Yesterday, I found morels growing in my own backyard.

Morels are so popular that the Kalamazoo Gazette featured news of early finds this year.  You can also find online maps and morel forums discussing morel finds across the US.    

 Michigan morel festivals 
Boyne City May 17-20, 2012
Mesick  May 11-13, 2012
Lewiston May 12, 2012

Thursday, April 19, 2012

April Wildflowers

Kalamazoo's 2012 wildflower season seems to be near its peak. Many flowers are blooming earlier than usual despite our recent cool temperatures. Flowers at their peak this week include: Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis), Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) , Wild Phlox (Phlox divaricata), Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna), and Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum).

Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris) and Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica) continue to blossom although they are past their peak time.

Other plants in flower now include Trout lily (Erythronium americanum), Jack in the Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), and various spring violets. Wild geraniums (Geranium maculatum) are starting to bloom

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Mountain Biking Michigan

Mountain Biking Michigan
by Erin Fanning and Keith Radwanski

This book, part of the Falcon Guide series, describes 67 mountain bike destinations throughout the state of Michigan. The rides are grouped by region: Southeastern Michigan, Southwestern Michigan, Northwestern Michigan, Eastern Upper Peninsula, Western Upper Peninsula. Each trail is introduced with a list of its distance, difficulty, hilliness, and access, followed by a a brief description and trail map. Many trails are illustrated with black & white photos.

Mountain Bike Trails in Southwestern Michigan

1. Fort Custer Recreation Area
16.8 mile loop
"offering a rainbow of loops, this well-organized and popular 16-mile multiple use trail system offers something for everyone."
2.5 miles from Augusta

2. Yankee Spring Recreation Area
13.1 mile loop
"Bopping in and out of trees and rolling along a picturesque ridgeline, this fun adn fast mountain-bike-only trail cruises among the tall red pines and past the Devil's Soup Bowl, a sunken area surrounded by thick trees."
4.5 miles south of Middleville.

3. TK Lawless Singletrack
10.4 mile loop
"Popular county park holds a wallop of a fun trail with whoop-de-doos and tight, twisted singletrack."
4.5 miles southeast of Vandalia

4. Bass River Recreation Area
5.4 mile loop
"Twisting continuously, this tight, mostly flat trail system was designed by mountain bikers for mountain bikers."
18.6 miles south of Grand Haven

5. Cannonsburg Ski Area Singletrack
3.7 mile loop
"Cannonsburg offers panoramic views, which come at the end of the rout. A fast, plunging downhill ends the ride with an exclamation point."
10 miles northeast of Grand Rapids

6. North Country Trail: Michigan 20 to South Nichols Lake
35.6 mile loop
"Combine buffed singletrack and fast, twisting downhills with the natural beauty of the North Country Trail and you have the perfect mountain biking mixture."
2.75 miles west of White Cloud

7. Hungerford Lake Mountain Bike Trail
7 mile loop
"Fast downhills on tight mountain bike-only singletrack."
7 miles west of Big Rapids

8. Ionia Recreation Area
7.9 mile loop
"boulder-strewn area unlike any other Michigan ride."
3.1 miles west of South Ionia

9. Jailhouse Trail [McNabb Park]
3.9 mile loop
"Located practically in downtown Ithaca, a small farming community, the Jailhouse Trail shares its space with the fairgrounds, giving it a folksy feeling."

10. Deerfield County Park
5.7 mile loop
"Tranquil river setting with suspension bridges, a covered bridge, and a rolling ridge."
6.6 miles west of Mt Pleasant

11. Sleepy Hollow State Park
10.9 mile loop
"It is an excellent trail for beginners looking for a longer, virtually obstacle-free, mostly singletrack ride."
12 miles southeast of St. Johns

12. Burchfield Park Singletrack
5.9 mile loop
"Challenging obstacle-strewn singletrack; perfect for bike control practice."
5 miles south of Lansing

13. Ella Sharp Singletrack
13.2 mile loop
"Connected by paved roads, the ride consists of thirteen different trails for all skill levels in a pretty urban park."

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Madeline Bertrand County Park

Madeline Bertrand County Park is south of Niles, MI in Berrien County, about an hour from Kalamazoo. The park runs along the Saint Joseph River to the Indiana border where it adjoins St. Patrick's County Park.

Hiking trails loop around the park, offering attractive views of the river. The basic loop has three variations, ranging from 1.2 to 2.3 miles. The trails are well maintained and clearly marked. The trails are open for skiing during the winter (with rentals available). The green loop is open to bikes during the summer.

The most popular feature of the park seems to be its 18 hole disc golf course. The visitor center offers dozens of colorful discs for sale.

Madeline Bertrand County Park

3038 Adams Road
Niles, MI 49120

Admission $5 ($3 on weekdays)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Red trilliums

Most of the trilliums near Kalamazoo are the familiar white trillium, Trillium grandiflorum. Two other types of trilliums can be found in extreme southwest Michigan, both have red flowers.

Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum), shown above, is rare in Michigan and is legally protected. Apparently it is much more common in Illinois and Indiana.

Toad Trillium (Trillium sessile), shown below, is also listed as a threatened species in Michigan. It is also more common in Illinois and Indiana.

Years ago, I'd seen a red trillium at Fernwood but I figured it had been imported from somewhere. My visit this week to the nearby Trillium Ravine corrected my impression. These are native Michigan wildflowers, just uncommon ones.

I had a hard time telling the two trilliums apart since the individual variations between plants (differences in leaf color-- mottling-- and fullness of bloom) were more obvious than the differences between the species. A little online research showed that Prairie Trillium leaves have stalks, giving them a little separation from the flower, while the Toad Trillium's leaves appear to be connected at the base of the flower. The other identifying characteristic involves the sepals-- three petal-like structures beneath the three true petals. Prairie Trillium sepals point downward, while Toad Trillium sepals are horizontal.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Trillium Ravine

Trillium Ravine is a 15 acre nature sanctuary preserved by the Michigan Nature Association. It's about an hour's drive from Kalamazoo, just outside the town of Niles, MI.

This Tuesday was the first time I had visited and the wildflowers were spectacular. The trillium were abundant and in peak flower. There were literally thousands of White-flowered Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) covering the sides of the ravine and the forest floor along the trail. This preserve is also known for two other species of trillium: Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum) and Toad Trillium (Trillium sessile). Both have dark-red (or maroon) flowers and both were in bloom this week.

Like many other wildflowers, these trillium seem to be blooming much earlier this year. Tom Power's guidebook said trillium at this preserve bloom as early as April 9th. Joann and John Smith posted photos from a visit on May 1, 2011 showing the same blooms a full month later.

The preserve is easy to reach. It's less than a mile from US-31 exit 7, Walton Road. Taking Walton Road (east), the turn for the preserve is immediately past the US-31 cloverleaf. Geyer Road doesn't look very promising since it leads into a subdivision and is marked No Outlet. Geyer Road turns into Riverside Drive and the houses spread out in the woods. The preserve is on the right side (west) of Riverside and well-marked. The trail is a short, clearly-marked, loop.

Trillium Ravine Preserve
(approximate address:)
2500 Riverside Drive
Niles, Michigan 49120

Sunday, April 1, 2012

March Wildflowers

While temperatures are quite a bit cooler than they were earlier in March, Kalamazoo's 2012 wildflower season continues to be weeks earlier than last year. Dutchman's Breeches are at their peak now, along with Toothwort and Marsh Marigold.
Hepatica, that were in full bloom a couple of weeks ago, have gone to seed and the Skunk Cabbage spathes have been replaced by big leafy cabbages. The Spring Beauty blossoms were tightly furled due to yesterday's cold weather but they will be spectacular on a warm day.
The Blue-eyed Mary blooms at the Kalamazoo Nature Center were impressive. Mayapple leaves were opening into little umbrellas. Trout Lilies had buds but not blooms. A few early Trillium and Wild Phlox were in flower.