Field Trip To Beech-Sugar Maple Forest 7 April 2012, In A High CO2 World

Big trees in Mildred Harris Sanctuary. Photo 6 March 2011 by Richard Brewer

I’m leading a field trip to a beech-sugar maple forest this spring.  We’ll look at the spring flowers and as we stroll around also talk about what mesophytic forests are like, why they are where they are, what the interactions among the organisms are, and other such natural history and ecology topics.

The specific site where we’ll gather is the Mildred Harris Sanctuary north of Kalamazoo.  It’s owned by the Michigan Audubon Society and has been stewarded for many years by the Audubon Society of Kalamazoo.

The trip is sponsored by the Southwest Chapter of the Michigan Botanical Club as part of its 2012 project concentrating on natural features and conservation in Oshstemo Township (known to some as the Occupy Oshtemo movement.

I’ve led a trip along these lines several springs in past years, to one or another of the remaining examples of mesophytic forest in southwest Michigan.  But there’s a difference this year.

Most such trips for spring ephemerals led by me or others have been held in mid or late April or even early May.  This year the president, Tyler Bassett, of the Southwest Chapter of the  Botanical Club and I had agreed on Saturday April 21 as the date. Then the second week of March arrived.  The beginning of March had temperatures fairly close to the historical averages–30s as highs and 20s as lows.  March 6 started a run in which day after day had highs at least in the 60s and often the 70s.  March 19 to 22, had a run of highs in the 80s. The last freezing temperatures came far back in February.

Looking at what was happening to the flora, Tyler and I decided to move the date of spring wild flower trip up by two weeks, to Saturday March 7.

One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but seventeen days with temperatures between 60 and 85 in the middle of March may make it necessary for Michigan nature organizations to revise their field trip calendars.

Here’s an idea, a sampling, of what’s been happening this spring:  As mentioned in my last post, I heard wood frogs in Oshtemo Township 12 March and by the next night, they were joined by a few spring peepers.

By the night of 15 March, both these species as well as chorus frogs were in full voice. On the 15th, the high temperature was 79 and the low 55, compared with historical averages of 45 and 27 degrees.

As to the plants, on a visit 14 March to Newton Woods at Russ Forest, two friends and I found spring beauty up, a broad-leaved sedge with flowering stalks, and harbinger of spring close to full bloom.

Spice bush in flower. Photograph 18 March 2012 Oshtemo Township by Richard Brewer

In Oshtemo Township, spice bush was in full bloom by 18 March, a golden haze over the edges of the kettles where the frogs had gathered.  Bloodroot was in bloom 19 March.

On 22 March, I visited a rich beech-maple forest in Pavilion Township.  All of the following (in the order I came across them) were in bloom:

Spring beauty, Dutchman’s breeches, Yellow violet, harbinger of spring (nearly done), blue violet, Carex plantaginifolia (nearly done), toothwort, purple spring cress, wood anemone, and skunk cabbage.

Several other species were up and some had obvious flower buds.

So we’ll gather this year April 7 at the Harris Sanctuary which is in the southwest corner of F Avenue and 8th Street.  It’s about 3 miles north of the trail-head of the Kal-Haven Trail (which is on 9th Street).  F Avenue is a gravel road–a Natural Beauty road, in fact.  Attendees should park on the north side of the road.  Be there by 10 AM.

Harris is on the Kalamazoo moraine, so there will some mild hill climbing. We’ll finish about noon.  Bring a sandwich and have lunch sitting on a log if you wish.

The technically minded may notice that the Harris Sanctuary is not in Oshtemo Township.  But it’s pretty close.

Three-quarters of a mile north.

 

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