Invasive Profile: Dame’s Rocket

By Ally Brown, MNA Intern

One problem with identifying invasive species is that, many times, they appear almost as beautiful as the native species they live among. Garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) has been an established invasive in North America for many years, yet without knowing the story behind this species it appears to be just another of Michigan’s many gorgeous flowering plants. This same story follows for another species in the Brassicaceae family which has been spreading throughout Michigan without the same spotlight as garlic mustard.


Dame’s rocket. Photo: Gary Fewless.

With delicate violet flowers atop a slender green stalk, nothing about this flowering plant seems out of the ordinary for a wildflower native to Michigan; this assumption, however, is sadly misinformed. Dame’s rocket is one of the many common names for Hesperis matronalis, a close relative to the widely known invasive garlic mustard. This relation can be determined visually through examination of the petals and the similarity in shape between the leaves of the two species. An additional similarity Dame’s rocket has to garlic mustard is its two year life cycle –  the first year plant exists as a rosette low to the ground and without flowers, while the second year plant is the more recognizable image shown to the left. An important distinction to make when identifying Dame’s rocket is that it has four petals per flower head. Native phlox species appear similar in structure and flower color yet have five petals per flower head.


Garlic mustard. Photo: K. Chayka

A plant being nonnative is not enough reason to label it as necessary to remove. For a plant or animal to be labeled as invasive it must present some danger to the health of native species or ecosystems. The abundant seed production and allelopathic nature of Dame’s rocket are a few of the characteristics which qualify it as an invasive species. Similar to other members of the mustard family, a single second year plant can produce dozens of seed pods, each containing many more individual seeds. When released from the confinement of a garden, these seedlings have the potential to overwhelm native plants, thereby altering the composition of native environments. Another characteristic of Dame’s rocket that threatens native species is that it is allelopathic, meaning it has the ability to produce chemicals which stunt the growth of surrounding plants, potentially killing them. With the potential for overwhelming native populations (especially when it is found growing alongside garlic mustard) it is extremely important that Dame’s rocket is reduced in popularity as a yard plant and any that has escaped into surrounding areas is carefully removed.

The process of removing Dame’s rocket can be difficult, as it has a characteristic taproot that extends deep into the soil and makes it hard to pull by hand. One method for effectively removing small stands of this plant is to wait until a light rain has moistened the soil so that careful hand pulling can remove the entirety of the plant and its taproot. The plants should then be placed in a garbage bag that is tightly tied in order to prevent any sort of re-sprouting or further spread. For stands too large for removal of the complete plant, another method of control is to pull the seed pods off the plants and seal those in a plastic bag. This method of invasive species control has been utilized by MNA volunteers and interns at the Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary in southwest Michigan. Removal of garlic mustard seed pods has reduced the spread of invasive plants and protected the variety of wildflowers, lichen, and trees which reside in the area.


Dowagiac Woods Workday. Photo: Jeremy Emmi

Though each part of nature holds value and beauty, when an organism is brought outside of its natural habitat into a new environment it has the potential to disrupt the equilibrium of those already there. For this reason it is important that invasive species such as Dame’s rocket are discussed and prevented from spreading through stewardship work by organizations like the Michigan Nature Association, as well as sharing knowledge about this and other invasive species to allow the beauty of native ecosystems of Michigan to be conserved.


Species Spotlight: Kirtland’s Warbler

By Ally Brown, MNA Intern

In some instances, the occurrence of a wildfire can mean devastation for species with restricted ranges and population; however, for one of Michigan’s rarest warblers, fires are crucial for building its niche habitat and sustaining the population. The Kirtland’s warbler is a member of the Parulidae or New World warbler family which measures about six inches in length and is distinguishable by the striking yellow plumage on its throat and breast and split white eye rings. As is the case with many of Michigan’s bird species, the Kirtland’s warbler nests in parts of the Upper and Lower Peninsulas during the summer months and makes the long journey to the south for the winter months – in this case a 1400 mile trip to the Bahamas. While it may seem as though this long-distance flight would be the toughest part of life as a Kirtland’s warbler, the largest challenge this population faces comes from its time up north.


Photo: Ron Austing

Although not immediately obvious by the forested landscapes known today, Michigan’s history is one of expansive barrens and frequent fires. Many grassland and barren species adapted to this cycle of burnings, one of which is the fire dependent jack pine tree. Heat is necessary to the lifecycle of the jack pine, as it promotes the tree’s cones to fully open and successfully germinate. With the suppression of fire, young stands of jack pine become less and less common and old stands grow dense and tall, losing their lower branches due to lack of sunlight. The degradation and succession of the jack pine ecosystem reasonably follows this lack of fire, but what was not suspected was the subsequent decline in the Kirtland warbler population.

According to the DNR, Kirtland’s warblers nest in young jack pines on branches that essentially touch the ground, where they can hide their nests among dense thickets of pine and grasses. In order for these conditions to occur, the pines must be young and small so that sunlight can reach the ground and keep the lower branches of the trees alive. This also requires the occurrence of frequent fires to remove older trees in exchange for the germination of their cones. Without these fires, the selective female warblers will refuse to nest and, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, only single male warblers will continue to live in the old, successional stands. Another major benefit of hiding nests in the lower branches of young jack pines is protection from the parasitic brown headed cowbird, which will remove warbler eggs from the nest and replace them with eggs of its own.

Today, with the importance of fire and the jack pine to Kirtland’s warbler populations known, effort is being placed to conserve this habitat and the warbler population. Several of MNA’s sanctuaries house populations of jack pine, including Redwyn’s Dunes Nature Sanctuary, and today birders can view this rare bird through tours given by the Kirtland’s Warbler Recovery Team. According to the DNR, the best way to support this endangered species is to educate yourself and those around you through research or attending birding tours, as well as to donate to local organizations, like the Michigan Nature Association, dedicated to protecting and rebuilding the warbler population.

2017 Year in Review

Celebrating 65 Years of Saving Our Natural Treasures

Cover photo - 2017 annual report

MNA’s accomplishments directly align with our founders’ vision of an organization that would connect people with nature and inspire the protection of rare, threatened and endangered species. Our conservation strategies have necessarily evolved with the times, but the spirit of MNA today continues to embrace the three pillars crucial to our success – people, land, and legacy.

First and foremost it is people who make the difference, our generous donors, volunteers, sanctuary stewards, interns and staff who are behind every single accomplishment described in this Year in Review. Our thanks go to all of you and this year’s standout volunteers who were honored at our Annual Recognition Dinner in October.

The land we care for is the backbone of our statewide impact – an incredible network of over 175 nature sanctuaries. This year, our volunteers logged thousands of hours on stewardship projects large and small to care for these special places. We worked to expand existing sanctuaries to provide more habitat for rare animals such as the Poweshiek skipperling and the eastern massasauga rattlesnake at Big Valley, and even a rare plant called the Virginia water horehound at Red Cedar River.

Finally, a profound sense of legacy that shapes MNA today and will do so long into the future. Our duty to the legacy to those who came before us is reflected in our commitment to being good stewards of the land. And our growing field trip program, School to Sanctuary Partnerships, and research and intern opportunities for college and university students link the importance of our work to the next generation of conservation caretakers, the people who will carry MNA’s work forward in the future.

Thank you to our members, donors, and volunteers for making 2017 a great success and a year to remember! If you would like to support MNA, you can become a member or make a tax-deductible contribution.

MNA’s Guide to Gifts for Nature – Part III

IRA Charitable Rollover

mna logo with red bow

You can give to nature and take advantage of a special tax treat for the year-end giving season with the IRA Charitable Rollover. But it must be done soon to count for 2017.
Here’s how it works:
  • People age 70 1/2 or older can make IRA transfer gifts tax-free to the Michigan Nature Association, a qualified charity;
  • Gifts of up to $100,000 qualify when IRA assets are transferred directly to the Charity;
  • Directly transferred gifts count towards the required minimum distributions you must take annually from your traditional IRAs, but aren’t included in your adjusted gross income and therefore are not counted as taxable income;
  • For married couples, each spouse can transfer up to $100,000 from their IRA.
A recent article in U.S. News & World Report, “How to Donate Your Required Minimum Distribution to Charity,” provides an excellent overview. But time for a qualifying gift for the 2017 tax year is running out. Transfers must be complete by December 31, 2017 for this tax year. To make a qualifying gift to MNA for the 2017 tax year we encourage you to contact your IRA administrator while there is still time.
Thanks for considering MNA in your year-end giving.
Happy Holidays!
Garret Johnson
Garret Johnson
Executive Director 
P.S. Don’t forget, transfers must be made by December 31, 2017 to qualify for this tax year.
Watch for more giving ideas throughout the month!

Donate today at!

MNA’s Guide to Gifts for Nature – Part II

Give the Gift of Nature

mna logo with red bow

Give to nature and know you are making a real and lasting impact for Michigan’s rare, threatened and endangered species and imperiled natural communities.
Your contribution will be put to work immediately to safeguard important natural areas, restore critical habitat, and connect young people to nature.
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An easy and convenient way to help protect our natural heritage and spread your gift out over a period of time.
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Check with your tax advisor about potential tax savings with a gift of appreciated stocks, bond or other securities to MNA.
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If your New Year’s resolution includes estate planning and a desire to leave a lasting legacy for nature, contact Garret Johnson, (866) 223-2231 or, for a confidential conversation about becoming an MNA Guardian of the Future.
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Watch for more giving ideas throughout the month!
Donate today at!

Give to Michigan Species this Holiday Season!

Give to Michigan Species Image

This holiday season why not Give to Turtles or other special animals found in Michigan? You can show your support with a $10 gift to the Michigan Nature Association. In return, we’ll send you a certificate identifying the holder (add your name or someone on your gift list) as a proud sponsor of Michigan nature. The certificate, 8 ½” by 11” and suitable for framing, includes a photo of an important animal found in Michigan and is accompanied by a fact sheet with great information about that species.

Order online for the holidays by December 18 at or pay by mail and send in this order form. Choose the animal(s) you would like on the order form or let us choose for you. Order forms can be mailed to the MNA office or emailed to Jess at

Makes a great stocking stuffer for kids, grandkids, and nature lovers of all ages! Proceeds support MNA’s mission to protect rare, threatened and endangered species in Michigan.

Animals to choose from:

Karner blue butterfly
Karner Blue Butterfly

Monarch Butterfly

Box Turtle
Eastern Box Turtle


lake sturgeon
Lake Sturgeon

Eastern Massasauga Rattlesnake

What’s the Scoop with Michigan’s Soil?

By Michelle Ferrell, MNA Intern

Though not always the most celebrated components of a landscape, soils are certainly one of the most important. While plants form the basis of habitats, soils are central in determining which plants can grow where. Consequently, the soil/s of an ecosystem can drastically affect wildlife communities. Soils also play a critical role in filtering fresh water, and have served as the very foundations of civilization. How much do you know about the marvel beneath your feet?

kalkaska sand

Kalkaska sand. Photo: Randall Schaetzl.

In 1990, Michigan declared Kalkaska sand as its official state soil. It’s relatively infertile owing to its acidic nature, but nonetheless abundant. Despite being one of over 500 soils present in Michigan, Kalkaska sand, so named for one of the 29 counties in which it is present, covers nearly 5% of the state. It can be found in the upper half of the lower peninsula, as well as most of the upper peninsula; but just how did it get there?

The movement of glaciers shaped Michigan’s soils over the course of hundreds of thousands of years into what is known as glacial till. Read more about the process here. In the time since, our soils have undergone many changes to provide support for forests, wetlands, prairies, dunes, swamps, and human agriculture alike. In fact, if not for Kalkaska sand, the coniferous forests of northern Michigan may not exist.

Many of the evergreens that grow in our northern forests, including our ever-important state tree (white pine), are adapted to highly acidic, dry, and nutrient-poor conditions. As such, they rely on otherwise infertile soils like Kalkaska sand. The rare Kirtland’s warbler breeds exclusively in jack pine, and many other well-known species depend upon plant communities derived from Kalkaska sand. In a very real way, we have this unique soil to thank for the natural landscape as we know it today.

kirtlands warbler - cindy mead

Kirtland’s warbler in a jack pine forest. Photo: Cindy Mead.