Eradicating Invasive Phragmites

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

Seedheads near water. Photo via MNA archives.

Seedheads near water. Photo via MNA archives.

A straw-like plant ranging from 6-13 feet in height may seem quite harmless to come across. Yet, this plant, known as Phragmites, is an invasive species threatening the natural flora of Michigan.

Phragmites is the most common invasive plant species in Michigan.

Phragmites has a tall stalk with blades along its shaft and a red-colored seedhead that can fade to a straw-like color with age. Phragmites is usually found in wetland habitats like marshes and swamps.

This invasive species poses alarming impacts on biodiversity because it grows tall and in dense stands, squelching out any native plant and animal life by blocking sunlight and taking up space. Animals find it difficult to make habitats because of the density of the stands and find they have reduced vegetation to eat.

A thick Phragmites stand. Photo via MNA archives.

A thick Phragmites stand. Photo via MNA archives.

Phragmites obstructs views and can make it difficult for people to enjoy nature because of the difficulty of traveling through the thick reeds to get to bodies of water. It also can negatively affect navigation on highways and waterways because of its height.  Phragmites has a rapid growth rate and are prone to catching and spreading fires quickly, killing natural vegetation around it and posing threat to homes and buildings nearby.

Learn how to identify invasive species like Phragmites by clicking here.

Two methods of eliminating invasive Phragmites are prescribed burns and the use of herbicides. Prescribed burns are controlled fires that kill the invasive species, allowing a chance for native vegetation to grow. Herbicides must always be used carefully and some areas even require permits before use. Mowing is recommended post-chemical treatment.

Uprooting invasive knapweed

By Kary Askew Garcia, MNA Intern

A moth rests atop a knapweed flower. Photo courtesy of MNA archives.

A moth rests atop a knapweed flower. Photo courtesy of MNA archives

MNA is hosting several stewardship events this summer to remove the invasive knapweed plant from various sanctuaries.

The invasion of knapweed poses a danger to native plant life and must be uprooted. The knapweed’s origins are traced back to southeastern Europe. The plant begins to grow as a rosette of leaves in its first year of life and then later on grows a flower stalk ranging from six to 36 inches in height. The flower is usually pink or purple in color with a spotted head underneath, as knapweed is also referred to as “spotted knapweed.”

Knapweed can be found in well-drained soils, dry prairies and dunes. Knapweed is especially harmful to oak barrens, which are endangered worldwide.

The weed’s invasion has caused a decline in native plant species, which is threatening to the ecosystem. It can also alter water quality by causing an increase in soil runoff and erosion.

Spotted knapweed growing on dry terrain. MNA archives.

Spotted knapweed growing on dry terrain. Photo courtesy of MNA archives

Two common ways of eliminating knapweed are simply pulling the plants or mowing them down. There are also herbicides and chemicals that can also be used for removal but have several regulations and must be used carefully as to not upset any other plant or wildlife.

Two different insects have also been introduced to inhibit the knapweed from spreading seeds: flower weevils and seedhead flies. These insects introduced to the knapweed are a form of biological control of the invasive species.

Of these methods, MNA has most commonly uprooted the weed. Uprooting sounds much easier than it is, involving tools to help pull as many of the knapweed’s roots out of the soil as possible. If left behind, the roots could help the weed grow again and damage native plant life.

The knapweed has a tendency to knock out all other vegetation surrounding it, making many ecosystems bare if it isn’t removed.

MNA has also used prescribed burns and herbicide to remove larger amounts of knapweed in sanctuaries. Simply pulling knapweed when it is extremely abundant wouldn’t prove effective; burns and chemicals have helped to reduce the occurrence of the plant.

For more information on spotted knapweed, see Michigan State University’s Agriculture and Natural Resources website here.

Volunteers and stewards help pick knapweed at an MNA nature sanctuary. Photo courtesy of MNA archives

Volunteers and stewards help pick knapweed at an MNA nature sanctuary. Photo courtesy of MNA archives

MNA is calling for volunteers to help pull spotted knapweed from different sanctuaries. The next pull will be hosted at the Calla Burr Nature Sanctuary in Oakland County on July 10 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

More upcoming knapweed removal events:

  •  July 22: Volunteer Day: Lefglen Nature Sanctuary in Jackson County. 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.
  • July 25: Spotted Knapweed Pull at Calla Burr in Oakland County. Begins 9 a.m.
  • July 26: Spotted Knapweed Pull at Keweenaw Shores II Plant Preserve in Keweenaw County with Nancy Leonard. Begins 11 a.m.
  • August 9: Hike & Volunteer day: Redwyn’s Dunes in Keweenaw County. Begins 11 a.m.

Please contact the MNA office for more information about volunteering and preserving Michigan’s nature.

The Effects of Invasive Garlic Mustard

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

Garlic mustard flowers appear after the second year. Photo via MNA archives.

Garlic mustard flowers appear after the second year. Photo via MNA archives.

At first glance, garlic mustard looks like any other native flower. It has tiny, white flowers that sit atop a bed of green leaves along the forest floor. Passersby may not realize that this plant is one of the worst invaders of forests in the American Northeast and Midwest that was brought to America for food and medicinal uses from Europe and Asia in the 1800s.

Garlic mustard is an invasive herb that has spread throughout much of the United States over the past century. It can be identified as young plants by the garlic odor that is released when the leaves are crushed. The flowers develop on an unbranched stalk and they have four small white petals in a symmetrical arrangement.

Garlic mustard is usually found in undergrowth of disturbed woodlots and forest edges. It spreads fast and easily dominates the undergrowth of some forests, pushing native plants back and reducing diversity among native species. Garlic mustard can form in a dense blanket on the understory. This can kill off native plants that grow there because it controls the light, water and nutrients that are available. Plants most affected by garlic mustard are herbaceous species that grow in similar moist soil in the spring and early summer.

Garlic Mustard at Rizor Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Natalie Kent- Norkowski

Garlic mustard grows in dense clusters and has the potential to cover the forest floor. Photo via MNA archives.

Garlic mustard has been tied to the decrease in native herbaceous species in forested areas. It also releases chemicals that hinder the growth of other plant species and inhibits the growth of grasses and herbs. Other areas of the ecosystem could be affected due to the change in the vegetation. Altering the plant diversity can change leaf litter availability for creatures that survive in them, insects could be affected due to the loss in diversity of egg-laying substrate and plants, and it could prevent tree seedlings from growing.

Deer and other herbivores eat the garlic mustard, but they only remove about two percent of the leaf area. Manual removal of the plant is an effective method for eliminating the species and preventing it from spreading. Many volunteer days at MNA this spring are dedicated to helping remove and prevent garlic mustard in MNA sanctuaries. Take a look at some upcoming dates to get involved and visit for more dates and information!

  • Wednesday, April 30: Join MNA at the Riley-Shurte Nature Sanctuary (Cass County, near Cassopolis) to help keep the woods free of garlic mustard.
  • Friday, May 2: Help pull garlic mustard in the forest at Lyle and Mary Rizor Nature Sanctuary (Livingston County, near Hartland).
  • Saturday, May 3: Join volunteers to pull garlic mustard in the wooded paradise at Powell Memorial Nature Sanctuary (Lenawee County, near Hudson).
  • Monday, May 5: MNA will host a garlic mustard pull at the popular Dowagiac Woods Nature Sanctuary (Cass County, near Dowagiac).
  • Monday, May 5: Enjoy the beautiful woods, Wolf Creek, and spring wildflowers as we pull garlic mustard at Frances Broehl Memorial No. 1 (Lenawee County, near Onsted).

How Will This Harsh Winter Affect Wildlife?

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA  intern

The polar vortex may be finally past us, but cold temperatures are still prevalent throughout Michigan. We all know it made for a miserable winter for us, but how was wildlife affected?

Karner Blue Butterfly

The Karner blue butterfly lays it’s eggs near the ground so the snow can help insulate them through the winter. Photo from MNA Archives.

Many wildlife species are well adapted to thrive in cold temperatures. This winter proved to be beneficial for some endangered species here in Michigan. The Karner blue butterfly will hopefully see a spike in population from the excessive amounts of snow this winter brought. The butterfly’s eggs, which are laid on leaf litter near the ground over the winter, do best when there is deep snow cover on the ground over the course of the entire winter. The snow keeps them from drying out and provides extra insulation from air temperatures which can be colder than the ground temperatures.

Cisco fish are another endangered species that will benefit from the cold. They lay their eggs under the ice of the Great Lakes which protects them from getting thrashed around too much by waves. When there is little to no ice coverage, the waves cause the eggs to break. The heavy and vast ice coverage that the Great Lakes has had this winter will help provide a great barrier for the eggs and hopefully lead to more of them surviving.

When temperatures get cold, honeybees cluster and vibrate their wings to create heat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

When temperatures get cold, honeybees cluster and vibrate their wings to create heat. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Honeybees continue to thrive in the hive during extreme cold streaks. They gather in massive amounts to form a dense cluster around the outside of the hive when the temperature drops. As it gets colder, the cluster of bees becomes tighter and they move closer inside the hive. In order to stay warm and keep the queen warm, they exercise by rapidly vibrating their wings. It also creates air currents that expel carbon dioxide and moisture.

Not every species benefits from the extreme cold. Many invasive species are unable to handle the sub zero temperatures. Although it is unfortunate for the insects, it is good news for the plants affected by them and it could help solve issues with some invasive species in Michigan.

The emerald ash borer larvae can withstand temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The emerald ash borer larvae can withstand temperatures as low as negative 20 degrees. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Temperatures were cold enough in certain areas to freeze and kill many invasive species, such as the emerald ash borer. They are able to withstand several degrees below zero, but if temperatures hit 20 or 30 degrees below zero, they may not be able to survive.

Other invasive species do not fair as well as the emerald ash borer. The gypsy moth begins to freeze when temperatures hit below 17 degrees and the wooly adelgis, which has killed thousands of hemlock trees in the Northwest, dies when temperatures fall just below zero.



Michigan’s Spring Wildflowers

By Alyssa Kobylarek, MNA intern

After a long, cold winter in Michigan, nothing is more refreshing and exciting than seeing the first buds of flowers peeking from the newly thawed ground. The spring and summer months are full of intense beauty and color when all of the wildflowers are in bloom, showing off their amazing color displays. Michigan offers a wide variety of spring wildflowers, many of which are located only in specific regions. MNA sanctuaries protect many of these rare and beautiful flowers, preserving their beauty for visitors to enjoy for generations to come.

Red trillium. Photo by Al Menk.

Red trillium. Photo by Al Menk.


The trillium has been used to symbolize purity, simplicity, elegance and beauty for years. Every spring, the woods of Michigan are filled with the beauty that the trillium has to offer. Trillium typically thrives in moist, woodland settings where rich, acidic soil is present. At first glance trillium appear to have unbranched stems, but they actually produce no true leaves or stems above ground. Instead, the stem is an extension of the horizontal rhizome (a stem that grows underground continuously and sends out shoots and roots above the ground) and produces small bracts that look like leaves. These flowers have three large petals that can be found in a variety of colors. Their seeds are distributed by ants that feed on the oil-rich structure, called elaiosome, that is found on the seeds.

Four trillium species are protected in Michigan. The state lists toadshade, prairie trillium and snow trillium as threatened and painted trillium as endangered. MNA sanctuaries protect several trillium species, such as drooping trillium, red trillium, painted trillium, prairie trillium and toadshade. The biggest sources of threat are animal grazing and urban development. Deer are known to feed on the flower which leads to diminishing populations. Several MNA sanctuaries are home to this striking flower.

Dwarf lake iris

Dwarf lake iris. Photo courtesy of MNA archives.

Dwarf lake iris. Photo courtesy of MNA archives.

This beautiful flower grows nowhere else in the world but in the Great Lakes Region, making it a rare sight to see and a favorite among visitors. This unique flower is also Michigan’s state wildflower. Most of the population lies within Michigan and is heavily concentrated along the northern Great Lakes shoreline, but they are also found in Wisconsin and Ontario. They grow on sand or thin soil over limestone rich gravel or bedrock. The dwarf lake iris tolerates the full sun to near complete shade, but flowers mostly in semi open habitat. These plants bloom from Mid-May to early June and are threatened in the state of Michigan.

The dwarf lake iris can be distinguished by its tiny size and thin, yellow rhizomes or underground stems. The slender rhizomes produce fans of flattened leaves that can reach a height of six inches. The light green leaves are no more than half an inch wide. The flowers of the dwarf lake iris are a deep, dark blue that are produced singly on short stems. These flowers grow in dense bunches that form a brilliant blue carpet.

Ram’s head orchid

Ram's head orchid. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Ram’s head orchid. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

The ram’s head orchid, or ram’s head lady’s slipper, is a species of special concern in the state of Michigan. They can be found through northern lower Michigan and across the Upper Peninsula. These plants can be characterized by three to five bluish-green elliptic leaves that sprout along the stem of the flower in a spiral arrangement. They produce a small, terminal flower that has a pouched lower lip. The petals of the flower are similar to the leaves in shape, but are wavy. The flower has purple or brown sepals, which are often streaked with green. The pouch of the lip is white and marked with purple, crimson or green net-like veins and the mouth of the pouch is hairy. These flowers only grow to be about 30 centimeters tall. The ram’s head orchid is appreciated for its delicate beauty and pleasant fragrance. It is also one of the most distinctive of the lady’s slipper orchids.

The ram’s head orchid grows in confined cool, moist wetlands and coniferous forests. They also have a preference for moist, mossy bogs. They are very long-lived and can take 10 to 16 years to reach maturity. Flowering occurs from mid-May to mid-June when the flowers are pollinated by bees, insects and birds that aid in transporting the seeds to various locations.

Virginia bluebells

Virginia bluebells. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Virginia bluebells. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Virginia bluebells are ephemeral wildflowers; the blooming period occurs from mid-to late spring and lasts about three weeks. The central stem, which can reach a height up to three feet, is hairless and usually light green in color. The leaves can reach seven inches in length and are light green with a soft, floppy texture. The Virginia bluebell flowers are arranged in clusters and the tubular baby blue flowers flare at the mouth, displaying their bright yellow stamen. The flower clusters hang from arching stalks at the tips of the branches. The flower is tubular at the base and forms a bell shape towards the outer rim. They bloom from pink bulbs and when the flowers are ready for pollination, the plant increases its alkalinity to change the pink pigmentation to blue, which is a much more attractive color to various pollinators, such as butterflies and bees.This striking spring flower is a very popular species to be seen at MNA sanctuaries.

In Michigan, bluebells grow in southern floodplain forests and rich ravines. Just over ten state localities for them have been documented in Michigan. The vast majority occur in Kent and Ottawa counties.

Evening primrose

Evening primrose. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

Evening primrose. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia commons

The evening primrose is a vivid flower when it blooms in late spring. This species is a perennial with quite a short bloom period. Its flowers can be seen in May and June.

These plants produce stunning bright yellow blossoms that stand out among others. Evening primrose flowers open in clusters at the top of the plant. each flower has four petals and a slightly glossy look. The flowers themselves only last for a day when they first open in the evening. After they dazzle viewers with their brilliant yellow petals, they turn a salmon color before they die and fall off the plant. The flowers of the evening primrose have a large X- shaped pistil which projects beyond the stamens. The leaves of this plant are narrow and lance-shaped. They can reach up to six inches in length and have a silvery sheen on the surface of their petals due to short hairs that cover them. This wildflower grows close to the ground and sprawls out in areas of full sun.

Visitors will have the opportunity to see some of these spectacular species of wildflowers throughout the spring at MNA sanctuaries, so be on the lookout for some of these brilliant flowers! You can enjoy a whole weekend of wildflowers on our Wildflower Weekend Getaway, or take a guided hike during the Wildflower Walkabout series.

New aquatic invasive species found in Michigan

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

The European frog-bit. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The European frog-bit. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

Researchers have recently discovered a new invasive species in Michigan, the European frog-bit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae). It is an aquatic plant that grows in shallow, slow-moving water on the edges of lakes, rivers, streams, swamps, marshes and ditches.

The Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Division is leading the effort to control the invasive species. Only recently, it was found in Saginaw Bay, Alpena and Munuscong Bay in Chippewa County. Before statewide monitoring, it was only thought to exist in a few spots in the Lower Peninsula.

European frog-bit was accidentally introduced into Canadian waters between 1932 and 1939 and has traveled to lower parts of Canada and eastern states such as New York and Vermont. The plant is a free-floating, perennial plant that resembles lily pads and grows in extremely dense vegetative mats. The mat covers the water’s surface and shades out submerged plants that rely on the sun to thrive. It threatens native plants’ invertebrate and plant biodiversity as well as disrupting natural water flow and possibly harming fish and wildlife. It has the potential to threaten the $7 billion fishing industry of the Great Lakes in Michigan.

Under the new State of Michigan’s Rapid Response Plan for Aquatic Invasive Species, a response plan was formulated, which includes physical removal of 1,500 pounds of the invasive species and herbicide treatments. The plan also includes assessments of places that have been found to have the European frog-bit.

The European frog-bit has leaves about the size of a quarter and produces a small white flower, usually around June. It can be found in shallow waters within cattail and bulrush stands. If you suspect you have seen the European frog-bit, you can report sightings at or to Matt Ankney, coordinator of the Early Detection Rapid Response project at or (517) 641-4903.

Why do leaves change in the fall?

By Sally Zimmerman, MNA Intern

Colorful trees in Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Marianne Glosenger.

Colorful trees in Estivant Pines Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Marianne Glosenger

There is nothing quite like the colors one can see in Michigan in the fall. Reds, oranges, yellows and browns cover the trees and make for a beautiful sight, whether you’re on a hike or just driving by. Many people are delighted by fall and the wonderful colors, but don’t fully understand why the leaves change in the first place.

Many of the colors seen in fall are always present in leaves, just hidden by an abundance of chlorophyll. Chlorophyll is what makes leaves green and is regulated by light. When there is plenty of light, like in the summer months, the green overshadows the other colors of the leaf.

When the days start to get shorter and there is less light, less chlorophyll is produced. The chlorophyll starts to decompose, and without new chlorophyll being produced, the green color of the leaf starts to fade.

Changing leaves at Klipfel Memorial Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Marianne Glosenger

Changing leaves at Klipfel Memorial Nature Sanctuary. Photo by Marianne Glosenger

At the same time that this is happening, high levels of sugar concentrations in the leaves lead to increased production of anthocyanin and carotenoid pigments. Anthocyanins cause leaves to appear red, and carotenoids cause leaves to appear yellow. A leaf that has a combination of the two will appear orange. If a plant has neither of these pigments, it may appear brown because of other plant chemicals, such as tannins.

All of this might seem a bit heavy, but it will come in handy on any of MNA’s upcoming fall events! There are hikes, volunteer days and exploration days all throughout the months of October and November that anyone can attend to see the beautiful fall colors in action.

Some of these upcoming events include a field trip to Newaygo Prairie on October 19, an exploration of Braastad Nature Sanctuary on October 23 and an exploration of Fox River Nature Sanctuary on October 30. To learn more, visit the MNA website or call (866) 223-2231.