The Natural Fall Transition

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

As our summer slowly shifts into Michigan’s favorite season, the humidity will disappear into a brisk breeze and leaves will turn happy orange and red. You might partake in festive, nature oriented activities such as apple picking, birding, or fall color walks. Our reason for doing this is to enjoy some time with friends and family, but have you thought about the reason why nature acts as it does in the fall?

Migrating-Birds-Swans-Bill-and-Sharon-Draker-Rolfnp-comSince Autumn is a transitional season, often the plants and animals we see are in a transition period as they prepare for a long winter. For instance, birds are migrating back from their summer homes to somewhere less chilly for the winter. To many avid birders’ delights, we are lucky in Michigan to be able to see rare species such as warblers, vireos, and thrushes migrating. If you visit Whitefish Point, it is an excellent place to spot the migrating loons and, if you look towards the skies, you might also spot the soaring wingspans of sharp shinned hawks, bald eagles, and ospreys.

While the birds fly south, mammals take advantage of fall fruiting trees and plants. Species such as squirrels, chipmunks, and even bears might be more active as they prepare themselves for winter by gathering food and preparing nests or dens. Many types of berries and nuts ripen for consumption in the fall, and as the temperature cools, fungi also begin to sprout. The production of berries, nuts, and seeds this time of year cleverly coincides with the time that birds are stopping to snack during migration and when small mammals bury nuts for sparser months. These fruits and nuts are the structures that enable the dispersal of seeds, so these animals in transition are essential in the process of creating new plant life for some tree and shrub species such as red chokeberry, blackhaw viburnum, and common ninebark. Acorns from oak trees and hickory nuts serve the same purpose and are spread by small mammals in a process sometimes known as “scatter hoarding”.

lefglen nsWhile animals collect the nuts from trees for winter hibernation, the trees themselves have a very charismatic process that prepares them for their own kind of hibernation. During the winter months, deciduous trees go into a period of dormancy where they survive off the energy they stored during the sunny summer months, and they drop their leaves that contain chloroplasts (structures that turn light from the sun into plant food) to conserve energy. Leaves of trees can sense a shortening period of daylight, and eventually stop producing the chemical chlorophyll that make leaves green, and then we can see bright colored pigments such as orange and red that were previously masked by green all summer. We see the best fall colors when there is a wet growing season followed by a cool, frostless fall. Visit an MNA sanctuary to see this trees in action. Enjoy the colors!

Invasive Species Spotlight: Japanese Stiltgrass

By Abby Pointer, MNA Intern

Microstegium_viminium_specimenAt first glance, Japanese stiltgrass appears to be an innocent, pleasant-looking plant. Most wouldn’t even give the grass a single thought if they were to encounter it. In a sad reality, however, that “irreproachable” grass is quite the opposite. This invasive species chokes out the wildlife around it, and grows and spreads at an alarming rate. It decreases biodiversity and forces animals and plants alike out of their natural habitats. It is widely thought that this species is among one of the most dangerous invasives, as it has spread throughout the country very quickly in relatively little time.

The grass was introduced in Tennessee in the early 1900s through its use as a packing material. It is native to Japan, China, central Asia, and India. Since then, it has spread rapidly to the east, and has started to make its way into the Midwest.

Like other invasive plant species, Japanese stiltgrass is spread with the unintentional aid of humans and animals. The small seeds latch onto fur and clothing, or are carried by the wind. The seeds can survive for up to five years in the soil. The stiltgrass can cross and self fertilize, producing up to 1,000 seeds per individual plant. Most animals avoid eating the plant, leaving it to grow with little to no controlling factors.

The stiltgrass is most often found in shaded areas that are often subject to soil disturbances such as tilling or flooding. It is found along roadways, in floodplains, along hiking paths, as well as in damp woodlands. It’s not picky when it comes to the acidity of the soil it inhabits, though it prefers the soil to be fertile. When in direct sunlight, it doesn’t grow as quickly as it normally could. Its growth is also slowed when near stagnant bodies of water. The grass can also infiltrate residential areas, and is often found in flower beds, lawns, and parks.

JPSGrass identification is notoriously tricky, but thankfully, Japanese stiltgrass has a variety of distinct features for people to identify it by. First off, each plant can have multiple weak stems that branch near the base of the plant. The stems are smooth, and can be green, brown, or purple. The leaves are two to four inches long, and about half an inch in length. They’re pointed on both ends, and have off-centered, silver, ridges. They are widely spread out on the stem. The roots are thin, and weak. They are very easy to pull out of the ground because they do not grow very deep into the soil. Aerial rootlets are present along nodes near the base of the stem – these stilt-like features are what gives the plant its common name of “stiltgrass”. The plants grow flowers in late summer through early fall, and the flowers have a few spikes.

Japanese stiltgrass can get up to about six feet tall, though many plants tend to be between one to three feet in height. The taller plants usually prop themselves up on other plants or trees, or they lay flat against the ground. During the autumn, the tops of the plants turn purple or brown, and in the winter the thatch turns an orange color.

While keeping Japanese stiltgrass under control and preventing it from spreading further may seem like a daunting task, it is undoubtedly a necessary one for the well-being of many ecosystems. Within recent years this invasive has spread to northern Indiana, and last year it was found for the first time in Michigan, in Washtenaw County. Be sure not to get it confused with common look alikes such as Whitegrass, Nimblewill, Basketgrass, Deer tongue, Smartweed, or Crabgrass!

Eddmaps MV distribution as of July 2018

Walk to Big Valley

Walk to Big Valley
Thursday, July 26
6:00 – 8:30 p.m.
Rose Township Hall
9080 Mason St, Holly, MI

Join the Rose Township Heritage Committee along with the Michigan Nature Association for a nature and historical walk from the Rose Township Hall to an overlook of the Big Valley Nature Sanctuary – home to a high quality prairie fen (a unique and rare type of wetland with an array of interesting native plants and animal species including a small butterfly that is federally listed as endangered).

The program is for all ages (and free) and will begin with a short presentation in the lower level of the Rose Township Hall located at 9080 Mason Street. Afterwards there will be about a 2 mile walk (round trip). While walking we will pass one of the township’s historical homes with a very interesting history and some interesting geological features. Refreshments will be served. Wear comfortable walking shoes and clothing.

Please RSVP to Dianne Scheib-Snider, dianne@rosetownship.com, 248-634-6889

Big Valley

Annual Monitoring in Effect at the Hart Plant Preserve

Hart NS signBy Lauren Cvengros, MNA Intern

The Donald E. Hart Plant Preserve is located in Benzie County in the northwestern part of the Lower Peninsula by Crystal Lake. It is a cedar swamp located on the Betsie River, donated by longtime MNA Members Donald E. and Marjorie A. Hart. The sanctuary is located within 45 minutes of Traverse City and is an incredibly beautiful spot thick with trees and full of frogs, salamanders and other amphibians. This sanctuary protects nine acres of conifer swamp and 255 feet of river front.

The land is completely untouched by humans, so the natural features are allowed to flourish. Although the land is safe from human influence, there are a few invasive species including reed canary grass and wild parsnip. The work the Michigan Nature Association does to protect the plant preserve is imperative to maintain and restore the native wildlife. The swamp area in this sanctuary is a Betsie River Near NW Corner 4common dumping ground for brush clippings and trash, so MNA’s efforts in annual monitoring is crucial. If you go to visit this sanctuary, you will notice the stillness of the untouched land, left in peace for the creatures who live there to thrive. This type of environment is becoming more and more scarce and if not properly taken care of there is a threat of habitat destruction and species extinction. The monitoring efforts conducted allow places such as the Hart Plant Preserve to exist.

3rd - Colwell, Roberta - Green FrogStepping onto the sanctuary land is like entering a whole new world, kept away from the commotion of everyday life. The present species are vibrant, mostly frogs and salamanders, of whom can be seen abundantly around the sanctuary. The preserve is home to all types of plants such as birch trees, pine trees, dogwood, honeysuckle, ferns, vines, and more. The thickly wooded forest and green covered floor of the sanctuary provides a prime example of a little slice of nature you can enjoy in Benzie County.