Chasing Rarities

Although I have seen and/or photographed many native plants in Michigan on my travels, there are still a lot I have not seen. Not to belittle my enjoyment of seeing the same plants or flowers each year, I have also entered a stage in my experience that I look forward to also seeing new and rare species. Not new in the sense that no one has ever seen them before, but new to me. Over the past several years I have been privileged to continue to add a few new ones each year. In this post, I would like to share a few rare species I look forward to seeing periodically and some new ones for me thus far this year. There are some on my list that continue to elude me, but there are others that have been a privilege and a joy to find. Yes, I have and plan to continue taking trips with one target species in mind.

Snow Trillium

In early April, it is always rewarding to check on the Snow Trillium which are listed as threaten and currently only found in small sized patches and limited locations in Michigan. They bloom at the beginning of April and although I have never seen them blooming in the snow, they do if we have snow. The population appears to be holding its own and maybe increasing slightly. Also in late April to early May I enjoy seeing the special concern Jeffersonia or Twinleaf bloom both in my yard and at the Hudsonville Nature Center.

Harts Tongue Fern

Over the Memorial Day weekend, I started by stopping to see the threatened Dwarf Lake Iris in two locations near the Straits of Mackinaw. This small, colorful and cheery little iris is always a pleasure to find along the rocky beaches of Lakes Michigan and Huron. On Sunday’s fern field trip with the Michigan Botanical Club, we saw three rare ferns. After a hike, along and among boulders of the Niagara Escarpment we found the threatened Walking Fern. (Please excuse the quality of the fern photos accompanying this post as they were shot with the camera being handheld in the dark woods with very cloudy skies.) This fern puts out a long thin tip from the leaf that arches back to the moss on the boulder and develops a new plant, this can be seen in one of the photos. Next stop was a location with very large boulders and the Green Spleenwort which is listed as special concern. Then on for a longer walk in the rain in which after two attempts we found the endangered Hart’s Tongue Fern, again growing on moss covered boulders in deep shade. Hart’s Tongue is found in two counties in Michigan, making it one of if not the rarest Michigan fern.

Lakeside Daisy

Before leaving the Upper Peninsula for home I did a little exploring on my own. After a couple of years of research, I was finally able to locate the endangered Lakeside Daisy. This cheerful like yellow flower is found in Michigan from only one location. Michigan Flora calls this “one of the most local Great Lakes endemics,” since it occurs only in the Great Lakes region and no place else in the world.

Rams Head Lady-Slipper

How far would you go to see a species you have never seen before? On Monday, I drove just over 200 miles to see and photograph the Ram’s Head Lady-Slipper Orchid, which is listed as special concern. This Orchid is not very big and the whole plant is only 6 to 8 inches tall. The flower is not over and inch from front to back. If his seems far, this is not the furthest I have driven in one direction to see one species of native plant. Since I had time, I stopped at Petoskey State Park before heading home and found another Ram’s Head and the threatened Pitcher’s Thistle. Pitcher’s thistle grows for 2 to 8 years, blooms for one summer and then dies. The thistle was not in bloom but there were many to see in different stages of growth, from seedling to nearly blooming plants. This is another Great Lakes endemic. At PJ Hoffmaster Stater Park I did find Pitcher’s Thistle already in bloom and giving nectar to a Monarch Butterfly.

Piping Plover

The last one is a bird that nests on wide, flat, open, sandy beaches with sparse vegetation and scattered cobble. The known nesting areas are usually blocked off and people and pets are not allowed in. There is one pair on a nest near Muskegon so I was able to see my first Piping Plover which is listed as endangered.

When you have the opportunity, take time to enjoy some of our rare jewels in creation but be careful not to disturb or harm them as many are fragile and found in sensitive habitats. Remember to click on the post title to see all the photos uploaded with this post.

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