Monday, October 8, 2007

Micro-rarities of the Sand

I found myself in the Oak Openings the other day, right in the epicenter of Ohio's rare plant Utopia. Lucas County - county seat, Toledo - contains nearly all of what's left of this amazing ecosystem, which is defined by sand. The origins of this giant sandbox stem to the days of pre-glacial Lake Warren, which was Lake Erie in a much larger tub. The old beach ridges and dunes still remain, far from today's lake, and form an odd habitat that is home to an awesome number of rarities.
Lucas County has had more rare plants documented within its relatively small boundaries than any other Ohio county. If you know plants, in some places you can literally toss a stick, and then go find a half-dozen state-listed plants within 20 feet of it.
I visited a recent acquisition by Toledo Metroparks, which owns the lion's share of outstanding Oak Openings remnants. And there, I was excited to find a few interesting plants - not things that you'll see just anywhere.
No pansy, this one. It's Spathulate-leaved Sundew, Drosera intermedia, which is threatened in Ohio and almost completely confined to the Oak Openings. Gotta look close for it; a single rosette could be covered by a quarter. The plants can be quite easy to pass by, but a keen eye will key in on their habitat. This sundew requires open, moist sand with little to no other competing vegetation. They typically grow in moist swales.
A closer look at the leaves. They appear to be tipped in drops of dew, which would no doubt be a tempting sight to the gnat with a big thirst on a hot summer's day. Big mistake, Mr. Bug. Those "dew drops" are the botanical equivalent of Elmer's Glue, and the insect that seeks them out will be snared and held fast. Slowly, the leaf will enwrap the victim, thus bringing more of the viscous setae in contact with the meal. And that's what our bug has become - a snack. Fairly quickly the soft parts of the bug will be broken down and digested into the plant tissue, thus giving the sundew a shot of protein and nitrogen.

I actually discovered these sundews here last year. In a fit of Drosera rapture, it took me a few minutes to notice what was growing with them - the odd-looking lime-green fern trailing about the upper part of the photo. It turned out to be Northern Appressed Clubmoss, Lycopodiella subappressa. This was only the second or third site so far recorded for this endangered species, which has an extremely limited range.

Range of Northern Appressed Clubmoss. Not much to it. At the time this map was constructed, we hadn't yet found it in Ohio. I don't think they've found it in Indiana; the only other state where it is known is Michigan and there isn't much there.

This day, I was on my hands and knees photographing these micro-rarities, and noticed this sedge. This thing is truly tiny; one plant could sit comfortably on a nickel. It's the aptly named Dwarf Bulrush, Lipocarpha micrantha. Threatened in Ohio, it is a notorious seed banker. That is, the plants will sit dormant as seeds in the soil for long periods, awaiting the proper conditions to appear and induce germination. I didn't see it here last year.
About as close as I can get without unearthing the plant. Those little chestnut-colored glomerules are the fruit, which look somewhat like tiny pineapples. Each fruit, which contains a number of seeds, is about the size of a match head. Probably not a plant that most would be overwhelmed with, but like so many things, upon close inspection they are quite interesting and showy in their own way.


Anonymous said...

I'll start learning my sedges one of these days Jim. I am interested in them, just have too many hobbies right now. I enjoy your photos and IDs of the wierd sedges, they keep pushing me a little farther toward tackling them.


Tom said...

Lipocarpha went crazy last summer at Irwin Prairie after we burned the previous off season. It was completely absent this summer. Such a neat little plant.