Thursday, May 27, 2010

Dwarf Lake Iris

The road less traveled, in this case through a beautiful northern forest near the shore of Lake Huron, in northern Michigan's Presque Isle County. A very special plant is common here, and we were indeed fortunate that our recent birding and botany foray here coincided with peak bloom for this extremely range-restricted species.

In places, Dwarf Lake Iris, Iris lacustris, carpeted the thin limey soil in a riot of purple. This plant is a true showstopper, sure to grab the eye of even the most botanically jaded.

Small wonder the state of Michigan designated this iris as the official state wildflower. A truly sophisticated choice, as not only is this one of the showiest plants in the Great Lakes region, but Michigan also supports the bulk of the total population.

What they lack in stature, Dwarf Lake Iris makes up in beauty. The "Dwarf" in the name is well placed - they only stand six inches or so in height.

It occurs in perhaps a dozen counties in Michigan, all along the shores of lakes Huron and Michigan, and the tiny iris doesn't stray more than a stone's throw from the shoreline. The word lacustris - the specific epithet of the plant's scientific name - means "of lakes". Populations are scattered and local. There are a few populations along the Wisconsin shore of Lake Michigan, primarily on the Door Peninsula, and perhaps a few sites on the Bruce Peninsula of Ontario, Canada. That's it.

We were especially fortunate to see a small number of a white-flowered form, and they were quite striking. I am hopeful that they come up again next year - I'm sure they will - so that our group can once again admire them.

This is a plant that had long fired my imagination, and was high on my botanical wish list. It was very gratifying to finally get to see Iris lacustris on its home turf - the cool rocky limestone pavements along the wild boggy shoreline of northern Lake Huron.

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