Friday, April 27, 2012

Lakeside Daisy

Last Sunday while up at Lake Erie, I found myself on that long narrow slab of limestone known as the Marblehead Peninsula. And when traversing the Marblehead in spring, I always try to make time to stop in at the Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve. This 19-acre site looks like a lunar landscape at first blush; a barren rocky substrate sparsely dotted with red cedar trees. But in May (normally), the place comes alive with its namesake plant.

I was amazed to see how advanced the daisies were on the early date of April 22. I checked my photo archives for past visits, and have plenty of shots of the daisies in peak condition between May 10 and 12. So, they're nearly three weeks ahead of schedule this spring, and if you want to see one of Ohio's most amazing botanical displays, you'd best take a trip down Alexander Pike soon.

A sea of yellow dots carpets the rocky floor of the preserve. Lakeside daisy, Tetraneuris herbacea, is one of the rarest plants in the United States, and although it grows in profusion in the preserve and some surrounding places on the Marblehead Peninsula, this may be one of only two indigenous U.S. populations that remains. It formerly occurred in a few spots in Illinois, but those populations have been destroyed. A small site was discovered in Michigan in 1996. There are also populations on the Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island in Canada, and there at least some Canadians refer to this plant by the rather odd name of "stemless rubberweed". Lakeside daisy is listed as federally threatened by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service - one of only six plant species that merits that dubious distinction in Ohio.

ASIDE: This species has a rather tortured nomenclatural history. Previous synonyms include Actinea herbacea; Hymenoxys acaulis; and Hymenoxys herbacea. I wonder what it will be called next month?

Lakeside daisies spring from a small basal rosette of narrow straplike leaves, and do best in very sparsely vegetated rocky limestone soils. While the areas in which this plant occurs look rather lifeless at first glance, there are actually many other interesting plants to be found. Natural rockeries such as at the Lakeside Daisy Preserve support a wealth of saxicolous (rock-loving) plants, many of them rare. From the blooming of the Lakeside daisy on through September, there will be an ever-changing parade of plants.

The Lakeside daisy's place in the massive composite family, which includes sunflowers, goldenrods, asters and the like, is obvious when the flowers are seen well. Many of Ohio's rarest plants are things that only a botanist would love, such as sedges and other obscure non-showy flora. This daisy, on the other hand, is one of the most stunning plants in our entire flora, and that covers some 1,850 native plants.

If you're up at Lake Erie birding in the next few weeks, try and stop by and see the spectacle of the daisies. They're probably hitting peak bloom just about now, but there should be blooming plants lingering into mid-May or so. There is an annual local celebration of the Marblehead Peninsula's most famous botanical resident, the Lakeside Daisy Festival. It is held the second weekend in May, which means that the plants will probably be past peak this year during festivities. Still, festival-goers will see the sunny countenance of at least some daisies, and it is a sight that should not be missed.


A.L. Gibson said...

Excellent post, Jim! I had the pleasure of seeing these beauties along the alvars and limestone shorelines on the Bruce peninsula last spring. They were on their way out and not as dense a display as those on Marblehead but still a very awesome botanical moment and experience in my life! I've yet to be up to Marblehead and sounds like I need to soon if I want to see these this year...

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks Andrew, and I hope to follow in your footsteps and orchidize on the Bruce Peninsula someday!

Wren nests in... said...

Mmmmm... Nature's "rock gardens"!