Moving from NH to Wisconsin means there’s lots of new territory to explore. Being a nature nut, one of the first areas to get my attention was Door County, but I didn’t get there until this year. Ok so it wasn’t that long a wait, but I knew I’d need an overnight trip at least and I was right. Next year it will probably be a couple of nights. There’s a lot of conservation land even on this relatively small peninsula on Lake Michigan.
First I started with The Ridges Sanctuary in Bailey’s Harbor. It is very easy to get to and although parking is tight, I got lucky both times I visited. The organization was founded to protect 30 fragile ridges that formed on the lake over 1000s of years and created subtle, yet distinct, micro-environments. That effort expanded and now the group protects 1600 acres in and around Bailey’s Harbor. Mainly I went for the wildflowers!
Wisconsin is host to many native orchids including coral root which is a saprophytic flower and you know how much I love that! Alas they weren’t blooming quite yet when I visited because the spring was so cold and rainy everything was late.
Even though the bigger and showier flowers are what get most of the attention here (like lady slippers), I found plenty of shy retiring types that were just as lovely, including twin flower which I’ve wanted to photograph for years, but never found any.
It was raining very slightly when I shot the twin flower. I’d hidden out in my car while a small thunderstorm cell came though then went right back out. It was fresh and lovely and there were even fewer people around than before the rain.
Being a photographer of very small things, I often have to wait quietly while the wind dies down or the light shifts and while often not exciting, things can surprise you. While I was hunkered down waiting out the breeze I heard a persistent scuffling just in front of me. I didn’t move, but kept trying to see what was making the sound. Lo and behold, a porcupette climbed down one tree, moved to another and made its way up. I didn’t see mom, but she was around as a later conversation with a fellow visitor would bear out. She was on the same path and saw them both. Very cool. I also spotted this lovely water snake when many people just rushed past or gave me a strange look wondering why I was taking a picture of ‘nothing’.
My second day in Door County brought me to another of the Ridges properties, Logan Creek. I didn’t shoot much, but enjoyed my time there and on my way back to the car ran into another photographer who suggested I visit Toft Point for my final stop as it has tons of wildflower, is right on Lake Michigan and was easy to get to. Good suggestion and I got a few more shots I like despite the harsh light in some of them.
Toft Point is a State Natural Area and covers a bit over 700 acres which is amazing in this part of the lake where you just know if it hadn’t been set aside, would be covered in houses. It was given to Kersten Toft in lieu of money for work done at a local limestone quarry. The family loved it so much they didn’t clear it of trees or exploit its natural resources or beauty. Yes they did live there, but lightly. While many outbuildings survive and have been restored, the original Toft house is only a bit of foundation. The meadows are beautiful and there’s even an old kiln made of stone. Many of the cabins look habitable and I don’t know if they’re rented out, but I think they were previously used by students conducting various studies and projects.
It is a haven for flowers. You do have to go off trail to find them, but they are there.
So there you have it – my first, but not last, trip to Door County.
Since moving to Wisconsin I’ve encountered many new-to-me wildflowers. In NH I traveled about 45 minutes to photograph round-lobed hepatica and these days my yard is full of them. Now I travel not quite as far to find pointed-lobed hepatica which is not found in my yard, but boy was the section of Ice Age Trail blanketed in them!
The first difference I noticed was that pointed-lobed (PL) come in more colors than does round-lobed (RL) and the instances of those colors seem to be common and white less so. Nearly the opposite of RL.
Taking pictures of these beauties was a little difficult because they were so thick on the ground along with other wildflowers. It was really hard to take a step without crushing something. Impossible in spots even though I walked slowly, carefully and kept my eyes open. By taking my time this way, I noticed that the texture of the flower petals seems smoother and waxier with the PL variety.
Another thing I noticed was that many of the flowers have double petals – the percentage is much higher in PL than in RL. I don’t know if it’s a random genetic mutation or a strategic adaptation tied to pollination, but it was noticeable.
Also the plants themselves are larger – on average 50%. The blossoms are more numerous as well as being taller.
All-in-all it was fascinating to find them in such profusion and that they were so distinct from their round-lobed cousins.
I have a feeling I’ll be visiting more of the areas that have these beauties come next spring!
You know how you can walk past something again and again and not notice it or what it is, but when you do you feel like a dope? I had that experience recently when I hit part of the Ice Age trail in search of a particular wildflower I knew was there, but ended up being bowled over by one that I didn’t.
Well kind of. Sure, I noticed its bright green, feathery leaves and thought them beautiful. The problem was when I noticed the flowers were long gone. Check out what it was –
I’ve long known about these guys and how they’re supposed to be so common, but I’d never seen them before. They were right under my nose the whole time, I just didn’t recognize them without their pants on. Once I did though, I spent a lot of time looking and photographing them. Here’s what they look like when they’re young –
As you probably can tell, they are in the same family as bleeding hearts. My guidebook tells me they are only pollinated by bumblebees since they are the only ones to have a proboscis long enough to get in there. I saw plenty of girls on them, but wasn’t lucky enough to capture one at work. Al Mullen was though –
Isn’t she great?? Early spring wildflowers are so important to bees emerging from hibernation like the bumblebee. They do not store food for the winter and so finding it quickly and in abundance is key to their survival. In return, they specialize in certain flowers and are key to that species proliferation as well. Wonderful how that works, huh?
Something else that works is black and white for these flowers. Check it out!
The tonal range here just nails a black and white. The texture, too, adds a richness that I think is needed in a monochrome photo.
Wisconsin winters certainly seem longer and bleaker than NH winters. When things turn it seems so slowly that I think I know for the first time what spring fever is. Being cooped up with hardly any color or seeming life around can get on me a little even though I do enjoy winter quite a bit. Spring though. There’s nothing like it. And of course the flowers.
Round-lobed hepatica starts us off!
These are both shots from the yard. I used to have to drive 45 minutes to find these little lovelies, but not I just walk outside. They’re everywhere, but I love them still and marvel at their proliferation and toughness.
Sometimes the choice to go to black and white isn’t obvious. With this next picture I was playing with a moonlight simulation in Lightroom for a while, but it kept getting paler and paler until I finally knocked all the color back. I like the mix of detail and blur, the solidity of the stems and the muted exuberance of the flowers themselves.
Bloodroot is another flower I used to travel all over to find and now just have to step outside to see. My yard and the surrounding area is covered with them. They’re hard to shoot, but I keep trying. Those leaves are just so wonderful that when the light catches them just right, they become the focus, not the about to bloom flower.
Of course, finding wonder and joy in my own backyard isn’t new. I used to do it in New Hampshire all the time even though my yard was much smaller. Curiosity is the key to staying engaged in photography even though your horizons may be limited, either by the weather, time, physical ability or whatever. As long as you can keep your sense of wonder intact, subjects for your sensor will keep appearing and, more importantly, keep appealing.
We get a lot of rain up this way and so when I found some collected between the leaves of as of yet still unknown flower, I got right down on it and just look at what I found –
A reflection of the trees above and yes, my camera. It was fascinating to me and I’m glad I slowed down to explore my yard in more detail. I ducked out of the frame and so now it looks like some alien probe from Star Wars checking out what’s down there.
So that’s my first wildflower post of 2017. There will be more. As of this writing I’ve found a spot that was literally carpeted in spring ephemerals and I shot some flowers I’ve never photographed before. I’m also planning a trip to Door County in June to visit a wildflower preserve so that should be really fun. Stay tuned!
My ongoing fascination with Indian pipe continues. This first one I almost didn’t see, being hot and sweaty with bug spray running into my eyes, I just wanted a blast of air conditioning in the car. But I went down a little side trail and on the way back, this little beauty appeared.
Background is key to good wildflower photography and so with some careful tripod placement I was able to get the distracting highlights out of the frame. When I shoot Indian pipe, I expose for the highlights, just barely clipping some whites at times, but managing that in Lightroom is key also. Preserving detail, but keeping the bright white takes a little finagling, but it can be done.
Here’s another with a background of green; this time a lovely mossy log. I’d have liked a better angle on the log itself, but that would have meant that some flowers would be sharp while others would be blurry. Lining up the angles is sometimes hard, but I do try. In this case the sensor is so much smaller than the scene and it wasn’t too difficult. A couple of checks in the LCD screen and some tripod shifting and I had the focus I wanted. When the sunlight hit I had a shot I love.
In northern Wisconsin we still get frost and freezing overnight temps well into May. What’s a demure beauty to do? Get tough. Spring beauty is one of the most hardy wildflowers we have and though it’s quite small and looks fragile, it survives almost anything Mother Nature can throw at it.
In addition to frigid temperatures, spring beauty can, and does, flourish in nutrient-depleted areas like housing developments and deforested areas like farms. It’s pretty undemanding.
Here in the yard though, there’s no skimping on soil nutrients, they grow in the lawn as well as in the woods where they have to push up through some very deep leaf litter.
They’re still blooming and I think I’ll have to go pick some because in addition to being adorable, they’re edible! The roots are actually tuberous, like potatoes, and it’s said they taste very similar, albeit sweeter and kind of chestnut-y so far as I could tell from info online. They can be eaten raw or cooked so I’ll have to get out there and get some while they’re at the peak of ripeness.
Taken together, early spring wildflowers are often called ephemerals. This refers to their short life cycles, but strictly speaking means flowers that die back completely leaving no trace of their presence above ground. It’s a trait that allows them to be very successful, emerging after the most harsh winters, before bud break when the trees hog most of the sunlight.
Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is a true ephemeral; its leaves quickly break down and disappear after the flowers wither. It is the leaves that give this flower its common name; the mottling resembles the fish.
Like many early widlflowers, trout lily closes completely when it’s cold, overcast or rainy. As an evolutionary strategy I think it works. Flowers that lose petals to wind and weather stand a lower chance of being pollinated versus those that keep their petals. Flower structures and petals help guide pollinators to them.
Pollination is especially important to trout lily because so few of the pollinated flowers actually seed – approximately 10% only which is a pretty small percentage. To make matters worse, it takes 7 years for the flowers to mature and none bloom during that time. Despite those odds, some botanists believe that large, undisturbed groves of trout lily to be 300 years old.
Pretty amazing for a ubiquitous little wildflower that hardly shows its face for more than a few weeks a year.