Kellie Rhae Theiss is an artist and writer living in Floodwood. She brings us this essay about a snapping turtle that that appears periodically on her property.
Summer plants are blooming and fruiting. Ferns are worth watching, June berries, moose maple and lots of flowers are ahead of schedule. There’s also good news and bad about blueberries and blackflies. And only good news about fireflies. Jay Andersen, with WTIP North Shore Community Radio, talks with a local naturalist about the flowers and insects of mid-June.
Chel Anderson is a botanist and plant ecologist for the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. She lives in Cook County and joins us periodically to talk about phenology or what’s going on in the woods right now. Welcome, Chel.
Anderson: Hello, Jay.
Now, we’re farther along into the summer than the last time we talked about plants. So, what’s up, what’s blooming and what’s fruiting?
Anderson: Yeah, well, let’s first mention that this time of year is a great time if you want to learn your ferns, right? The ferns are pretty much all up now. It’s a good time to get out and look for them and try to learn to identify them, pick out some groups of ferns that you’re interested in and learn the identification of. Watching them over the summer from here on, watch how they develop and watch the different characteristics that you’re looking for to see eventually when they all come together so that you can identify them. Ferns are happening right now. It’s a good time to be looking for ferns. Other plants that are doing some fruiting right now would be, miraculously, juneberries. Most other years, we have a lot of juneberry plants, or serviceberry is another term, and maybe more appropriate most years here, but we rarely, if ever, have berries in June that you could eat. This year, lots of our juneberries were already pollinated before June 1st, and depending upon rain now and the weather in general, that will determine whether we have a nice, full, plump blueberry crop or kind of get cheated on all that great pollination that went on. There’s a lot of fruits out there. Chokecherries would be another shrub that started blooming quite early this year and already some shrubs have fruits and are beginning to develop. In bloom right now would be highbush cranberries, another one of our later-season, summer fruits. Moose maple or mountain maple shrub is in flower at this time. So, the dogwoods are flowering now. So, a lot of shrub flowering and fruiting going on. In the wildflower department, we’ve got Goldthread in bloom, and these are tiny white flowers, snow white with a gold center, that bloom in kind of moist, dark, coniferous forest; the Canada Mayflower, very common, white, cluster of small flowers; Clintonia, or Bluebead Lily, is another common plant that is blooming right now and has a yellow, kind of trumpet shape, flower; Dewberries are in the same genus as the raspberry, and they are a creeping plant with a three-parted leaf that is very common in the forest; Jack-in-the-pulpit, very familiar to many of us, they’re in bloom by this time.
You mentioned blueberries. Is it too early to have some kind, I mean provided we get rain, is it too early to have any kind of an idea about what they’re going to--they’re not very far along themselves.
No, but they’re coming into bloom. They’re in bloom, so what’s key when the plants are in bloom is to have good weather for pollination and plenty of pollinators, which, of course, includes our favorite species, the black fly. There have been lots of black flies around.
Oh, tell me.
So, as long as there’s good weather for black flies being out and moving around and bothering us, that probably means there’s good pollination going around. The blueberry crop will depend on how much of a bloom there is, so, how did plants do after last year? Did they have a lot of energy stored up so they can put out a lot of blooms? Then, how well are they pollinated? Then, if there’s good pollination and fruit set, then, do we get the rains that we need to plump them up?
Well, let’s talk about another insect that seems to be sort of stories and fiction and fairytales and that sort of thing, and that’s fireflies. Are we in firefly season yet?
Yes, June will be this year, definitely, sometimes it can kind of poke into July, but we’re going to have a June firefly season this year. What a magical thing, the firefly is. Fireflies are also small insects and the adults fly, the males pretty much all fly. Females may or may not fly. In some species, females are wingless. Many species of adults produce a light, they emit light, and it’s something that’s referred to as a cold light, because it doesn’t give off any heat, it’s an incredibly efficient light, 92 to 100 percent efficiency. So, if we could figure out exactly how they do this, can you imagine the energy savings that there is there? I mean, this is something that people have been working to try and figure out because of its potential for many years, and it’s still isn’t completely understood. We still don’t know how to do it, but they do.
In a confined space, they throw a lot of light.
They do, I know, they really do. It’s an oxidation process that’s going on; we do know that much about it. It involves a couple of enzymes interacting with each other, but very efficient light. They use the light primarily to attract mates, so they flash in a very specific rhythm. The males use that to attract females, and the females, if they’re wingless, they’re doing the same thing. They’re flashing, but down on the ground. They communicate with each other this way. The amazing phenomenon of seeing fireflies all together in the night sky flashing away to each other and communicating in the complete silence is just an incredibly magical experience and well worth pursuing this June.
Chel Anderson, DNR botanist and plant ecologist, thanks for helping us once again understand what’s going on around us this spring and early summer.
Anderson: You’re very welcome.