Friday, May 11, 2007

Swamp Leather Flower

It's mid-May and the forest canopy has completely recovered from last month's hard frost. The closed canopy invites owls to call all day from the forest interior and I now have to use a flash to take pictures in the middle of the day. In the few breaks in the canopy (where, for example, a tree has fallen), the ground layer is covered in this delicate, purple flowering vine, Clematis crispa.

A relative to the showier horticultural cultivars of clematis, this wetland obligate plant is often overlooked in the swamp. It isn't a larval host plant for butterflies and the sparse flowers are short lived. Nevertheless, it's one of the few flowers blooming in the swamp right now, and the nectar has been devoured by spicebush swallowtails all week.

While swamp leather flower is common in southeastern U.S. swamps, range maps place it in only a few isolated populations in the northern embayment. Population status isn't known for Missouri; it doesn't appear in the Flora or in Shrubs and Vines of Missouri. Populations are threatened in Kentucky and rare in Illinois, so I imagine based on available habitat that Missouri's populations are in the same boat.

Get out in your public lands tomorrow and celebrate International Migratory Bird Day! Catch warblers and waders as they make the flight to Canada. Otherwise, you can wait for the fall, when you may need Peterson's "Confusing Fall Warbler" section.

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