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Weather favors wildflowers

Northwoods Notebook

Wild blue-flag irises grow in the high grass between Six Mile Lake Road and the lake itself. Unlike the tall bearded irises popular in home gardens, these irises favor wet soils, said Phyllis Carlson, an expert on area plants who specializes in native orchids.

The cool temperatures this spring may have delayed some area plants from flowering, but they seem to be playing catch-up now.

The anemone are opening up nicely at Six Mile Lake, giving part of the yard and driveway a border of white. We had the first wild Eastern red columbine we can remember seeing on the property. And at the edge of the woods, bunchberries create white diamonds against the shadows.

Farther down Six Mile Lake Road, the lakeside ditch between the bridge over Six Mile Creek and the boat launch area had a number of wild blue-flag irises, again the first I’ve noticed, although they undoubtedly have bloomed at the lake in the past.

While I know a few things about the animals, I still have to look at guides to go beyond the most basic of identification on plants. So I turned to Phyllis Carlson, who along with being a wildlife rehabilitator also knows her plants, especially native orchids.

She said all of the above mentioned, while fairly common, still are among the most showy of the native wildflowers and a treat to see when possible.

A bunchberry shows its foliage.

The bunchberry “flowers” actually are the bead-like cluster in the center; the four white “petals” are bracts, which most flowers have at their base. It produces edible red berries in the fall.

In addition to being the smallest of the dogwood family, the bunchberry has the distinction of having perhaps the fastest plant actions known when it releases pollen.

A 2005 article in the journal Nature detailed that the bunchberry has developed a form of internal catapult that, when each tiny flower opens, explosively propels the pollen into the air “at speeds about 800 times the force astronauts experience during take-off,” according to a May 2005 piece by the National Public Radio show, “All Things Considered.”

Researchers at Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., which did the study, thought the bunchberry may have developed the adaptation so the ground-hugging plant could elevate its pollen enough to be picked up and carried off by the wind, NPR reported.

While the sluggish arrival of spring and now summer has been frustrating to those who favor higher temperatures, Carlson said the continued cool nights and lack of real heat during the day does bring one benefit: the flowers last longer.

A painted turtle is dug in to lay eggs at Six Mile Lake in Dickinson County.

I noticed that with the chokecherry bloom — it was heavy and prolonged, with plenty of time for the pollinators to work on through. So there should be a fair amount of fruit come fall, to perhaps lure in more birds through the winter.

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Another reminder that this is the time of year when turtles come out to lay eggs. Our sand and gravel driveway has long been a favorite nesting site; last weekend saw enough painted turtle traffic through the yard it seemed like a signal light might be needed.

But I got a sobering reminder Friday morning of how ill-equipped these turtles can be in trying to navigate our roads. As I left for work, while still on the dirt portion of Six Mile Lake Road, I came across a painted turtle somehow still alive, even though its shell had been shattered like someone took a baseball bat to it, internal organs visible through the fractures and fragments.

The road has some heavy trucks that come through early in the morning, and I’m sure the turtle was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe the driver didn’t even see it.

It still points up that we should try, when possible, to not just watch for turtles on the road but assist them in crossing if it can be done safely.

With my thanks to a story Thursday by Minnesota Public Radio reporter Kirsti Marohn, the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources had this advice on stepping in to help a turtle cross the road:

— Don’t put yourself or others in danger. Pull off the road and turn on the hazard lights. Watch for approaching traffic. If you’re on a busy highway, don’t stop.

— If the turtle can cross the road without help, let it. Excessive handling by humans can disrupt turtles’ normal behavior.

— If it’s necessary to move the turtle, handle it gently. For all turtle species except snappers and softshells, grasp the turtle along the shell edge near the midpoint of its body. Move the turtle to the edge of the road in the same direction it was traveling. Don’t try to “help” by moving the turtle to a lake or pond.

Snapping turtles — the second-most common species here in the Upper Peninsula — are of course a different ballgame. Big and aggressive, they can’t simply be scooped up and usually have no desire to cooperate.

The Minnesota DNR recommended grabbing them by a rear leg while supporting its belly.

But Carlson noted snapping turtles will continually turn toward any threat, so getting behind them isn’t easy, much less grabbing a leg. She carries a blanket in her car that she can throw over the snapper’s head and then pull or drag it across the road.

A snow shovel works as well, Carlson said, as does offering the turtle a stick to bite and then dragging it to the edge of the road, according to the Minnesota DNR. Never pick them up by the tail, which can damage their spinal cord, the DNR advised.

Betsy Bloom can be reached at 906-774-2772, ext. 40, or bbloom@ironmountaindailynews.com.

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