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Thursday, May 12, 2011

Hello, Wildflowers--and Snakes!

On the matter of the green-striped trillium from the other day, here it is on the cover of Ed and Connie Arnfield’s Roadside Guide to Michigan Plants,Trees, and Flowers: An Ecological Approach. I highly recommend the Arnfield ecological guide, unique in its presentation. One thing I noticed in the woods this morning is that while troutlily, wild leek and spring beauty seem to enjoy each other’s company, trillium is often found associating with bellwort and Dutchman’s breeches. Ed could explain the reasons for these groupings, I’m sure, but I’m guessing it has to do either with soil or with available light. Perhaps both are factors. You can see more photos of trillium and bellwort on my photo blog.

Of Trillium Grandiflora, Ed has this to say:
Probably the largest flower of its group, it is pure white and turns a pale pink as it ages. Some that are infected by an organism or a virus produce a central green stripe in the flower. The leaves are in threes, and the petals are in threes as well.

Another classic wildflower guide for our area is Michigan Wildflowers in Color, by Harry C. Lund. Yes, the blooms are arranged by color for easy reference, and the revised edition also includes public areas for wildflower walks from southern Michigan to the U.P.

As for snakes, I could have saved a lot of time the other evening if I’d had Michigan Snakes: A Field Guide and Pocket Reference (revised edition), by J. Alan Holman and James H. Harding, in hand instead of having to wait for image after image to download so I could find the snake that matched mine. That’s “mine,” as in the one that surprised me in the woodshed. For those of you who don’t yet have a field guide to snakes, you can visit the DNR site to see my pretty snake, harmless to humans, and Michigan’s only poisonous snake, too.

“All snakes are predators,” informs the DNR website calmly. Remain calm. Michigan snakes prey but not on us. The little sweetheart that found its way into our woodshed was a beautiful Eastern Milksnake, and here’s what Holman and Harding have to tell me about it:
The Eastern Milksnake is a slender, medium-sized (24 to 52 inches long) snake with brown or reddish brown, black-bordered blotches running down the light grey or tan back. There is often a Y- or V-shaped light marking on the top of the neck....

These secretive snakes are found in woodlands, fields, marshes and farmlands. They often hide under boards and trasn near barns and other buildings. Most often seen in spring and fall, Milksnakes appear to be primarily nocturnal in summer. The name “Milksnake” comes from the false belief that this species sucks milk from cows. They may indeed enter barns, or even houses, but in search of rodents. Because of this, they are also called barn snakes or house snakes. Another local name given to this snake in error is “spotted adder.” [my emphases added]

As a sworn enemy of mice in the house, I probably should have left the snake in our attached woodshed rather than relocating it to the garden. Maybe it will find its way back. Maybe I should invite it into the house! It certainly was beautiful--and fierce as a tiny kitten, too, raising its head and acting like a rattlesnake despite its small size, though it is not venomous but kills by constricting its prey. Could a small, young snake like “mine” swallow a mouse, let alone a rat? Maybe a baby mouse. That must be it. Get ‘em while they’re young. Good plan!


Dawn said...

The snake is beautiful...more beautiful than the one in the link...but it would certainly scare me! We have the rattlesnake in Katie's favorite park and last year two dogs were bitten. So I try to keep an eye out. I think both dogs were likely not on leash, though they are supposed to be. Still...Katie is always sticking her nose in stuff when we're at the park.

Keeper2 said...

Never see trillium around pine trees, only deciduous. Or in the open. So I'm sure soil is involved, and sunlight. Must be trillium don't like the pines whispering above them.

Anonymous said...

Could have told you that was a milk snake, since I found its southern relative in the children's playroom one day. It was only about five inches long, but they look like coral snakes down here. Fortunately, I knew "red on black, friend to Jack; red on yellow, kill a fellow" and the snake was safely relocated to the wetland out back.

P. J. Grath said...

Bill, now I’m seeing huge colonies of yellow violets, so thick there’s almost nothing else among them but the occasional fern.

Anonymous, I’ve decided to go with “barn snake” around our homestead. Barn cat, barn coat, barn snake—sounds good, doesn’t it? Luckily we don’t have coral snakes this far north.