For the past few years, I’ve been involved with the Missouri Native Plant Society (MONPS). To this point, however, my involvement has been limited to attending the monthly meetings of the St Louis Chapter—unfortunately, now only via Zoom since the beginning of the pandemic. I hope that soon we can return to in-person meetings (or, even better, a hybrid of the two, which allows person-to-person interaction without excluding participation by those who cannot attend in-person), but one activity that has resumed live are their periodic, multi-day field trips. The Spring 2022 Field Trip, held this past weekend in southwestern Missouri, was my first chance to participate in one of these events, and I looked forward to seeing the remnant prairies, limestone, dolomite, and sandstones glades, and chert woodland that were all on tap while rubbing elbows with some of the state’s best botanists and naturalists—some old friends and others new acquaintances!
Day 1 – Schuette Prairie
I wasn’t able to make it to the actual Day 1, so I left St. Louis early in the morning to meet the group at the first stop of the following day—Schuette Prairie in Polk Co. Named after my friend and former Cuivre River State Park naturalist, Bruce Schuette, this recently acquired limestone/dolomite prairie with a wet swale contains many plants more typical of glades such as Silphium terebinthinaceum (prairie dock), Echinacea paradoxa (yellow coneflower), and Rudbeckia missouriensis (Missouri coneflower). Of course, on this cold, overcast, early-April morning, it was far too early to see any of these highly charismatic plant species (although some of the more astute botanists were about to point them out by their barely emergent foliage, which was easy to find in the recently-burned northern half of the parcel). Abundantly in bloom, however, was the more subdued Erythronium mesochoreum (prairie fawn lily, midland fawnlily, prairie dogtooth violet). Distinguished from the similar E. albidum (white trout lily) that occurs abundantly further east by its narrower, folded, usually unmottled leaves, all but a few of which remained stubbornly closed against the stiff, cold wind.
Precious few other blooms were seen—I recall somebody mentioning they had seen Viola sororia (common violet), and I photographed this little clump of Fragaria virginica (wild strawberry) that will eventually provide food for one of the area’s many box turtles.
Speaking of box turtles, I found this completely naked, bleached carapace and at first hoped that it might have been from an ornate box turtle (Terrapene ornata)—limited in Missouri to western prairies and a species I have not yet seen. However, the presence of a midline ridge and its relatively more domed shape suggest it is from a three-toed box turtle (Terrapene carolina triunguis).
Many other carapaces were seen (though none in such good shape), and in fact bones of many types were easy to find in the burned portion of the prairie. This disarticulated skull from what appears to be a young calf (Bos taurus) was perhaps the most impressive bone find, but we did also find a dried skeleton of a smaller individual. Being the lone entomologist of the group, I just had to turn over the carcass and search for beetles and managed to capture a skin beetle (family Trogidae) and one other small unidentified beetle (but, unfortunately, no Necrobia rufipes [red-legged ham beetle]).
Rocky Barrens Conservation Area
Later in the morning, the group caravaned to Rocky Barrens Conservation Area, a 281-acre area in Greene Co. featuring Mississippian limestone glades and site for the federally-endangered Physaria filiformis (Missouri bladder-pod). This plant, in the mustard family, is found only in four counties in southwest Missouri. The plants were readily found, but we were too early to see them in bloom—or anything else, for that matter. For me, however, the glade alone was still interesting, and I couldn’t help but take note of the similarities—and differences—between this limestone example and the dolomite glades south of St. Louis with which I am so much more familiar. Almost immediately, I noted the presence of Sideroxylon lanuginosum (gum bumelia), host for Plinthocoelium suaveolens (bumelia borer)—surely one of North America’s most beautiful longhorned beetles! I didn’t see any frass piles at the base of any of the trees, the presence of which would indicate larval activity, but I’m sure the beetle is here. It would be interesting to come back during the season and look for it. While I didn’t find any signs of the beetle, I couldn’t miss the bright orange-yellow gold-eye lichens (Teloschistes chrysophthalmus) colonizing it’s branches.
Another tree that caught my interest was Celtis tenuifolia (dwarf hackberry). I see these small, gnarly versions of the genus in glades and other xeric habitats, and they always catch my interest because of the diversity of interesting woodboring beetles associated with it. As I looked at the trees, I noticed one small tree in particular that was the perfect stage of dead—branches brittle but bark mostly still intact with a little bit of peeling on the trunk revealing woodboring beetle larval galleries underneath! There were only a few emergence holes present—strong evidence that the tree was still infested and worth bringing back to put in an emergence box to trap the emerging adult beetles. With luck, I’ll be pinning a series of Agrilus ferrisi next winter!
Corry Flatrocks Conservation Area
After lunch at a nearby city park, the group caravaned to Corry Flatrocks Consevation Area in Dade Co.—site of another federally-endangered plant, Mononeuria minima (formerly Geocarpon minima) (tiny-Tim, earth fruit). The sandstone glades at this site are among the largest in the area and, thus, host a large population of the plant. By this time of day, the sun had been out for awhile and the day had warmed considerably, so we hoped to see other flowering plants as well. Among the first that we encountered while walking towards the glade proper was Ranunculus fascicularis (early buttercup), distinguished from other “large-flowered buttercups” by its canescent (grayish due to hairiness) leaves with long and narrow lobes, their tips bluntly pointed or rounded. The dry, gladey habitat also distinguishes the species from the similar R. hispidus (hairy buttercup), which flowers at the same time but prefers moister habitats.
On the glade proper, we quickly encountered tiny little saxifrages in bloom, which turned out to be Micranthes texana (Texas saxifrage), restricted in Missouri to this part of the state (and thus with a high CC value of 9) and distinguished from the more widespread M. virginiensis (early saxifrage) by its small, compact stature. These first individuals we encountered had especially reddish-tinged flowers.
As soon as we reached the more open part of the glade with large expanses Of exposed rock, the group dropped to their hands and knees to find the diminutive plants we were looking for.
The plants were not uncommon, even abundant, in shallow, sand-filled depressions in the rock. Nevertheless, careful observation was still required to see and recognize them. Fortunately, the plants were already in bloom, their tiny styles barely visible to the naked eye within the green, not-much-bigger, petalless flowers. Photographing these plants, and especially those in bloom, proved to be a task almost beyond the capabilities of the smart phones that most in the group were using (me included).
The glades stretched on for quite a distance, inviting further exploration. At the margins, white flowering trees were noticed, and moving closer they proved to be Amelanchier arborea (downy serviceberry, common serviceberry)—among the first we have seen open this spring. (I typically see the first blooms of these trees in the final days of March, at least around my home in east-central Missouri.) an even closer looked revealed tiny insects (also among the first insects I have seen active this spring) flying around and crawling about on the flowers. These proved to be parasitic hymenopterans—family ID is still pending, but I suspect they will prove to be a species in one of the many families of “microhymenopterans” that are egg parasitoids. I am not sure whether they were visiting the flowers as pollinators (which behavior I am not aware of) or in hopes of encountering other pollinators which could potentially serve as hosts—a subject with which I will need to follow up.
Near the back end of the glade, we encountered a few more Micranthes texana (Texas saxifrage), these having more typical white flowers in perfect peak bloom.
Also in that part of the glade we found a few scattered individuals of Selenia aurea (golden selenia). While not quite as conservative as M. texana (CC value = 6), it has a similar range in the U.S. and in Missouri is also restricted to a handful of counties in the southwestern part of the state. The plant is known to occur in large colonies (which I have seen at nearby Corry Branch Glade)—its brilliant yellow flowers forming a spectacular display.
To this point, the only insect I had seen besides the microhymenopterans was a skin beetle (family Trogidae), which I found when I kicked over some dried mammal scats. However, on the way back to the cars we finally encountered an insect large enough in size and striking enough in appearance to pique the interest of not just me but the group as a whole—a large caterpillar feeding on the foliage of Penstemon digitalis (smooth beard-tongue). It’s appearance—dark with longitudinal yellow stripes and blue spotting—immediately called to mind one of the tiger moths (formerly Arctiidae, now a subfamily in the Erebidae), specifically the genus Haploa (commonly called haploa moths). A little detective work on BugGuide comparing photos and recorded host plants narrowed the likely choice to H. confusa (confused haploa moth).
Day 2 – Lead Mines Conservation Area
The final day of the MONPS Field Trip featured a morning trip to Lead Mine Conservation Area in Dallas Co. Of particular interest to the group were several parcels within the area designated as Niangua River Hills Natural Area and featuring a diversity of habitats including dolomite glades, chert woodlands, and calcareous wet meadows (fens). Most in the group visited the northern parcel to see the dolomite glades; however, a few of us—primarily from St. Louis and well-familiar with dolomite glades—opted to visit the smaller southern unit of the natural area to see the fen and riparian woodland we needs to pass through to get there. It was a much warmer morning than yesterday, though still chilly starting out, so blooms were sparse as we hiked the woodland trail searching for any hint of color. At one point, someone noticed a shrub a bit off the trail with large, reddish pink flowers—the color seeming a bit unexpected for the situation. Bushwhacking toward it, we realized it was Chaenomeles speciosa (common flowering quince), a common, ornamental non-native plant that rarely—but obviously sometimes—escapes cultivation. While the group looked at the plant, I saw my first insect of the day—Paraulacizes irrorata (speckled sharpshooter), one of our largest and most recognizable leafhoppers, sitting head-down on the stem of a small sapling.
Among the first native blooms we saw was Ranunculus hispidus (hairy buttercup). Though similarly “large-flowered” as R. fascicularis (early buttercup), it differs by its sprawling growth habit, differently shaped-leaves, and preference for moist habitats. Buttercups are a favorite flower host for jewel beetles (family Buprestidae) in the genus Acmaeodera, and one species —A. tubulus—is among our earliest-emerging beetles in the spring, so I checked each buttercup flower that I saw hoping to see these little beetles signaling the beginning of insect activity for the season. Sadly, none were seen.
At last we reached the fen—a large open area on the toe-slopes of the adjacent hillside where water draining through the underlying strata emerged to the surface to maintain a continually wet environment. The fen here is special, as two species of Cyprepedium (lady’s slipper orchids) are know to occur in the fen (and in fact, all four of the state’s Cyprepedium spp. can be found with Lead Mine Conservation Area). At this early date, the orchids would not be anywhere close to blooming; however, the group looked for evidence of their presence, walking gingerly through the fen so as to avoid inadvertently stepping upon any emergent foliage. No putative clumps were found, but already in my mind I’m thinking a mid-May trip back to the fen might be warranted! Unlike the orchids, Castilleja coccinea (Indian paintbrush) was abundantly evident throughout the fen, with an occasional plant almost ready to burst forth their scarlet blooms. Senescent flower stems of composites, presumably Rudbeckia, were also seen throughout the glade, which, combined with the abundance of Castilleja, created the promise of a stunning early-summer display across the fen.
During our time in the fen, two species of butterflies were seen flitting about the herbaceous vegetation: tiny blue Celastrina ladon (spring azure), and one of the dustywing skippers in the genus Erynnis. The former were impossible to photograph due to their persistent flitting and skittish behavior, and the latter almost were as well. Only when I locked the focus on a preset 2x zoom and fired shots in rapid succession while moving the smartphone ever closer to the subject did I manage this one imperfect but passable photograph of the last one I tried. The genus Erynnis is diverse and notoriously difficult to identify, and my expertise with skippers and butterflies pales compared to my skills with beetles, so the ID will have to remain Erynnis sp. until a more authoritative opinion is offered. [Edit 4/6/22, 11:38 am: According to my lepidopterist friend Phillip Koenig, Erynnis horatius and E. juvenalis both fly in early spring, and they cannot be reliably separated from the dorsal side. Erynnis juvenalis has one or two dots on the ventral hind wing that E. horatius lacks and only flies in the early spring, while E. horatius can be seen through the summer. If only I could turn the picture over to see what it looks like on the ventral side!]
Returning through the riparian woodlands after visiting the fen, the day had warmed considerably, and numerous flowers not seen earlier were suddenly in full bloom. These included Erythronium mesochorium (prairie fawn lily midland fawnlily, prairie dogtooth violet)—the same species we saw yesterday so reluctantly in bloom at Schuette Prairie. Most were of the familiar form with unmottled leaves; however, we found one individual with notably mottled leaves that resembled those of E. albidum (white dogtooth violet) (1st photo). Nevertheless, the leaves were still narrower than that species and folded, and the plant was growing a mere 12” from another individual with no trace of mottling (2nd photo).
Claytonia virginca (spring beauty) was also blooming in abundance as we took the trail back. I am always amazed at the variability seen in the flowers of this species—from pure white to vividly pink-striped to pink at the tips. This especially vivid pink individual was about as pink as they come.
Sanguinaria canadensis (bloodroot) also was popping up regularly. We had seen isolated plants sitting the trailsides when we first part through—their flowers tightly folded in stubborn response to the chilly morning temperatures. By early afternoon, however, they were spread wide open as invitation to any of the flying insects that had surely also been awakened by the warmer temperatures of the afternoon. While most were seen as isolated individuals, a particularly idyllic clump captured our attention, almost begging “photograph me!”
With that, we rejoined the main group to recount the days experiences and cement new relationships before heading back towards our respective home areas.
Long Ridge Conservation Area
On the way back home, I decided to check out this conservation area in Franklin Co., which I’ve never visited before. The afternoon had gotten quite warm, so I reasoned that maybe today would be the day when insects start coming out in abundance. I was right! As soon as I pulled into the parking lot, I saw a Prunus mexicana (Mexican plum) in full bloom, and walking up to it I immediately saw an abundance of bees and small beetles all over the flowers. The latter turned out to be Orsodacne atra (a leaf beetle) and Ischnomera ruficollis (rednecked false blister beetles).
Inside the woods along the Blue Trail, there were the usual suspects in bloom—Claytonia virginica (spring beauty), Cardamine concatenata (toothwort), Antennaria parlinii (Parlin’s pussytoes) and Ranunculus hispidus (hairy buttercups).
Eventually I happened upon an Amelanchier arborea (downy serviceberry) in full bloom. There were more O. atra and I. ruficollis on the flowers (though not so many as on the Mexican plum), along with a Mecaphesa sp. crab spider that had caught and was feeding on a male Andrena carlini (Carlin’s mining bee)*.
On the back third of the trail, I found two fallen branches under a Quercus shumardii (Shumard’s oak) that had been pruned by longhorned beetles—presumably Anelaphus villosus. At the end of the trail I found a third such branch of the same species of oak. All three will be placed in an emergence box, and hopefully the culprits will emerge as adults.
©️ Ted C. MacRae 2022