The Woods are on Fire; with the Blaze-Orange Color of Sassafras

16 Oct

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Sassafras (Sassafras albidum) has set our woodland edges on fire with leaves that transformed from a dull green to a brilliant flame-orange color. The history and lore of this beautiful native tree of Oakland County is as rich and eye-catching as the autumn color of its uniquely shaped leaves. Three differently shaped leaves appear on the branches of this aromatic tree. As Michigan residents, we all recognize the mitten shape, the simple-looking leaf is known botanically as ‘entire’ and then there is the unmistakable three-lobed leaf.

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Fantastic Forest Fall Fungi

8 Oct

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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The River Loop Trail of Independence Oaks County Park is a perfect gateway to autumn color.

An eye-catching world of fungal wonders has emerged in the woodlands and forests of Oakland County and much of the rest of our Pure Michigan State. No matter where you hike in the days of October, if there are trees and the forest floor is moist, mushrooms may be found. Some of these colorful mushrooms, the fantastic fungi of the golden days of October, make one wonder if perhaps they have not entered a secret world of elves and fairies.

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Outwitting Fall Foliage Poison Ivy

1 Oct

WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

As the days shorten and the nights cool, the woodlands of Oakland County are transforming into kaleidoscopes of color. Golden hues of sugar maple, the deep crimsons of sassafras and the scarlet-red shades of red maple are the dominant colors on nature’s autumn palette. However, there is one troublesome plant that hides in the showy mix, a plant dressed in alluring shades of red: Poison Ivy.

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Autumnal Equinox: Confirmed by Red Squirrels

25 Sep

THE WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

Tamarack trees in the swamps of Oakland County are tinged in smoky gold. Straggler monarchs are winging south as days shorten and winds roughen. Crisp evening air is rich with the rhythmic song of crickets. Ruby-throated hummingbirds are in near frenzied activity at feeders. Geese are beginning to gather on palatial lakeside lawns and golf course greens in preparation for migration as flocks of robins and more than a few eastern bluebirds strip berries from dogwood thickets. All these signs of nature’s seasonal change signal the dawn of the autumnal equinox. But it is the accelerated nut-gathering activity of boisterous red squirrels (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus) that finalize the fact that the season of warmth is drawing to a close.

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Oakland County’s Tart and Tasty Invasive Species

18 Sep

THE WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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Autumnberry is an invasive exotic species gone feral that thrives on the wilder side of Oakland County. It is one of the best kept wild food secrets of our county and perhaps the most abundant wild fruit across a large slice of North America. Most know this land-conquering plant, that outcompetes many native species of flora, as Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata). However, the United States Department of Agriculture has renamed the plant as Autumnberry to draw attention to its fruit. Continue reading

A Head Start Program for Turtles

11 Sep

THE WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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The Detroit Zoo (located in Royal Oak) is 90 miles south of the Shiawassee National Wildlife Refuge in Saginaw County.  But for 27 young Blanding’s turtles that slid from warm human hands into the cool duckweed-coated backwaters of the Shiawassee at the end of August, that journey to freedom took two years. These turtles were saved from near certain consumption by raccoons when they were still yummy munchies in their eggs. Multiple agencies worked on the project, a reminder to all who appreciate the wilder side of nature that all things are connected.

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Poison Sumac: Our Wetland Beauty with a Dark Secret

3 Sep

THE WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY

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Erika Cole Pratt of Ann Arbor Parks admires a beautiful poison sumac tree in a Rose Township wetland.

Swamp walkers and wetland trail hikers need to keep a sharp lookout for one of the most beautiful plants of our wetlands: Toxicodendron vernix, better known as poison sumac. This scraggly, shrub-like small tree thrives in the swamps, bogs, marshes and other wetlands of Oakland County. It is one of the first plants to dress in spectacular autumn colors that can best be described as flaming orange with a dark red hue. Poison sumac, as alluring and beautiful as it may be, presents a far more prevalent hazard to hikers than an encounter with Michigan’s only venomous snake, the massasauga rattlesnake. In these early days of September, poison sumac stands out drastically among the trailside – let the color and leaf pattern be a warning of its clear and present danger.

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