Saturday, May 18, 2013

Federally-Threatened Lakeside Daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

"I'll worry about it next year".  A phrase that enters my mind more often than I would prefer but one that is necessary to sometimes accept nonetheless.  I dislike few things more than getting my heart set on seeing or doing something and then not being able to follow through or see it to fruition.  If only there was 30 hours to the day; eight days to the week!  I bring up that phrase because for the past few years I have continually put off or not been able to fit in a mid-May trip up to the Marblehead peninsula on Lake Erie to see the federally threatened lakeside daisies (Tetraneuris herbacea) in spectacular full bloom.  Not this year!

Old limestone quarry full of the federally threatened lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

I arrived at the site bright and early under a clear and crisp sapphire sky.  As I got out of my car and glanced out across the old limestone quarry, I could see thousands upon thousands of the daisies all facing the sun as it climbed higher into the eastern sky.  It truly was a sight to behold seeing so many in bloom in one place; not to mention their overall global rarity.

Old limestone quarry full of the federally threatened lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

The first thing you notice as you walk out into the daisy paradise is just how hard and unforgiving the substrate is. These stunning wildflowers grow up out of the limestone rock pavement and eek out their living in the tiny grooves, cracks, and fissures where enough soil has accumulated to encourage growth.  Considering the lakeside daisies' natural habitat is limestone alvars and dry, rocky prairies it comes as no surprise it has come to do so well in these old and abandoned limestone quarries.

 Lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

As I slowly looked around and admired all the vibrant yellow flowerheads of the lakeside daisies, I couldn't help but have a bad taste in my mouth about their current situation in our state.  Beggars certainly cannot be choosers and I am indebted and grateful the Lakeside Daisy state nature preserve exists to help carry this species on into the future but it's a shame they are growing in a parking lot-like park and not their indigenous glacially grooved alvars. Their original habitat in Ohio was long destroyed by mining and quarrying to the point where no native and virgin pavement is left with these flowers.  All you have is the nature preserve with rescued and seeded plants as well as the introduction/establishment efforts on Kelly's Island.

Lakeside daisy alvars of the Bruce peninsula
Lakeside daisies on the Bruce peninsula

Perhaps it's a simple case of your blogger spoiling himself with the lakeside daisies the first time around.  My first and only experience with these rarities prior was on the pristine boulder-strewn shorelines and carved alvars of the Bruce peninsula in Ontario, Canada.  While their numbers were certainly far fewer and they were nearly done blooming, I still loved seeing them growing in the grooves and cracks of the limestone pavement with so many other native associate species; not to mention the incredible view across the aqua waters of the Georgian Bay too! There was just something superficial feeling about the Marblehead preserve that left me wanting more but that's not to say I did not thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the daisies one bit.

 Lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

So what makes these golden wonders so scarce?  Their habitat niche of glacially-carved limestone alvars are very rare world-wide and only occur in the Great Lakes basin and parts of Scandinavia.  That's it.  So even before you take another step that very limited habitat has already stacked the odds heavily against any plant species trying to survive.  It's been said that eons ago one of the western Tetraneuris species moved east, got isolated, and eventually evolved into the specific species we have today.  That "new" plant over the millennia persisted and survived in a handful of places: Marblehead peninsula in Ohio; Bruce peninsula and Manitoulin Island in Ontario; and a couple counties in Illinois (it's now extirpated from the state).  An additional population was discovered back in the 90's in Michigan but some botanists don't think it has enough evidence to claim being truly native and not introduced.

Lakeside daisy population range map

I certainly won't win any awards for artistic ability or creativity but this quickly put together map does the job to better show just how few places this plant naturally occurs.  The green dots represent extant indigenous populations of the lakeside daisy (I include Marblehead because it was never extirpated at any point); red points indicate the two Illinois county records that have since been extirpated from the state.  There are several re-introduction efforts going on though!  The yellow point is the still in question upper peninsula of Michigan record where it was found along a country road in the mid 90's.  It was discovered growing in a natural habitat (marly soil over limestone at the edge of a Thuja woods) with typical native associates of its environment.  I'm curious if genetic work is being done on it to see if it is truly original to this site/area or seed from one of the other extant populations in Ohio/Ontario.

Field full of lakeside daisies

The old limestone quarry isn't just home to a sea of lakeside daisies but also a handful of rare and exciting sedges as well.  Most readers can probably just skim over this part but for those sedge-heads like me out there, one can see Carex aurea, C. garberi, C. crawei, C. eburnea, and C. viridula to name a handful out on the thin-soiled pavement.

 Lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

In a perfect world I would still be able to stand out on the wind-swept, wave-sprayed alvar shorelines of Lake Erie to see this stupendous wildflower in Ohio.  But having them occur in a protected site with thousands of plants thriving isn't too bad a back up plan.  They certainly are one of our state flora's most gorgeous members and put on a show I won't soon forget.  Now to just get back up to the Bruce at the right time and cleanse my lakeside daisy palate with some true alvar daisies!

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