WILDER SIDE OF OAKLAND COUNTY
As the month of May faded, frisky fawns frolicking in meadows drew attention away from emerging spring wildflowers. But by the middle of June, the fawns will retreat into the protective shelter of woodlands where they will continue to learn the ways of the wild under the watchful eyes of the does. The meadows, woodlands edge and lakeshores are now ablaze with some of summer’s finest and tallest wildflowers, and by the time the heat of July takes hold, they will be at peak beauty. A half dozen of our tallest and most beautiful wildflowers of summer are now competing for center stage, and the fawns go unnoticed.
MICHIGAN LILY (Lilium michiganense)
I’ll confess I have a favorite woodland’s edge flower of June that’s now “doin’ the bloomin’,” and that is our native Michigan Lily. They are unmistakable and in my biased opinion, one of the most beautiful native wildflowers of summer. They thrive in isolated pockets of good habitat across our county, often at the edge of moist woods, bathed in dappled sunlight. I photographed this stunning, pollen-rich specimen last June within the Shiawassee Basin Preserve in Springfield Township, but they may appear most anywhere if the undisturbed habitat conditions are just right. Of note, their fiery orange petal-like tepals with brownish spots curve back towards the base of the flower. Once you see one, the image remains unforgettable.
DAY LILY (Hemerocallis fulva)
Day lilies were transported to our shores by immigrants over two hundred years ago and are now very much a part of our landscape. Although their brilliant orange flowers resemble lilies, they are not true lilies. They are part of the genus Hemerocallis, a Greek term meaning “beautiful for one day.” As you may have guessed, each bloom lasts only one day, but is then rapidly followed by another bloom. They’ve been planted in gardens and have escaped to the wilds; they can be easily spotted along the rural roadsides of Oakland County, and even in formal gardens in the City of Bloomfield Hills. They reach full bloom about the same time black raspberries ripen, and that signals to me that it’s time to forage for the berries – and the abundant day lilies. Their tender tubers and closed flower buds can be prepared in many different ways and are tasty. My preferences are closed flowers fried as fritters and tender young tubers chopped in a salad or added to a soup. Rain or dew moistened petals are a delight to eat just as they are. Midwest Foraging by Lisa M. Rose has excellent information on day lilies and many other local wild edibles.
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Clusters of the bright orange, aptly named Butterfly Weed are truly an all-you-can-eat buffet for the entire life of the Monarch butterfly. The adult monarch sips nectar from the flowers and newly emerged caterpillars munch on the leaves. Butterfly Weed blooms from late June well into the summer and adds spectacular color to the landscape. They are standouts in wild fields and meadows and are easy to spot in the open areas and fields of our State Recreation Areas, Metroparks and Oakland County Parks. Here’s a photography tip: Butterfly Weeds are one of the best plants to visit to capture photographs of butterflies!
WILD BERGAMOT (Monarda fistulosa)
Wild Bergamot takes the grand prize as one of the most fragrant tall flowering plants of June. This rather common, field-loving plant is a member of the mint family. It grows wild in many rural landscapes and is also known as Bee Balm, as it attracts both hummingbirds and honey bees. Their long lasting flowers look a bit like purplish colored, ragged pompoms, making identification very easy. Bergamot thrives in a wide mixture of soil conditions and usually appears in sunny meadows. It is also cultivated for gardens and is a welcome addition to apiary landscapes. The leaves can be used to make tea, something I do rather regularly when camping near fields of bee balm. The dried flower heads retain their scent well into the winter, making this wildflower a flower of four season interest for anyone that hikes about the wilder side of our county; without a doubt, mid-June through July is the best time to enjoy the splendor of bergamot.
CHICKORY (Cichorium intybus)
Chicory is often described a scraggly-looking roadside weed, but that’s perhaps because few take the time to admire its bright blue, rather delicate blooms, with the exception of small insects. An observant person may notice the blossoms open as the sun comes up, but will close midday or later in the afternoon when the sun is strongest. The stem produces multiple blooms at once and is constantly producing new flowers. It’s one of my favorite flowers of summer, not just for its looks, but because its long tap root can be made into a passable coffee substitute. And better yet, although the young leaves were tastier in the spring, they can be cooked as a vegetable any time and served as a slightly bitter side dish.
NORTHERN BLUE FLAG IRIS (Iris versicolor)
This beautiful, wetland loving, native iris of Michigan, with showy violet-blue flowers, blooms in early summer. It’s most often seen in shallow water on the edges of marshes and along the vegetated edges of our wilder lakeshores. I photographed this one from my kayak as I paddled along the shoreline of Crooked Lake on a quiet early summer’s evening at Independence Oaks County Park. A bit of history as to the naming of the flower uncovered that the name “flag” is from the Middle English word “flagge,” meaning rush or reed. Versicolor means “having a variety of colors” and refers to the multiple colors on each flower of the Northern blue flag. The tinge of yellow is often overlooked.
In a few more weeks, new summer flowers will emerge on center stage and others will fade as the cycles of nature continue and the fawns slowly lose their spots. Perhaps pack a picnic and go for trail hike on the wilder side of Oakland County. It just might be what the doctor ordered to add to the pleasures of summer, and you may just spot a fawn in the dappled light of the woodlands.
Jonathan Schechter is the Nature Education Writer for Oakland County Government and blogs weekly about nature’s way, trails, and wildlife on the Wilder Side of Oakland County.