Wildflower Treasures at Thompson’s Harbor State Park

Yellow Lady's Slipper - photo: C.M. Rose

Yellow Lady’s Slipper – photo: C.M. Rose

by Carol Moncrieff Rose, Contributing Editor

One of the great joys of spring is the beginning of wildflower season in Michigan.  The array of color, texture and shape they provide are like an ever-changing string of jewels, worn by our state’s diverse landscape but for a brief time.  So, in the interest of adding some colorful baubles to my photographic jewelry case, I recently did a little treasure-hunting at the wildflower emporium that is Thompson’s Harbor State Park.

Located in Presque Isle County, Thompson’s Harbor State Park boasts a remarkable variety of habitats which include a bog, a fen, dunes, limestone cobble beaches, hardwood forests, cedar lowlands, rushing waters, wetlands and pretty much everything except mountains.  The park has a fine series of marked pathways with informational kiosks, as well as countless foot trails throughout the park for those interested in “taking the road less traveled.”

I was joined in my quest by two members of Friends of Thompson’s Harbor State Park who just celebrated the 25th anniversary of the establishment of this 5,110 acre state park on Lake Huron.  Equipped with a field guide and my camera, I hoped to find the Dwarf Lake Iris still in bloom and maybe some Yellow Lady’s Slippers.  I did not leave disappointed.  Right out of the chutes we found a substantial patch of Dwarf Lake Iris, awash in vivid purple blossoms; there are areas in the park that seem to be carpeted with of our diminutive state flower.  Soon thereafter, Star-Flowered Solomon’s Seal was spotted, followed by Fringed Polygala, a funny-looking little orchid-like flower that resembles a tiny airplane with fringe for its propeller.  We saw many Yellow Lady’s Slipper plants on the threshold of blooming, some in full bud, but seemed to be a few days early…until we found one, dripping with dew like diamonds in the morning sun.

We stopped at the fen for a look-see and found Pitcher Plant getting ready to bloom.  This species is one of a pair of carnivorous plants that habituate this habitat; the other is the Sundew.  Both of these fascinating plants rely on insects rather than the soil for their nutrients.  In each case, their leaves are the show, not the flowers. The Pitcher Plant’s hollow pitcher-like leaves are designed with slippery down-facing hairs, and the Sundew’s with a sticky “dew” where insects  come to visit and stick around for dinner!   Indian’s Paintbrush, Bird’s Eye Primrose and Butterwort are but a handful of other wildflower species found in the fen.

Red Windflower - photo: C.M. Rose

Red Windflower – photo: C.M. Rose

One of the things you’ll find when looking for wildflowers in places like Thompson’s Harbor State Park is that you tune into more than just the treasures popping up from the forest floor.  You notice the insects on the flowers, the lichen on the rocks and trees, the smell of the soil, the toad nestled into the depression in the warm gravel on the pathway, and the avian symphony underway all around you.  One of my guides at the park is an accomplished birder, able to identify bird species by their music.  During the few hours we wandered the park “Birdman” Bill identified the songs of Red-eyed Vireo, Wilson’s Warbler, Nashville Warbler, White-throated Sparrow, Hermit Thrush, Ovenbird, Common Snipe, Eastern Wood Pewee, Pied-billed Grebe, Eastern Bluebird and Alder Flycatcher, among many others.  I was even able to put my old Bushnell binoculars to good use scoping out the Northern Harrier and Broad-winged Hawk Bill identified sailing through the air above the bog, a bluebird in the fen and a pair of Common Terns on a rock along the 7.5 miles of park’s undeveloped Lake Huron shoreline.

We finished our photographic treasure hunt with a hike on the beach.  There, Bill led us to a beautiful garnet-colored wildflower quivering in the breeze.  At first identified as a Pasqueflower, a field guide later disclosed that it was another member of the Anemone family, the Red Windflower (Anemone multifida).

In another few weeks, the blooms we found on our first visit will be supplanted by a new string of stunning, ephemeral jewels that will be there, shining and beautiful whether we’re there to see them or not…so why miss the show?

About Northern Michigan Conservation Network

The mission of the Northern Michigan Conservation Network is to "connect conservation-minded hunters, anglers, and outdoor enthusiasts to those issues affecting Michigan's forests, waters, and wildlife."

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