Monitoring Native Plants and Insect Species in May 2010

May 2010

Monitoring Native Plant and Insect Species

Woodchip path through the forest
Woodchip path through the forest

I will post the Monitoring Native Plant and Insect Species by month.  Each day I do research, take photos and write.  It is a complex project to post daily so I will write in .docs and transfer to Blog on a regular basis.  As you will see, I need to go through these observations and add photos which is another project.  One step at a time. 

May 1 –There was a high wind.  I went for a walk in the woods even though I knew better than to go out by myself with a high wind blowing.  My heart was happy to be out there alone and listening to wind and bird song.  I walked the worn wood chip path and started to notice the minute world around me. 

First thing I saw were two spring azule (Celastrina argiolus) butterflies fluttering about. These butterflies are tiny and about 1 ½ – 1/3/4 inch. When landed, their underside wings are a camouflage grey with dots.  Resting the butterfly can look like a rock or twig. They are a beautiful delicate blue almost violet color when flying.

Spring azure butterfly camouflage to look like a rock
Spring azure butterfly camouflage to look like a rock
Balsam forest
Balsam forest

   Just past the Cedar grove to the left, on my way to the DNR and Happy Tonics Monarch Butterfly Habitat, and after the wild elderberry patch and the balsam fir grove, I looked to the right and saw some dead birch trees.

Young buckthorn replacing birch grove
Young buckthorn replacing birch grove

 There amidst the bramble of common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica) shoots and trees, I noticed the invasive species was taking over the last remnants of a native birch tree forest.  It saddens the heart to see invasive species replacing native woodlands.

Birch polypore mushroom
Birch polypore mushroom

All of a sudden my eyes took in a large birch conk and many smaller ones. These are the Polypore mushrooms: The ancient ones.  The Polymore is shelf or hoof-shaped.  Looking underneath, I saw it had brown pores not gills.  This is a very tough mushroom and can survive overwintering in bitter cold winters.  The texture is wood like on the outside.  I picked a young one from the tree and took it home.  It has a soft felt like texture on the underside.  To honor the thrilling sight of the large shelved mushroom and for taking a smaller specimen, I put down tobacco in thanksgiving, an Ojibwe custom. 

The Ojibwe did not use mushrooms as wild edibles or medicine as far as I know.  Talented Ojibwe artists create art on polypore mushrooms.  In 2003, a young ethnobotany student at Lac Courte Orellies Ojibwe Community College gave me a beautiful etched art mushroom of ducks made from this species.

Prehistoric man teaches us that ancient shamans and people knew about mushrooms.  Otzi, the 5,300-year-old Ice Man, discovered in 1991 on the borders of Austria and Italy, had a conk-like mushroom on him.  The mushroom species was identified as Piptoporus betulinus or birch polypore. Otzi may have been carrying birch polypore as a preventive medicinal cure.  Perhaps the polypore was used to help retard or rid himself of metazoans and mycobacteria from his body. (Stamets, 2002).

According to Stamets, medicinal properties of birch polypore include that it stops bleeding, prevents bacterial infection, is an antimicrobial agent against intestinal parasites and has anti inflamatory effects. The fungus shows antiviral properties that may be of help in times of HIV outbreaks and other biodefense threats. Betulinic acid of this fungus may act on malignant melanoma and other tumor development (Stamets, 2005).  Preparation: Cook by boiling when young.  Thinly slice the polypore, boil and add to soups.  The mushroom only has a shelf life of 2 to 4 days before souring when stored at room temperature and should be used right away.

milkweed in snow in April
milkweed in snow in April

  May 7 –

The weather is turning colder.  I covered as many plants at Lakeland Manor as I could with seed blackest and sheets.  It snowed and lightly hailed throughout the day and the snow continued overnight.  At the habitat I saw a group of milkweed growing together and one solo plant.  I placed a bucket over the milkweed group in the hopes that at least out of ½ acre I could save at least one plant. 

May 8 – It continued to be windy and cold.  The beautiful Royalty crabapple tree in the yard was completely bent over with the weight of the snow.  The plants that are covered looked to be still alive.

May 9 – 5:30 a.m. I woke up to look out the living room window to see the bleeding heart plants completely bent over.  I hope they will spring back to life after the cold spell of 28 degrees Fahrenheit this morning.


Lyndy with Yellow River Nursery Milkweed
Lyndy with Yellow River Nursery Milkweed

  May 22

– Six volunteers transplanted 90 butterfly weed from Yellow River Nursery, Spooner, Wisconsin, USA, to the North Monarch Butterfly Habitat in Shell Lake, Wisconsin, USA.  

May 25 – Heat records broke in many cities of Northwest Wisconsin.  Shell Lake was extremely hot and humid with temperature at 93 degrees according to my thermometer. Tabitha Brown, LCOOCC Environmental Education Intern, watered the milkweed that we transplated on Saturday. 

 May 26 – Wisconsin Public Radio reported that we are in the worse drought in 25 years. Inland lakes are disappearing.  In the 1930s the drought lasted up to six years.  Northwest Wisconsin is in its seventh year.  According to the report droughts cycle every 3-4 years.  Water levels have dropped from 4 – 18”.

My interest in going out to the Happy Tonics and the DNR Wild Monarch Butterfly Habitat was to pick fiddlehead ferns.  Last fall the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) conservation personnel cut down forbs including bracken fern (Pteridium aquilinum) that were beginning to take over the site.    Fronds can be eaten when young and still tight.

Fiddlehead fern
Fiddlehead fern

  The bracken is easy to identify when fronds start to unfurl because they resemble eagle claws.  An Ojibwe botanist told me that it is safe to eat them as long as large quantities are not consumed because of carcinogenic properties.  The Ojibwe people have gathered fiddlehead ferns throughout history. The fiddleheads were ready to pick all along the trail and in nearby woods.  Again I put down tobacco.  The spirits of the fiddlehead will bless the act of taking them and more fiddleheads will be born again next year if I honored the gift I was being given.  The act itself reminds me to honor all life.  Without nature we cannot live.     

 The ferns have a brownish fuzzy covering which is their winter blanket.  Preparation: Soak the ferns in cold water to remove the tiny ants that love them and the fuzz.  Boil the ferns for a few minutes to remove any debris.  The cooked ferns can be frozen.  I enjoy sautéed fiddleheads with a little butter and garlic.  Add parboiled ferns to fresh salads.  Try making a creamy asparagus tasting soup as a tonic in the first few weeks of May when the fiddleheads first emerge.  

Popple (Quaking aspen) starting to take over habitat
Popple (Quaking aspen) starting to take over habitat

 When approaching the butterfly habitat, I noticed that the DNR workers also cut back popple trees that were also starting to take over.  The species is the quaking aspen (Polulus tremuloides) that I love but too much of a good thing in field succession can take over native habitat.

 I did not hear any spring peepers while I was out at this habitat which is not that far from the lake. There is an eagle’s nest in the distance to the left down the trail a bit.  I want to monitor activity here more often.


Chapter 1: 

Stamets, P. (2002). MycoMedicinals. Olympia, WA: MycoMedia Productions. (p. 11).      

Stamets, P. (2005) Mycelium Running. Berkley, CA: Ten Speed Press. (pp. 276-277).



Put down tobacco:  This is an Ojibwe cultural and spiritual practice of honoring life beings before you take their lives.  When I take something from nature or see something beautiful, I take out a pinch of tobacco from a small bag designed for this purpose and give thanks to the Creator.  It is good to remember all life forms be it bee, tree, mushroom or edible fern bless humans with food, shelter, medicine and comfort.  

This work is produced by Mary Ellen Ryall and protected by copyright. You can read  this project but do not have permission to publish without permission from copyright holder.  Thank you for your professional courtesy. This is a work in progress.



  1. Ron Indian-Mandamin says:

    Just read your info on mushroom use. We Ojibwewug used and continue to use mushrooms in our food and use different species for medicinal purposes. Just to let you know……


    1. Miigwetch Ron, Thank you for letting me know that you do use mushrooms in food and different species for medicinal purposes. A few years ago, I was interesting in studying mushrooms at Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwa Community College in Hayward, WI. I was studying Ethnobotany, tribal culture and natural resources at the time and doing field work. I was told that the Ojibwa did not use mushrooms. Perhaps we were not taught about mushrooms because mushrooms can be dangerous and perhaps the college didn’t want to assume this responsibility. I am only guessing. Still I thought it was strange because even pre-historical man used mushrooms.

      I am grateful that I know how to gather one culinary mushroom. An elder Polish woman taught me. It is a simple one – Puffball. I know that Turkey-tail is good for treating cancer tumors and am looking for it. So far I have only come across false Turkey-tail. It is a very common mushroom and I want to learn from the mushroom itself.

      Thank you again for enlightening me about Ojibwewug using mushrooms both as food and medicinal purposes. It means a lot to me. Perhaps it is sacred and therefore not taught for this reason. Memengwaa Ikway (Butterfly Woman)


  2. jim says:

    cute girl


  3. Fantastic items from you, man. I’ve keep in mind your stuff previous to and you’re just too excellent.
    I really like what you’ve obtained right here, certainly like what you’re stating and the way in which in which you assert it.
    You make it enjoyable and you continue to take care of
    to keep it wise. I cant wait to read far more from you. This is really a wonderful website.


    1. Hi Jimmy, Thank you for your heart felt response to my article, “Monitoring native palnts and insect species.” I absolutely live in nature. I am creating another habitat as a Wild Butterfly Habitat and Pollinator Corridor. It is on private family land. My sister gave me land use of 1 acre in a meadow within the woods. I do my field research and photography there. You mgiht be interested that I have authored two children’s books: “My Name is Butterfly” and “The Monarch Butterfly Coloring Book.” Both are available on Amazon. Look forward to continued writing and publishing from Fitchburg, MA, and connecting with you.

      Happy holidays,
      Mary Ellen Ryall


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