Beech Drops

Hunting is not permitted on Crossroads Preserves.
All trails are open.

In the dark forest on the Zenith Street end of the Crossroads’ Ida Bay Preserve, flowers are blooming. Of course, when the flowers called beech drops bloom, most people overlook them. These wildflowers tend to blend in with fallen leaves and the people who do notice them just assume they are pinkish brown twigs on the forest floor.

Beech drops, though aesthetically unremarkable, are amazing plants which are parasites. They have tiny, scale-like leaves, but they do not contain chlorophyll and consequently, must depend on the sugars and nutrients provided by the roots of a beech tree.

The blossoms of the plant are inconspicuous –white with brownish purple stripes. The flowers at the top of the flower stalk open, but the lower flowers never bloom. Ants apparently pollinate the upper blossoms which is odd, for these flowers seem to be sterile. The plants reproduce through self-pollination…their seeds developing in the unopened lower flowers. During the winter rains, the seeds of these annual parasites will be planted and will germinate next spring.

In a beach/hemlock forest, shade is so deep that even in early spring, most wildflowers simply cannot grow. Beech drops can. So under almost every beech tree in the region throughout the fall, beech drops bloom.

Before European settlement when the Door Peninsula was predominantly forest, there were probably many more beech drops, but far fewer pollinating insects.

Now we depend on pollinators, and in a very real way, they depend on us. We need to grow flower species that bloom in the fall in order to provide the food which will ensure the winter survival of these beneficial insects. Shade-tolerant forest flowers will not suffice.

Thursday night, November 16, at 7:00, Wild Ones of the Door Peninsula will bring consulting ecologist Neil Diboll to Crossroads to present the lecture: “Prairie and Savanna Plants for Pollinator Gardens.” Because most gardens and yards receive fall sunshine, gardeners can plant a multitude of American native flowers that attract and sustain the amazing diversity of pollinators.

During his frequent interviews on Wisconsin Public Radio, Diboll is introduced as President of Prairie Nursery. He also has written articles for numerous publications and is an internationally known lecturer, speaking at places such as Kew Gardens in London, the U.S. National Arboretum, New York Botanic Garden, Bronx, NY, the Arnold Arboretum at Harvard , the Chicago Botanic Garden, Morton Arboretum, and many more.

The Wild Ones event will be free and open to the public thanks to lecture sponsors Door Landscape and Nursery, CTI Hospitality, Inc. and Jason Feldman Landscapes.

On Saturday, November18, at 10:00, a nature hike “In Search of Beech Drops” will be offered at the Ida Bay Preserve. In the event of light snow, we still will find these unusual flowers. They stick up through a light dusting. Deep snow will bury them, but the Ida Bay Preserve is spectacular in the snow of early winter. Meet at the Zenith Street Entrance (Zenith Street is between Canal and Cove roads.)

Saturday Evening at 7:00, the Door Peninsula Astronomical Society will hold a public viewing night at the Leif Everson Observatory and StarGarden, located at 2200 Utah Street. In addition to familiar fall constellations, the viewing targets with be the Pleiades, M 34, and it wouldn’t be surprising if a few meteors from the Leonid Shower (which peaks at Friday night/ pre-dawn Saturday) will streak across the sky. Viewing nights are free and open to all ages.

Crossroads is a donor-supported learning preserve made up of The Cove, Big Creek, and Ida Bay preserves. The Collins Learning Center, located at 2041 Michigan, is open 2:00-4:30 daily and during scheduled eventer. The preserves and restrooms are open, free of charge, 24/7.

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