Millianigan’s Natural History

Pre- European

Cass County physiographic is a direct consequence of continental glacial advances and retreats during time period of the Pleistocene (1.6 million to 10,000 years ago).* our property sits on glacial outwash with Christiana Creek serving as an ancient drainage system. The hilly area northeast of Juno Lake is Moraines caused by accumulation of drift at edge of receding glaciers

First of the vegetation to follow the retreat of the ice where the tundra grasses followed by the spruce-fir forest. As the weather warmed deciduous trees and plants migrated from there southern sanctuaries to colonize the warming land. Humans also made their appearance about this time, which suspiciously coincided with the extinction of the mega fauna. The same land bridge that brought the humans also gave us such familiar animals such as deer, elk, moose, buffalo and wolves.

The warming climate eventually gave us the pre-settlement landscape that in Cass County alone featured 12 different vegetation communities. The west side of Christiana Lake is noted as “Black Oak Barrens” bleeding into an oak savannah on the west, an oak-hickory forest to the south and a beech-sugar maple to the east. A large prairie occupied the area that would become Edwardsburg, it stretched all the way to Indiana border. If any of you are interested, MSU has an interesting website called “Michigan Natural features Inventory” It has information on many of the natural plant communities that dominated Michigan for 10,000 years. It has maps such as “vegetation circa 1800, land change 1800 to 1978,” that give you idea of great diversity that existed and what we have lost.

Surveyors where responsible for much of the knowledge we have today, the surveyor blazed two trees at each section corner and at midpoint of each boundary line , stating in his field notes the kind, size and location with reference to the stake. Using the information, the two most extensive plant associations where oak – hickory (includes oak barrens) and beech-maple; occupying 59% and 28%. Respectively, of the total land area. Lake and wetlands accounted for 9% of the area, prairies the remaining 4% of the county.

Present Day

Fortunately for us we still have a few pre-settlement trees left; we still see the same wetlands and lakes that the Indians viewed. Within our property we have 3 distinctive plant communities, wetlands (island), Oak-Hickory (west side of homes) and Oak-Barrens savannah (east side of homes)

The west side of our homes judging by pictures from the turn of the century and relic trees shows characteristics’ of an “Oak-Hickory Forest”. In Michigan, oak-hickory forests were typically relegated to locations adjacent to fire breaks (lake), occurring on hills above river floodplains, along peninsulas in lakes, and juxtaposed next to wetlands. A common ecological feature is that they appreciate a somewhat excessively drained soil. The dominant trees are white oaks, red oaks, black oaks, hickories all still present. Some of these trees date back prior to European settlement; they are our link with the past.

At the East side of our homes the land originally was a Black Oak Barren. Oak Barrens is a fire-dependent, savanna type dominated by oaks, having between 6 to 60 percent canopy with or without a shrub layer. Oak barrens are found on doughty soil and occur on slightly undulating sandy glacial outwash. Oak barrens are now extremely rare in Michigan… large spaced trees surrounded by open prairie. An example would be behind the Francis home, a lone black oak surrounded by an open field.

The island is in itself not very significant now although on the edges there are some relic mesic prairie plants and wetland species. The prairie plants on the adjacent islands to the south are still inadvertently pristine due to their isolation and frequent burning. Prairies need to be burned to eliminate trees and kill off invasive plants. In Michigan there is only 1000 virgin acres left.

Native Vegetation circa 2015

For our interest and posterity we have compiled a list of native tree and plant species (by self-taught, amateur botanists) still surviving on our property as of 2015, some of these species have been re-introduced. For obvious reasons we do not list non-native plants. If we forgot or misidentified something please let me know. If you think we are wrong in some of our assumptions, please keep it to yourself. Many of these species especially the forbs are located our ½ acre outlot. We are looking only at snap shot of the present; many already are on the State of Michigan Special Plants List, which covers endangered, threatened or of special concern. It would be interesting to see how the list changes 25 years from now.

Native (indigenous) Trees, shrubs and plant list 2015

Trees – white oak, red oak, black oak, American beech, flowering dogwood, hop-hornbeam, redbud, black gum, black cherry, sassafras, red maple, silver maple, sugar maple, pignut hickory, bitternut hickory, shagbark hickory , red mulberry, black willow and eastern cottonwood. Shrubs – American hazelnut, grey dogwood, wild plum, red osier dogwood, Juneberry, witch-hazel, arrow-wood viburnum buttonbush, northern bush honeysuckle, New Jersey Tea, choke cherry, sand cherry, fragrant sumac, shinning sumac, staghorn sumac, swamp rose, elderberry, meadowsweet . Savanna Plants (prairie) –purple coneflower, prairie milkweed, common milkweed, butterfly milkweed, sweet fern, Queen of the prairie, new England Astor, heath Astor, swamp aster, prairie coreopsis, white snakeroot ragweed, early sunflower, wild bergamot, foxglove beardtongue, yellow coneflower, black eyed Susan, brown eyed Susan, showy black eyed Susan, riddles goldenrod, showy goldenrod, Canada goldenrod, Ohio spiderwort, blue Vivian, ironweed, NY ironweed, big bluestem, side oats gamma, wool grass and purple lone grass. Woodland plants– wood poppies, wild geranium, bluebells, pussy tows, spring beauties, jack in the pulpits, round lobed hepatica, confederate violet, false rue anomie, pokeweed, oak sedge, Pennsylvania sedge, rue anemone, Solomon’s seal, false Solomon’s seals, wild ginger, lady fern, ostrich fern, grape fern, sensitive fern, may apple, purple meadow rue, wild garlic, wild strawberry, wild blue violet, zigzag goldenrod, woodland brome, bottlebrush grass, curly wood sedge, bracken fern. Wetland plants – bottle gentian, sweet flag, dogbane, swamp milkweed, pickerel weed, water lotus, water lily, false astor, turtlehead, joe pye weed, boneset, rose mallow, blue flag iris, great blue labella, Davis sedge, common lake sedge, brown fox sedge sneezeweed. Vines – bittersweet, riverbank grape, Virginia creeper, poison ivy.

Native plants introduced– river birch, smooth hydrangea ,catalpa, oak leaf hydrangea, bottlebrush buck-eye, fothergill, honey locust, blueberry, allspice bush, pagoda dogwood, scarlet oak, American chestnut, red hickory.

Invasive Plant Species (incomplete) White mulberry, black locust, Russian olive, Asian honeysuckle, garlic mustard, dame’s rocket, leafy spurge, giant hogweed, purple loostrife, yellow iris, lesser celandine, wild parsnip, buckthorn

Local Nature

If anybody is interested at seeing first hand some of the interesting local natural areas, I would recommend the following places.

Dowagiac Woods – Sink road just east of Frost Road, Dowagiac, MI. (380 acres) if you want to see what an original old growth Michigan forest looked like this it.

Spirit Springs Nature Conservatory – Dutch settlement Road, east of M-40 Three Rivers MI (123 acres) another untouched forest with superb white pines, white birch, yellow birch, flowering dogwoods, Tulip poplars’, Paw-paw trees etc…

Love Creek County Park – 9292 Huckleberry Road, Berrien Center MI (100 acres) has over 5 miles of trails some hilly, nature center. If you want to see what a Beech- Maple forest look like this is it.

Bendix Woods Nature Preserve – SR 2 & Timothy Road, New Carlisle IN (127 acres) has old growth woods dominated by beech and sugar maple with red elm, basswood and black maple. Great trail at 2nd highest point in St. Joe County.

Dr T.K. Lawless Park – 15122 Monkey Run Street, Vandalia Mi (822 acres) This Park is big and close, its woods are mostly 2nd growth but good long trails.

Fred Russ Forest, 20379 Marcellus Highway, Decatur Mi – MSU 580 acre research forest, had tallest tulip tree in Michigan,


Dickmann, Donald (2009) Michigan Forest Communities

Harrison, Keith (1979) Cass County Michigan, a Natural History

MSU, (2015) Michigan Special plants

Pickerell, Martha (1994) Notes on Research

MSU, Michigan Natural Features Inventory

Michigan, DNR Invasive Species List, Forest Communities

Wikipedia – Google