Thursday, October 22, 2015

Top Ten Life Plants of 2015

It's hard to believe yet another year has come and gone. Spring and summer flew by in a blur your narrator can hardly comprehend, with autumn currently in its own hurry as well. Despite its rush, the 2015 field season was one to remember. There's never enough time to see and do everything on your list during a calendar year but then that's what makes each and every new experience you do have all the more memorable. For a botanist, or at least this botanist, one of the most rewarding tasks at the conclusion of the growing season is updating the life list. As time goes on and I become more and more acquainted with my local and regional flora, the frequencies of making new floral friends decreases. This makes each additional life species marked off the list feel just a bit more gratifying than the last. All the more reason to travel further outside one's botanical comfort zone, I say.

With our first frosts already in the past, I'd like to reminisce on my personal top ten favorite "lifers" from 2015's botanical forays. Just about all of them came outside Ohio's borders this year from places like Ontario, Wyoming or West Virginia. All ten plants were species I'd never had the pleasure of seeing in the flesh before; many only dreamily through a computer monitor or from the pages of my extensive botanical library. Some I specifically set out to see, others I came across by complete chance. Each one aroused emotions of excitement and disbelief, often erasing years of anxious desire. Many a tear of joy was shed while looking upon these featured wildflowers, which only served to reaffirm my passion and ambition for seeking out these often-times rare and magnificent wonders.

All that being said, let's begin the countdown of my favorite life plants from an unforgettable spring, summer and fall of botanizing throughout North America...

Rocky Mountain Fringed Gentian (Gentianopsis thermalis). Wyoming, Early August

Starting off the countdown at number ten is the Rocky Mountain fringed gentian (Gentianopsis thermalis). Its electric blue petals graced many wet alpine meadows, fen-like stream sides and groundwater seeps during my time out in the Wind River Range of western Wyoming this past August. I've seen two of its closely related and equally stunning brethren (G. crinita and G. virgata, respectively) back in Ohio, but the surrounding scenery for these delicate beauties put them on another level of spectacular.

Northern Comandra (Geocaulon lividum). Bruce Pen., Ontario, June.
Northern Comandra (Geocaulon lividum). Bruce Pen., Ontario, June.

The criteria for how a plant species ends up making this most esteemed of lists goes much deeper than physical beauty. If that was the lone requirement, I hesitate to think lifer number nine would have even sniffed the final cut. What northern comandra (Geocaulon lividum) may lack in showiness, it more than makes up for in rarity and uniqueness. It's only known to occur sparingly in less than a dozen states; all bordering Canada, where it's much more common. It grows in cold coniferous forests on stabilized dunes and on rare occasions in bogs/fens in the Great Lakes region. It's much more conspicuous in fruit when it trades its small green axillary flowers for a striking orange-red drupe. When I came across this while up on Ontario's Bruce peninsula back in June, I was ecstatic to finally makes its acquaintance. I instantly recognized its unusual appearance and giddily wrote its name down on the day's plant list. Even better was the lush carpet of moss and reindeer lichen it emerged from, often times side-by-side with ram's head lady's slippers (Cypripedium arietinum).

Linear-leaved Gentian (Gentiana linearis). Dolly Sods Wilderness, WV, October.

The linear-leaved gentian (Gentiana linearis) comes in at number eight on the countdown of 2015's best life plants. It was just a couple weekends ago during an autumn backpacking trip to West Virginia's Dolly Sods Wilderness that I finally got to see this procrastinator of a wildflower. The Sods plateau's boggy meadows and muskegs contained hundreds upon hundreds of these gentians but only a literal few still held corollas exhibiting their sky blue color. The pair photographed above were the best to be seen, glowing like sapphire beacons among a sea of browning vegetation and overcast skies.

Green Spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes-ramosum). B.P., Ontario, June
Limestone Oak Fern (Gymnocarpium robertianum). B.P., Ontario, June

The decision making process in putting this list together can be as difficult as it is fun. And since I make the rules, I decided to call number seven a tie between two ferns that were growing literally only yards apart. The aforementioned Bruce peninsula in Ontario is a true botanical wonderland known the world around for its plethora of odd and disjunct ferns. The two celebrated spore-producers seen here are the green spleenwort (Asplenium trichomanes-ramosum) and limestone oak fern (Gymnocarpium robertianum). Both are well outside their normal, albeit already limited distributions on the Bruce's narrow spit of limestone. Their high-quality alvar habitat was full of other fascinating plant life but more on that in a future post.

Great Lakes Iris (Iris lacustris). Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, June

Moving onto life plant number six has us staying on the Bruce for one of the most dainty wildflowers I've yet seen. The Great Lakes iris (Iris lacustris) was one I missed during my initial visit to the region four years earlier and managed to catch still in flower upon my return this past June. This tiny iris' size is lost without scale in the photo but each blossom is the size of a silver dollar! They are a globally rare, federally threatened species endemic to northern Lake Michigan and Lake Huron's cobbled, sandy shorelines. These occurred just about everywhere the habitat was suitable along our section of Lake Huron, even blooming just outside the cabin's door.

Hart's Tongue Fern (Asplenium scolopendrium). Bruce Pen., Ontario, June

If it's not broke, don't fix it. I think that's a good line of advice and since the Bruce isn't broke, let's stick with it for life plant number five. As I mentioned earlier, the Bruce is widely known for its abundance of unusual fern taxa, with perhaps none as sought after as the hart's tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium). While somewhat common across the pond in Europe, it only occurs as a local anomaly in a handful of places in the entirety of North America (AL, TN, NY, nMI and Ontario). I made sure to visit the cool, moist, rocky terrain beneath gorgeous Inglin Falls outside Owen Sound for this phenomenal fern and was not disappointed. It was yet another missed lifer during my first stint up on the Bruce I was proud to check off.

Southern Monkshood (Aconitum uncinatum). Scioto Brush Creek, OH October

Ohio is only represented once on this year's list but what a plant it is! Number four was one of my most unexpected discoveries, as well as one of the most breathtaking. Southern monkshood (Aconitum uncinatum) is one of the state's most imperiled and endangered of wildflowers; growing only in a select few locations along Scioto Brush Creek, arguably Ohio's finest and most intact waterway. Southern monkshood typically blooms from late August into September, so I wasn't expecting much when I gave one of the known sites a hike through earlier this month. As luck would have it a single plant still bore a few blossoms in superb photogenic shape! A species of the southeastern US, this location marks one of only a handful of known sites north of the Ohio River. Long may it persist along this spectacular stretch of water.

Southern Small Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum).
Lewis Co., Kentucky, May.

Back in May, I posted on here an account of arguably the most serendipitous orchid find of my life thus far in the southern small yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum). Myself and good friend and very knowledgeable botanist, Roger Beadles were poking around in northern Kentucky for the rare Kentucky lady's slipper (C. kentuckiense) when we stumbled across this small patch of 2015's life plant number three. It was a complete surprise and the last of eastern North America's lady's slipper orchids I needed to see. You can read all about that experience by following this link here. Later in the year, myself and some others came across an intriguing patch of pretty darn small lady's slipper plants on a preserve in Adams Co., Ohio. It was late August and the plants essentially vegetative only but they definitely sparked my interest and have earned a future visit this upcoming May. I have my hopes they could be the first documented occurrence of the southern small yellows on Ohio soil. Adding a new orchid to the state's flora is a dream bucket list item to be sure! Stay tuned...

Hooded Ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana). Green River Lakes, WY, August

Speaking of orchids and bucket list items, it brings me a lot of pride and joy to have this next wildflower be number two on my countdown of 2015's best lifers. For those that know me personally and/or follow this blog with any regularity assuredly knows I'm obsessed with wild orchids. It's been a major life goal to see and photograph all 47 species indigenous to Ohio, and I've been sitting painfully close at 46 for over a year now. Not any more! The hooded ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes romanzoffiana) was the last to elude me and was a complete and utter surprise find while out in the mountains of western Wyoming this August. Dozens of them lined the banks of pristine rushing mountain streams and their adjacent meadows, glistening like a jewel in the bright sunlight. It's incredible to think I've now seen all 47 species, even if some haven't been within Ohio...yet. Just seeing them regardless of location has been special enough. More on these and this trip later!

Calypso (Calypso bulbosa). Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, June

If orchids won silver and bronze in this countdown they might as well make it a clean sweep with the gold as well. 2015's most exceptional and emotional life plant was none other than the elusive calypso or fairy slipper (Calypso bulbosa). If I returned to the Bruce to see any one thing, it was this reclusive orchid of the northern woods. I could barely contain my excitement on the hike back to its known location on Flowerpot Island with butterflies in my stomach. Was it still blooming? Would I even find it? What if I was too late like last time? I needn't worry as a dozen or so calypsos were in pristine flower under the dense shade of its coniferous haunt. I spent a long time sitting in front of them in silence and stillness, admiring their miniscule appearance packed with delicate detail and color. It was a moment nearly a decade in the making from the first time I saw this species in one of my first wildflower books. The calypsos were still wet from the previous night's rain, or maybe it was from the tears that fell from finally laying eyes on these most astonishing orchids. Much, much more on this trip and moment in future posts!

I hope you've enjoyed this look back onto my favorite finds and life plants of 2015. I'll be curious to hear from you, my readers if any of these are on your life lists or plants you've had the honor of coming into contact with before. If anything I hope I've warmed your spirits even a wee bit as the reality of another wildflower season come and gone sinks in. If 2016 is anything like my 2015, it will be full of fantastic finds, exciting discoveries and more memories made soaking in the natural world's beauty and diversity. As I mentioned earlier, many of these plants/moments have their own blog posts forth coming, so I hope you'll look forward to that as winter sets in and we all begin anew the dream of spring.

- ALG -

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Find "The Buckeye Botanist" on Instagram!

Sunrise over Flat Top Mountain and Green River Lake in the Wind River Range, Wyoming. August 2015.

Hello, everyone! It's been a while since I was last able to post on here but rest assured I'm still among the breathing and with more material and topics than ever to share. It's been an incredibly busy growing season for your narrator. Exciting trips to the Bruce peninsula, Ontario back in early June; Wind River Mountains of western Wyoming in August and the Dolly Sods Wilderness region in West Virginia just last weekend were unforgettable. Rest assured, I will be bringing those tales and more to you in the near future with three photos here to whet your appetite. With winter on the not-so-distant horizon, I expect to have more time at the keyboard.

Blackwater Falls, Blackwater Falls State Park, West Virginia. October 2015

All that being said, I'd like to take a quick moment to say I'm now on Instagram! (@The_Buckeye_Botanist). The move is long overdue but better late than never. The reason I'm taking the time to share this is it's an extremely easy and fun way to keep up with me in my day-to-day work and travels. I post nearly every day, many of those days with multiple photographs. It takes only a few minutes time out of my day to toss up a photo or two with a short paragraph to accompany it; rather than sit down and write up my notoriously long-winded posts on here. Just envision them as bite-sized blogs you can digest in a matter of seconds.

Limestone shorelines of Flowerpot Island, Fathom Five National Marine Park, Bruce Peninsula, Ontario, Canada. June 2015.

For those not already following me on Instagram, you can find me on there @The_Buckeye_Botanist. If you enjoy my rambling on here, as inconsistent as it can be, you're sure to savor a much more steady diet of the natural wonders of Ohio and beyond on Instagram! I hope to see you on there and feel free to like/comment/share any of my material. Don't be shy to interact with me on there personally either! So be sure to check out and follow @The_Buckeye_Botanist on Instagram today!

Monday, June 1, 2015

It Looks Like Rain...

I've been an admirer of Mother Nature's artwork for as long as I can remember and few pieces leave me more breathless than a raucous thunderstorm looming on the horizon...

Please click the photo to see it in a large, higher resolution

Growing up on the glaciated till plains of west-central Ohio, I got my seasonal fill of them every spring and summer.  The flat landscape of agriculture country allowed for a straight view west with little to get in the way.  You could watch a super cell's anvil-like thunderhead pierce the atmosphere and roll in for miles and miles before having to finally duck for cover.

Southeastern Ohio has plenty of summer thunderstorms as well but the rugged topography offers little chance at visually enjoying the building anticipation of their arrival.  I love living down in the hills and hollers but storm watching is one aspect of my home area I often miss.  So while back there this past weekend I was beyond pleased at the opportunity to reacquaint myself with that treasured feeling of awe and calm before the storm.  I was mowing the family farm when I saw this storm approaching from the southwest and knew we were in for a doozy.  The clouds churned and lightning danced from the bottom of the cell with the reverberating bass of thunder following.  The torrent of rain and blowing winds that came with it were equally impressive.

It felt good to experience my first quality storm of the season and hope there's more to come.  We could really use the rain as it is and I'd welcome an all-day steady soaker just as much.  It's fascinating to think of the energy that comes together to create these monsters only to dissipate to nothing shortly after.  Nature never ceases to amaze me.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Serendipitously Stumbling into the Southern Small Yellow Lady's Slipper

When I woke up early last Sunday morning I had a hunch the day's botanical foray would be one to remember.  Fellow botanist and friend of mine, Roger Beadles had driven all the way from his rural southeastern Illinois home for a whirlwind tour of southern Ohio. We had a lot planned and I'll be sharing the highlights of what we saw and found in the next installment.  However, one particular discovery I thought deserved its own post and story.

Roger, like myself is a self-described wild orchid addict.  So naturally our excursion around the Adams and Scioto county region revolved around seeing as many spring blooming species as possible.  One that Roger had long wanted to see was saved for last in the elusive Kentucky lady's slipper (Cypripedium kentuckiense).  It was early evening by the time we crossed the Ohio River into northern Kentucky, with the river valley's high rolling hills awash in crisp, bright sunlight.  Roger and I found the site with little trouble and the orchids in fabulous shape.  I hadn't seen them in bloom for several years and was thrilled to reacquaint myself with them.

After some camera time with the lady's slippers we decided to walk down the road a bit to explore the banks of the adjacent creek for more when something caught my eye on the steep wooded slope above...

Southern small yellow lady's slippers hiding in the woods

My attention was initially captured by the brilliant red color of some blooming fire pink (Silene virginica) but then focused on a beam of sunlight illuminating a small clump of curiously tiny yellow flowers.  It only took a second for their identity to pop in my head and I could barely contain my excitement.  Southern small yellow lady's slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum)!

Trio of southern small yellow lady's slippers

My heart raced as I clamored up the slope to reach their dainty, sweet-smelling blossoms.  Your blogger takes pride in having seen over 70 of eastern North America's indigenous orchids, with the southern small yellows a glaring omission from that list.  The Cypripediums have long been some of my favorites and I've searched high and low, near and far in an attempt to see them all.

Southern Small Yellow Lady's Slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum)

I've had my fair share of experiences randomly stumbling into a previously unknown site/population of orchids (unknown to me at least) but nothing like this before.  Never had I fortuned upon such a significant life orchid, let alone one so far off the day's radar.  I didn't take the time to search the woods for other plants due to the long drive home still ahead of me but was perfectly pleased with the three prime flowering specimens staring back at me.  A fourth plant was present but seemed to have had its stem nipped sometime before anthesis.

Roger photographing the small yellow ladies

Roger took my excitement in stride and certainly got a rare glimpse of your blogger overcome with emotions of excitement and disbelief. He can speak firsthand that I don't fake the love and passion I hold for my beloved wild orchids.  The southern small yellows were a lifer for Roger as well and made it a five lady's slipper day for the two of us.  In addition to these and the Kentuckys, large yellows (C. pubescens), small whites (C. candidum) and pinks (C. acaule) rounded out the handful.

Close up of the southern small yellow lady's slipper
Southern Small Yellow Lady's Slipper (C. parviflorum var. parviflorum)

In recent times the wide-ranging small yellow lady's slippers had been split into two varieties with Ohio sitting near/on the distribution dividing line.  The northern small yellow (var. makasin) is only known from two extant sites in Ohio, while the southern small yellow (var. parviflorum) has never been found and/or confirmed from within our borders.  I have my hopes it could be hiding somewhere in the depths of southernmost Ohio.

Southern Small Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum)

Thankfully, the two small yellow varieties share very little overlap in their ranges, so geographic location is a worthwhile method of separating the two.  Taking note of their habitat will remove all doubt.  Northern small yellows are a species of wet, sunny, flat locations such as fen sedge meadows, wet prairie and moist coniferous/mixed woodlands.  Southern small yellows prefer more dry, shaded and sloped conditions in upland mixed oak/deciduous woodlands.  This particular site was under a mature canopy of white oak, red oak, sugar maple, beech, shagbark hickory, basswood and umbrella magnolia.  Additionally, the northern variety is richly aromatic with hints of vanilla and almond, while the southerns emit a soft, flowery fragrance.

iPhone photo of the three blooming orchids
Blogger's thumb and lady's slipper for size comparison

You might be thinking, "you keep using this word 'small' but I'm not sure what you mean".  It's a fair thought and one I can understand without anything to help scale these charming little beauties.  In comes the thumb.  Small indeed, I'd say.  Their labellums aren't even as big as my thumb and very reminiscent of the small white lady's slipper in size.  Looking at the photo above left removes any doubts or hesitations this is the real deal.  There are instances of small large yellow lady's slippers, which can make a confident identification a hard call to make.  I would point out that small yellows tend to bloom/peak a couple weeks after large yellows and typically have noticeably darker dorsal/lateral sepals with a labellum opening densely spotted with red dots. These particular plants didn't exhibit as dark of sepals as I would expect but that feature is quite variable.

Southern Small Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. parviflorum)

Even as I write this, I still cannot believe my luck that I would bump into such a treasured lifer, especially after a day already rife with excellent finds.  Our time with them was short but sweet and I'm already looking forward to seeking them out again next May for more chances at trapping their splendor with my camera.  As it would turn out, this freshly discovered site in Lewis County was a new county record for Kentucky, and extra special due to it being listed as a threatened species.  It seemed especially fitting that I would come to see this life orchid on May 17, one year to the day of seeing my last life orchid in the small whorled pogonia (Isotria medeoloides) in the mountains of northern Georgia.

Now to translate this success to Ohio and find the southern small yellow lady's slipper somewhere within our borders.  That would be an excellent addition to our flora, even if it's coming out of this orchid freaks mouth.  Stay tuned for more of Roger and I's phenomenal day in botany paradise!

-  ALG -

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Orchid Hike for the Cincinnati Wildflower Preservation Society

This past weekend your blogger had the pleasure of leading a hike for the Cincinnati Wildflower Preservation Society.  I've given presentations at their monthly meeting several times before but this was the first time we'd taken to the field together.  My talk for the society this past January dealt with Ohio's native orchids so it seemed appropriate to go from the projector to seeing them in person. Over 25 eager and excited participants, including quite a few familiar faces and friends joined me in the Edge of Appalachia and Shawnee State Forest region of extreme southern Ohio for quite the botanical foray.

I'd like to make specific mention of and say thanks to three special people who made the trek all the way from Ontario, Canada to spend the weekend and especially Saturday botanizing, birding, herping etc. with me.  It was a pleasure to meet and spend time with Bob Curry, Glenda Slessor and John Lamey and share the natural treasures of the Edge and Shawnee with them on Friday and Saturday. They had their sights especially set on seeing a particular orchid or two but I'll get to that later.  All in all, I think I can speak for them in saying they walked away impressed and mesmerized by southern Ohio's beauty and a strong friendship was kindled between them and myself.

Photo of the hike's participants courtesy CWPS member and treasurer, Randy Johnson

Someone must have flicked the switch for July because the week leading up to the hike and the day of was a scorcher.  Temperatures in the area reached highs near 90 and made the early May date seem like a mistake.  Thankfully, the orchids and numerous other plants seemed to take the stress in stride and largely looked great for our eyes and cameras.

Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata)
Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata)

Davis Memorial state nature preserve in Adams County was our first stop for the day. Its rich forest slopes and dolomite limestone rock features are home to countless spring wildflowers and several species of orchid.  The regal looking dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) was looking especially nice in the dappled shade.

Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis)

It wasn't long before we had the first orchid on our day's list with the showy orchis (Galearis spectabilis).  Most everyone remembers their important "firsts" and the showy orchis will forever be close to my heart as the first wild orchid I ever saw in bloom.  I've seen it countless times since but I never tire of its unique appearance.  Davis Memorial proved to be a favorable spot for this species as we came across upwards of a dozen plants of varying aesthetics and stature.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Davis Memorial is of special geological interest as well with its exposed dolomite limestone cliffs and gorge walls.  Dolomite contains more magnesium than your average limestone, which allows for a sweeter soil composition upon weathering.  Many plants do exceptionally well in said soils and why this region of the county is known for its stupendous spring wildflower displays.  Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is just one species that loves to grow from the rock face's cracks and small soil accumulations.

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium pubescens)

The next orchid on this most orchid-y of days was the large yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium pubescens).  We went on to see it at several more sites but it never failed to be a showstopper, especially when in large, many-flowered clumps.

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium pubescens)
Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium pubescens)

Most of the photos in this post I took during my scouting and personal botanizing time the day before leading the hike.  I like to take my time when engaging these remarkable, highly evolved plants and I knew that would be at a minimum during the hike.  It's also important to me I give my full attention to the questions, curiosities and concerns of my group.  For many this was the first time seeing orchids such as the large yellows, while I've been spoiled with dozens of encounters and hopefully dozens more to come.

Spring in Shawnee State Forest

I could honestly spend all day, every day in Shawnee during the spring.  There's a feel to its wild depths unlike anything else in the state. Bobcats to cerulean warblers, timber rattlesnakes or the goldenstar lily, Shawnee has it all.  There's few places better for orchids in the state either with Shawnee claiming over a dozen species throughout the year.

Pollinated and wilting large whorled pogonia (Isotria verticillata)

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Bob, Glenda and John came all the way from Ontario with one specific orchid in mind: the large whorled pogonia (Isotria verticillata).  While relatively common in the acidic, upland oak forests of eastern unglaciated Ohio, the large whorled pogonia is excruciatingly rare in Ontario.  In fact, it's believed to be extirpated and hasn't been seen above ground in quite some time.  Unfortunately, the unseasonably hot temperatures ushered this notoriously short bloomer into flower and quickly out by the time of their arrival.  They took Mother Nature's curveball in stride though and were beyond happy to see the plant even in a wilted state.

Rose Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum)

It wouldn't be the peak of spring in Shawnee without the vibrant blossoms of the rose azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum).  They litter the roadsides on the forest's higher and drier slopes in an assortment of dark and light pinks.

Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)
Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Speaking of pink colored flowers, I'd be remiss if I didn't make mention of the always exciting pink lady's slippers (Cypripedium acaule). This was a superb year for this orchid as most of my known sites had an exemplary number of flowering plants.  Each labellum or slipper looks like a big wad of chewing gum someone deposited atop a green stem to my eyes.

White-colored Pink Lady's Slipper
White-colored Pink Lady's Slipper

And then there's the case when someone is chewing peppermint flavored gum and leaves a white blob instead. I've observed this white-flowered pink lady's slipper for a handful of years running now and never get tired of its unusual charm.  I would hesitate to acknowledge this as a true case of albinism due the the dorsal/lateral sepals and column lacking the typical lime green coloration of an albino.  This seems to simply be a case of a white labellum only.

Rock Fir Moss (Huperzia porophila)

With so many pairs of eyes observing the landscape few things of interest are likely to slip past detection.  One fun item that stood out was large colonies of rock fir moss (Huperzia porophila) amassed on some steep sandstone slopes.  Lycopods to mycology, just about every aspect of our natural world is discussed and/or represented on a hike like this and makes for an educational experience for everyone involved.

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)
Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala)

Other Shawnee oddities gracing our hike with their floral presence was the rare umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) and crossvine (Bignonia capreolata).  Both are plants much more common further south and just barely make it into southern Ohio.  They certainly have a southern or 'tropical' feel/look to them.  Just another feather in Shawnee's hat if you ask me!

Earlier on Friday during my solo foray, I decided to make my annual pilgrimage to a special and treasured site on the Edge of Appalachia preserve.  As incredible a site as it is, it's one that's too remote and too sensitive to bring a group of even respectful, well-mannered wildflower admirers to.

Hanging prairie on the Edge of Appalachia and one of my favorite views in the entire state

Of all the impressive views I've gazed out across in the Buckeye state, I'd have to say the one photographed above is on my very short list of the best.  This hanging prairie clings to the side of a hill; an island of rare grassland plants overlooking a rolling sea of contiguous forest.  No roads, no buildings, no people or anything to break the sounds of nature.  It's rare to get that kind of purity with no noise pollution and only adds to the splendor of the place.  Within its depths is a slew of prairie plants like scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa), hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens), heart-leaved golden alexanders (Zizia aptera), yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta), white blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albidum), arrow-leaved violet (Viola sagittata) and one very rare, very stunning orchid: the endangered small white lady's slipper (Cypripedium candidum).

Prairie phlox, scarlet paintbrush, hoary puccoon etc. in full, spectacular bloom

Small White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum)
Small White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum)

Scarlet Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

Hanging prairie is a true slice of botanical heaven and one I can't wait to visit each early May.  It's never disappointed in the past, it didn't disappoint this time around and I don't dare doubt it will break that streak any time soon.  I could dedicate an entire post of this length to the site and perhaps I will one day.

Needless to say the hike was a resounding success and everyone involved had a helluva time immersed in southern Ohio's spring bounty of wildflowers, orchids and birds.  Leading hikes never fails to leave me physically exhausted by mentally revitalized and freshened.  It's such a fun way to share my passion and knowledge for orchids, Ohio and our natural world as a whole.  I'll be leading two additional hikes for the Cincinnati Wildflower Preservation Society later this year in August and September, respectively.  Take a look on the left side of my blog for my events section for more details.  Special thanks to the Christine Hadley for helping me put this together and for asking me to lead this hike!  I/we certainly had an amazing time!

- ALG -