Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Southern Ohio's Early Bloomers

Well as promised I'm here to chronicle some of my experiences from my time down in Adams and Scioto counties over Spring Break for my faithful readers!  If you read my previous post about the exciting and groundbreaking discovery of the Golden-stars (Erythronium rostratum) you'd know my time was anything but predictable and boring.  That certainly wasn't the only finding worth discussing and sharing as you will soon see.  Fortunately most of my time off Mother Nature blessed with mostly blue sky, balmy temperatures and dry atmospheric conditions.  This current snap of chilly daytime temperatures and just downright cold nights is quickly starting to grow old.  Fingers crossed this all ends soon and we can be graced with Spring-like weather again soon.  I'm sure all my wildflower friends concur!  Speaking of wildflowers let's hit the trail and see what bloomers took advantage of the pleasant weather and decided to show off their early flowers for those who anxiously await them all winter.

Trillium nivale
Erythronium albidum

During the few days I spent down south I observed and recorded over 50 species of vascular plants in bloom on my list for 2011.  I'd say that's a pretty good start for it not even being the end of March!  One of my first stops were the bottom slopes of some limestone cliffs that harbor one of Ohio's most alluring and uncommon plants.  No early Spring list would be complete without the delicate, alabaster appearance of the Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale).  I previously discussed the dainty Snow Trillium in a post that can be found here.  I can't help but post another photo of these guys; how can you not just love them?  Blooming within the large patch of Snow Trillium was another early member of the Liliaceae family; White Trout-lily (Erythronium albidum).  The green, fleshy leaves mottled with brown are very aesthetically pleasing on their own and can create quite the scene when thickly carpeting an area of the forest floor.  I personally have a moral obligation against picking native wildflowers regardless of how common they are, but I take extra offense at the needless picking of Trout-lilies.  It takes upwards of seven years for these plants to reach maturity and send up a single flower on a long peduncle.  If you pick the flower or even a leaf off this plant it will die.  All that patience, time and energy down the drain because of one unthoughtful person.  It's my opinion that we 'touch' these beauties with our eyes only.

Sanguinaria canadensis
Sanguinaria canadensis

Another people's favorite and showstopper is Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  These very delicate flowers only last a couple of days before their job is complete.  They get their common name from the orangish-red sap that flows through their underground rhizomes.  As a plant matures the rhizome will branch off, creating additional plants that can create visually stunning patches such as the one above left.  While the flowers last a very short time their leaves will persist into the early summer months along with the maturing pods full of seed.

Erigenia bulbosa
Erigenia bulbosa

Another one of my Spring favorites (I know it seems I say that about every other plant) is the easily overlooked and diminutive Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa).  Barely peaking their heads above the leaf litter on the forest floor, these beauties only measure a few inches in height and have incredibly minute flowers.  They grow each season from an underground tuber that is about the size of a marble or larger and edible.  In my experience they actually aren't half bad!  Another name this plant commonly goes by is Pepper and Salt for its contrasting black anthers and creamy white petals.

Hepatica acutiloba
Thalictrum thalictrioides

Walking through the woods this time of year you will most likely be greeted by two of Ohio's most common and well known Spring wildflowers from the Ranunculaceae family.  On the left is Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) in a pinkish-purple variety.  These can vary greatly in their colors; from pure white to pink, purple and even brilliant blue.  A closely related species is the Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica americana).  Some people consider them just a variation of the same species but I treat them as two, distinct species.  H. acutiloba blooms earlier and resides in more moist and sweeter soil areas while H. americana blooms a bit later in drier, more acidic habitats; not to mention the differences in the lobes of their leaves.  Pictured on the right is Rue-anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides).  Newly bloomed flowers appear purple (as seen above) but quickly fade to a pasty white as they mature.

Podophyllum peltatum
Dirca palustris

As I made my way through some of my favorite spots around Adams County I took notice of not only what was in obvious bloom but also the less noticeable plants juuust starting to come back to life.  After spending a majority of their time and lives in their dark, subterranean existence I'm sure these plants are as excited to break the surface each year as I am to see them!  Scattered all over the preserve were the lush, green rosettes of American Columbo (Frasera caroliniensis) popping out from their overwinter slumber as well as the cute, small umbrellas of Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) pictured above.  On the right is one of the most unique and interesting flowers to be found anywhere in Ohio this time of year.  These are the blooms of the shrub Leatherwood (Dirca palustris), which calls mature woods with deep, rich and moist soils its home.  Each Spring the furry, brown buds swell up and the "bottom" of the bud drops like a trap door and out falls the enchanting tubular flowers.  Our property in Adams County has quite a few Leatherwood shrubs on it and I always look forward to seeing these show off their one-of-a-kind blooms.  The wood/bark is very flexible and known to cause dermatitis in people; so if you are susceptible to breaking out in rashes from other bothersome plants I'd leave this one alone.  The mature fruits of this plant are also said to have narcotic properties.  While I may be a college student and this time of my life is for "experimentation" I think I'll pass on popping a few of these for the sake of a visit to the hospital...even if the rumors are true and they will take my mind away to another dimension.  From my experiences on our property these shrubs transplant quite well.  The one I moved next to the cabin last Spring survived the winter and is showing healthy budding, ready to leaf out.
Salix humilis
Mystery Salix species

 Staying on the subject of woody flowering plants let's take a look at a couple members of the Salicaceae family, or the Willows.  I absolutely love the weird and intriguing flowers of the Salix and related Populus (Cottonwood/Aspen) genera but once they go into fruit our friendship quickly comes to an end.  I'm lucky to suffer from very few allergies but the cottony seed "puffs" from the Willows and especially Cottonwood trees gets my nose running, eyes itchy and puffy like nothing else!  On the left are the male staminate flowers of the Upland Willow (Salix humilis).  When thinking about normal Willow habitat you generally think about low-lying, wet areas but this guy does just fine in much drier, poorer soils of upland woods, savannas, prairies and barrens.  Their flowers only last for a few days and I was very pleased to see a patch of them in full bloom in Shawnee State Forest.  On the right is my mystery Salix species.  I came across it on my walk to the Golden-stars with Chris Bedel and Rich McCarty and none of us really knew which specific species it belonged to.  It's always a thorn in my foot when I can't identify something so I plan on going back to the spot when the tree is leafed out and putting a name to that face.  As we admired the trees flowers we noticed the air was abuzz with hundreds of flies going about their pollinating business.  It was quite the sight to see and sound to hear!

Erythronium rostratum
Erythronium rostratum

I can't help but end this post on the highest note possible with a couple repeat pictures of the Golden-stars (Erythronium rostratum).  To think that it took almost 50 years for someone to discover a population outside the Rocky Fork valley in Ohio blows my mind and I'm still running on the high of the discovery.  I'd planned on making the trek to Rocky Fork in the next couple weeks to photograph and check this plant off my life list but it looks like I won't have to do that afterall!  I hope you enjoyed this post featuring the beginnings of Ohio's profusion of Spring wildflowers.  Come back often for photographs and posts as the season progresses.  Now get your duffs out of your computer chairs and go out and see these beauties and wonders with your own eyes!