Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Flora-Quest 2012: Part II

Better late than never but I am back to share the second half of Flora-Quest 2012!  Clearly I wanted to get this post out and published right after the first one but sometimes life has a way of keeping you busy elsewhere and preventing some things from happening on time.  Rest assured I haven't forgotten and am still plenty excited to share the fascinating flora that Sunday bestowed upon my group's hungry eyes.

Sunday dawned bright and sunny with the promise of a great day back on the forest roads of Shawnee state forest to search out some of the gorgeous and intriguing plants blooming throughout.  As mentioned before the early spring caused some interesting changes in the usual look of the flora at this stage in the year but I was still able to secure some wildflowers and spots that were sure to wow everyone.  I'm hard pressed to have such an attentive audience this fired up about plants in my normal day to day life.  It's beer, sports and women with the guys and not that there is anything wrong with those subjects but I can't always keep my love for the botanical world bottled up and unsung.

For Sunday's excursions out into Shawnee you were welcome to join any of the leader's vans and did not necessarily have to stick with your original group from the day before.  I was very happy to see more or less my entire group climb into my van, plus a couple extras who were, like me, pretty hot for the promise of the wild orchids we were likely to see.  I think the following photographs will be quick to show just how awesome a day out in the field we had.

Albino Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule forma albiflora)

Probably my favorite stop and wildflower seen during our outing was the long-awaited and sought after albino pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule forma albiflora).  I have had the pleasure of seeing thousands of pink ladies in my botanical wanderings but the rare and elusive all-white albino form had always eluded me; well until this weekend!  If this particular plant could have known any better it would have felt like a rock star having so many people flock around it with camera shutters clicking and flashes going off left and right.  It was well deserved if you ask me!

Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Scattered throughout the same area as the lone albino pink lady were dozens of others in their traditionally pink garb.  These Cypripediums are also called moccasin flowers by some for their bilateral labellums (pouch) appearing much like that of a moccasin or slipper (hence the other common name for this genus).

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens)

Just a stone's throw away from the pink ladies flowering under the oaks and pines were a few straggling large yellow lady's slippers (Cypripedium parviflorum var. pubescens) along the gravel road.  Getting to see two of Ohio's lady's slippers almost side by side is one of the many reasons Shawnee is an incredible place during the growing season.  Some sad news does go along with these wondrous plants I'm afraid to say.  What now only numbers a few scattered plants, this specific spot once supported upwards of 40-50 flowering plants of the yellow ladies before meeting their fates not long ago at the hands of a careless road grater.  I understand and appreciate the maintenance needed to keep the roads in drivable conditions in Shawnee but practicing some foresight and carefulness is crucial in keeping some of the state forest's key residents intact.  Decades of careful growth and existence snuffed out in an instant under a ton of welded metal and steel.  With any luck these magnificent plant's underground rhizomes survived and will bounce back in the years to come.

American Columbo (Frasera caroliniensis)

For many this next plant amazes and astonishes at first sight by its height and overall size.  Some may even deem it to be an introduced species from the tropics, hardly believing that something so large and unique could even be native to Ohio's soils.  Rest assured the American columbo (Frasera caroliniensis) belongs here and is a proud member of our flora.  While I wanted the photograph above to focus on the enchanting flowers it doesn't go very far in showing the true nature of this beast.  American columbo is a monocarpic species, which means it matures until it flowers once, sets to seed and dies.  This plant can spend up to 30 years (although typically much, much less) maturing as a large rosette of basal leaves on the forest floor before suddenly shooting for the heavens as an elongated stem with up to 100 flowers branched in whorls up the main stem.  This skyscraper of a plant can reach heights over seven feet tall, which you can imagine is quite the sight when in full bloom with its greenish-white perfect flowers.

Fairy Wand ♂ (Chamaelirium luteum)

One of those interesting species not normally seen during Flora-Quest was this unparalleled member of the lily family (Liliaceae), fairy wand (Chamaelirium luteum).  Also known as devil's bit, this species is diecious, meaning it has both separate male and female plants.  The one's pictured above are both male staminate flowers and almost always greatly outnumber the females in any given population.  You aren't likely to find any other Chamaelirium species elsewhere as this is the sole member of its monotypic genus.

Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens)

As luck would sometimes have it, we stumbled onto a small population of the stunningly scarlet red flowers of the native trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) vine along a select stretch of Shawnee.  While the invasive and exotic honeysuckle species of Asian decent get all the attention for all the wrong reasons it's nice and rewarding to see our native species still clinging to existence and showing off their beauty.

Early Stoneroot (Collinsonia verticillata)

Of all the flowering plants unusually ahead of schedule during this year's event, this one above was hands down my favorite of all.  The early stoneroot (Collinsonia verticillata) or otherwise known as whorled horsebalm is an endangered species in Ohio with only a few scattered locations in Shawnee state forest and that's it.  If you take the time to take a gander at a distribution map for this curious species it becomes instantly clear it has a strange and scattered range throughout the southern Appalachians, where it's not common or frequent anywhere.  Due to its strange distribution coupled with scattered and rare occurrences it was once under consideration for federal listing as a rare species.

Early Stoneroot (Collinsonia verticillata)

Taking a closer look at the unusual inflorescence of the early stoneroot it's not too hard to tell it is closely related to the much more common Yellow Horsebalm (C. canadensis).  Despite being quite similar they are easy to tell apart in several key ways.  The whorled horsebalm blooms in the late spring, has light pink to purple colored flowers that bloom along an unbranched stem while the common horsebalm blooms later in the summer and fall, has lemon-yellow flowers and can have a multi-branched inflorescence. 

Whorled Pogonia (Isotria verticillata)

Where these is victory there can also be defeat, which unfortunately is the category one would have to place this crowd-favorite orchid species in.  Normally just coming into bloom and rewarding Flora-Quest attendees with it's unique and charming dragon-mouthed flowers, the whorled pogonias (Isotria verticillata) instead greeted their seekers with maturing seed pods.

Whorled Pogonia (Isotria verticillata)

This is what these very same plants looked like just a few short weeks earlier in full, glorious bloom.  Their long, dark-colored sepals spreading out from the 'mouth', which appears ready to devour any pollinator that dares enter its space.  You can't always see it all, even at special events like Flora-Quest.  Sometimes you have to leave people wanting more and ready to come back the next year to catch what they missed this time around.

Small White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum)

I will leave you with this last photograph of the incredibly rare and endangered small white lady's slipper (Cypripedium candidum).  Only a lucky few got the chance to see this striking orchid but those that did walked away seeing what in my eyes is one of Ohio's most incredible plants.  The small white slipper is hardly bigger than the end of your pinkie finger and produces an intoxicating aroma on warm days that is an instant reward to anyone willing to take a whiff.

It was hard to tell the group to board the van and head back to the lodge to conclude another exciting Flora-Quest weekend but all good things must come to an end.  I think I can speak for my entire group that a great time was had by all and I was honored to have shared my experiences, excitement and Shawnee's secrets with each and every one of them.  I'm already looking forward to next year's installment in 2013!  When the dates are set be sure to check it out and sign up for an unforgettable weekend in extreme southern Ohio!


  1. Up late, eh? Very lovely photographs, Andrew and worth the wait :)

  2. Awesome photos and blog. Thanks for taking the time to put this together and share...
    Ron Gamble

  3. Andrew- your photos are are so amazing. Thank you for sharing this wonderful post!

    We'll have to pick a new flower for Flora-Quest 2013-


  4. Grat shots - thanks for sharing these! The albino Cyp. acaule was a treasure to see.

  5. What amazing finds! And photographs as lovely as the flowers are rare and beautiful. Thanks, Andrew.

  6. Incredible pictures of some incredible orchids and wildflowers. What an exciting "quest" and how I'd love to see some of the Eastern natives.