Friday, September 28, 2012

Early Splashes of Autumn Color

Fall creeps up on me in the same fashion each and every year.  I notice the change in blooming wildflowers and waning sunlight in the late afternoon almost subconsciously as the days of September slip slowly towards October and our inevitable slip into winter.  Cooler temperatures mean I can once again sleep with my windows cracked to allow that crisp, chilled night air to creep in and retire my air conditioning for the season.  It all seems to happen at slow enough intervals for me to never take full notice of the changes happening until that one day where it all just clicks and I realize my beloved fall is here.

This annual moment of recognition always seems to happen to me on the same stretch of country road close to my home.  The diversity of fall wildflowers and changing fall foliage never disappoints and paints a spectacular portrait of scarlet, oranges, and golds.  It's at this time I like to leave the car behind and walk down the road to see what fall scenery awaits the camera and I.

Bottle Gentian  ~  Gentiana andrewsii

The first stop and most anticipated stretch of the road is a wet ditch that contains the unbeatable blue hues of the bottle gentian (Gentiana andrewsii).  The plants on a good year number in the hundreds but the unfortunate drought we suffered through this past year allowed only a few dozen to appear and flower but some were in prime shape and willing to show off their floral beauty.

Poison Ivy  ~  Toxicodendron radicans

It's a shame poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) gets the bad rap it does from so many people and is so quick to be eradicated upon discovery in anything less than a natural setting.  Personally, I love the vine and am of the opinion it has arguably the most stunning multi-colored fall foliage.  Apart from the seasonal color, poison ivy's ripened fruit supplies migrating and over-wintering birds a vital and high quality food source.  I may have been on the losing end of the plant's irritating urushiol oil countless times but it's still not enough of a reason to like this plant any less.

Virginia Creeper  ~  Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Another attractive fall native vine is Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia).  This is often confused with the aforementioned poison ivy which has three leaflets compared to the creeper's five.  Virginia creeper is a very common species throughout the state and is considered an unwelcome weed to some, but once again I welcome it and its foliage/sustenance capabilities.

American Hazelnut  ~  Corylus americana

All along the forest margins to either side of the road were numerous thickets of American hazelnut (Corylus americana), full of matured fruit residing in their papery husks.

New England Aster (darker purple) and Purple-stem Aster (lighter purple)

Blending nicely together against the more warm colors of the leaves were the cool blues and purples of several aster species growing along the road and forest margins.

New England Aster  ~  Symphyotrichum novae-angliae

The dark purple ray flowers of the common New England aster (Symphyotrichum novae-angliae) are sure to brighten anyone's day with their contrasting golden inner disc flowers.  It can achieve somewhat of a weedy appearance and habit but it's hard not to like or want this frequent fall wildflower around.

Purple-stemmed Aster  ~  Symphyotrichum puniceum

In the more moist sections of the roadside and ditches grew large, bushy thickets of the appropriately-named purple-stemmed aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum).  They appear somewhat similar to the New England aster but have lighter lavender ray flowers and a purple, pubescent stem.  A couple photos above shows just how nicely the two species can mesh when growing side by side.

Yellow Buckeye  ~  Aesculus flava

One of the earliest woody plant species to lose its leaves each year is the yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava), which also happens to be one of the first plants to leaf out every early spring.  Their fall color leaves much to be desired but its branches can still draw some attention for the large, smooth, and leathery husks containing the well-known buckeye nut.

Large-leaved Aster  ~  Eurybia macrophylla

Scattered in the wood's lower slopes was one of my favorite species of Asteraceae, the large-leaved aster (Eurybia macrophylla).  The pale lavender flower heads arise from the large basal leaves come fall and add a soft touch of color to the forest.  Large colonies of plants can act as an attractive ground cover with their basal leaves that are quite obvious and noticeable when making an ID.

Chinese Chestnut  ~  Castanea mollissima

One of the most surprising discoveries along my country road is a mature, flowering/fruiting chestnut tree!  Alas, don't get too excited as my suspicions were quickly confirmed when I felt the wooly undersides of the leaves and new growth twigs.  This is a Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima), which is strikingly similar to our native American species (C. dentata) but differs in having its new growth covered in wooly hairs while our species is completely smooth (glabrous).  Regardless it was still neat to see a chestnut tree packed full of its tennis ball sized spiky fruits.

Musclewood  ~  Carpinus caroliniana

The musclewood (Carpinus carolinana) leaves were beginning to show signs of changing as photosynthesis shuts down and chlorophyll drains from the leaves.

Shagbark Hickory  ~  Carya ovata

It wouldn't truly be fall without the sound of walnuts, acorns, and hickory nuts falling from their limbs and branches to the ground below.  Fruit production among the oaks and hickories seems to have had a good year as I've seen many trees loaded with nuts; excellent news for the numerous woodland critters that will need some over-wintering sustenance.

Spicebush  ~  Lindera benzoin

The brilliant mature red drupes of the spicebush (Lindera benzoin) rarely linger on the shrubs come fall as the migrating birds are desperate to build up their fat reserves for the long flight south.  Spicebush berries are considered one of the best high-quality fruits for their high lipid (fat) content and can go a long way in powering a one-to-two ounce bird to central and South America.

I hope to bring more of southeastern Ohio's gorgeous fall scenery and wildflowers to the computer screen as the season wanes.  Let's hope this recent rain and some renewed sunny days combined with clear, cool nights will allow this fall's peak foliage show to not be a bust as the spring and summer's drought would suggest is likely.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Flora of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore

This past summer was a real treat for your blogger who got to do quite a bit of travelling and botanizing throughout Ohio and the surrounding states.  Back in mid July I found myself in northern Michigan in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, recently voted the most beautiful place in the country.  I have spent some time in the region just about every summer of my life with my family and have great memories of the lakes, beaches, and atmosphere of Lake Michigan and the Grand Traverse area.  As the years have gone by and my interest in botany and the natural history increased, I've found myself spending more and more of my vacation time exploring the varying habitats and ecosystems of the northern woods and Great Lakes.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, Leelanau Co., Michigan

Despite looking bleak and desert-like, the world-famous sand dunes along the shores of Lake Michigan in Leelanau county are full of fascinating plant life; some of which is quite rare and found few other places.  I'd like to share some photographs of the flora I found most interesting and best represents these globally significant dune ecosystems, which are disappearing more every day to development and habitat destruction.

Spotted Horsemint  ~  Monarda punctata

One of the first plants I noticed growing in massive colonies throughout the higher ridges and bluffs was the spotted horsemint (Monarda punctata).  It is also known as spotted beebalm and comes from the mint family (Lamiaceae).  This mint is quite rare back in Ohio and is currently state-listed as an endangered species but is the farthest thing from further north in Michigan.  It's almost weed-like in just about every dry, sandy meadow or field.

Spotted Horsemint  ~  Monarda punctata

I had long wanted to see the interesting combination of its pale green to lavender leaves and lemon-yellow flowers spotted with purplish-red dots.  Being a mint, it's not hard to believe this wildflower smells as good as it looks.  Being so frequent throughout the area I decided to pick a bouquet of the horsemint that would grace our kitchen counter top all week, giving the room a fresh and spicy scent.

Pitcher's Thistle  ~  Cirsium pitcheri

One of the most exciting, and over-looked, plants that calls the dunes home was the federally threatened Pitcher's thistle (Cirsium pitcheri).  I've blogged about this species before in the past that you can read right here.  This true rarity is an endemic of the Great Lakes and can only be found in high-quality, intact dune habitats along the shores of Lake Michigan and Lake Huron.

Pitcher's Thistle  ~  Cirsium pitcheri

Each thistle begins its life as a small rosette of blue-green basal leaves with a deep taproot that allows it to survive in such a dry habitat.  The rosettes mature between two to eight years before suddenly sending up flowering stalks one year and bloom throughout the summer months before dying and setting to seed.  Pitcher's thistle is monocarpic, meaning each individual plant only flowers and fruits once in its life before dying.

Pitcher's Thistle  ~  Cirsium pitcheri

Taking a glance at the flower heads it's not much of a stretch to immediately recognize this as a Cirsium species.  It's white-colored phyllaries are uniquely colored for a thistle and when combined with its equally unique habitat it's not hard to come up with a specific ID.

Bearberry  ~  Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

You'll notice a trend throughout this post that many species included are quite rare in my home state of Ohio.  Michigan has a significant advantage over Ohio in the available habitat department with over 3,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline compared to Ohio's 300 or so.  While both states share many of these same shoreline and dune obligate species, Ohio's limited habitat has been largely lost as has the native flora.  Michigan has seen its fair share of habitat loss but still has more remaining and intact than Ohio probably ever had.

Bearberry  ~  Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

This lovely creeping plant could be found in large amounts, carpeting the drier, higher dunes with its evergreen, thick-leaved foliage and mealy red berries.  Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) comes from the heath family (Ericaceae) and produces small white, bell-like flowers in the spring that become the bright red fruits you see here by summer.  I suspect the namesake of this plant is from reported bear's desires to eat the mature fruit but after trying one for myself I can say it would be among my last and most desperate of food sources.

Sand dune habitat along Lake Michigan

The plant(s) with probably the most important task but the most easily ignored are the grasses.  Their network of roots and rhizomes help prevent the sand from shifting and eroding with the water, wind, and foot traffic and keep the dunes intact for other plants to survive and persist.

American Beachgrass  ~  Ammophila breviligulata

The most common species along the shoreline's margin was the American beachgrass (Ammophila breviligulata).   This species thrives in the rougher conditions along the shore and readily grows and spreads despite being hit with constant wind and waves.  It's the first line of defense for the sand dune's structural integrity but quickly fades out as you move further inland and away from the disturbance of the shoreline.

Beach Pea  ~  Lathyrus japonicus

Mixed in among the beach grass were copious amounts of the beach pea (Lathyrus japonicus) growing right out of the stabilized sand.  This species has an interesting North American distribution and is only found along the shores in the Great Lakes region; New England seaboard; and the Pacific Northwest.  It can be readily identified by its striking purple and white flowers with the classic pea/legume look and the arrow-shaped ligules where the leaves meet the stem (best seen in the photo below).

Beach Pea  ~  Lathyrus japonicus

The beach pea is a circumpolar species and grows in the temperate coastal areas of North and South America, Asia, and Europe.  It owes its global distribution to its seed's fascinating ability to remain viable for five years while floating on the ocean's currents.  It would be interesting to test the genetics and DNA from populations all over the world and try and figure out the species' origins and paths of migration, if it hasn't been done already.

Ancient white cedar skeleton log 

One of the most interesting aspects to the dynamic dune landscape is the ancient skeleton logs belonging to long-deceased white cedar (Thuja occidentalis) trees.  White cedar wood is extremely rot-resistant and the sun bleached, wind and sand smoothed logs scattered throughout the dunes make for a neat aesthetic touch.  The exposed specimen above could be over a century old and recently re-revealed to the world by the ever-shifting sand.

Silverweed Cinquefoil  ~  Argentina anserina

A common wildflower that dots the shorelines during the summer months is the silverweed cinquefoil (Argentina anserina), which takes advantage of the soft, sandy habitat and spreads by its red stolons.  It gets the name silverweed by the leaves silver-colored undersides, which in retrospect I wish I would have photographed!  They look like some vandal gave the leaves ventral sides a coat of silver spray paint.

Kalm's St. John's-wort  ~  Hypericum kalmianum

Walking further inland along the dune swales and blowouts, the gorgeous yellow-flowered shrub Kalm's St. John's-wort (Hypericum kalmianum) became quite common and was a stunning scene in full bloom.  This species is largely restricted to the Great Lakes region and is rare in Ohio where it only occurs in the northern counties near and along Lake Erie.

Huron Tansy  ~  Tanacetum huronense

This wildflower species would certainly not win any awards for its looks but it certainly deserves your respect for its rarity and fascinating natural distribution.  In a few, select areas of dune habitat in the Grand Traverse area is the threatened Huron Tansy (Tanacetum huronense).  Unfortunately, once I was able to luckily come across some it was already well past flower and only the dried heads remained.  In fact, out of the hundreds of vegetative plants I found, the one pictured above was the only specimen that flowered this summer.  Looking at a range map for this species shows its curious distribution.  It is only found in a handful of northern-most LP counties and eastern UP counties of Michigan; extreme northern Maine; and then is absent from the rest of country except for the northern half of the Pacific coast.  There's a few other species that have a similar disjunct distribution in the northern Great Lakes and Pacific northwest and I'm curious to know more on the 'whys' of the matter.

Old red pines (Pinus resinosa) in a mixed conifer forest

After thoroughly exploring the sand dune habitats, I wandered further inland into some impressive mature pine forests that had some of the largest red pine (Pinus resinosa) and white pine (P. strobus) specimens I'd ever seen.  The understory was an unbroken sea of bracken fern (Pteridum aquilinum) that seemed to stretch out in all directions and thrive in the sandy, acidic soils.  In the lower pockets and areas of the woods were more moist and saturated soils containing white cedar thickets and swamps that housed some stunning wildflowers still showing off their blooms.

Clump of well-past flowering Showy Lady's-slipper (Cpyripedium reginae)

As my eyes scanned the surrounding vegetation my attention was caught on a cluster of very familiar leaves I knew I had seen before.  My heart skipped a beat as it quickly set in I had stumbled across some past-flowered showy lady's-slippers (Cypripedium reginae).  If only I was in this exact spot a few weeks earlier and had been able to make this group's acquaintance while in full bloom.  It never, ever get's old seeing this spectacular orchid in its prime.

Cardinal flower  ~  Lobelia cardinalis

Not far from the showy lady's-slippers was a sun-drenched opening in the cedar swamp that immediately stood out due to the scarlet red wands of cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) coming into bloom.  It's hard not to notice the most brilliant red color in the plant kingdom set against the green of the cedars and marsh fern (Thelypteris palustris).

Cardinal flower  ~  Lobelia cardinalis

A closer look at the striking blooms of the cardinal flower can only make the heart grow fonder of the plant.  It's a favorite of the hummingbird, which in turn is one of the plant's only pollinators.  If you have a rain garden or a spot on your property with regularly moist and rich soil you couldn't go wrong with planting some of this wildflower.

Fireweed  ~  Chamerion angustifolium

Yet another striking summer wildflower of the northern woods you can't miss is the fireweed (Chamerion angustifolium).  Quite rare in Ohio, it becomes much more common in the northern states and especially in the mountain west where I've seen it by the thousands in Glacier National Park.  The flowers don't last very long and are pollinated by a slew of insects and is a much-desired honey plant that honeybees absolutely love.  Speaking from experience, fireweed honey is a delicious alternative to the traditional clover variety.

Federally endangered Michigan Monkeyflower (Mimulus michiganensis)

As I returned back to where we were staying I decided to make a quick pit stop to see one of the world's rarest plants and a federally endangered species I blogged about last summer, the Michigan monkeyflower (Mimulus michganensis).  This small seep emitting from the hillside flows right down to the shore of Big Glen Lake and provides the specific habitat niche this rarity needs to survive.  The small, yellow snapdragon-like flowers were starting to wane but still in well enough shape to snap a photo or two.  If interested you can go back and read the dedicated post to this species' amazing story right here.

Living in southeastern Ohio it's not often I find myself in the incredible and diverse habitat of the Great Lake's shorelines and dunes, so I like to take full advantage of the little time I do get during the summer.  The flora is so strikingly different from what I see on a day to day basis and the dunes are home to some of the more rare and unique plants one can find.  I'm already looking forward to my feet in the wet sand and chilled waters of Lake Michigan next year.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Rare Plants in a Secret Prairie

This certainly isn't my first blog post to tell a tale of Adams county's ancient and mystical prairie openings and I can guarantee it won't be the last.  It's hard to stay away from such a diverse and engaging subject of Ohio's natural history and flora, especially when one spends a large amount of time combing its varying landscape.  Autumn is just as good a time as any during the growing season to visit the area's globally rare ecosystems and habitats, as they are still well alive with some of the year's last firework displays of wildflowers and tall warm-season grasses.  Come September I am always excited and anxious to pay a visit to one specific little prairie opening out of the hundreds of others to see one of Ohio's rarest vascular plants.

A particular Adams County limestone prairie with an elusive inhabitant 

At first glance this place doesn't seem to be anything different from the other countless dolomite-limestone barrens the county is widely famous for and you'd be right if you didn't know what to look for.  The rocky patches you see in the photograph above are not chunks of rock resting on the surface but rather exposed bedrock laid down over 400 million years ago during the Silurian age and known to geologists as Peebles-Dolomite.

Patch of exposed Peebles-Dolomite bedrock over 400 million years old

In many places the topsoil is only a few inches deep, making for very rugged conditions for any plant to grow in.  The soil is a type called rendzina, which is derived from weathered limestone bedrock and rich in humus, usually indicating an area that has been occupied by a grassland habitat for an extended period of time.  As time goes by and organic material builds up through decomposing plant matter, the soil becomes richer and comprised of more humus and less rock since the bedrock is slowly being covered and lost to the past.  Deep, rich soil is typical of mature forests that have had centuries, even millennia of leaf and herbaceous  decay but not so in these prairies where the organic soil layer is thin and bedrock still at the surface.  Despite the harsh reality of this environment, life has found a way to eek out an existence and cling to the shallow, rocky soil.  One of those survivors is the feature of this post and one of the most rare members of our flora.

Ear-leaved Foxglove  ~  Agalinis auriculata

Mixed in among the big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), and little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) lies the ear-leaved foxglove (Agalinis auriculata), a member of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae).  A frequently used Latin synonym  for this species is Tomanthera auriculata.  Each September these plants grace this select prairie opening with their stunning pinkish-purple flowers for a couple weeks before slipping back into obscurity.

Ear-leaved Foxglove  ~  Agalinis auriculata

At first glance it's not hard to see the resemblance to other members of the Agalinis genus and its false-foxglove brethren.  The pink colored, five-lobed tube-like corollas appear in the leaf axils along the top of the stem.  Each flower only lasts a few hours before wilting and falling from the plant at the slightest touch or breeze. The buds break early in the morning and by noon are pollinated and have served their purpose for the day.  Each plant will bloom over the course of a week or so with a new set of flowers each morning until the ovary is fully fertilized and begins to mature.

Ear-leaved Foxglove  ~  Agalinis auriculata

Once pollinated the ovary quickly swells into a capsule tucked away inside the calyx and contains numerous small seeds.  The seeds mature quickly and are dispersed in late fall to over-winter and sprout in the spring.  Ear-leaved foxglove is an annual so seed production is a vital component to its continued existence and success; every plant, no matter the size, is the result of one season's growth and must complete its life cycle in that one  growing season.  A helpful trait this species has evolved to utilize is to be semi-parasitic on the roots of other nearby plants, most specifically asters (Symphyotrichum spp.).  The leaves are oppositely arranged and sessile with the upper leaves having two small lobes at the base where each leaf meets the stem.  These small lobes (auricles) or 'ears' are how the plant gets its common name ear-leaved foxglove and scientific epithet auriculata.

Ear-leaved Foxglove  ~  Agalinis auriculata

Due to being an annual, the plants put all their strength and energy into that one and only shot at flowering before giving up its ghost.  This leads to interesting results in the variation of size in flowering plants in a population.  I unfortunately caught these a bit late in the process this year and a large majority of the plants were already done and in seed but a few were still giving it one last go.  Some plants were eclipsing three feet in height and had multiple branching sections with dozens of seed pods on them while others, like this miniscule specimen above, were barely five inches tall with one bloom.

Distribution map of Agalinis auriculata (courtesy: BONAP)

The relic prairie I was standing in was just one of a handful of populations left of the ear-leaved foxglove in the state of Ohio.  The few others are well-kept secrets and scattered around the nearby area in other similar barren situations.  The original range for this species in Ohio was slim and scattered to begin with with the only records coming from Adams, Butler, Muskingnum, and Ottawa counties.  For decades the species was considered extirpated from the state and feared gone forever until a chance re-discovery in an Adams county prairie in 1985.  It had sat in the seed bank for an unknown amount of time before the right environmental conditions allowed germination.  Despite additional searching in Ottawa county, the species remains only extant in that handful of Adams county populations.  All the currently extant locations seem to be associated in one way or another with recent disturbance to the habitat, which is known to help stimulate the seed bank and allow this plant to spring forth.  Sometimes mankind's activities can have positive effects, even on something so rare as Agalinis auriculata.

Looking at the overall distribution and range of the species above shows a clustering in the 'breadbasket' region of the United States and outlying scatterings throughout the Midwest and south-central states.  Despite a good showing of records in those heartland states, many, actually most, of those counties no longer contain any existing populations of the ear-leaved foxglove.  Its affinity for mesic, rich, black-soiled tall grass prairies spelled its own doom when they were tilled and plowed for agriculture.  Today the ear-leaved foxglove is only found in about half of its original range with a majority of the remaining populations at the center of its distribution in Illinois, Iowa, and Missouri.  In response to its rarity and disappearing habitat due to succession and development/agriculture, this species is currently under consideration for federal listing.

Ear-leaved Foxglove  ~  Agalinis auriculata

There's something sentimental about being in the presence of something so beautiful and sparse.  It gives you a better appreciation for its existence and place in the natural landscape of these already special and rare ecosystems.  Apart from being the rarest denizen of this particular dolomite prairie, it was certainly not the only uncommon or charming plant to be found.  This next one is not only stimulating to the eyes but to the olfactories as well and can be found if you follow your nose...

Great Plains Ladies-tresses  ~  Spiranthes magnicamporum

I've shared the great plains ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes magnicamporum) on here before and it would seem rude to leave them out here when they are growing just a few feet away from the ear-leaved foxgloves and blooming concurrently.  As mentioned above, the odor emitted from these small crystalline flowers is deliciously sweet and refreshing and well worth a whiff.  It's not uncommon to smell these before you see them on a warm fall afternoon.

Great Plains Ladies-tresses  ~  Spiranthes magnicamporum 

One of the last species of orchid to bloom in the state, these plants are right at home in the xeric and calcareous thin soils of the dolomite prairies.  Spiranthes magnicamporum was once lumped as a variety of the infamously difficult Spiranthes cernua  complex.  In-depth research into its genetics, habitat, and phenology in the mid 1970's allowed the species to be rightfully elevated to full species status.  Its later blooming period, yellow-colored throat, strong fragrance, and dry, limestone habitat preference help separate it from the similar multiple forms of S. cernua.

Great Plains Ladies-tresses  ~  Spiranthes magnicamporum

A closer inspection of the individual inflorescences shows the lateral sepals flared away from the sides and raised just a bit above and seem to imitate the look of a charging bull.  The great plains ladies'-tresses begin to bloom in mid-September and are known to flower through October and into November after even the asters and goldenrods have called it a year.  It's hard to look at one of the last, if not the last, of the orchids to bloom and say goodbye.  For someone as passionately obsessed with that family as your blogger it's a bittersweet moment.

Great Plains Ladies-tresses  ~  Spiranthes magnicamporum

As I picked myself up off the ground from my low and close-up encounter with the great plains ladies'-tresses and dusted myself with crossed fingers the notorious chigger mites hadn't gotten me too bad, I took a look around the rest of the prairie and noticed some of the other interesting flora the habitat had to offer.  One of those quick to catch the eye was one of Ohio's only native succulent plants.

False Aloe  ~  Manfreda virginica

The fleshy, aloe-like leaves of the appropriately named false aloe (Manfreda virginica) are perfectly adapted to the dry and rough conditions of the drought-like barrens.  The tall flowering stalks waved in the breeze three to four feet above the leaves with their marble-sized seed pods turning black with maturation.  They flowered months ago in the heat and humidity of July and only have their unique leaves to show off come fall.

Rough Blazing Star  ~  Liatris aspera

Normally a well-welcomed and loved late wildflower, the rough blazing star (Liatris aspera) can become a potential downer when it's easily confused with the ear-leaved foxglove as you approach and gaze out into the grasses.  Other than the similar pink color to the flowers there's not much else to confuse the two with once getting closer to the plant.  I love all our native Liatris species but this one may be my favorite of them all.

Prairie Brome  ~  Bromus kalmii

Perhaps not the showiest or most noticeable of the plants there, the prairie brome (Bromus kalmii) deserves a closer look if for anything to see the fascinating wooly pubescence on the fruiting heads (spikelets).  Switching to the macro lens and focusing in on the lemmas and glumes reveals the interesting pattern and made for an artistic shot that turned out pretty well in my opinion.  Prairie brome is an uncommon species in Ohio and is at the southern fringe of its natural range, especially as far south as Adams county.

Prairie Orange Coneflower  ~  Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida

Despite peaking a couple months back in late July and early August, the prairie orange coneflower (Rudbeckia fulgida var. fulgida) was still holding on in pockets throughout the xeric landscape.  The small, deep-orange flower heads really add a spark of color and contrast to the light yellows and greens of the dominating grasses.  I look forward to publishing a post on all of Ohio's native Rudbeckia species in the near future.  They are one of my favorite genera of plants and are still a bit of a taxonomic mess.

Gray Goldenrod  ~  Solidago nemoralis

Probably the most common non-graminoid plant in the barrens was the gray goldenrod (Solidago nemoralis), a frequent and widespread species throughout the state in all sorts of dry soil situations.  It has the typical and classic goldenrod look but can be told apart relatively easily unlike a number of species.  It's short stature and unbranched,  wand-like appearance combined with a very pubescent grayish-red stem help with an ID.

With fall's climax fast approaching a gradual slip into the dull browns and grays of winter in the inevitable future I'm enjoying every second I can spend out in the field in the midst of the season's last botanical beauties and friends I won't be seeing for quite some time.  It's hard to believe another growing season is coming to an end; I swear I was admiring trillium and Virginia bluebells just the other day...