Thursday, April 18, 2013

Bike Path Spring Wildflowers

Last week I posted on my time spent admiring the different color forms of the common sharp-lobed hepatica along the forested slopes of the Hockhocking-Adena bike path.  While quite cheerful, it's certainly not the only spring ephemeral to grace the landscape in that area and with the warming temperatures and recent rain things have really exploded in the past few days.

Hockhocking-Adena bike path in-between Nelsonville and Athens

As mentioned in the prior post, the Hockhocking-Adena bike path runs from Nelsonville to Athens along 18 miles of an old, abandoned railroad grade.  The overhanging trees create a tunnel-like cathedral on your walk/ride with the Hocking River flowing on the one side and rich, mesic woodland slopes and terraces on the other.

Large-flowered trillium abound along certain stretches of the path 

Come spring those forested slopes come alive with some of the finest wildflowers shows in the county and are not to be missed for those who live in the area.  It's not uncommon to come across whole hillsides covered in a mass of large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) that will simply take your breath away. I think even the most uninterested of bikers and joggers have to notice their sensational appearance as they pass by.

Such a glorious sight
Large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

For those that didn't know already, the large-flowered trillium is the state wildflower of Ohio and can actually be found in just about all 88 counties.  While us humans admire these fine floral wonders with our eyes only (or at least should), the same cannot be said for white-tailed deer; the trillium are a delicacy that makes their mouths water. Combine that with their over-populated numbers and it can cause this beautiful plant to quickly disappear.

Large-flowered bellwort with large-flowered trillium in the background

While the trillium will certainly be the first to catch your eye and attention, the diversity of other wildflowers mixed in will do even more to whet your appetite.  Large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora) add a nice splash of color alongside the trillium as they dot the hillside with their drooping yellow blossoms.

Large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora)
Rue anenome (Thalictrum thalictroides)

I'm not sure how much attention and appreciation the bellworts get from other admirers and wildflower enthusiasts but I find their delicate and unique appearance to be on par with their rest of their lily family relatives.  Likewise, the common rue anenome (Thalictrum thalictroides) may be overlooked and passed over as simply not deserving of any extended observation time but their central spreading stamens and crown of snow-white petals demand more.

The very short-lived blooms of the twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla)

One of spring's most serendipitous of finds for your blogger tends to be those of the very short-lived and aptly-named twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla). While the plant itself is not all that uncommon, finding it in perfect bloom certainly is! Much like bloodroot flowers, those of the twinleaf only retain their petals for a few short hours before dropping them and setting to seed.  As a friend of mine once said, you must be careful not to breathe when photographing these beauties.  Even the slightest breeze can send their petals scattering to the ground.

Squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis)
Squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis)

Another wonderful yet fleeting sight come April along stretches of the bike path are the lacy leaves and intriguing flowers of squirrel corn (Dicentra canadensis).  Now, I know what you're does a plant get the name of squirrel corn?  Well, this member of the fumitory family (Fumariaceae) has underground bulbets that look very similar to kernels of corn that apparently squirrels like to dig up.  I've never observed this activity but I'll take the naming botanist's word for it.

Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)

Often growing right alongside its closely related squirrel corn brethren, dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) is another uniquely-shaped member of the fumitory family.  One can find their common name to be much more transparent and understandable even at first glance.  I can easily see the resemblance of its flowers to that of a pair of pants drying on the clothesline, albeit upside down. When in flower the two species are hard to confuse but I can understand some's frustration when only in its vegetative stage.  In my experience dutchman's breeches is more of a green color while those of squirrel corn have a distinct silver-blue/teal hue to them.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Further down the path near my residence the forest opens up due to a tornado that passed through the area a few years ago.  It's been interesting to observe what species have responded positively to the increased sunlight conditions and vice versa.  The bloodroots (Sanguinaria canadensis) have been one to take full advantage of the canopy opening; quickly spreading and sending up more plants each year.  The scattered patches in this area have nearly doubled in size in just the past three years.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) closed
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) open

I'm not sure which stage I find more pleasing when it comes to the bloodroot's flowers.  The closed version with its petals unfurled and appearing like a tulip have a beauty all their own, even when compared to the more traditional and crowd favorite fully opened.

Yellow trout-lily (Erythronium americanum)

It wouldn't truly be spring without the charming trout-lilies adding their colors to the landscape.  The yellow trout-lily (Erythronium americanum) typically blooms about a week before its white cousin (E. albidum) here in the hills and hollers of southeastern Ohio and is a personal favorite of this botanist.

Fragile fern (Cystopteris protrusa)
Large-leaf waterleaf (Hydrophyllum macrophylla)

It's not all about the wildflowers as some plants purely in their vegetative forms can add a touch of class and color to those willing to keep a keen eye open for them.  The suitably named fragile fern (Cystopteris protrusa) is one of our state's most frequent pteridophytes but often goes unnoticed for its small size and humble personality.  On the opposite end of the spectrum is that of the large-leaved waterleaf (Hydrophyllum macrophylla).  It's conspicuously marked leaves densely line the bike path for much of its journey in such a manner that the unknowing might mistake it for an invasive weed.  It's "water stained" leaves add an artful touch to any stroll or ride down the bike path.  They won't begin their flowering cycle until closer to summer once the canopy is leafed out and the shade thickened.

I highly encourage any readers and followers living in the Nelsonville and Athens area to get out and experience the Hockhocking bike path for themselves as spring begins to really kick into gear and hit peak levels.  There's so much more to see and experience along its scenic route than I could ever share here!  I'll be back in a couple weeks to bring the next wave of floral sights as spring continues its inevitable march towards summer.


  1. Another great post, Andrew! Some lovely shots again!

  2. Outstanding post, Andrew. I feel exactly the way you do -= must get out your way to see some of these for myself. That photo of the Trilliums and Bellworts together is really outstanding and the Squirrel Corn and Dutchman's breeches.....!!!!!!!