|Scenic look out across the rolling hills of Shawnee state forest|
This was my second year in a row being a trip co-leader and I couldn't have asked for a better partner in the phenomenal and well-known nature photographer, Ian Adams. I had never met Ian before but after just one day out in the field with him, I think I can speak for the both of us that a friendship was quickly kindled. His eye for capturing nature with the camera lens is second to none and he's quite the naturalist as well with a great depth of knowledge and understanding about our natural world.
Our group was largely made up of folks who wanted to center on photography and soak up the tips, techniques, and tricks Ian (and myself to a smaller degree) had to share. With being a trip leader, I largely left my own camera in its case and instead wanted to focus on educating and leading my group efficiently and without the distraction. I did however use my iPhone to snap a number of pictures of what we saw and am quite pleased with the way most of them came out. As a result just about all the photos used in this post were taken with my phone; which goes to explain why my hands and/or fingers are in some of the shots. The iPhone can have a hard time focusing on smaller subjects in the foreground and using your hand as a backboard can help make the sensor's focusing job that much easier. That all being said let's jump into some of the floral highlights of Flora-Quest weekend 2013!
|Flowering dogwood along a flowing stream in Shawnee state forest|
First thing worth saying is what a difference a year can make. This time last year had the forest and plants looking like late May/early June and the trees completely leafed out; which was certainly not the case this time around. Things were all just about right on time with many of the Flora-Quest classics all present and in full bloom. The snow white blossoms of the flowering dogwood and wild plums along with the vibrant pinkish-reds of the red bud carpeted the forest under story in their typical stunning fashion.
|Dwarf crested irises (Iris cristata) in full bloom along Shawnee's roadsides|
Instantly noticeable all along the forested roads of Shawnee were the regal purple carpets of dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) in full bloom. The underground rhizomes do their jobs well and quickly spread out to give the forest a seemingly endless supply of the short-lived flowers, perfectly timed up with our arrival.
|Dwarf crested irises (Iris cristata)|
|Spectacular double-flowered iris|
Upon closer inspection of their delicate flowers, the dwarf crested iris can truly be held among the floral elites of spring. The soft shade of lavender they exhibit is contrasted stunningly by their petals honey yellow markings. Our group was fortuitous enough to come across a spectacular double-flowered form that was most likely the result of some genes going a bit haywire.
|Albino dwarf crested irises|
Perhaps less rare but nigh on equally pleasing were some albino forms of dwarf crested iris. Their shades of purple had been traded in for the purest of white with only the golden markings left behind to add any accentuation.
|Large yellow lady's slippers (Cypripedium pubescens)|
It's nothing revolutionary in admitting the promise of wild orchids to be one of the main draws to each annual Flora-Quest event. This year found them waking up a bit late and more slowly than in years past but still putting on as magnificent a show as ever. Large yellow lady's slippers (Cypripedium pubescens) never fail to impress and get a group's camera shutters clicking in unison.
|Spotted mandarin (Prosartes maculata)|
|Pawpaw flowers (Asimina triloba)|
One rarity that was completely absent from last year's spectacle was the evanescent blooms of the spotted mandarin (Prosartes maculata). Their creamy white petals are feverishly spotted with tiny purple speckles much like if it was suffering from a case of the flower chickenpox. On the opposite end of the scarcity spectrum, the malodorous pawpaw (Asimina triloba) was putting on its own show with their charming matte scarlet blooms.
|Luna moth (Actias luna)|
It wasn't all wildflowers for our group when we stumbled across a feeble luna moth while out and about. Ian hypothesized its lackadaisical attitude and out-in-the-open location was foretelling that its job of mating had been completed and its life cycle come to an inevitable close.
|Black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis)|
Another invertebrate critter we encountered while in Shawnee was hardly as welcome and grandiose as the luna moth and much more sinister. The small speck climbing up your blogger's finger is the infamous black-legged tick, which also goes by the name of deer tick. Of the three species of tick that call Ohio home (deer, dog, and lone star) only the deer tick can carry Lyme's disease; so naturally they seem to get the most attention. Its smaller size and orange-colored back are helpful ID characteristics. It's becoming much more prevalent in the southern/southeastern/eastern part of the state so be on the lookout for it!
|Early pink azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum)|
An instant classic and inducer of many "oohs" and "ahhs" is one of my all-time favorite woody plants: the early pink azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum). A completely hidden and inconspicuous plant any other time of the year, early May is this heath family member's time to shine! If you think its looks are good, definitely take the time to give it a whiff. Its intoxicating aroma will impress your nose as much as its perfect pink blossoms please your eyes!
|Dry hillside full of vernal iris|
|Vernal iris (Iris verna)|
In addition to the aforementioned dwarf crested iris, Shawnee is also home to the state-threatened and absolutely breathtaking vernal iris (Iris verna). Few other wildflowers can eclipse the electric blue/purple hues and royal demeanor of its blooms. Most iris species are associated with wet-moist soiled situations but the vernal iris is a high and dry plant that prefers the xeric, sun-drenched ridge tops and rocky outcrops of extreme southern Ohio.
|Bird's foot violet (Viola pedata)|
|Black-edged sedge (Carex nigromarginata)|
I wouldn't be a real botanist if I didn't take the time to share with my group one of my favorite sedge species now would I? I may have had a few odd looks and some scratching their heads as I gushed over the beauty and my love for the black-edged sedge (Carex nigromarginata), but they did agree it was a rather handsome little plant.
|Large, leafing out tuliptree|
|Showy orchis (Galearis spectabilis)|
While orchids like the showy orchis (Galearis spectabilis) showed off their glamour on the ground below, high in the tree tops our group was spoiled with a diverse array of fantastic birds. Scarlet tanager, wood thrush, worm-eating warbler, cerulean warbler, hooded warbler, ovenbird, northern parula, American redstart, and whippoorwill is just a small sampling of the feathered friends we encountered. Our group was even so lucky as to come across a gorgeous, healthy-looking coyote deep in Shawnee during Sunday morning's outing. It quickly disappeared into the trees but those few fleeting seconds were special indeed.
|Whorled pogonia (Isotria verticillata)|
One of the most fun plants last year's event missed out on was thankfully just coming into its prime this time around. I was forced to show the swelling seed pods of the whorled pogonia orchid (Isotria verticillata) to my group last season but I was much more successful this weekend! This infrequent orchid prefers the dry, acidic upland soils of oak/pine woods; often in association with mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) and other members of the Ericaceae family.
|Whorled pogonia (Isotria verticillata)|
The whorled pogonia looks like a mythical beast out of the folklore of Greece or Rome with its spreading sepals and gaping "mouth"; waiting to consume its next unassuming victim. It may not have the same following and fan club as the next orchid species but it has always been one of my favorites for its unique and chimerical appearance.
|Pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule)|
Growing in close proximity to the whorled pogonia and sharing in its love for the dry, acidic mixed oak forest was some impressive clumps and patches of the pink lady's slipper (Cypripedium acaule). I've seen this particular orchid dozens of times before in years past but it just never gets old getting reacquainted with their gorgeous faces each and every spring. There's just something about them I find irresistible and I think my group easily shared in that excitement.
|Black huckleberry (Gaylussica baccata)|
|Hillside blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum)|
Two associates of the acidic oak woodlands happened to be in full bloom this past weekend and both end up producing a delicious fruit I can never get enough of. On the left is the red bell-shaped flowers of the black huckleberry (Gaylussica baccata) with is cousin hillside blueberry (Vaccinium pallidum) flowering right alongside it. Both are members of the heath family (Ericaceae) and very common in the mountain laurel and azalea thickets of Shawnee state forest.
There's so much more I could share and wildflower pictures worth posting but if I don't stop now, I don't know that I ever could or would! Flora-Quest proved to be once again an incredibly well put together and organized event that I think I can safely say everyone in attendance absolutely loved. It's a shame to see it come to a close so soon but there's always next year to look forward to. I hope to be an integral part of it once again and be leading some field trips but we'll see what possibilities it brings. Next up on the docket is Mothapalooza June 14-16, being held right here in Shawnee state forest and on the Edge as well. Hope to see some of you there!