Thursday, May 14, 2015

Orchid Hike for the Cincinnati Wildflower Preservation Society

This past weekend your blogger had the pleasure of leading a hike for the Cincinnati Wildflower Preservation Society.  I've given presentations at their monthly meeting several times before but this was the first time we'd taken to the field together.  My talk for the society this past January dealt with Ohio's native orchids so it seemed appropriate to go from the projector to seeing them in person. Over 25 eager and excited participants, including quite a few familiar faces and friends joined me in the Edge of Appalachia and Shawnee State Forest region of extreme southern Ohio for quite the botanical foray.

I'd like to make specific mention of and say thanks to three special people who made the trek all the way from Ontario, Canada to spend the weekend and especially Saturday botanizing, birding, herping etc. with me.  It was a pleasure to meet and spend time with Bob Curry, Glenda Slessor and John Lamey and share the natural treasures of the Edge and Shawnee with them on Friday and Saturday. They had their sights especially set on seeing a particular orchid or two but I'll get to that later.  All in all, I think I can speak for them in saying they walked away impressed and mesmerized by southern Ohio's beauty and a strong friendship was kindled between them and myself.

Photo of the hike's participants courtesy CWPS member and treasurer, Randy Johnson

Someone must have flicked the switch for July because the week leading up to the hike and the day of was a scorcher.  Temperatures in the area reached highs near 90 and made the early May date seem like a mistake.  Thankfully, the orchids and numerous other plants seemed to take the stress in stride and largely looked great for our eyes and cameras.

Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata)
Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata)

Davis Memorial state nature preserve in Adams County was our first stop for the day. Its rich forest slopes and dolomite limestone rock features are home to countless spring wildflowers and several species of orchid.  The regal looking dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata) was looking especially nice in the dappled shade.

Showy Orchis (Galearis spectabilis)

It wasn't long before we had the first orchid on our day's list with the showy orchis (Galearis spectabilis).  Most everyone remembers their important "firsts" and the showy orchis will forever be close to my heart as the first wild orchid I ever saw in bloom.  I've seen it countless times since but I never tire of its unique appearance.  Davis Memorial proved to be a favorable spot for this species as we came across upwards of a dozen plants of varying aesthetics and stature.

Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)

Davis Memorial is of special geological interest as well with its exposed dolomite limestone cliffs and gorge walls.  Dolomite contains more magnesium than your average limestone, which allows for a sweeter soil composition upon weathering.  Many plants do exceptionally well in said soils and why this region of the county is known for its stupendous spring wildflower displays.  Wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) is just one species that loves to grow from the rock face's cracks and small soil accumulations.

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium pubescens)

The next orchid on this most orchid-y of days was the large yellow lady's slipper (Cypripedium pubescens).  We went on to see it at several more sites but it never failed to be a showstopper, especially when in large, many-flowered clumps.

Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium pubescens)
Large Yellow Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium pubescens)

Most of the photos in this post I took during my scouting and personal botanizing time the day before leading the hike.  I like to take my time when engaging these remarkable, highly evolved plants and I knew that would be at a minimum during the hike.  It's also important to me I give my full attention to the questions, curiosities and concerns of my group.  For many this was the first time seeing orchids such as the large yellows, while I've been spoiled with dozens of encounters and hopefully dozens more to come.

Spring in Shawnee State Forest

I could honestly spend all day, every day in Shawnee during the spring.  There's a feel to its wild depths unlike anything else in the state. Bobcats to cerulean warblers, timber rattlesnakes or the goldenstar lily, Shawnee has it all.  There's few places better for orchids in the state either with Shawnee claiming over a dozen species throughout the year.

Pollinated and wilting large whorled pogonia (Isotria verticillata)

As I mentioned at the beginning of this post, Bob, Glenda and John came all the way from Ontario with one specific orchid in mind: the large whorled pogonia (Isotria verticillata).  While relatively common in the acidic, upland oak forests of eastern unglaciated Ohio, the large whorled pogonia is excruciatingly rare in Ontario.  In fact, it's believed to be extirpated and hasn't been seen above ground in quite some time.  Unfortunately, the unseasonably hot temperatures ushered this notoriously short bloomer into flower and quickly out by the time of their arrival.  They took Mother Nature's curveball in stride though and were beyond happy to see the plant even in a wilted state.

Rose Azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum)

It wouldn't be the peak of spring in Shawnee without the vibrant blossoms of the rose azalea (Rhododendron prinophyllum).  They litter the roadsides on the forest's higher and drier slopes in an assortment of dark and light pinks.

Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)
Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Speaking of pink colored flowers, I'd be remiss if I didn't make mention of the always exciting pink lady's slippers (Cypripedium acaule). This was a superb year for this orchid as most of my known sites had an exemplary number of flowering plants.  Each labellum or slipper looks like a big wad of chewing gum someone deposited atop a green stem to my eyes.

White-colored Pink Lady's Slipper
White-colored Pink Lady's Slipper

And then there's the case when someone is chewing peppermint flavored gum and leaves a white blob instead. I've observed this white-flowered pink lady's slipper for a handful of years running now and never get tired of its unusual charm.  I would hesitate to acknowledge this as a true case of albinism due the the dorsal/lateral sepals and column lacking the typical lime green coloration of an albino.  This seems to simply be a case of a white labellum only.

Rock Fir Moss (Huperzia porophila)

With so many pairs of eyes observing the landscape few things of interest are likely to slip past detection.  One fun item that stood out was large colonies of rock fir moss (Huperzia porophila) amassed on some steep sandstone slopes.  Lycopods to mycology, just about every aspect of our natural world is discussed and/or represented on a hike like this and makes for an educational experience for everyone involved.

Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata)
Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala)

Other Shawnee oddities gracing our hike with their floral presence was the rare umbrella magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) and crossvine (Bignonia capreolata).  Both are plants much more common further south and just barely make it into southern Ohio.  They certainly have a southern or 'tropical' feel/look to them.  Just another feather in Shawnee's hat if you ask me!

Earlier on Friday during my solo foray, I decided to make my annual pilgrimage to a special and treasured site on the Edge of Appalachia preserve.  As incredible a site as it is, it's one that's too remote and too sensitive to bring a group of even respectful, well-mannered wildflower admirers to.

Hanging prairie on the Edge of Appalachia and one of my favorite views in the entire state

Of all the impressive views I've gazed out across in the Buckeye state, I'd have to say the one photographed above is on my very short list of the best.  This hanging prairie clings to the side of a hill; an island of rare grassland plants overlooking a rolling sea of contiguous forest.  No roads, no buildings, no people or anything to break the sounds of nature.  It's rare to get that kind of purity with no noise pollution and only adds to the splendor of the place.  Within its depths is a slew of prairie plants like scarlet paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), prairie phlox (Phlox pilosa), hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens), heart-leaved golden alexanders (Zizia aptera), yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta), white blue-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium albidum), arrow-leaved violet (Viola sagittata) and one very rare, very stunning orchid: the endangered small white lady's slipper (Cypripedium candidum).

Prairie phlox, scarlet paintbrush, hoary puccoon etc. in full, spectacular bloom

Small White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum)
Small White Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium candidum)

Scarlet Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

Hanging prairie is a true slice of botanical heaven and one I can't wait to visit each early May.  It's never disappointed in the past, it didn't disappoint this time around and I don't dare doubt it will break that streak any time soon.  I could dedicate an entire post of this length to the site and perhaps I will one day.

Needless to say the hike was a resounding success and everyone involved had a helluva time immersed in southern Ohio's spring bounty of wildflowers, orchids and birds.  Leading hikes never fails to leave me physically exhausted by mentally revitalized and freshened.  It's such a fun way to share my passion and knowledge for orchids, Ohio and our natural world as a whole.  I'll be leading two additional hikes for the Cincinnati Wildflower Preservation Society later this year in August and September, respectively.  Take a look on the left side of my blog for my events section for more details.  Special thanks to the Christine Hadley for helping me put this together and for asking me to lead this hike!  I/we certainly had an amazing time!

- ALG -


  1. Sounds like a wonderful hike! I'm familiar with a number of those plants up here, but certainly not all of them.

  2. Wow! What a treat to see all of those orchids in bloom. There mustn't be too many deer in that area -- deer have eliminated many of the wild orchids in my area -- except for the only plants of showy orchid in the Big Woods, they were poached by a member of a group of wildflower aficionados that I made the mistake of taking to see the orchids.