Monday, May 4, 2015

Spring's First Bloomers

The older I get the faster spring and life in general seems to move.  There's just never enough of that precious commodity called time to see and do everything the heart desires each season.  So here I am playing catch up but I figured better late than never, right?  I originally planned to get this published about a month ago so please excuse its tardiness.  With that being said let's travel a few weeks back in time for some early bloomers that have already come and gone.

Ohio Brush Creek valley near its confluence with the Ohio River

Sunny southern Ohio.  There's few places I prefer to ring in the new growing season more than the river counties of Adams and Scioto. It's no coincidence they are featured and/or mentioned time and time again on this blog.  The enormous blocks of contiguous forest and thousands of acres of preserved land make them a prime region to explore.

Exposed limestone bedrock along a small waterway in Adams county

I make many annual pilgrimages to see a bevy of different wildflowers but none carry the same anticipation as the year's first.  The dolomite limestone exposures and rocky bluffs pictured above may seem stuck in their lifeless winter state but looks can be deceiving.

Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale)

Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale)
Snow Trillium (Trillium nivale)

Freshly emerged snow trillium (Trillium nivale)!  Spring could wake up in any number of ways but its choice of these beauties in select calcareous areas of the state is perfect to me.  Their appearance may seem delicate but snow trillium are tough plants.  It's not uncommon for a late snowfall to coincide with their blooming yet they shrug it off as if it were nothing.

Rare white cedar trees clinging to the limestone rock faces along Scioto Brush Creek

The evergreen glow of the rare northern white cedars (Thuja occidentalis) that line the limestone rock faces are not to be lost in the excitement of the site's snow trillium.  Speaking of tough plants, it's hard to find something with more gravitas or tenacity than these trees.  They can live for centuries in these situations, growing millimeter by millimeter and attaining gnarled, bonsai-like forms.

Harbinger-of-Spring (Erigenia bulbosa)

Harbinger-of-spring (Erigena bulbosa) may be in fruit and disappearing until next spring as I type this but they were in their prime during this particular foray.

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Anenome acutiloba)

As were the sharp-lobed hepatica (Anenome acutiloba) in their various shades of whites, creams, lavenders and blue.  I'm curious to know what causes such a wide range of expressed phenotypes in this species.  Genetics, soil/nutrients, age or perhaps a combination of the three?

Little Whitlow-grass (Draba brachycarpa)

Little Whitlow-grass (Draba brachycarpa)
Little Whitlow-grass (Draba brachycarpa)

The rare and unusual is always of interest to me.  I can and do appreciate the common day-to-day things but the out of the ordinary is a spice I crave.  The little whitlow-grass (Draba brachycarpa) is as rare as it is unusual here in Ohio. It only grows in a couple sites along the Ohio River; both old cemeteries on perched sand ridges.  It's a charming little flower when viewed at high magnification; many plants only end up measuring an inch or two tall.

Prickly Pear Cactus (Opuntia humifusa)

Growing in the same sandy soil as the little whitlow-grass is Ohio's very own native cactus, the eastern prickly pear (Opuntia humifusa). Their pads were looking a bit beat up from the harsh winter but come June they'll dazzle the eyes with large, honey yellow flowers.  The reaction of folks  hearing for the first time we do indeed have an indigenous species of cactus is one of my favorites.

White Trout-lily (Erythronium albidum)
White Trout-lily (Erythronium albidum)

Trout-lilies were one of the first wildflowers I fell for during my early years.  They always seem to need a self-esteem boost with their shy, drooping flowers.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

The beauty of spring is one fleeting moment after another and few moments seem to pass faster than the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis).  Each flower's whorl of snow-white petals only last for a day or two before dropping at the slightest touch or breeze. Their underground rhizomes can spread in favorable conditions, creating impressive colonies of delicate flowers and their unique leaves.

Goldenstar-lily (Erythronium rostratum)
Goldenstar-lily (Erythronium rostratum)

It's not just the white trout-lilies from earlier on that have such demure personalities but just about every other North American Erythronium species too.  Only the goldenstar-lily (E. rostratum) exhibits unwavering confidence and shows off their flowers for all the world to see.  Their golden blooms are held erect on the stem and only unfurl their stunning tepals in the sunniest of conditions.

Goldenstar-lily (Erythronium rostratum) with eight tepals instead of six
Goldenstar-lily (Erythronium rostratum) just about to wake up

Goldenstar-lilies also happen to be one of our most rare wildflowers in Ohio and are currently listed as endangered within the state. They are only known to occur in select areas of Adams and Scioto counties; all within the watershed of Rocky Fork Creek too.

Deer Tick

While photographing the goldenstar-lilies under a brilliant sapphire sky, I happened to notice a small black speck slowly making its way up my pant's leg.  I knew it was a tick but which of the three species one can find in southern Ohio would it be?  Unfortunately, the orange "butt" of this particular one gave it away as the dreaded deer tick or black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis).  Unlike the dog tick (Dermacentor variabilis) or the lone star tick (Amblyomma americanum), deer ticks are a carrier/transmitter of Lyme disease among a host of other nasty diseases.  Just a few years ago I almost never picked deer ticks off me but nowadays them seem to be outnumbering dog and lone stars more and more.  All the more reason to keep an eye out and be ever-vigilant!

A trio of goldenstar-lilies in all their early spring glory

It's hard to believe these wonderful wildflowers have already done their duties and been replaced with maturing seed pods.  Another spring already well underway with many aspects left to wait nearly another year to see once again.  I hope to catch up on more of spring's activity as I find the time but even so I could never adequately represent what spring coming to southern Ohio entails.  Some things are best left to speak for themselves and Mother Nature is definitively that.

- ALG - 


  1. Beautiful group of wildflowers! We have only some of those here, and they'd just be in bloom now. But I'm intrigued to see Cedar described as rare. They're so common here, the most interesting ones also growing on limestone cliffs.

  2. Those goldenstar-lililes are tremendously beautiful -- I've never been fortunate enough to see them.

    Please don't think that dog and lone star ticks are innocuous. They both can carry diseases that have the potential to really damage a person's long or short-term health. Lyme (not Lyme's) disease is a truly ugly malady if left untreated for any length of time. Lyme disease was named for the area (Old Lyme, Connecticut) where it first became readily apparent as a health problem. Interestingly, there was a malady called "Montauk knee" on New York's Long Island in the mid-1800s; the descriptions of that condition sound a lot like what we now call Lyme disease.

    1. Thank you for the correction, WM. No worries, I hardly think the other two tick species are harmless as they do indeed carry a mess of other nasty ailments. I just make specific mention of the deer tick because I never used to see them and now they seem to be the tick I pull off myself the most in this area of the state. Since they're so new I want to make sure people know they are out there and Lyme disease is now a much greater risk in Ohio. I've always wondered apart from being disease-carriers for mammalians, what role ticks play in the natural order and if they'd really be all that missed if they were to all disappear overnight haha.