Thursday, September 15, 2011

Adams County's Prairies Revisited

I'm quite excited to move on with my series on Ohio's native prairies!  For part two I will focus on the tall grass prairies of north and west central Ohio known as the Sundusky and Darby Plains.  These once immense prairie systems were some of Ohio's most diverse and ecologically important habitats prior to European settlement until they were almost entirely erased forever.  However I can't help but first share a few examples of the amazing flora seen during my most recent time spent down in Adams county!  Just consider this a happy extension and continuation of previous post on the bluegrass prairies of Ohio.

Big Bluestem looking over the rolling hills and valleys of southern Ohio

There is nothing better than spending a few days in the rolling foothills of the Appalachian's in southern Ohio.  With the forecast predicting clear blue skies and sunny warm weather ahead, my father and I made the two hour drive down to our property in Adams county.  We'd been meaning to give the cabin and surrounding deck a fresh coat of paint for a while and decided to take advantage of nature's temporary compromise.  As promised, the sun shined brightly through the yellowing canopy of leaves that rippled in the refreshing breeze.  Painting has never been known to put a smile on my face but I couldn't complain spending all day outside in the fresh forest air with nothing but the sounds of late summer tickling my eardrums.  Despite the days filled with a cramped hand and paintbrush, I was able to slip out in the early morning or evening hours for some botanizing!  Lucky I did as I was in for a treat with an array of tantalizingly rare and gorgeous wildflowers!

Rough Rattlesnake-root - Prenanthes aspera

When it comes down to it I really am a fan of just about any plant species and/or family.  It's easy to play favorites, as I frequently do, when so many share the characteristics and qualities I look for in a plant.  Having said that, I can say without any doubt come fall one of the best genera to go looking for are the Rattlesnake-roots (Prenanthes spp.).  Rough Rattlesnake-root (P. aspera) is one of the rarest and is listed as an endangered species in Ohio.  The open and rocky situations in the county's more acidic barrens are home to the few state populations still extant.  Some point in the near or far future I'd love to do a post dedicated solely to our state's seven Prenanthes species.

Yellowish Gentian - Gentiana alba

Ah, Gentian season is here!  Nothing says fall like the white and blue colored, tubular blooms from the Gentians.  The first up to bat is the Yellowish Gentian (Gentiana alba), which also goes by the common names of Cream or Prairie Gentian.  Listed as threatened in Ohio, I've never seen it anywhere else than a couple separate populations along Adams county's most secluded forested roads.  Their ghostly cream flowers glowed through the morning mists as I walked up to the first patch just starting to open at the top of the corolla.  I did a more detailed post on these wonderful plants last fall that can be found HERE.

Blue Curls - Trichostema dichotomum

After a few seasons of eluding me I finally found the dainty and cute Blue Curls (Trichostema dichotomum) blooming in one of the areas numerous prairie openings!  I'd waited a long time to capture these sophisticated little flowers with my camera lens and jumped at the chance to final mark these off the list.  There's no mistaking Blue Curls with their dark blue spotted lip and curving stamens and styles.  Each flower is only the size of a pinkie nail so the macro lens was a must!  Ohio is home to the state endangered Narrow-leaved Blue Curls (T. setaceum) which only differ in very narrow, linear leaves and slightly larger flowers.

Elephant's-foot - Elephantopus carolinianus

Easily one of my favorite wildflowers come fall in the southern Ohio counties is the easily ignored Elephant's-foot (Elephantopus carolinianus).  An inconspicuous member of the Asteraceae family, it's small white flowers actually only have four petals, each comprised of five rays; all making the flower seem to have numerous individual petals.  Elephant's-foot typically grows in openings and borders of rich, mesic woods with a rosette of large, basal leaves.

Rough Blazing Star - Liatris aspera

Generally the last of the Liatris' to bloom and my personal favorite is the Rough Blazing Star (L. aspera).  Sometimes reaching four to five feet tall and covered with over 100 flower heads, it just doesn't get much more breath-taking than seeing a prairie filled with these tall, thick wands of pink!  This particular specimen was over four feet tall and branched towards the top.  I love these plants!

Smooth Yellow False Foxglove - Aureolaria flava

A drive down almost any back road during September on the upper slopes and ridge tops of southern Ohio's oak/hickory forests should reward the careful observer with one of the late summer's most delightful wildflowers.  These large, bright yellow and trumpet-like flowers belong to the Smooth Yellow False Foxglove (Aureolaria flava).  These plants are known to be semi-parasitic on the roots of oak trees, tapping into the much larger plant's resources for its own use.

Slender False Foxglove - Agalinis tenuifolia

A common sight in prairies, woodland borders, thickets and openings is the Slender False Foxglove (Agalins tenuifolia).  Found throughout nearly the entire state, it seems to be most frequent down in the southern reaches, as I've seen it with increasing frequency the more south I travel.  The deep pink corollas have a light, polka-dotted throat lined with fuzzy, cotton-like stamens/anthers.

Stiff Goldenrod - Oligoneuron rigidum

Even the greenest of any plant appreciator is familiar with the fall blooming Goldenrods (previously all Solidago's).  Fields, meadows, roadsides and prairies are painted bright shades of gold and yellow from the numerous different species; some as common as weeds, others much more rare.  An uncommon goldenrod and arguably my favorite is the Stiff Goldenrod (Oligoneuron rigidum).  It's unbranched stems contain alternately-attaching, entire leaves that are thick and clasp the stem.  This with the aid of large, less numerous flower heads add up to a pretty easy I.D.  All the goldenrods were once under the Solidago banner but many, such as this guy, have been separated out into new genera.

Tune back in soon to catch the continuation on Ohio's native prairies but I think one more post dedicated to a very rare and very beautiful wildflower is due before getting back on track....


  1. Another great post, with photos of plants I'm not likely to see in northern NY. By the way, I hope you meant that the Cream Gentians were "ghostly" rather than "ghastly." It's hard to think of a flower as lovely as that being something horrible.

  2. Excellent catch, Jackie! I did indeed mean ghostly. As you said, how could I ever call such an incredible bloom such a name!

  3. Great pics again.
    Thank heavens for scientific names thought. I looked at your pic of Blue Curls and thought I recognized it but not by that name. Searched my pics and it's called Forked Bluecurls down here. Luckily the scientific name is ocmmon. It's a lovely flower.

  4. Very nice pics!;) Lets botanize in the next couple of weeks!

  5. Nice to see all those prairie plants. It has been a good year for goldenrod here in the east.

  6. As always- absolutely wonderful photos. You have a real talent! I hope to see those Bluecurls someday.