Friday, May 24, 2013

Hybrid Lady's Slippers at Castalia Prairie

I'm back to follow through on my promise to bring you the last chapter of this past weekend's northwest Ohio botanical foray.  I've shared the exceptional lakeside daises and you've seen the electric display of wild lupine but I feel like I've saved the best for last.  I hinted at the topic for this concluding post and if you are even a semi-regular reader of this blog, I don't think it was too hard to surmise the subject matter would be orchids!

Castalia prairie within Resthaven Wildlife Area

Not far inland from the shores of Sandusky Bay on Lake Erie is Resthaven Wildlife Area in Erie county.  Within the 2,000+ acres of wildlife area lies Castalia prairie: an old, intact prairie remnant that has long been home to the largest population of one of Ohio's rarest plants.  The slightly mucky black soil sits over a deposit of marl and tufa (a porous variety of limestone) with upwelling groundwater that helps to keep the site moist throughout the year.  This combination of calcareous soils and alkaline groundwater is what allows this great rarity to persist and thrive in such great numbers.

Clump of small white lady's slippers (Cypripedium candidum)

That plant is none other than the state-endangered small white lady's slippers (Cypripedium candidum), which occur literally by the thousands throughout the prairie.  Early settlers wrote of coming across large swathes of grassland come mid-late May in this area of the country and the air being saturated with the sweet scent of this orchid as countless thousands bloomed in the prairies.  Those sights and smells are long gone in today's world due to habitat loss and alteration but Castalia gives as close a glimpse (and whiff) as one can get here in Ohio.

Small white lady's slippers
Very rare double-flowered specimen

It was certainly something incredible in and of itself to see so much of this dainty orchid coming into bloom and peaking their heads out of the previous year's dead growth on the ground below.  Having only seen these by the handful in select limestone barrens in extreme southern Ohio, I was speechless at their grandeur and appearance at Castalia.  However, believe it or not it wasn't the small white ladies I had specifically come to see.  No, there was something more elusive hiding among the dead grasses that my eye was anxiously hoping to catch a glimpse of.

A suspicious and odd-looking lady's slipper orchid

What I was looking for were lady's slippers with a hint of yellow to their lip and/or dark sepals that signaled the presence of crossed genes between two different species.  That's right, a hybrid lady's slipper and orchid I had wasted many an hour daydreaming of finally make acquaintances with.

Andrew's lady's slipper
Andrew's lady's slipper just waking up

It wasn't too long before I fortuned upon a particularly suspicious specimen that showed the distinct yellowish labellum and slightly darker sepals of my bounty.  Now, don't let the name fool you;  Andrew's lady's slipper (Cypripedium x andrewsii) is not named after your blogger but in honor of Edwards Andrews, the original discoverer of the hybrid.

Andrew's lady's slipper next to small white lady's slipper

Additionally, I spotted a newly opened hybrid lady's slipper growing right alongside one of its parent species, the small white lady's slipper.  Despite finding examples of orchids clearly showing a mixture of genes, I still wasn't fully satisfied and was holding out hope a better specimen would present itself.  Luckily, my good friend and eagle-eyed companion Dr. Todd Crail of the University of Toledo came through!

Excellent specimen of Andrew's lady's slipper (C.x andrewsii)

Now that's more like it!  This sole plant was easily the best one found all day and in perfect bloom to boot; a very well-timed thing as these orchids don't last long at all in prime shape and color.  Here you can see the perfect combination of its two parent's traits which I will now get into in more detail.

small white lady's slipper (L), Andrew's lady's slipper (M), small yellow lady's slipper (R) 

I quickly put together the above photo in an attempt to best show the similarities and differences found in the hybrid orchids scattered throughout the prairie opening.  On the left is one of its parents, the aforementioned small white lady's slipper; while on the right is the other parent species, the northern small yellow lady's slipper (C. parviflorum var. makasin).  With both parent species to either side it becomes more apparent and easy to see that the hybrid largely kept the white color of the small white's pouch with some very faint yellow tinging blended in.  The sepals are a much darker color hailing from the small yellow lady's slipper and overpower the more light greenish-brown sepals of the small white.

Phenomenally spotted pattern to the hybrid's labellum

What I found most attractive and noticeable about this particularly well-blended specimen was the liberal spattering of magenta dots throughout the inside, rim, and outer surface of the labellum.  There's just nothing like getting a closer look at the pouch with this kind of artistic detail; it's absolutely stunning!

Andrew's lady's slipper (C. x andrewsii)

While the small whites were just about everywhere throughout the section of Castalia, the true-blue (or should I say yellow) northern small yellow ladies (C. parviflorum var. makasin) disappeared from the prairie years ago due to what is/was believed to be a change in the hydrology of their location(s).  Present or not now, it's clear their genetics cling to existence within the previously shared photographs of Andrew's lady's slipper.  In fact, many of the small whites exhibited the ever-so-slightest traits of the small yellows somewhere on the plant.  Very few of them appeared to be pure C. candidum.

Hybrid lady's slipper
Hybrid lady's slipper

In the end, Todd and I found about a dozen or so lady's slippers that showed strong/obvious signs of crossing between the small whites and yellows out of the thousands of orchids at the site.  These pictures above came across to me as mostly C. candidum except for the clearly yellow tinge to the pouch and maybe slightly darker sepals.  

For those that enjoy the nitty-gritty taxonomy aspect to plants, this specific hybrid is called Cypripedium andrewsii var. andrewii for its cross with the small yellow lady's slipper.  This variety typically exhibits a specimen closer to the one shown just a bit above with a mostly white pouch and very dark sepals.  In other situations the small whites have been known to occur near enough some large yellow lady's slipper (C. pubescens) to create the other variety C. andrewsii var. flavillianum.  This species is less attractive than the other with larger flowers, light yellow labellum with no magenta spotting, and coffee brown sepals.

More yellowish hybrid 
Perfect Andrew's lady's slipper hybrid specimen

After spending nearly four hours in the prairie searching out and photographing these unique beauties and acquiring quite the sunburn on my forearms we decided to call it quits and make for the car.  It was a very satisfying feeling walking back knowing I had another Ohio orchid on my memory card and check marked off the list.  Of the 48 Ohio native orchids I count on my list, I have now seen 45!  Only three more to go and with any luck I should be down to just ONE at the end of this year.  It's crazy to think one of my major botanical bucket lists is nearing completion but that's hardly the end of the story.  I have my fingers crossed a book would be soon to follow; it's just getting those pesky photographs down first and then finding the time to write and plan it out.

I sincerely hope you enjoyed this late-spring swing through some of the botanical hot spots of northwestern Ohio and will tune back in soon as I continue to bring you more of the natural treasures of Ohio!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Wild Lupine: Oak Openings Spring Fireworks Show

Continuing on with my trip up to the northwestern quarter of Ohio this past weekend, I was able to mark off another botanical event that had eluded me for a number of years much like that of the federally threatened lakeside daisies I recently posted about.  There is a certain must-see event that occurs each late-spring in the famed Oak Openings region of Ohio that could impress even the most novice of nature goers.

Sandy meadow full of wild lupine in full, spectacular bloom 

Blooming fantastically throughout the sand dunes, open oak savannas, and dry barrens of the Oak Openings was the rare wild lupine (Lupinus perennis) with its electric blue-purple flowers set perfectly against the lush green color of its lacy, palmately compounded leaves.  Come this time of the year certain can't-miss spots in the area come alive with their stunning firework shows that are alone worth the drive up to the Toledo area.

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)

Local state nature preserves and parks like Kitty Todd, Lou Campbell, Melkie Savanna, and the Oak Openings metro park all have their own splendid displays of this legume that won't disappoint if you time it right!  The past few years have found your blogger arriving a week or so too late for the prime display and instead finding their hairy fruits maturing with only a few flowering heads in decent shape here and there.

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)

Fortunately, that was not the case this year as my visit to the area for the lakeside daisies and other botanical fascinations coincided just right with the wild lupine show.  I can't think of any other Ohio indigenous wildflower that captures the essence and beauty of blue like the lupines do.  They break bud an almost periwinkle color before maturing to a darker blue hue touched with purple.

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)

It's hard to believe a plant as exquisite as the lupine would grow and thrive in such a harsh environment but there they are growing right up out of the sand dunes like it's nothing.  Wild lupines have a strong affinity for open, dry, well-drained and sandy soils so it comes as little surprise they make their greatest stand in the Oak Openings where its preferred habitat occurs in spades.

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)

Much like the scarlet indian paintbrush I blogged about earlier this month, the Lupinus genus is much more diverse and known out west where dozens upon dozens of species occur in a varying array of habitats.  Here in the east there are only a few native species with two calling the Gulf and/or Atlantic coastal states home and the third the wide-ranging species featured in this post.

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)

A closer look at the flowering stem reveals the true beauty of the wild lupine.  It's easy to see they hail from the legume (Fabaceae) family with their characteristic pea-like flowers and seed pods (think soybean).  Due to a fantastic management plan the Oak Openings region has implemented with regular burn cycles, this species has thrived due to a more open habitat with less woody plants to out-compete and be shaded out by.

Wild lupine (Lupinus perennis)

This past weekend certainly had a theme to it of finally seeing things I had longed to observe and photograph for quite some time but had just never accomplished or had the timing right.  First the lakeside daisies, then these wonderfully colored lupine, and one other item that I have saved for last and will share with you in the next post.  I will give you one hint: what do I love to talk about and post on here more than any other botanically themed item? Stay tuned!

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Federally-Threatened Lakeside Daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

"I'll worry about it next year".  A phrase that enters my mind more often than I would prefer but one that is necessary to sometimes accept nonetheless.  I dislike few things more than getting my heart set on seeing or doing something and then not being able to follow through or see it to fruition.  If only there was 30 hours to the day; eight days to the week!  I bring up that phrase because for the past few years I have continually put off or not been able to fit in a mid-May trip up to the Marblehead peninsula on Lake Erie to see the federally threatened lakeside daisies (Tetraneuris herbacea) in spectacular full bloom.  Not this year!

Old limestone quarry full of the federally threatened lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

I arrived at the site bright and early under a clear and crisp sapphire sky.  As I got out of my car and glanced out across the old limestone quarry, I could see thousands upon thousands of the daisies all facing the sun as it climbed higher into the eastern sky.  It truly was a sight to behold seeing so many in bloom in one place; not to mention their overall global rarity.

Old limestone quarry full of the federally threatened lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

The first thing you notice as you walk out into the daisy paradise is just how hard and unforgiving the substrate is. These stunning wildflowers grow up out of the limestone rock pavement and eek out their living in the tiny grooves, cracks, and fissures where enough soil has accumulated to encourage growth.  Considering the lakeside daisies' natural habitat is limestone alvars and dry, rocky prairies it comes as no surprise it has come to do so well in these old and abandoned limestone quarries.

 Lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

As I slowly looked around and admired all the vibrant yellow flowerheads of the lakeside daisies, I couldn't help but have a bad taste in my mouth about their current situation in our state.  Beggars certainly cannot be choosers and I am indebted and grateful the Lakeside Daisy state nature preserve exists to help carry this species on into the future but it's a shame they are growing in a parking lot-like park and not their indigenous glacially grooved alvars. Their original habitat in Ohio was long destroyed by mining and quarrying to the point where no native and virgin pavement is left with these flowers.  All you have is the nature preserve with rescued and seeded plants as well as the introduction/establishment efforts on Kelly's Island.

Lakeside daisy alvars of the Bruce peninsula
Lakeside daisies on the Bruce peninsula

Perhaps it's a simple case of your blogger spoiling himself with the lakeside daisies the first time around.  My first and only experience with these rarities prior was on the pristine boulder-strewn shorelines and carved alvars of the Bruce peninsula in Ontario, Canada.  While their numbers were certainly far fewer and they were nearly done blooming, I still loved seeing them growing in the grooves and cracks of the limestone pavement with so many other native associate species; not to mention the incredible view across the aqua waters of the Georgian Bay too! There was just something superficial feeling about the Marblehead preserve that left me wanting more but that's not to say I did not thoroughly enjoy and appreciate the daisies one bit.

 Lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

So what makes these golden wonders so scarce?  Their habitat niche of glacially-carved limestone alvars are very rare world-wide and only occur in the Great Lakes basin and parts of Scandinavia.  That's it.  So even before you take another step that very limited habitat has already stacked the odds heavily against any plant species trying to survive.  It's been said that eons ago one of the western Tetraneuris species moved east, got isolated, and eventually evolved into the specific species we have today.  That "new" plant over the millennia persisted and survived in a handful of places: Marblehead peninsula in Ohio; Bruce peninsula and Manitoulin Island in Ontario; and a couple counties in Illinois (it's now extirpated from the state).  An additional population was discovered back in the 90's in Michigan but some botanists don't think it has enough evidence to claim being truly native and not introduced.

Lakeside daisy population range map

I certainly won't win any awards for artistic ability or creativity but this quickly put together map does the job to better show just how few places this plant naturally occurs.  The green dots represent extant indigenous populations of the lakeside daisy (I include Marblehead because it was never extirpated at any point); red points indicate the two Illinois county records that have since been extirpated from the state.  There are several re-introduction efforts going on though!  The yellow point is the still in question upper peninsula of Michigan record where it was found along a country road in the mid 90's.  It was discovered growing in a natural habitat (marly soil over limestone at the edge of a Thuja woods) with typical native associates of its environment.  I'm curious if genetic work is being done on it to see if it is truly original to this site/area or seed from one of the other extant populations in Ohio/Ontario.

Field full of lakeside daisies

The old limestone quarry isn't just home to a sea of lakeside daisies but also a handful of rare and exciting sedges as well.  Most readers can probably just skim over this part but for those sedge-heads like me out there, one can see Carex aurea, C. garberi, C. crawei, C. eburnea, and C. viridula to name a handful out on the thin-soiled pavement.

 Lakeside daisy (Tetraneuris herbacea)

In a perfect world I would still be able to stand out on the wind-swept, wave-sprayed alvar shorelines of Lake Erie to see this stupendous wildflower in Ohio.  But having them occur in a protected site with thousands of plants thriving isn't too bad a back up plan.  They certainly are one of our state flora's most gorgeous members and put on a show I won't soon forget.  Now to just get back up to the Bruce at the right time and cleanse my lakeside daisy palate with some true alvar daisies!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

A Special Day in the Field

Field botanists live for the rare and unusual.  At least I do and would be the first to admit it to anyone who asks what my favorite part of the job is.  It's a real natural high when serendipitously coming across something that makes you do a double take and furrow your brow in thought.  You just never know what you're going to come across when you put that first boot out the door in the morning.

*Being at work, I can't very well have my camera equipment with me in the field so all the photos from this post were snapped with my iPhone.  It did its job well but I'm looking forward to getting back out there with the 'real' stuff to better capture the site and plants.*

This morning found your blogger working in northwestern Miami county at the Stillwater River prairie nature preserve monitoring and updating some rare plant records from the area.  I wrote about the place in an earlier post mentioning how "lacking" my home county seemed to be of the botanically rare and extraordinary.  I had my eyes peeled for my target species of timid sedge (Carex timida) and Wood's hellebore (Veratrum woodii) among the thick carpet of spring ephemerals in peak bloom all throughout the pristine riparian woodland.  Large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum), shooting star (Dodecatheon media), wild hyacinth (Cammasia scilloides), and wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) numbered in the hundreds, sitting under the gloomy shadows of the leafed out canopy and drizzly skies above.

Clump of the state-threatened Sprengel's sedge (Carex sprengelii)

As I carefully waded through the sea of flowers my eyes managed to catch a clump of a suspicious looking sedge not twenty feet from the river's banks.  I sat my materials down and took a closer look at the fruiting culms but could not pinpoint the species off the top of my head despite it being quite conspicuous and unique-looking for a sedge.

Long-beaked sedge (Carex sprengelii)

The drooping fruit clusters had perigynia with very long beaks that gave it a prickly appearance.  It was unlike any other species of sedge I'd ever come across before so it was off to my trusty Illustrated Flora of Illinois: Carex book to see if its identity lay within.  After running it through the key and taking a gander at some of the line drawings, I came to the conclusion of Carex sprengelii.  But that just didn't seem to make much sense given its known range and rarity in our state.

North American distribution of Carex sprengelii  (courtesy BONAP)

Carex sprengelii is a state-threatened species that until now had only ever been collected and known to occur in a handful of northeastern and northwestern counties.  Looking at the natural distribution map above it's not hard to notice Miami county in the west-central part of the state to be quite disjunct from its two population centers in Ohio.

Long-beaked sedge (Carex sprengelii)

I ran it by the description in the book one last time: drooping fruit spikes; round and nerveless perigynia with a long beak; culm bases very fibrous with last year's leaf growth...all there!  I called up Rick Gardner who is my boss, good friend, and the state's chief botanist who's well-known specialty is the Carex genus.  If anyone could confirm my finding it was him. After describing it and looking over the photos I emailed he confirmed it was indeed Carex sprengelii!  He even mentioned that his first rare plant find when he started with the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves (DNAP) was this very sedge in eastern Ohio.  Funny how it ended up being my first (and hopefully not last!) rare plant find after starting with DNAP.

Long-beaked sedge (Carex sprengelii)

I surveyed the site for more but the one square yard patch of it was all I could find.  It was in excellent shape and looked very healthy with over 50 flowering culms.  I read where it can occur in a variety of habitats and stream terraces in riparian woodlands was one of them; especially when associated with limestone bedrock/soils.  I took a lot of joy in writing down and recording the information for the population and habitat.  As a proud native son of Miami county it felt great to have it and my love for botany come together in such a nice way.  Personally adding to the recognized diversity of Miami county's vascular flora is something I didn't expect to do but sure glad I could! Here's hoping this is a sign of fun times and things to come this summer!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

It may come to some as a surprise that Ohio is home to its very own species of Indian paintbrush.  The vividly colored flowers of the Castilleja genus are much better known out west where just about all of North America's 100+ species occur while just a handful of them occur east of the Mississippi.  Ohio's sole species is the scarlet indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea), which also goes by the common name of painted-cup.

Fallow meadow with a scattering of scarlet indian paintbrush

I couldn't help but notice this stupendous display along a southern Ohio road the other day as I was out botanizing. There's some plants that require tedious examination while squinting through a hand lens to identify and there are those you can instantly ID going 60 miles an hour down the road: these are the latter.

Scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

The fallow meadow had several hundred plants scattered about in perfect peak bloom.  Apart from the obvious paintbrush, several other species of flowers we're blooming including: yellow star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta), white blue-eyed grass (Sisrynchium albidum), arrow-leaved violet (Viola sagittata), and lyre-leaved sage (Salvia lyrata). It certainly adds an unmistakable color to the ever-advancing spring landscape, which contrasts perfectly against the surrounding green vegetation.

Dense patch of the scarlet indian paintbrush

Indian paintbrush isn't all that uncommon in the cedar barrens, hanging prairies, and meadows of Adams county but this demonstration is the best I've yet to see.  The owner's neighbor came over while I was photographing and explained he'd seen the property go through several owners over the decades and they all appreciated the paintbrush's presence and didn't mow until well after it had set to seed.  In a world of neatly trimmed and manicured lawns, it's a welcome thing to hear of someone sparing their yard the blade in an attempt to preserve some natural beauty.

Scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

Taking a closer look at an individual plant you can begin to see the true workings of the flowers themselves.  The red petals you see aren't in actuality petals at all.  They are something called foliaceous bracts which are just colored ends of its leaves (much like your Christmas time poinsettias) and are used to help better attract pollinators. The actual flowers and reproductive parts are the little green protuberances in-between the vibrant scarlet bracts.

Scarlet Indian Paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea)

Being such an intense shade of red it's only natural these late-spring wildflowers would be quite the hit with the recently-returned ruby-throated hummingbirds.  It's certainly something I would call a win-win in nature when you can have both these and hummingbirds around at the same time!  I'm very thankful the owners had and continue to have the foresight to allow these wondrous plants to grow and thrive in the side and backyard.  I only hope to see this already incredible patch continue to grow in size in the years to come as I drive by on my way to see all my other favorite southern botanical treasures of early May.

Monday, May 13, 2013

More Bike Path Wildflowers

About a month ago I posted on the fabulous spring wildflower displays the Hockhocking-Adena bike path puts on in Athens county each year.  This season has been no exception with the diverse number of ephemeral species bursting forth and impressing all those who can't help but let their eyes wander as they jog or bike down its lengths.

In the past few weeks the canopy has really closed in and seen many of the earliest species set to seed and disappear into the green menagerie of vegetation continuing to grow and mature on the forest floor.  It's hard to believe just a month or so ago the under story was still just beginning to wake up and largely lifeless with last year's decomposing leaf layer still clearly visible.  Now the ground is nearly impossible to see in some areas due to the rich and diverse array of plants and wildflowers.  Unfortunately, I am quite pressed for time these days with work and other projects so this post will be all photos from here on out but I think they speak for themselves better than your blogger ever could.  Enjoy!

Rich mesic forest slopes alive with spring wildflowers

Sea of drooping trillium (Trillium flexipes)

White and red form of the drooping trillium

Drooping trillium red form
Drooping trillium white form

Carpet of blue-eyed mary (Collinsia verna)

Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsia verna)

Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra)
Blackhaw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium)

Morel mushroom (Morchella spp.)

Common Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens)
Canada violet (Viola canadensis)

Toad and the trillium

Crinkleroot (Cardamine diphylla)

Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides) leaves
Sessile trillium (Trillium sessile)

Large-flowered trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) beginning to fade