Thursday, March 27, 2014

OOS 10th Anniversary Conference in Shawnee State Forest

Spring has finally arrived and it's never too early (or late) to begin planning out how you want to spend it!  If you regularly read this blog then you have surely noticed how much time I spend in the hills and hollers of Ohio's southern-most counties of Adams and Scioto and it's no coincidence.  These two counties combine to be one of, if not the most biologically diverse area in our state and harbor many rare species of flora and fauna within.  From the limestone outcrops and cedar glades of the Edge of Appalachia preserve system to the continuous rolling forests of nearby Shawnee State Forest, you never know know what is in store for your eyes, ears, and cameras.

Shawnee State Forest in spring's full bloom

To coincide with extreme southern Ohio's dizzying diversity of plant and animal life come spring, the Ohio Ornithological Society has decided to return to the depths of Shawnee for its 10th annual conference on the weekend of April 25-27.  This phenomenal event draws birders, naturalists, and outdoor enthusiasts from all over the state and beyond to experience the luscious landscape of Shawnee and the Edge flush with returning migrating birds and spring wildflowers.  If the sound of this happens to peak your interest, and I think it might if you're still reading up to this point, then I suggest checking things out HERE and marking your calendars for the last weekend in April!

Prairie Warbler, just one of around 20 species of warbler in the area

Normally this time of year would have me plugging and encouraging readers to check out the acclaimed annual spring wildflower event Flora-Quest that takes place in Shawnee and on the Edge.  Due to the near simultaneous nature of the OOS event, Flora-Quest is doing something a bit different this May on the complete other end of state up along Lake Erie.  You can find more information HERE.

That being said, I am very happy and pleased to say that I will be reprising my role as a field trip leader/guide (usually for Flora-Quest) for the OOS event instead! My group will be out and about deep in the forests of Shawnee to see what birds and botany we can stir up.  No worries, while I know my birds better than most folks might assume a plant-geek would, we will have an accomplished and knowledgeable birder on hand in co-leader/guide Andy Jones.  To see an agenda for the programs and field trips click HERE.

Spring wildflowers waking up in a hanging prairie on the Edge

Hopefully we will see warmer temperatures finally arrive and stick around all April in order to have the typical menagerie of spring wildflowers coloring up the area's forests and prairies.  The combined botanical diversity of the Edge and Shawnee results in well over 1,000 native plant species and some plant assemblages seen nowhere else in the entire state.  The birding is on par with the plants too as over 100 species are known to nest here with rarities and curiosities like the Kentucky, Cerulean, and Worm-eating warbler, Chuck-will's-widow, blue grosbeak, red-headed woodpecker, and wild turkey calling the undulating hills of the "Little Smokies" home.

Fragrant blooms of a wild plum (Prunus spp.)

The conference is a wonderful collaboration on many people's parts from the field trips to the programs and presentations that go on throughout the weekend.  Honestly, the best thing about these kinds of events are the friends, camaraderie, and memories made over weekend with 200+ like-minded people who have a thirst and passion for the natural world.  I am looking forward to catching up with old friends and meeting new faces alike and encourage any of my readers to seek me out and personally introduce yourself!

Having done Flora-Quest for three consecutive years and spent countless days exploring the region from spring to fall, I think I can say with some authority just how mesmerizing this area of the state truly is.  I could not encourage anyone more to check out the event and website and seriously consider making yourself a participating member of what is sure to be one of the best weekends this spring!

Monday, March 24, 2014

Guide to the Trillium of Ohio

Ah, spring is finally upon us!  Soon the battered and defeated browns and drab yellows of winter will resurrect into vibrant emeralds and greens as new growth and life erupts back into the world.  It couldn't come a moment too soon either; not after the intensely bitter and snowy winter us Ohioans have been burdened with this year.

One of the most anticipated of spring's many bounties is the emergence and blooming of our woodland wildflowers. The natural world could not do a better job of rewarding winter-weary minds than with its magnificent displays of ephemerals that light up the forest understory come April and May.  One particular genus of spring wildflowers seems to get more attention than just about any other during this time period and you'd be hard pressed to make an argument against them.  Trilliums are the quintessential spring time wildflower and their long history of popularity and acclaim among their botanical and horticulutural admirers makes them the stuff of legends.

The eight species of Trillium native to Ohio (starting top left): T. nivale, T. grandiflorum, T. sessile, T. recurvatum,
T. erectum, T. undulatum, T. flexipes,
and T. cernuum.

Traditionally many botanists and taxonomists placed the Trillium genus into the large lily family (Liliaceae), but modern research and revised studies have shown them and a handful of their close relatives belong in their own family: Trilliaceae.  You can further break down the Trillium genus into two distinct subgenera: subgenus Trillium (the pedicellate trilliums) and subgenus Phyllantherum (the sessile trillium).  From an evolutionary standpoint the pedicellate trilliums are older and more primitive than their sessile trillium counterparts.

Members of the Trillium genus occur as herbs in the temperate forests of the Northern Hemisphere in both eastern Asia (about five or six taxa) and here in North America (40+ taxa).  Of the 40 or so species of trillium that are indigenous to North America, Ohio can claim eight of them as naturally-occurring in her soils around the time of European settlement.  This post will act as a guide to all eight species of our native trillium and help to separate them from one another and include other valuable information on their characteristics and life history.

The Pedicellate Trilliums: Subgenus Trillium

The pedicellate trilliums of the subgenus Trillium are separated from the sessile trilliums by the presence of a pedicel (stalk) at the base of the flower.  The size and length of the pedicel can vary greatly between species but is always present.  Pedicellate trilliums are more showy and diverse than their sessile counterparts with six of Ohio's eight species belonging to this subgenus.  Pedicellate trilliums also have flower petals that spread widely in a planer fashion and the stamens/ovary are clearly displayed.

Snow Trillium, Dwarf White Trillium (Trillium nivale)

Snow Trillium - Trillium nivale

Snow trillium or dwarf white trillium (T. nivale) is a true harbinger of spring for our state's flora and is one of the very first wildflowers to break dormancy in mid-late March.  This species is aptly named for its early bloom time potentially coinciding with a late season snowfall; its scientific epithet of nivale translates to "of the snows, snowy".  Sub-freezing temperatures and a coating of snow doesn't do much to hinder these dainty beauties!

Snow Trillium - Trillium nivale
How many snow trillium can you see?

Occurrences of snow trillium are quite infrequent in Ohio and largely restricted to the west-central and southwestern portions of the state.  Its preferred habitat(s) in our state are areas of shallow, limestone-derived soils on wooded bluffs, stream/river terraces, and other wooded areas with exposed, weathered bedrock.  Public sites like Clifton Gorge state nature preserve, Fort Hill state memorial, and Stillwater Prairie Preserve in Miami county are excellent places to witness this rarity in early spring.

North American distribution of T. nivale (courtesy BONAP)

Snow trillium is largely a species of the Great Lakes region and Midwest and primarily follows the southern boundary of Pleistocene glaciation.  This is no surprise as throughout its range it occurs on alkaline glacial drift.

Large-flowered Trillium, Large White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Hillside ensconced in hundreds of large-flowered trillium

This next species of trillium has a special place in Ohio's heart as it has the distinction and honor of being our state's official wildflower.  The large-flowered trillium (T. grandiflorum) is the most common pedicellate trillium taxon to be found in Ohio and occurs in just about every, if not all 88 of our counties.  Under the right conditions they can grow into large, sprawling colonies that ensconce entire hillsides in hundreds of plants; something no other species of trillium can quite equal.

Large-flowered Trillium (T. grandiflorum)
Large-flowered Trillium (T. grandiflorum)

Large-flowered trillium is another properly named plant as it is our largest trillium with flowers 3-4" in diameter and upwards of a foot and a half tall.  Its luscious, waxy white petals overlap and whorl together to conceal the ovary and encompass its golden anthers.  As the flowers age, their petals turn a varying intensity of pink to perhaps signal to pollinators they are too late to the party.  This species of trillium grows in a variety of rich mixed deciduous woodlands under a diversity of soil conditions.  This sense of habitat generalization is a large reason for its wide spread frequency throughout the state.

North American distribution of T. grandiflorum (courtesy BONAP)

This particular trillium is quite common throughout eastern North America and is most prevalent in the Great Lakes region, up into the Northeast, and down into the southern Appalachians.  Populations of this plant seem to reach their greatest potential in second-growth forests with a relatively low deer presence; this trillium is seasonal candy for the quadrupeds.

Red Trillium, Stinking Benjamin, Purple Trillium (Trillium erectum)

Hillside full of Red Trillium and Large-flowered Trillium

Some trillium species are as striking as they are malodorous and the red trillium (T. erectum) certainly falls into that category.  Red trillium also goes by the name of stinking benjamin for its aforementioned fetid aroma that is reminiscent of a wet dog to some.  Of the six pedicellate trillium indigenous to Ohio, this is our only species that exhibits blood red petals/flowers on an erect peduncle.

Red Trillium (Trillium erectum)
Red and white colored forms of T. erectum

Red trillium is restricted to eastern Ohio and its largely unglaciated, acidic soil regimes where it occurs in humus-rich, cool, moist mixed deciduous/conifer forests; especially under hemlocks and in association with heath family members (Ericaceae).  It can also occur in swampier situations in woodlands and thickets as well as along streams and waterways in the northern part of its range.  In my experience, the sandstone hollows and gorges of the Hocking Hills region is the best place to see this species, including its white-colored form described/explained below.

Red variety (T. erectum var. erectum)
White variety (T. erectum var. album)

Throughout its range, red trillium can occur both in its typical deep maroon color form (var. erectum) or in a white-colored scheme (var. album) that can range from green-yellow to cream-bright white.  This range of petal coloration can lead to some confusion between species, especially with drooping trillium (T. flexipes) which has a red and white color form as well.  In regards to red trillium, it's best to look at the color of the ovary: regardless of what color form you are seeing, T. erectum will always have a distinctly red/maroon ovary.  The petals are typically planer and not reflexed back like those of drooping trillium (T. flexipes) and have maroon to yellowish anthers to help with the ID as well.  T. erectum is known to hybridize with T. flexipes to make things even more difficult.

North American distribution of T. erectum (courtesy BONAP)

Red trillium is one of the most common species of its genus in the northeastern part of its distribution before it becomes more isolated/infrequent as its range continues into eastern Ohio and down through the southern Appalachians at higher elevations.

Drooping Trillium, Bent Trillium (Trillium flexipes)

Small colony of drooping trillium (Trillium flexipes

Next up is a rather widespread and potentially confusing species that can be mistaken for the previously discussed red trillium.  Drooping trillium (T. flexipes) can be found throughout the state but seems to do best in areas with corresponding limestone bedrock.  It grows in a variety of deciduous forest habitats but prefers rich, mesic slopes (where it can occur in large, sprawling colonies of hundreds upon hundreds of plants); stream/river terraces; and even alluvial soils of floodplains.  Its flowers are smaller than most other pedicellate trillium species in Ohio, but what they lack in size is made up for by its thick, waxy, textured petals and pronounced ovary.

White and red-colored form of drooping trillium
Forested hillside ensconced with drooping trillium

Much like the aforementioned red trillium (T. erectum), drooping trillium (T. flexipes) can occur in its typical white-colored form (forma flexipes) and a dark red/maroon-colored form (forma walpolei).  Unlike in T. erectum where the atypical color form (white in its case) can be the dominate color form in a population, I've never seen the red-colored form of T. flexipes be anything but an occasional mix-in among a strong majority of the typical white-colored flowers.

White-colored form (T. flexipes f. flexipes)
Red-colored form (T. flexipes f. walpolei)

Drooping trillium gets its common name from the flower's common practice of drooping or hanging below its three leaves on a long peduncle.  You may walk right past dozens of this trillium and think its solely in a vegetative state while its flower silently hides in the shade below.  In some rare cases you can find specimens of this species exhibiting flowers on an erect peduncle with flat/planer petals (predominately in the southern part of its range) but the color of the ovary can help distinguish it from T. erectum: drooping trillium's ovaries are always white or have a speckling/light hue of pink in them, even in the red-colored forms.

Drooping trillium can also easily be mistaken for the extremely similar nodding trillium (T. cernuum).  That will be discussed further on under the nodding trillium's dedicated section.

North American distribution of T. flexpies (courtesy BONAP)

Trillium flexipes is predominately a species of the Midwest and southern Great Lakes region with an extension south into the central lowlands of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Alabama.

Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum)

Nodding Trillium (Trillium cernuum)

Of Ohio's eight species of native trillium, only one can no longer be found within her borders: nodding trillium (T. cernuum).  This species of the north was only officially recorded once in our state way back in 1879 in Lake County.  It hasn't been seen here since and is almost assuredly lost to the dusts of time.  T. cernuum is the most northern of all North America's trilliums and was likely naturally weening itself from the state by retreating north around the time of settlement, only to be exponentially rushed into extirpation by means of human development and anthropogenic-derived climate change.  

Due to this species' extirpation from our state, the photographs used in this blog are from plants found in the southern Adirondacks of upstate New York during a botanical excursion there late last spring.  Even there this species is starting to disappear from its familiar haunts; perhaps more evidence for this particular plant's sensitivity to a warming world?

Pair of nodding trillium in upstate New York
Closeup of the anthers and noticeable filaments

Nodding trillium prefers cool, low, moist-swampy woodlands and grows along stream banks/terraces and the wet, shrubby margins of bogs as well.  Its white, waxy petals are strongly recurved and exhibit a large, white ovary much like the strikingly similar drooping trillium (T. flexipes).  The best way to differentiate between these two white flowered, drooping trilliums is by carefully examining the plant's filaments (string-like threads that attach anthers to base of ovary).  Looking at the photo above-right, you can clearly see the long filaments exerted out from the ovary/petals of the nodding trillium.  In drooping trillium (see photos further up) the filaments are much shorter and hidden while the anthers appear to be sessile and attached directly at the base of the ovary. Nodding trillium's anthers also tend to be a pinkish/purple color when laden with pollen while drooping trillium's are chiefly cream/white.

North American distribution of T. cernuum (courtesy BONAP)

Trillium cernuum is a species of the northern Great Lakes region and the Northeast with sparse and isolated occurrences further south.  Looking at the distribution map above of all recorded occurrences (both historical and recent), I have to wonder what it would look like today with a current distribution map.  I wouldn't be surprised to see the southern third of its range's populations and occurrences gone.  This is, in my opinion a species worth more attention and observation.

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)

Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)

If you're supposed to save the best for last, then it's quite appropriate I would keep the painted trillium (Trillium undulatum) as the sixth and final species of Ohio's pedicellate trilliums.  This stunning and breathtaking wildflower is our state's rarest species of trillium and is currently listed as an endangered species.  For the last few decades its only known occurrence in the entire state has been a swampy woods residing in our most northeastern county of Ashtabula.

Painted trillium in its typical northern habitat
Painted "quadrillium"

If the painted trillium is our rarest and our most physically appealing, then it seems to fit the pattern that it would arguably be the easiest trillium to identify as well.  No other species in Ohio, or anywhere else for that matter have the distinct combination of white petals accented with dark pink/magenta striping.  The foliage of this plant seems to be unique as well with a reddish-green coloration easily visible in the initial photo of this section.

Painted trillium is a species that must have cool, humus-rich, and strongly acidic soils to survive.  It occurs in a variety of mixed deciduous/conifer woodlands in the southern, high-elevation part of its range and in more low-lying, moist red maple/birch/oak/sugar maple forests (especially with an association of white pine) to the north.

North American distribution of T. undulatum (courtesy BONAP)

Painted trillium occurs predominately in the northeastern states and down through the southern Appalachians.  Its affinity for the strongly acidic, cool soils of the northeast are efficiently replicated by the high-elevation spruce/fir/hemlock forests and rhododendron balds/thickets of the Appalachians which have allowed it to persist for thousands of years in a warming climate.

The Sessile Trilliums: Subgenus Phyllantherum

The sessile trilliums of the subgenus Phyllantherum are the opposite of the pedicellate trilliums and are separated for their flower's lack of a pedicel.  Instead the flowers sit at the apex of the plant with erect, less showy petals that mostly/partial conceal the stamens.  Due to their arrangement, the sessile trilliums tend to be viewed as less showy than their pedicellate brethren.  The subgenus Phyllantherum only occurs in North America and is less diverse than the subgenus Trillium, with two species calling Ohio home.

Sessile Trillium, Toad Trillium, Toadshade (Trillium sessile)

Patch of sessile trillium (Trillium sessile)

It's hard to believe the comparatively bland sessile or toadshade trillium (Trillium sessile) can be so closely related to species as showy and charming as the large-flowered and painted trillium but all the parts are there, albeit in different shapes and sizes.  Sessile trillium grows in a wide variety of woodland settings and can withstand more disturbance and habitat degradation than most any other trillium species in my experiences.

Sessile trillium in bud with nicely mottled leaves
Sessile trillium (T. sessile)

Sessile trillium is one of the most common wildflowers to be found throughout the state come spring. Their erect maroon (rarely greenish-yellow) petals envelope the stamens and ovary and sit atop three sepals that can range in color from green to maroon.  Their stalkless leaves can range from a uniform green color to a much more attractive mottled pattern of darker green.  The flowers emit a pungent odor that when combined with their flower structure has led to the conclusion that unlike their showier relatives that are pollinated by bees and bumblebees, the sessile trillium are predominately pollinated by ground-dwelling insects such as beetles.

North American distribution of T. sessile (courtesy BONAP)

Trillium sessile is most abundant in Ohio, Indiana, and northern Kentucky as well as in a "separate" population center in Missouri.  It strangely peters out once you get beyond the center of those two regions but is quite frequent at the heart of its range.

Prairie Trillium, Bloody Butcher (Trillium recurvatum)

Prairie Trillium (Trillium recurvatum)

The last and final species of Ohio trillium left to share is the rare and potentially threatened prairie trillium (Trillium recurvatum).  This sessile trillium at first seems nearly identical to the much more common sessile trillium (T. sessile) but can be told apart much easier and quickly than one would think.  Prairie trillium's three leaves have a small, short but noticeable petiole at their base which helps separate it from the aptly named sessile trillium. Remember: the use of the word "sessile" for the subgenus Phyllantherum has to do with the flowers and not the leaves.  Another character to look for in separating these two species is the sepals: prairie trillium's sepals are strongly recurved to a point where they are almost parallel to the stem (hence the scientific epithet of recurvatum).

Closer look at the leaf petioles and recurved sepals
Yellow-colored form (f. shayii)

Despite the moniker of "prairie" trillium, this species occurs in dry-mesic, open woodland habitats on calcareous soils here in our state rather than in open grassland as suggested by the name.  The flowers typically exhibit a maroon color but can come across as more of a rust-orange color on occasion as well as occur in lemon-yellow forms.  The habit of the plant also tends to be more erect with a longer stem than most sessile trillium I see.

North American distribution of T. recurvatum (courtesy BONAP)

Trillium recurvatum occurs primarily in the Midwest and then follows the Mississippi drainage into the deeper south.  It is curiously absent from a large portion of Ohio despite being very common just across the Indiana border and only occurs in a handful of spots in southwestern Ohio.  It's almost as if early state boundary drafters used this species' range as the north-south dividing line between Ohio and Indiana.


I hope this post will serve as a valuable and usable resource for Ohioans and other wildflower enthusiasts of the Midwest and Great Lakes states that are interested in learning more about our native trillium species and how to tell them apart.  It won't be too much longer before they grace our thawing landscape once more!

Friday, March 14, 2014

Opposite Seasons at Gallagher Fen

A few months back when this overly cold and precipitous winter was just beginning to sink its teeth into Ohio's landscape, your blogger decided to pay a visit to one of his most cherished natural areas in the entire state for a new experience of an old favorite.  I've lost track on the amount of times I've visited Gallagher Fen state nature preserve during the humid, wildflower-filled summer and early fall months but a winter hike had always escaped my mind.

Looking east across the western fen opening backed by a glacial esker

Gallagher Fen is home to some of the best prairie fen habitat left in Ohio, as well as nice examples of bur oak savanna and mature upland oak/hickory forest.  Much like the area's numerous other fen openings and complexes, Gallagher Fen owes its existence and future to the continued flow and percolation of cold, alkaline groundwater to the surface.  Following the last glacial event around 10-12,000 years ago, this region of Ohio's old waterways and river valleys were left full of glacial till and were subsequently filled with meltwater. These ancient, saturated subterranean river valleys are what we call aquifers and are the lifeblood for west central Ohio's fens to this day.

Standing in the western fen meadow looking east across the marl meadow, backed by bur oak savanna on the esker

The glaciers didn't just influence the hydrology of Gallagher Fen but the topography and geology as well.  What appears to be a hill at the back of the western fen meadow pictured above is actually a long, winding ridge of stratified gravel and sand called an esker.  Eskers, such as the one found here are formed during a glacier's recession as gushing meltwater from in/under the ice sheet deposits the rocky debris along its course.

Aerial photograph of Gallagher Fen with the glacial esker outlined in brown

The aerial photograph above shows the preserve's two fen openings and also highlights the glacial esker that forms the northern backbone for the west and east fen meadows.  The 55 degree, calcium-carbonate laden groundwater seeps from the base of the esker and flows down into the bowl-like fen meadows where other small rivulets come together to form a spring-fed stream that drains out the bottoms of both openings.

Bur oak savanna perched on the esker above the eastern fen meadow

Perched above the cold, saturated fen openings on the slopes and crest of the gravel esker is the curious habitat of a bur oak savanna.  The rocky, shallow, fast-draining soils atop the esker created an ideal situation for prairie plants and their accompanying bur, white, and post oaks to occur and persist.  My newly-minted winter experience allowed a better appreciation and observation of the gnarled, venerable oaks rising above the beige sea of desiccated and dispersed seed heads underneath.  These trees have undoubtedly seen their fair share of winters thaw into spring.

Queen-of-the-prairie blooming in the fen meadows against a bur oak background

Summer is hands down the best time to experience our alkaline prairie fen environments and it's not hard to surmise why. From early June into September their mucky meadows are alive with wildflowers, grasses, and sedges all going about their reproductive duties, completely oblivious to their Homo sapiens observers and admirers.

As my boots sank into the marl and muck of the deadened sedge meadows during my winter escape into Gallagher, I realized I had a unique opportunity on this isolated occasion to compare and contrast this spectacular ecosystem between the two extremes of summer and winter.  So upon my return home, I did my best to find opposite season photographs of the same corresponding capture and I came away rather pleased with the results that you can see below.

Looking west atop the west fen meadow's esker among the summer prairie wildflowers

One of the best views in the 200+ acre preserve is located atop the esker looking west across the western fen meadow.  The bowl-like depression of the meadow is more evident from this vantage point and allows you to immerse yourself in a medley of purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea), grey-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), and whorled rosinweed (Silphium trifoliatum) come July.  Other botanical oddities and rarities like the state-threatened prairie thimbleweed (Anemone cylindracea) and the state-endangered prairie violet (Viola pedatifida) occur along the gravel-ridden slopes of the bur oak savanna as well.

View of the perched bur oak savanna in the east fen meadow

It's not everyday you can visit a spot in Ohio, or many other places where two unique and equally fascinating habitats of such variety and contrast like fens and savannas merge.  The sludgy, saturated soils of the fen meadow support fen Indian plantain (Arnoglossum platagineum), sticky tofieldia (Triantha glutinosa), wand-lily (Zigadenus elegans), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), queen-of-the-prairie (Filipendula rubra), nodding ladies'-tresses (Spiranthes cernua), and Ohio goldenrod (Oligoneuron ohioense) right up to the base of the esker and its groundwater seeps.

The stark contrast of the prairie dock in the western fen meadow and marl bed.

Perhaps the most impressive floral display to be found at Gallagher is the annual summer flaunting of prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) in the western fen meadow's marl bed.  Hundreds, if not thousands of flowering stems rise over your head and are adorned with golden yellow stars that shine in the July and August sun.  It's truly a sight to behold and take in with your own eyes.  It's hard to believe so much green, life, and growth pictured on the left turns to ashes come winter, only to come back to life in the waxing temperatures and sunlight of summer.

You may be wondering how a plant species so adapted to dry, barren-like soil and habitat conditions like the prairie dock could survive, let alone thrive in the saturated muck of a marl bed.  This odd occurrence is due to the fact that plants have a hard time absorbing water and nutrients from the very chilled water of the fen meadow and thus react as if living in a more dry, drought-prone environment.  This is why so many of our fen complexes in west central Ohio have a strong prairie association in them, hailing back to the influence of the prairie peninsula some 4-8,000 years ago during a period of a warmer/drier climate.

Looking east out across the western fen opening and its spring-fed channels

If looking west across the western fen meadow from atop the esker is one of Gallagher's best spectacles, then the same must be said for the reciprocal of that view.  The great expanse of sedge meadow, raised hummocks scattered among the rivulets, and mucky marl bed are home to dozens of intriguing and rare plants such as grass of parnassus (Parnassia glauca), twigrush (Cladium mariscoides), blue-leaved willow (Salix myricoides), Carex flava, C. viridula, C. sterilis, C. buxbaumii, tufted hairgrass (Deschampsia cespitosa), Kalm's lobelia (Lobelia kalmii), round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia), low nutrush (Scleria verticillata), horned bladderwort (Utricularia cornuta), and Canadian burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis) for starters.  An advantage to my mid-December visit was being able to see the esker much more clearly and defined at the back of the fen meadow. Lush growth and greenery block the view most other times of the year.

Realistically, I could do a whole series of posts dedicated to the beauty and biological diversity of this gem of a nature preserve but this at least gives you a beginner's look at what an incredible and mesmerizing site Gallagher Fen is.  Despite some confusion, this preserve is indeed open to the public nowadays and I could not encourage you to get out and immerse yourself in its wonders more, regardless of the time of year.  Which is something I can officially say with validity after my winter excursion into its depths!