Saturday, August 30, 2014

Adams County's Not So Barren Barrens

There's few other habitats in our state that can make a botanist's ears perk up at their very mentioning quite like the barrens of Adams county.  These prairies and their intricate plant assemblages sit atop some of Ohio's oldest exposed bedrock and predate any of our state's other grassland habitats by a huge margin thanks to lying just beyond the reach of the last two glacial maximums.  This combined effort of the glacier's northern influence, the expansion of the West's tall grass prairies and the migration of southern flora from across the Ohio River collided into a melting pot of diversity and globally rare habitat.

Hanging prairie in Adams County

These specialized barrens also go by the name of cedar glades for their open, rocky, bare-soiled conditions accompanied by a scattering of stunted trees, typically red cedar (Juniperus virginiana).  Adams county's glades come in all shapes, sizes, and plant compositions with many shared attributes between them but no two exactly the same.  Even wandering a hundred yards through the woods between openings can result in two distinctly different flavors and communities if one is savvy in the local flora and has an eye for all things botanical.

Rattlesnake master growing in a xeric barrens opening of Adams county

Despite such a presumptuous title, these barrens are anything but when summer's warmer temperatures and long bouts of sunlight arrive and result in a spectacular explosion of wildflowers.  Many of the plants you're likely to make acquaintances with during a hike are not to be found many, if any other places in the entire state and combine to make Adams county have more rare species than just about any other county.  I believe only Lucas county in the Oak Openings region near Toledo can claim more.

Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)
Wood Lily (Lilium philadelphicum)

One of the most rare of summer's wildflowers to be found in the barrens of Adams county is the enchanting wood lily (Lilium philadelphicum var. andinum).  The fire orange/red glow of these state endangered June blooming beauties are only known to inhabit a select few prairie openings anymore and with proper management will hopefully continue to light up their shade dappled margins for years to come.

Famed Lynx Prairie in mid July

Walking through these islands of rock and dirt with the crunch of desiccating vegetation and dolomite limestone gravel under boot, one can't help but wonder how such a lush array of vegetation can thrive, let alone survive in such a harsh environment.  Countless millennia of evolution and adaptation to this specific habitat niche has assuredly been the key but it's still hard to grasp just how resilient and tenacious life is in all its forms.

Short Green Milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora)
Scaly Blazing Star (Liatris squarrosa)

Resiliency truly is the name of the game for these prairie plants.  They have to endure harsh heat, drought, and sun exposure all while expending an immense portion of their energy reserves to flower and (hopefully) set to seed. Many prairie obligate species have come to battle such intense conditions by having coriaceous (rough, leathery) leaves like the short green milkweed (Asclepias viridiflora) or very hairy leaves/stems like the scaly blazing star (Liatris squarrosa) which help prevent water loss.

American Bluehearts in situ
American Blueheart (Buchnera americana)

Of the nearly one hundred rare plants to call Adams county home, the delicate American bluehearts (Buchnera americana) may be my favorite of them all.  Years ago when I was just beginning to get into botany and dissect these barrens, I came across their purplish-blue flowers and for one reason or another was overly impressed by them and the charm has yet to wear off even after numerous meetings.

Juniper Hairstreak on Rattlesnake Master

Ohio has over 130 native species of butterfly in the state and much like the aforementioned bluehearts wildflower, you'd be hard pressed to find me a more captivating taxon than the juniper hairstreak (Callophrys gryneus).  They are tiny, skittish, and absolutely adorable when you can get a good look at the undersides of their wings.  As you may have guessed their host plant is the locally abundant red cedar and as such are a common sight out in the glades and barrens.

Lynx Prairie 
Profusion of Prairie Orange Coneflower

It's widely accepted that these precious ecosystem's current day existence is due to the burning regimes of the indigenous cultures as well as the geology and bedrock of the area.  This landscape has had eons of weathering and erosion occur without the replenishing effect of the glacier's till and sediment load.  Additionally, the region sits on the edge of the Appalachian Escarpment, bringing about a steep step in the land which helped create the region's exciting geologic formations.  All these factors have helped the prairies and barrens remain open and intact for tens of thousands of years.  The large expanses of exposed bedrock and thin soils take a forest a lot more time to encroach and envelope than Ohio's more traditional tall grass prairies over deep, rich till.

Carolina Buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana)
Fragrant Sumac (Rhus aromatica)

It's not just the wildflowers that set summer ablaze in color but the early-ripening fruits as well.  Locally common small trees and shrubs such as the Carolina buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana), a native and welcome buckthorn, and fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica) are hard to miss when their branches are laden with their scarlet fruit.

Crested Coralroot (Hexalectris spicata)

On the less conspicuous side is perhaps the Bluegrass region's most peculiar summer wildflower in the crested coralroot (Hexalectris spicata).  This saprophytic orchid lives almost its entire life cycle underground and only surfaces to send up its flowering stalk maybe a few times per decade.  The crested coralroot relies entirely upon mycorrhizal fungi in the soil for nourishment as it completely lacks any chlorophyll and cannot photosynthesize, hence the lack of any green color or leaves.

Great Spangled Fritillary on Purple Coneflower
Black Swallowtail

In addition to the previously shown juniper hairstreak, dozens upon dozens of other butterflies occur in excellent numbers with such a wide variety of host plants available.  The slower you walk and the more vigilant your eyes are, the more you're likely to encounter.  Even when out hiking people seem to be in too big a hurry to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures and complex cycles nature is exhibiting right under their noses.

Adams Lake Prairie State Nature Preserve

Gazing out across the larger xeric dolomite barrens of Adams county, it can be hard to appreciate just how much differentiation and specific organization there is in each one.  Even subtle changes in the topography result in different drainage patterns and moisture gradients which allow for a diversification of plant species assemblages.

massive Allegheny mound ant mounds with clipboard for scale

Adams county's barrens and cedar glade's most unmistakable non-botanical residents are hands down the Allegheny mound ants.  These prolific builders create some of the largest earthen mound ant nests on the continent, which can reach upwards of four feet tall.  I have no idea how old or how long it took for the nests photographed to reach such a size but needless to say the phrase "Rome wasn't built in a day" applies here!  It seems to be a bit of a crap shoot which barrens or cedar glades has these ants and which ones don't, as I've yet to notice or catch on to any pattern.

Post Oak (Quercus stellata)
Blackjack Oak (Quercus marilandica)

Some prairies might be better described as oak barrens for the prevalence of species such as post oak (Quercus stellata) and the rare blackjack oak (Q. marilandica) rather than red cedars.  Unlike the bur, white, and post oaks out on the prairies of the till plains, the post and blackjacks of the barrens never get very big no matter their age; undoubtedly due to the harsh and restrictive growing conditions.

Climbing Milkweed (Matelea obliqua)
Downy Milk Pea (Galactia volubilis)

Weird and unusual plants are in no short supply with species like the climbing milkweed (Matelea obliqua).  Its flowers are reminiscent of the true milkweeds (Asclepias spp.) but with a strong dose of gamma radiation thrown in for mutative purposes.  The rare downy milk pea (Galactia volubilis) isn't particularly unusual as it is obscure. Its tiny pink flowers appear later in the summer on its trailing vine-like stems.

State-threatened wall-rue fern (Asplenium ruta-muraria)

Adams county's specialized geology and exposed dolomite limestone bedrock has a great deal to do with the plant life that occurs within the region.  Many calcareous and lime-loving epilithic species such as the state-threatened wall rue fern (Asplenium ruta-muraria) grow on suitable rock faces and boulders.

Tall Larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum)

I could easily go on forever sharing the floral wonders of these richly diverse natural treasures and have probably already gabbed for too long so I'll end it with one more of my favorite summer barrens bloomers.  Tall larkspur (Delphinium exaltatum) is one of the region's most regal prairie bloomer during summer's peak.  It's quite rare throughout the entirety of its largely Appalachian range and despite being arguably almost a weed in some select sites just a wee bit north of the Ohio River, tall larkspur has never been known or recorded from Kentucky.  Hard to believe it hasn't popped up somewhere in Kentucky's river county's similar limestone barrens and woods.

I unfortunately had very little time this past summer to get down and immerse myself is these beloved places and missed out on a lot of my favorite and most anxiously anticipated wildflower events.  That being said it was fun to reminisce and vicariously experience a whole summer of bloomers on this post from summers past to pass for the experience this season.  There's always next year right?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The Last Vestiges of the Darby Plains

Of all the natural landscapes and ecosystems Ohio had to offer around the time of European settlement, none have seen the same systematic destruction and removal quite like our prairies.  Over 99% of Ohio's indigenous tall grass prairie has succumbed to the activities of man or the inevitable march of natural succession.  You thought over 90% of our state's wetlands being lost was bad, the prairies have statistically had it worse.  Originally representing nearly 5% (or 1,500 square miles) of Ohio's vegetation at the time of settlement, these open, grass-dominated ecosystems are relatively new to Ohio from a geologic viewpoint and came into existence around four to eight thousand years ago during a shift to a warmer, drier climate.  This change disrupted and discouraged reforestation's northward advancement post Wisconsin glaciation and allowed the western tall grass prairie to migrate east through Illinois, Indiana and into Ohio.  Gradually the climate returned to a more cool and wet cycle and forestation picked back up as the prairies were invaded and recolonized by the trees.

Considering how fast open grassland can revert to shrubs-saplings and on into young forest, we have to thank in large part the Native American tribes that lived in western/northern Ohio for keeping our prairies around.  They played a huge role in maintaining these grassland habitats with their frequent use of fire.  They realized wild game was more attracted to the lush new-growth of burned areas and the open environment made hunting them easier and more successful.  This led to a consistent fire regime that kept the woody invaders at bay and a key aspect to their livelihoods healthy and intact.  Naturally-occurring fires from the likes of lightning strikes did occur historically but hardly at the same interval and efficiency as the native people's.  Without their influence, I highly doubt any substantial tracts of prairie would have persisted up until the time of settlement.  I can only imagine what it must have been like to gaze out at an almost never-ending expanse of grasses and the occasional tree with herds of grazers like bison and elk spread out across its vastness or seeing a hot and intense prairie fire speed across the ground with flames licking 15-20 feet into the sky.

The first pioneers found these open tracts of tall warm season grasses, occasional oaks and hickories, and colorful summer wildflowers to be quite formidable and were initially ignored for their lack of trees.  The early thought was any land that didn't support forest was infertile and not worth the time or effort to farm.  If only that assumption had never been questioned.  Once that mindset was reversed and the prairie's deep, rich black soil was bitten into by the steel plow and drained with tile, it wasn't long before it had all but disappeared and turned into modern prairie monocultures of corn, soybeans, and wheat.

Gazing out across the wildflower bonanza at Bigelow Prairie 

It's not all doom and gloom as within that 1% fraction of tall grass prairie left are some true gems.  
Inside the Darby Plains of west-central Ohio lies arguably some of the grandest of our state's last vestiges of grassland. Formally encompassing nearly 400 square miles of land between Columbus and Springfield, the Darby Plains sit on a flattened to gently undulating landscape of glacial till dissected by a handful of waterways; none more well-known and pristine than the Big and Little Darby Creeks.  These waterways are registered as both state and national scenic rivers and widely regarded as one of the most biologically diverse aquatic systems in the entire Midwest.

The Darby Plains current state of existence consists almost solely of tiny, widely scattered parcels of prairie remnants rarely larger than an acre.  Perhaps the most famous of all is a pioneer cemetery known as Bigelow Prairie state nature preserve.  Early settlers used the site to bury their passed loved ones, with some of the graves dating back to the early 1800's.  Since the cemetery was never plowed or grazed, its indigenous prairie flora was able to survive and thrive within the half acre plot.  This ended up resulting in one of the most spectacular shows of summer wildflowers in the entire state as you'll see next.

Prairie obligate wildflowers in full glorious bloom.

Bigelow prairie really comes to life during the month of July and exhibits a month long fireworks display almost unparalleled anywhere else.  Vibrant yellows, reds, purples and pinks explode out of the surrounding greenery and make even the most novice wildflower admirer's mouth hang agape.

Royal Catchfly (Silene regia)

Nothing on the Darby Plains will catch the eye and keep its attention quite like the scarlet flowers of the state threatened royal catchfly (Silene regia).  If there's a wildflower in the plant kingdom with a more rich and mesmerizing shade of red, I'd certainly like to see it.  Today, this stunning wildflower hangs on in a handful of Darby Plains localities with none nicer than the display at Bigelow cemetery.

Gorgeous display of Purple Coneflower (Echinacea purpurea)

If the royal catchfly is the star of Bigelow cemetery, then the purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) is its equivalent at nearby Smith cemetery prairie.  Their purple umbrella-like flowers seem to glow in the dappled shade of the surrounding bur oaks.

Prairie wildflowers at Bigelow Cemetery Prairie
Prairie wildflowers at Bigelow Cemetery Prairie

One can only imagine the sight that must have met the early settlers and pioneers as they broke out of the surrounding forest and were greeted by the large expanse of open prairie.  grey-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), ox-eye sunflower (Heliopsis helianthoides), wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa), whorled rosinweed (Silphium trifoliatum) and prairie dock (S. terebinthinaceum) were all common associates of the Darby Plains and persist in its remnants today.

Scurf Pea (Orbexilum onobrychis)
Prairie Dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum)

A closer look under the larger and showier prairie plants reveals a hidden world of diversity that one can easily overlook.  The unique scurf pea (Orbexilum onobrychis), otherwise known as sainfoin or French-grass, is one of the more inconspicuous denizens in these prairies.

Prairie or Sullivant's Milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii)

The bubblegum pink flower umbels of Sullivant's milkweed (Asclepias sullivantii) is one the surest signs you're in a region of former tall grass prairie within the buckeye state.  Like many other prairie obligates in the region, this milkweed is much more common in the western Midwest and Great Plains and is at the eastern fringes of its range in the Darby and Sandusky Plains of Ohio.

Culver's Root (Veronicastrum virginicum)
Savanna Blazing Star (Liatris scariosa)

In the more high quality and intact remnants of the Darby Plains are species like Culver's root (Veronicastrum virginicum) and savanna blazing star (Liatris scariosa var. nieuwlandii).  Both happen to be some of my favorite prairie wildflowers and add a touch of color and class to any prairie scene. Unfortunately, the savanna blazing star seems to be disappearing across the state and was recently added to our rare plant list.

Virginia Bunchflower (Melanthium virginicum)

Another high quality species known from the Darby Plains is the stunning Virginia bunchflower (Melanthium virginicum).  I hope to be corrected and/or proven wrong but I believe this species to be extirpated from the region in this day and age and only lives on in diverse and carefully managed prairie plantings.  It's a shame the prettiest plants tend to be the most fragile and finicky.

Prairie Ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata)

Nigh on joining the aforementioned Virginia bunchflower in disappearing from west-central Ohio's prairie landscape is the state-endangered prairie ironweed (Vernonia fasciculata).  Its narrow, almost linear leaves, relatively glabrous (hairless) and short nature, and compacted flower heads help separate this rarity from the weedy common ironweed (V. gigantea).

Pearl King Oak Savanna in Madison County

In spots where trees like oaks and hickories congregated above the tall warm season grasses was a habitat known as a savanna.  The Darby Plains was prehistorically dotted with these scattered groves of bur, white, and post oaks and just about all met their fates decades, even centuries ago.  Thankfully, one site in Madison county known as Pearl King oak grove has survived to this day.  Enormous, venerable bur and white oaks sit as silent sentinels overlooking the dense sea of grasses and forbs.

Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans)
Big Bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)

Although never touched by a settler's plow, Pearl King was used for grazing and pasture in the past which did a thorough job of erasing many of the region's quintessential prairie forbs within.  That being said, Pearl King makes up for it in its assortment and diversity of warm season grass communities.  Species such as big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata), and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) all occur within.

Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
Prairie Cordgrass (Spartina pectinata)

Arguably Pearl King's most valuable treasure is the presence of the aforementioned prairie dropseed.  This state threatened prairie obligate grass has never been recorded from anywhere else in the state than the Darby Plains and exists in its greatest numbers in this spectacular oak grove remnant.  Prairie dropseed is very sensitive to soil disturbance and likely only occurs at Pearl King due to its lack of historical plowing.  It also happens to have a very pleasant aroma that reminds your narrator of cilantro.

Under the massive oaks in Pearl King

Standing under the stalwart oaks of Pearl King allows any visitor to travel back in time and get a small albeit powerful feel for what the landscape of the region was like before the dominion of the white man.  If only these venerable trees could talk and tell of the things they've seen over the centuries.

Prairie False Indigo (Baptisia lactea)
Prairie False Indigo (Baptisia lactea)

Yet another state rarity that still manages to call the prairies of west-central Ohio home is the stately and conspicuous prairie false indigo (Baptisia lactea).  This member of the pea or legume family (Fabaceae) can reach over four feet in height and impresses with its sprawling stem and lateral branches of large white flowers.  Its flowers are replaced with equally unique inflated pods that turn black as they mature.

Ragged Fringed Orchid (Platanthera lacera)

I'd be remiss if I concluded this post without mentioning at least one orchid, so I'll top this marathon of a read off with one of the few orchids that call our tall grass prairies home.  The ragged fringed orchid (Platanthera lacera) and its yellow-green appearance makes it one helluva plant to notice and hone in on while in the prairies; which makes this relatively common species all the more treasured of a find.

In the end, the Darby Plains of west-central Ohio is undoubtedly one of our state's best natural treasures.  With so much of its former grandeur long gone and lost forever, it becomes increasingly more important that we protect and manage what does remain for future generations to visit and enjoy.  Natural succession, invasive species, agricultural practices, and climate change will only continue to put pressure on these fragile and fragmented habitats.  I highly encourage any of my readers to get out and see these last vestiges of the Darby Plains for themselves in our state nature preserves and Columbus metroparks.  Spots like Bigelow and Smith cemetery prairie, Milford Center prairie, Pearl King oak grove, railroad right-of-ways (and subsequent bike paths), Prairie Oaks metropark, and Battelle Darby Creek metropark are all can't miss places during the mid-late summer months and on into fall.

Friday, August 8, 2014

One Very Special Farm Field in the Pickaway Plains

On the trailing end of the till plains around Circleville in south-central Ohio lies the historical Pickaway Plains.  The region's wide rolling hills and fertile soil once displayed a patchwork of prairie grasslands and intermittent wetlands prior to European settlement.  Unfortunately, today finds that landscape all but gone and converted to monocultures of corn and soybeans with hardly a tangible trace of the diversity that once occurred.

However, one special farm in Pickaway county contains a hidden secret that has fascinated Ohio botanists for decades on end for its ephemeral nature and the rare plants within.  In millennia and centuries past, the field was home to a relic of the last glacial epoch in a seasonal wetland known as a prairie pothole.  The shallow depression would hold standing water during the winter and spring months before drying out as summer warmed and waned into autumn.  It was an integral habitat for the area's migratory/wetland birds, amphibian life, and unique flora that inhabited its margins.

A venerable chinkapin oak overlooks a rare glacial relic prairie pothole full of very rare plants

The landscape above might not look like much to most people but that patch of vibrant green vegetation in a sea of soybeans is a prime example of one of Ohio's most critically imperiled of habitats in the aforementioned prairie pothole.  Due to its rarity and eminence, the Appalachia Ohio Alliance (AOA) along with the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves has teamed up to purchase this priceless piece of Ohio natural history and set it aside for permanent preservation and management.

Standing within the shallow depression full of mudflat flora

The farm was originally settled back in the 1830's by the Hitler family with its accompanying wet depression photographed above known locally as Hitler Pond.  For well over a century, the pond has been plowed and planted to crops with nothing but the seed bank as any evidence for what lay beneath.  During exceptionally wet years when the standing water made farming impossible, the specialized mudflat flora of the site would spring back to life and get a fleeting moment of fresh air before returning to its subterranean holding pattern.  It's incredible to think of the resiliency exhibited by these plants to lie dormant for decades at a time in the annually disturbed soils of a farm field, only to come back to life like they didn't miss a beat.

Upright Burhead (Echinodorus berteroi)
Upright Burhead (Echinodorus berteroi)

My early August visit coincided with many of the prairie pothole's characteristic flora either in flower or fruit, including the last vestiges of the state-threatened upright burhead (Echinodorus berteroi) in bloom.  This species' annual habit and preference for muddy shorelines and shallow water makes it a perfect fit for such a fluctuating habitat.  Its leaves and flowers look strikingly like those of the aquatic arrowheads (Sagittaria spp.) but the spiky brown fruit clusters easily set it apart.

Lowland Tooth-cup (Rotala ramosior)

Another innate species of the mudflat flora at Hitler Pond was an unusual member of the loosestrife family (Lythraceae) in the lowland tooth-cup (Rotala ramosior).  Its small white flowers occur singly in the leaf axils and are accented nicely by the plant's fleshy squared stems that can turn an attractive scarlet red in full sun conditions.

Scarlet Tooth-cup (Ammannia coccinea)
Scarlet Tooth-cup (Ammannia coccinea)

One of the most dominate plants of the wet depression was the lowland tooth-cup's close relative, the scarlet tooth-cup (Ammannia coccinea).  Scarlet tooth-cup's flowers may be modest but what they lack in size they more than make up for in color.  Their deciduous pinkish-red petals are quick to drop in the heat of the afternoon and pepper the ground below like blushed snow.

Clammy Hedge-hyssop (Gratiola neglecta)
False Pimpernel (Lindernia dubia)

Other species such as clammy hedge-hyssop (Gratiola neglecta) and false pimpernel (Lindernia dubia) were common associates of the drying pond and much like all the previously mentioned plants use their annual habit to efficiently replenish their seed bank stores.  If you're driving past this site and happen to glance out into it, you're unlikely to give it a passing thought with so many inconspicuous wildflower denizens.  It definitely takes walking out into it to get a grasp on what's really there.

Rocky Mountain Bulrush (Schoenoplectiella saximontana)

Of all the plants to call Hitler Pond home none are as important or famous as the presence of Rocky Mountain bulrush (Schoenoplectiella saximontana).  Only true grami-nerds (thanks for the word, Jackie!) and/or appreciators of the rare and unusual like your narrator would find something as mundane as this sedge to be a real eye-opener.  The Rocky Mountain bulrush put this very spot on the map decades ago when famous 20th century Ohio botanist Floyd Bartley first discovered it back in 1936.  It was the first location this plant was ever found in our state and going on a century later it remains the sole site.  After Bartley's initial discovery, the bulrush was collected off and on from Hitler Pond until 1979 when it disappeared altogether.  Despite attempts to relocate it, it evaded botanists for decades before being rediscovered in 2008 by accomplished 21st century Ohio botanist Dan Boone during a wet spring/summer in 2008.

North America distribution of Schoenoplectiella saximontana (courtesy BONAP)

What makes the Rocky Mountain bulrush's presence at Hitler Pond even more substantial than being Ohio's only known site is the additional fact it's the only site known for the species east of the Mississippi River!  Inspecting the range map presented above you can get a spatial grasp for just how disjunct and removed it is from its more western plains distribution.  The current accepted hypothesis is it was brought to the buckeye state long ago on the muddied legs of a migrating waterfowl that must have found this ephemeral wetland a good place to splash down in long before European settlement.  The thousands upon thousands of bulrushes that come up in force points to the species having been at the site for a long time and become quite established.  Some have argued it may have come in as a waif in grain or hay but the combination of its distribution-wide rarity, location in such a specific/typical habitat type and the unlikelihood any local farmers would utilize such distant grain sources makes myself, experts on the species/genus and the Ohio powers that be fully recognize and count it as an indigenous species to our state.

State-endangered Engelmann's spike rush (Eleocharis engelmannii)

Another plant that scratches this sedge-head right where he itches is the state-endangered Engelmann's spike rush (Eleocharis engelmannii).  This great state rarity is known from very few other places and much like the bulrush occurs in phenomenal numbers throughout the pothole.  It looks nearly identical to the dirt common blunt spike rush (E. obtusa) but differs in having achenes lacking (or with severely reduced) perianth bristles and a depressed/flattened tubercle; the elongated nature of the spikelets is a helpful characteristic as well.

Marsh Yellow Cress (Rorippa palustris)
False Daisy (Eclipta prostrata)

From the exceedingly rare to the commonplace, Hitler Pond has quite a bit to share with those who take the time to explore it.  Even native wildflowers that some might call weedy are welcome here like marsh yellow cress (Rorippa palustris) and false daisy (Eclipta prostrata).

Obe-Wan-Conobea (Leucospora multifida)

If you're a fellow Star Wars nerd like me, then you'll probably be as much a fan of this inconspicuous wildflower as I am.  Obe-Wan-Conobea (Leucospora multifida) is the clever common name given to this plant that made a lot more sense when it was still placed in the genus Conobea.  Regardless of the switch, I will always refer to this member of the figwort family (Scrophulariaceae) as the Jedi master it's named after.

American Toad (Anaxyrus americanus)

The preserve is also home to a plethora of toads like this American toad.  Fowler's toads are recorded from the site as well and this could very well be one but from what I can tell, the one-two warts per dark spot on its back says American to me.  Feel free for anyone more familiar and comfortable with toad ID to chime in!

Ancient Adena culture burial mound on the preserve

The Hitler farm wasn't only known for the botanical treasures on its land but for its priceless natural history as well in the presence of an Adena culture burial mound circa two thousand years ago.  The Circleville region is known for its ancient earthworks and seems to have been a hot bed of Adena culture activity.  It's definitely been a win-win situation for our state in preserving both a critical habitat and a precious gem tying us to our past.

Standing in the middle of the glacial relic prairie pothole known as Hitler Pond

The 95 acres of farmland purchased by the AOA and Division of Natural Areas and Preserves will come to be known as the Bartley Preserve in honor of Floyd Bartley, who brought the true full worth and importance of this site to light and will be open in the coming year or so for visitation and exploration.  The surrounding buffer zone around Hitler Pond and another smaller nearby wet depression will be returned to its pre-settlement prairie state in the coming years and with some luck and a lot of care and management will begin to look a lot like it did before the white man's plow and crops supplanted them.  All in all, the Bartley Preserve is already a real gem for the Pickaway Plains and a true natural treasure for our wonderful and diverse state.