Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Catchfly and Blue

I have really noticed the browning of the vegetation in recent days. Many - in places most - of the leaves have fallen, and goldenrods, asters, and other fall flora have senesced into shades of brown and tan. Coming back from Youngstown late last night, I caught the first dose of winterlike weather. Sleet/snow/rain spit down in irregular bursts on the drive home, and temperatures were downright cold.

Today, when going through my treasure trove of photos looking for something, I ran across some pics of an excursion into southern Ohio from last April. Like many, spring is my favorite time, and these photos reminded me that we have a long winter to get through before the vernal eruption of flora and fauna that makes April and May such an exciting time in Ohio. One of the best-looking wildflowers to be found anywhere is Wherry's Catchfly, Silene caroliniana var. wherryi. Also one of the rarest, at least in these parts. Considered threatened in Ohio, it is known from only a few sites in Adams and Pike counties. A true harbinger of spring, the phlox-like blooms enliven otherwise barren shaley slopes in April.

One can see why the uninitiated might think they had stumbled into some sort of gorgeous dwarf phlox. Wherry's Catchfly is actually in the pink family (Caryophyllaceae), and would probably make a heck of a showy ornamental, but I've never seen it used in landscaping.

We have two "varieties" here in Ohio. Var. wherryi is rather weakly separated from var. pensylvanica, but you can see what differences there are in this photo. Wherry's lacks glandular hairs, and its calyx tube - the rod-like structure that the flowers sits atop - is "slightly broadly tubular". In the other, it is narrowly tubular and covered with glandular hairs.

Whatever you call it, this plant is a stunner.

That same day, we had the good fortune of happening into a small colony of this exquisitely marked little butterfly, the Silvery Blue. Populations tend to be small, local, and scattered. Like the catchfly, they emerge before this is a lot of blooming flora or greening of the timber, and lend a dash of color to the still brown leaf litter.

Here's the yin on the yang. At least here in Ohio, Silvery Blues seem to only or at least mostly use Carolina Wood Vetch, Vicia caroliniana, as the host plant. This fine-looking native pea is not terribly uncommon in southern Ohio woodlands, and in the case of the blue, the acorn doesn't fall far from the tree, so to speak. Next time you encounter a nice patch of this vetch, take a careful look about for the butterfly.

It will be almost exactly six months from today before the date that I took the above photos rolls back around. In between will be sleet, slush, snow, subfreezing temperatures, and scant few butterflies and flowering plants. But it's that longterm cycle of freezing and thawing that our flora and fauna has evolved with, and requires.

And in the down time, there is always gulling along the frozen shorelines of Lake Erie, and raptors at the frozen hinterlands of the Wilds.

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