Monday, March 9, 2009

First botanizing of '09

Temperatures were downright balmy in southernmost Ohio this weekend, so I stayed over in Adams County following the Amish Bird Symposium. The warming weather and lengthening days are beginning to produce many signs of spring; things that you all up in the Great White North will have to wait a while to see.

Eastern Meadowlarks, flooded with testosterone, erupted in song from from every other fencepost, and scruffy fields were alive Saturday night with the nasal peenting nd wing twitters of that oddest of shorebirds, the American Woodcock. Red-winged Blackbirds and Common Grackles are now ubiquitous, and Killdeer were everywhere. Salamanders have unearthed themselves and returned to their breeding pools.

Best of all, to the botanically inclined, is the emergence of the first wildflowers of spring. It's still early for flora, but there are a few pockets along the Ohio River that come to life early, due to their southern exposure and rocky crags that help warm the earth.

The forest floor of Adams County's rich woodlands still look like this: somber brown leaves long fallen. This shot was made in an upland oak-dominated forest. Leaves of four oak species are visible: Red Oak, Quercus rubra; Black Oak, Q. velutina; White Oak, Q. alba; and Chestnut Oak, Q. prinus.

Here and there, sprigs of green, fresh vegetable matter thrust forth. These are the leaves of Harbinger-of-spring, Erigenia bulbosa, a tiny member of the parsley family (Apiaceae). It is one of our earliest wildflowers, but it is still a bit early for the miniscule salt and pepper-colored blooms.

Finding an orchid is always a treat, and I came across several Putty-roots, Aplectrum hyemale. These odd, zoot-suit-striped leaves formed last summer and have persisted all winter. The naked flower stalk will be issued in mid-May, by which time the leaf will have largely withered to nothingness.

I carefully excavated a bit of the rich humus so that you could glimpse the namesake putty-colored root. This is one of forty-six native orchids in Ohio, and one of the cooler ones in my estimation.

New is ushered in; old bows out. That purplish rosette on the left is that of a native mustard, the Smooth Rock Cress, Arabis laevigata. It's tall spindly culm beset with tiny greenish-white blossoms will reach good form in May. While perhaps not the showiest of plants, it is an important host for one of our showiest butterflies, the Falcate Orangetip. Males are the color of a pushup confectionary - orange and white, and so flimsy as to appear as if made from tissue. The aging, marcescent leaves of a small fern, Maidenhair Spleenwort, Asplenium trichomanes, is on the right. This saxicolous (rock-loving) fern has overwintered and will soon begin producing new fresh shoots.

Well, well. Wasn't sure if they'd be up and at 'em or not, but sure enough, I stumbled into quite a few blooming Hepatica. This truly is one of our first - often the first - wildflower to jump into action. March 8, and looking good. Often treated as two species, Sharp-lobed and Round-lobed Hepaticas, they are better thought of as one variable species, Hepatica nobilis. If you are a splitter, call them Hepatica nobilis var. acutiloba, and H. nobilis var. obtusa, respectively. This species also ranges throughout much of Eurasia.

I noticed a small beetle was prolific on the blossoms, gobbling up the nectar. A number of them are visible on these flowers. They must play an important role as a pollinator, and I'd like to know what species of beetle it is.

Here's a closer view of the "Hepatica Beetle". There is very little in the way of flowering plants and nectar right now, and I wonder how intimately linked to Hepatica these insects are. All of the Hepatica that I saw had them.

Bud of our earliest lily to shine forth, the White Trout Lily, Erythronium albidum, one of three Ohio species in this genus.

Bit of poking around, and I found the motherlode. I'd say the flowers opened for the first time Sunday morning; perhaps a few the day before. This spot is at the base of sheer dolomite cliffs facing due south, and looking out on the Ohio River. It is one of the first spots one can find flowering plants in spring Ohio.

Few plants can rival trout lilies for sheer charisma and showiness. And their presence means the rush of spring is on. These diminutive lilies are but the first snowball in an avalanche of flora that will soon follow, growing day by day into a cascade that will carpet Ohio's forest floors with every color of the rainbow.


Tom said...

Nice work Jim. The micro climate down there is something special, isn't it?


dAwN said...

Spring has sprung...I have seen that trout lily in person...beautiful..and you saw so many.

Kylee said...

Wow! It will be some time before the trout lilies are in bloom up here in Paulding County. And that hepatica! I have wanted some of that for so long! Our woods doesn't seem to have any. :-(

Marvin said...

Wow! Nice shot of the trout lilies. I was in the woods today. Our (yellow) trout lilies here in north central Arkansas are at least a week or so away from blooming. Our only woodland blooms at the moment are bloodroot, toothwort and a few violets. Nice finds.

KatDoc said...

Wow! [x3] Guess I better get out there, if the hepatica and trout lilies are already in bloom. i'm ready for some spring wildflowers.


Anthony Rodgers said...

Just came across this post randomly. - Your beetle is of the family Nitidulidae, not sure and farther than that.

Jim McCormac said...

Thanks for getting the beetle to family, and letting me know, Anthony! I'll probably get better shots of them this spring.