Wednesday, April 8, 2009

More flowers of spring

Onward ho with some more of our earliest flora! You of the tundra-people in the Great White North, where scarcely a dandelion is yet blooming, can take heart knowing that spring is rapidly steamrolling across the landscape. The following photos come from last Sunday’s southern Ohio botanical foray with the Wild Ones.

Lumpers and splitters. Ya either love ‘em or hate ‘em, depending upon your expertise and perspective. These are the scientists who study taxonomy, or the science of classification. Their antics are probably most widely known in the bird world, as there are so many bird watchers and such a widespread interest in listing, or seeing how many species one can find.

“Lumping” is basically sewing a “species” back together after it has been considered two or more species, such as was the case with our juncos. “Splitting” (loud cheer, bird listers!) is when a decision is made that one species is actually comprised of distinct enough entities that it warrants being cleaved into two (or more) species.

And such was the case with the above plant. Far more lumping/splitting goes on in the botanical world than is the case with ornithology, as we learn more about plants. This plant is Giant Blue Cohosh, Caulophyllum giganteum, formerly considered a variety of Blue Cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides. However, it blooms a few weeks earlier, and has larger flowers with consistently purple sepals.

Note how the plant is strongly purplish. The young, growing leaves and shoots are flush with anthocyanins, which help protect young sensitive tissues from potentially harmful UV rays. As growth continues, more chlorophyll will be produced and eventually the plant’s tissues will become green.

A beautiful Wild Ginger plant, Asarum canadense, one of our earliest blooming wildflowers. Look closely at the base.

A plant that puts its flower this close to the ground is likely pollinated by ground-dwelling bugs – probably beetles and perhaps ants, in this case.

We were on a quest for rare flora, and this elfin mustard fit the bill. It is Leavenworthia, or Leavenworthia uniflora in botany-speak. A southerner, it gets no farther north than Adams County and vicinity, and grows in barren limey soils, often woth other rare mustards. This specimen is already bedecked with the plump cigar-shaped fruit, or siliques. A persistent flower is visible in the upper right. Truly a hands and knees plant, the whole thing stands perhaps two inches tall. This genus commemorates a rather obscure botanist, Melines Conklin Leavenworth.

Some plants were already on their way out. We visited a massive population of Snow Trillium, Trillium nivale, but most were done and gone, and the few flowers we found were a bit on the faded side. This is a rarity in Ohio and most states in which it occurs. Note our only native Sedum growing with it – Wild Stonecrop, Sedum ternatum, with its thick, round, fleshy leaves.

An avalanche of Wild Leek, Allium tricoccum, tumbles from a ravine near Shawnee State Forest.

But it wasn’t the leek we sought, although we certainly appreciated that onionish spectacle. Our target was this rarest of lilies, the outrageously beautiful Goldenstar, Erythronium rostratum. It is know from but one small stream drainage in Ohio, and this is the only population north of the Ohio River. There are thousands of plants, and they bloom en masse over a few day period.

Come a bit too late, and this is all you’ll see of the Goldenstar, other than the oddly speckled leathery leaves. As if turned off by a light switch, nearly all of the flowers vanish overnight, quickly replaced by these curious pendant fruits with long beaks. The specific epithet rostratum means “beaked”. Like the Wild Ginger, the fruit is purposefully held low to the ground. Ants, baby, ants. They make the world go ‘round, and also transport Goldenstar seeds to new locales.

Usually, when I show photos of Goldenstar, someone lets me know that they have it in their local patch. Not bloody likely, mate – it is this species, the far more common and widespread Yellow Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum. Note how the tepals curve backwards strongly, while those of the Goldenstar are held outwards on a flat plane. This species also lacks the beaked fruit of the rarity.

I hope that you are making time to get outside and enjoy the rush of spring.


Jana said...

Beautiful pictures and very informative. Thanks.

Mike Whittemore said...

Jim, Scott N directed me to this post. I found a great patch of giant blue cohosh just the other day in SE Ohio. Great info as always!

Ali said...

very fantastic pictures looking so pretty and these pictures are very informative.

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