Monday, August 16, 2010

Northern Monkshood

These gorgeous sandstone cliffs buffering the Cuyahoga River provide habitat for one of the rarest of our plants, and I got to see it last weekend. This picturesque site is located within the city of Akron, and is owned by Metroparks, Serving Summit County. I really apppreciate Mike Johnson of Metroparks for expediting my visit, and his colleague Rob Curtis for guiding me in.

The plant in question does not grow on the cliffs; rather, it occupies the cool shaded sandy soil under the rock overhang.

And here it is: Northern Monkshood, Aconitum noveboracense, an Ohio endangered species and one of the state's six species of Federally Threatened plants. This one is rare everywhere, not just in the Buckeye State.

A member of the Buttercup Family, Ranunculaceae, the monkshood gets its name from that oddly shaped upper corolla. This plant truly is a showstopper.

Even the foliage is attractive. A big Northern Monkshood might reach two feet in height.

The stubby little fruits, which suggest a court jester's hat, can be seen in the upper left. Seed viability is apparently very low, with less than 10% of the seeds being fertile. In addition to reproductive issues, there is a raft of conservation issues with trying to protect and perpetuate this plant, especially at this particular site.

My hat is off to Metroparks for working diligently to save the monkshood. There are only three sites known in Ohio, and this is the largest with 254 plants this year. Another site in an adjoining county is down to two plants. Talk about imperiled! And the third population, in Hocking County, contains perhaps a few dozen plants, I believe.

A busy highway skirts the upper edge of the gorge in which these monkshood grows, and salt runoff has had a negative impact. Herbivores such as White-tailed Deer tend to nip off the plants when given a chance, and invasive plants, particularly Small-flowered Willow-herb, Epilobium parviflorum, threaten to crowd out the monkshood.
Metroparks, Serving Summit County, has done a great job of dealing with these issues and others, and is intent on creating a situation in which the monkshood thrives. Northern Monkshood is an important and fascinating part of our natural heritage, and I wish all land management agencies worked as hard to protect our natural resources.

I'm glad I got to see Northern Monkshood once again, and I'm grateful that Metroparks is protecting it.


stuckermeadow said...

Hey Jim! Reminds me of Silvery Sedge with same environ requirements. I was updating rare plant records last year in Holmes county and found nice populations of the sedge but would think I would notice foliage of Monkshood if it were around in June. Any other particular requirements?

Anonymous said...

I assume that the state should mandate that the salt used near these plants be calcium-based or magnesium-based instead of sodium-based. I don't know which would be better for them (calcium or magnesium) but it seems obvious that sodium chloride is the worst possible choice.

Ranunculales order plants often are sensitive to salt.