I've never wanted for blog material. The following recounts an adventure of a few weekends past, in which I managed to relocate one of the rarest, coolest plants in Ohio. Yesterday, a crew of botanists and myself discovered a very different type of rare plant in a totally dissimilar habitat. Common denominator? Both are very hard to get to. A good rule of thumb for finding rare plants: Take the path of GREATEST resistance. I'll try and get to the other story soon.
Morning mist trails over pristine Scioto Brush Creek in southern Ohio. This stream is, arguably, the finest waterway left in Ohio, from a biological perspective. Not only is its watershed still forested and intact, thus keeping the water quality high, its path is an ancient one. Apparently carved by scouring associated with the prehistoric Teays River, the Scioto Brush Creek was a conduit for Appalachian plants to migrate northward. There are several plants that grow along its banks found nowhere else north of the Ohio River, or elsewhere in Ohio.
As we sloshed upstream, a faint bolt of blue caught our eyes, nearly simultaneously. Knowing it was something good - the search image just didn't register - we splashed over to the steep, muddy banks.
Therefore, I was pleased to glance at the shady steep bank, and see a faint purplish glimmer. Cool - 17 years later, and the monkshood was still there. No real surprise, that - Southern Monkshood has probably been persisting along Scioto Brush Creek before Homo sapiens split from the ancestral apes, and if we don't manage to destroy this gem of a stream, it'll probably be there long after we're gone.
Southern Monkshood blooms later, entering flower about the time that its northern counterpart has finished blooming. It also has a lax, trailing habit quite unlike the upright posture of the other, and there are structural flower and vegetative differences between the two. Finally, the habitats for each are different as night and day. While Northern grows in the decomposed sand in the shadow of sandstone cliffs, Southern thrives in the rich regularly inundated alluvial soils of stream banks and terraces.
There was a prior record for Southern Monkshood in Ohio, in Hocking County, which is the place highlighted on this map. And it was one of the first things I thought about when Stan and I laid eyes on the true Southern Monkshood along Scioto Brush Creek when we found it in 1993.
Apparently the botanists who found the Hocking County monkshood hadn't had direct experience with Southern Monkshood, and in large measure because it was south of the glacial boundary, assumed the Hocking County plants must be Southern. Details of the population were even published in the botanical journal Castanea. Soon after the discovery of the real Southern Monkshood, the correct identity of the Hocking County plants was proven, but the mistake apparently still persists here and there.