Sunday, December 26, 2010

A blast from a warmer past

The Wilds, Muskingum County, Ohio - today. Windy as could be, temps in the low 20's, wind chills probably around zero, and often heavy snow flurries. I was there to participate in the Chandlersville Christmas Bird Count, orchestrated by Scott Albaugh. We saw some interesting things and more on that later.

I've been spending a lot of time in conditions like the above of late; I hope you'll forgive a trip back in time a few months, to a warmer place...

Adams Lake Prairie, Adams County, Ohio, last June. You won't freeze to death in this place, at that season. And it's packed with botanical goodies, and some interesting animals as well.

Downy Wood Mint, Blephilia ciliata, was in its full glory on that trip of last June, and all of us had to stop and admire it. This isn't a rarity, but who cares - Downy Wood Mint is a great looking plant, and you'll be admiring it in early summer, one of the best times of the year.
We've got another species of Blephilia in Ohio: B. hirsuta, the Hairy Wood Mint. It too is a looker, but not as good a looker as the Downy, thinks I. The Hairy has whitish flowers, and it just doesn't POP from the surrounding foliage in the way that this one does. There are some roadside shortgrass prairies in Adams County that are so densely populated with this mint that one's eye is caught by them, even at 70 mph.

Click the pic to enlarge, and note the interesting shape of the flowers. Many mint species have very ornate, almost orchidlike blossoms. The darker purple spots are nectar guides; colorful sign posts calling out to would-be pollinators to stop by. The genus name Blephilia comes from the Greek blepharis, which means eyelash, and refers to the delicate fringe of hairs that adorn the bracts and calyx below the flowers.

Here we can see the leaves, which provide one of the characters that separate this species from the similar Hairy Wood Mint. They are sessile, or lack a petiole (a distinct stem that holds the leaf out from the main stem). The Hairy has pronounced petioles.

The mint family is a large one, with some 7,000 species worldwide. Interestingly, the largest genus is Salvia, with about 900 species and some of those - non-natives - are commonly cultivated here. But Ohio has only one native Salvia, and it's rather local in distribution.

Mints are a wildly diverse group, and scads of them occur in tropical regions where the learning curve is steep. Here in Ohio, we've only got 47 native species to learn, plus a bunch of non-nativess that leapt over the garden fence and now grow free and wild.
The distribution by county of Downy Wood Mint in Ohio, courtesy the USDA Plant Database. Watch for this one next summer, which right now seems quite a ways off.


Shina Willson said...

wow ! great pictures!

Jim McCormac said...

Thank you! Can't wait until next summer and the chance to take more!