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Shawnee State Forest, photo taken from the summit of the Copperhead Lookout Fire Tower, last Sunday.

If you've tagged along with this blog much, or for very long, you'll likely have noticed that I spend a fair bit of time in southern Ohio's Shawnee State Forest. There's a good reason that I'm drawn to the area. Shawnee harbors some of the richest biodiversity to be found anywhere in the Midwest, and roaming its 65,000 acres is always rewarding. Add in the sprawling Edge of Appalachia preserve and its 15,000 acres - a stone's throw to the west - and we've got a massive wilderness full of diverse flora and fauna.

I will heartily recommend a great way to learn about this region, whether you are a first timer or have made many visits: Flora-Quest. Now in its sixth year, "F-Q" takes place from May 4th thru 6th, and is centered at the wonderful Shawnee Lodge and Conference Center smack in the middle of the forest.

Redbud, Cercis canadensis. A common treelet in Shawnee, and the host plant for the magnificent Henry's elfin butterfly.

The primary focus of Flora-Quest is guided excursions into the field, accompanied by some of the best botanists/naturalists to be found in this part of the world. Keeping company with knowledgeable guides is useful for several reasons. One, Shawnee and the neighboring Edge of Appalachia are so vast that it's hard for the uninitiated to figure out where the best hotspots are. The guides know. Also, if you really want to learn more about plants, there is no better way to do it than to spend time with someone who is a veritable walking encyclopedia of botanical knowledge. The guide roster really is a Who's Who: CLICK HERE to see who they are.

Trailing arbutus, Epigaea repens, a trailing member of the heath family and one of our first wildflowers to bloom.

There are interesting lectures as well, in the comfort of the lodge's capacious conference room. This year, Guy Denny and Martin McAllister headline Flora-Quest, and few people know this area like they do. Read more about them HERE.

A true star of spring, the fire pink, Silene virginica. This stunner always stops everyone in their tracks.

While plant diversity abounds, the fauna just cannot be ignored. Over 100 species of breeding birds can be found in Shawnee and vicinity, including more warblers than you can shake a stick at. Chances are you'll hear Cerulean Warblers serenading you from your lodge room's balcony, and Hooded, Worm-eating, Kentucky, Blue-winged, and Black-and-white warblers are a dime a dozen. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

Butterflies are outrageously abundant, and you can expect to see thirty species or more. One of the guides, all the way from Florida, is Jaret Daniels, author of the Butterflies of Ohio and a stellar field man. He knows plants, too!

Long-spurred violet, Viola rostrata, one of our most striking species of violets. Its growth habit is such that the plants appear to be elfin shrubs. This species, along with the MANY other species of violets in Shawnee, are host plants for the plentiful great spangled fritillary butterflies.

If you are interested in learning to sort out seemingly tricky groups like the violets, your guides can help. Try and stump 'em if you can! If you are more casual in your interests, that's fine, too. Whatever the case, you'll want to bring your camera, especially for the lady's-slipper orchids!

Goldenstar, Erythronium rostratum, one of the rarest plants in Ohio. This gorgeous lily will be past by the time of Flora-Quest, but there will be a whole new cast of rare plants that will have taken its place. That's one of the allures of exploring this area - the incredible number of very rare species that can be found.

We get all too few precious springs over the course of our lives, and not a one should be wasted. Sign on to Flora-Quest before all the spaces are filled. It'll be a fantastic experience, I'll guarantee it. CLICK HERE for registration information.


Sharkbytes said…
Ah! The Shawnee! Of course the North Country Trail goes through one side. I'd like to come back and do the full loop some time. It was a nice place.

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