Wednesday, April 11, 2012

An Adams County Botanical Foray

 Photo: Bruce Miller

Part of last Saturday's expedition team members loll about the dried leaf litter of an Adams County forest. We were down there to see whatever it was that we could find, prioritizing plants, supposedly. Like these excursions often do, things degenerated into a bit of a natural history free-for-all as we ogled everything from dragonflies to lizards to butterflies. Distractions aside, we still managed to find lots of plants and I'll share a few of those in this post.

John Howard was along to help lead the affair and he is encyclopedic in his knowledge of Adams County's flora and fauna. A few other bloggers were in attendance and Heather of the Hills recorded some thoughts on the mission HERE, and Cindy Steffen's post is HERE.

In the first photo, your narrator can be seen prostrating himself on the ground before some lowly wildflower, snapping photos. The above photo is one of the results of lying in the leaves. The plant is the odd parasitic squaw-root, Conopholis americana. It taps into the roots of oak trees via specialized root structures known as haustoria, and thus eliminates the need to manufacture chlorophyll. Hence, its lack of green pigments.

NOTE: If wildflowers are what you quest for photographically, get on the ground with your subject. The angles and images are usually far more compelling than if one were to merely stand and shoot down at the subject.

I was pleased indeed to encounter a small colony of goldenseal, Hydrastis canadensis. The tiny flowers of this woodland-dwelling member of the buttercup family don't last long, and will eventually morph into a fruit that resembles a raspberry. This plant is sometimes called "yellowroot" and is highly coveted for its supposed array of medicinal properties. After ginseng, goldenseal is probably the most sought after woodland plant by homeopathists.

Wild columbine, Aquilegia canadensis, is another buttercup family member and its flowers are fairly startling in their beauty. The genus name Aquilegia refers to an eagle; a reference to the supposed likeness of the corolla lobes to an eagle's talons.

My favorite of the woodland blueberries is deerberry, Vaccinium stamineum, and we were quite pleased to find this small shrub in full flower. The specific epithet stamineum refers to the conspicuously protruding stamens.

Eventually we stumbled out of the shaded woodlands and found ourselves in brightly lit cedar glade prairies where we could observe an entirely different set of flora. This is Indian-paintbrush, Castilleja coccinea, which is in the massive figwort family (Scrophulariaceae). Cheryl Harner posted a video of yours truly describing the odd flowers of this species on her Weedpicker blog, HERE. Indian-paintbrush is also the official flower of this year's Flora-Quest, which you should consider attending if you want a real hand's-on immersion into southern Ohio's vast botanical treasure trove.

Scattered here and there was a tiny native iris family member, the exquisite pale blue-eyed-grass, Sisyrinchium albidum. The flowers are held on stiff grasslike leaves which rise perhaps 6-8 inches skyward.

I was quite interested to see this plant - not something I find very often. It is prairie groundsel, Packera plattensis, and it has only been found in about a half-dozen Ohio counties. A close relative of the more familiar golden ragwort, Packera aurea, the prairie groundsel is fairly common in Adams County's prairies.

In the language of botany, there are innumerable terms to describe various types of hairiness, and this plant allowed me to introduce one of those terms to our group: flocculence. That word refers to the long woolly tufts that beset the leaf bases and lower portions of prairie groundsel, and for some reason the term tickled the fancy of a few of our expedition members. For the rest of the day flocculent was added to the name of nearly everything we saw.

On my way home, I stopped at a secret station to check in on one of Ohio's rarest wildflowers, Walter's violet, Viola walteri. It is a threatened species in the state, and grows on thin soil over dolomitic limestone bedrock. The tiny circular leaves are about as big as your thumbnail and form little mats. This diminutive violet is named in honor of Thomas Walter (1740-1789), a botanist who worked mostly in South Carolina.

In places along the Ohio River, there are exposed sunny limestone cliffs that are draped in lianas of this beautiful plant, the cross-vine, Bignonia capreolata. It is closely related to the more familiar trumpet-creeper, Campsis radicans, but is not nearly so hardy. The Ohio River Valley harbors the northernmost populations of cross-vine. Two primary pollinators are big bumblebees in the genus Bombus - we saw many entering the flowers - and Ruby-throated Hummingbirds. The cross-vine was arguably the showiest of the plants that we found this day, and was probably the people's favorite.

Illustrating the quirks and foibles of botanists, I was actually more interested to see this obscure little grass in a weedy field across from the cross-vine. It is water foxtail, Alopecurus geniculatus, a plant that is found sparingly here and there in Ohio, and is thought to be of Eurasian origin. I had never seen it before and spent some time belly down on the weeds making photos of it while smarter companions admired showier fare such as the cross-vine.

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1 comment:

Kathy McDonald said...

Thanks for a great field trip and blog post about some of the native plants we found. If anyone wants to learn more about native plants, they can attend the Midwest Native Plant Conference this July in Dayton. For more information, visit: www.midwestnativeplants.org.