Thursday, April 3, 2008

Spring hits Shawnee

Spring appears to be a week or so behind this year, in terms of the appearance of flora, and some fauna. Nonetheless, many enticing signs of the impending cascade of vernal life was in evidence yesterday in the vast and magnificent reaches of Shawnee State Forest. In no particular order are some photos of a few of the finds that I managed to work in yesterday.

A Mountain Chorus Frog, Pseudacris brachyphona. These diminutive amphibians are common at Shawnee, and quite apparent vocally this time of year. Every tiny vernal pool, and even wet roadside ditches have them. They sound similar to the more widespread Western Chorus Frog, Pseudacris triseriata, but have a more abrupt and raspier trill. They are also confined to the unglaciated hill country, in Ohio. The tiny pool - maybe 15 - 20 square feet - that this frog was in was packed with egg masses, and other Mountain Chorus Frogs.Greek Valerian, Polemonium reptans, just starting to do its thing. This beautiful member of the Phlox family, or Polemoniaceae, is abundant in Shawnee as well as much of Ohio. However, the Shawnee plants are of the much scarcer variety villosum, or Braun's Jacob's-ladder, named for its describer, famed Ohio botanist Emma Lucy Braun. The name "Jacob's-ladder" has several applications, and I prefer Greek Valerian for this species. The true Jacob's-ladder (to me) which is the one often depicted in wildflower guides, is Polemonium vanbruntiae, which doesn't occur in Ohio.

One of the first plants to bloom in spring is the non-native but brilliantly showy Colt's-foot, Tussilago farfara. Rather dandelion-like, it forms small colonies along roadsides and barren slopes of roadbanks. The flowers appear well in advance of the leaves, which emerge later and persist through summer. These leaves somewhat resemble the shape of a horse's hoof in outline, hence the common name of the plant.

It is always a thrill to see this beautiful butterfly, which also ranges throughout Europe and Eurasia, and is sometimes called the Camberwell Beauty by the Brits. We usually call it the Mourning Cloak, but whatever the name it is an absolutely stunning peice of work. Adults live as long or longer than any other butterfly species in Ohio, as they overwinter as adults and might last eleven months. Consequently, Mourning Cloaks might be seen any month of the year, even on warm, sunny winter days. We saw maybe a dozen yesterday.

This great rarity was found in Ohio by the aforementioned Lucy Braun in 1964, and has never been found outside of the small Rocky Fork drainage where she originally found it. Goldenstar, Erythronium rostratum, is a lily closely related to the much more common Yellow Trout Lily, Erythronium americanum, but is a southerner with a patchy distribution. The Shawnee population is the only site known north of the Ohio River. Catch it fast - the entire population, which is many thousands of plants, blooms within a few days. They were just opening and most were still in bud yesterday. Saturday, the rich wooded hillsides where it grows should be a dramatic vision of golden-yellow as it should be about peak then. By Monday, chances are there'll be no flowers left.

This tiny parsley is actually named Harbinger-of-spring, Erigenia bulbosa, and it's a fitting moniker. I found one stream terrace with hundreds, all in peak bloom. A whopper might stretch to two inches in height. It's good to once again see spring arrive.

If you would like to learn more about the amazing plants of Shawnee, please consider attending Flora-Quest. We started this conference last year, and have improved upon it and expanded efforts for 2008. Field trips are led by many of the finest botanists in Ohio, and most of them are familiar with birds, butterflies, and other elements of natural history. This is a good way to not only learn about plants, but to gain a better understanding of one of Ohio's wildest landscapes. For all of the details on Flora-Quest, go right here.


Tom Arbour said...

Great shots Jim- These are really good to see. Originally thought I would head to S. Ohio this weekend to photograph flowers family obligations call in cold and flowerless NE. Ohio!


Buckeyeherper said...

Jim - I have been enjoying your blog for a long while now, ever since the post of a certain sexy female rattlesnake and babies late last summer. I especially enjoy the entried on regions I have visited, and Shawnee is one of my favorites. You are right, spring seems a little behind and I haven't seen the brachyphona yet. Excellent to hear they are out in full force now as I should be down there tomorrow. Thanks for sharing!

Jason Folt, Cincinnati

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