Sunday, October 2, 2022

Kinnikinnick Fen

A meadow at Kinnikinnick Fen on a fine September day. I visited this 154-acre Ross County (Ohio) preserve back on September 23 and was impressed with the large fen meadows and attendant botany. The preserve is fairly new. I'm not sure exactly when the Ross County Park District acquired it, but I think it's been within the last five years or so. I made a brief stop here a year or two ago, en route to elsewhere, but it was early winter, and the plant life was largely dormant. I'd been wanting to return ever since, at a more floristically hospitable time.

Interesting plants were evident upon arrival, including Sneezeweed (Helenium autumnale). While a showstopper, Sneezeweed is somewhat of a generalist and occurs widely in varied habitats. I was after more specialized fare.

This is Purple Swamp Aster (Symphyotrichum puniceum). While not a fen specialist, it typically is a species of high-quality wetlands. It abounded and was in near perfect shape.

A closer view of the flowers of Purple Swamp Aster, still wet with cool early morning dew. This tall, elegant plant goes by a variety of English names, like many other plants. That's why it's always important to know the scientific name of plants, if you want to be dead sure of what species is involved.

Here's a close relative of the species above, the Shining Aster (Symphyotrichum firmum). It was long placed within Purple Swamp Aster as a variety: Symphyotrichum puniceum var. firmum. Few if any authorities lump them now, and Shining Aster is pretty distinctive although its flower color and overall growth habit can vary somewhat.

A little further into the fen and botanical goodies began to appear with increasing frequency. This is a lush stand of Riddell's Goldenrod (Solidago riddellii). It and another notable goldenrod, Ohio Goldenrod (S. ohioensis), are present in large numbers. These two goldenrods have a tremendous history in Ohio, and I'm going to write about them separately in some future post.

Turtlehead (Chelona glabra) was frequent in the wet meadows. While not a strict fen plant, Turtlehead inhabits high-quality wetlands, and always those that are fed by groundwater. It plays host to one of our most beautiful butterflies, the Baltimore Checkerspot (Euphydryas phaeton). I wrote about this butterfly last July, HERE. I don't know if this checkerspot occurs at Kinnikinnick Fen, but I'd be kind of surprised if it didn't.
The beautiful flowering head of a Swamp Thistle (Cirsium muticum). This tall, showy thistle is a specialist of high-quality wetlands such as fens and is the second rarest of Ohio's thistles. Another, the Carolina Thistle (C. carolinianum), is even rarer and is known from only four southern counties where it is at the extreme northern limits of its range.

Swamp Thistle hosts a very rare (for Ohio) butterfly, the Swamp Metalmark (Calephelis muticum). As far as I know, this metalmark has not been seen in the state since 2010. I got to visit that population that year, and wrote about it HERE. It'd be an awesome rediscovery at Kinnikinnick Fen, or anywhere else.
Shrubby Cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa), a woody shrublet in the Rose Family, is a fen specialist in our region. It has been captured and brought into the nursery trade and can sometimes be seen gracing landscapes in captivity.

I was pleased to see large stands of Fen Indian-plantain (Arnoglossum plantagineum). This odd member of the Sunflower Family reaches peak bloom in June, and the meadows must look spectacular when it's in its full glory. This particular plant must have gotten damaged somehow, which forced a late blooming.

Scattered here and there, in more open parts of the meadows with less botanical competition, were Small Purple Foxgloves (Agalinis purpurea). It's a low spindly plant, and the flowers seem outsized for the botanical architecture that supports them. Bees, including various bumblebees, are the primary pollinators. In general, this is a plant of high-quality habitats such as fens and wet prairies.

Perhaps the most spectacular plant in late fall is Canada Burnet (Sanguisorba canadensis). This tall herbaceous rose can rise to six feet or more, and the luminescent white flower spikes are conspicuous from afar. Like most of the other plants I've featured in this post, burnet is a rarity and only encountered in high-quality wetlands, fens especially.

A stunning fen meadow enrichened by scads of Ohio Goldenrod and Canada Burnet. They represent a last hurrah as far as the flowering season. Within short order, there will be little left to see in terms of blooms, and our habitats will senesce into brownness and enter winter dormancy.

Kudos to the Ross County Park District for protecting this gem, and I look forward to future visits to Kinnikinnick Fen.

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