Friday, March 10, 2023

Goldenstar already in flower


A sun-soaked hillside erupts with the colorful flowers of one of Ohio's rarest lilies, the amazing Goldenstar (Erythronium rostratum). I was down in western Scioto County yesterday (March 9) with the primary goal of seeing this gorgeous plant. Five days prior, a friend had posted a photo of a blooming Goldenstar from last Sunday, March 5 - incredible! I had never heard of this species being in flower that early. I think my earliest observation of flowering plants - and I've made many trips to see it over the years - is March 17, in 2012. Of the nearly 12 different years from which I have flowering photos, most are from the last week of March and the first week of April. Last year, I shot the flowers on April 3. This year is nearly a month advanced from last year.

A Goldenstar nestled in the base of an American Beech (Fagus grandifolia). Beech trees are characteristic of most of the forests where I have seen these lilies. And in Ohio, that is almost exclusively along a stretch of Rocky Fork Creek near the village of Otway, in Scioto County.

Before ascribing this year's early blooming to climate change, it is important to note that the emergence of many wildflowers seems correlated to soil temperature. This February was essentially snow-free in southern Ohio, and average temperatures were warmer. But just last year the weather was more typically wintry and the Goldenstar bloomed in its usual late March/early April timeframe. And most of my observations, which date back perhaps two decades, are from that period with occasional earlier bloomings during mild late winters. Lucy Braun, who first discovered this species in Ohio (its northernmost locale) in 1963 (but did not see it in flower until the following year) first saw it blooming on April 11. Not too far off its usual flowering time now, but still a bit later than any more modern record I'm aware of.

An especially striking specimen of Goldenstar, with deep purple leaves mottled with green. Unlike the FAR more common and widespread Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), Goldenstar flowers are more orange, and the tepals (lily-speak for the combination petals/sepals) are held outward on a flat plane, not strongly recurved like the common species.

Fortunately, the Arc of Appalachia managed to protect a large swath of Goldenstar habitat. Their initial acquisition was in 2005, and the preserve has since grown to nearly 200 acres. All of the other plants are found on private lands, including those owned by a large paper company. CLICK HERE for information on the Gladys Riley Golden Star Lily Preserve and how to visit. It goes without saying to be respectful of the plants and their habitat if you do visit. Too, keep in mind that Goldenstars sleep in and cherish sunlight. The flowers often don’t open until mid to late morning. Sunlight accelerates their unfurling. No sense in arriving at the crack of dawn in this case.

Be forewarned, Goldenstar typically engages in a mass synchronous blooming that can be surprisingly short-lived. I once saw it in peak bloom - thousands of plants - and three days later took someone back to see the spectacle. All the flowers were already past. So time may be of the essence to catch one of Ohio's best liliaceous events.


M adelman said...

You can also see these down by the river at the blendon ravines metro park in franklin county.

Jim McCormac said...

That’s a different species: Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), which is common and widespread in Ohio.