Friday, April 29, 2011

Shawnee Spring

An amazing array of botanists, birders and butterfliers are all gathered in Shawnee this weekend. If there is anything rare or unusual out there - it better prepare to be found!

Silvery Blue- LUCK shot by Greg Miller

Many of my butterfly friends have gathered to join Jaret Daniels for 2 days on the back roads of Scioto and Adams Counties. And as early as Thursday we were all prescouting for a Silvery Blue- a rarity - no bigger than our Spring Azures.

So how do you tell the difference? First off, the host plant. You must have Carolina Vetch. Check.

Second- the underside of the wing has relatively evenly rounded black circles. The top side has a gossamer blue with black-edging. But no one I know has ever seen or photographed the top side! Until now, leave it to "Miller Luck." Greg photographed this rare skulker, and then asked me- "So what is this? " Ahhhh!

How can that be? A beautiful photo of a super lucky find? It seems only fair that I might get some avian rarity as payback! Wish me luck at Flora-Quest.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Lapping up Spring Beauties

Mid-Ohio is still displaying the earliest of the spring ephemerals. A brief walk through Sears Woods in Crawford County offered stunning view of both botany and migrating Warblers. Between the two of them, it was almost more than I could bear.

Squirrel Corn, Dicentra canadensis is a little less common than its relative Dutchman's Breeches. The flowers are all white, and more heart-shaped than the pant-like shapes of that other springtime favorite. But once you smell the sweet fragrance of squirrel corn, you will understand why it is so highly prized.

Behold, the earliest of this year's crop of butterflies, the Spring Azure laps nectar from a Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica.

Today I headed south to Shawnee State Park to attend Flora-Quest. It is hard to believe the difference 200 miles south can make in vegetation! Spring is leafing out in southern Ohio, and we are ready for an amazing event!

Monday, April 25, 2011

I am with Stinko

Who says botanist can't have a sense of humor? The pros down at OSU (The OSU) are enjoying the fragrant blossoms of their "Corpse Flower." Well, maybe enjoying isn't quite the correct terminology.

They are enjoying their 15 minutes of fame, and you can follow the story ripped straight out of the headlines of the Columbus Dispatch.

Four more days until Flora-Quest... and yes, I am keeping busy!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Hosting Rare Birds

In birding, there is one thing quite possibly more fun than chasing a rare bird. That would be "hosting" one. When an exceptionally rare bird is reported, the birdwatchers will come out of the wood work to see these rarities, often bringing gifts to the host or hostess.

The host opens his yard or farm up to a variety of bird obsessed folks, and a whole new perspective of birding begins to form.

Bullock's Oriole in Woodsfield, Ohio photo by C. Harner

Currently (as of 4/21/11) a western bird, Bullock's Oriole is being seen in eastern Ohio. The gracious hosts, Bob and Martie welcomed people into their lives... and gained an unusual perspective on birding. Martie wrote a wonderful story, and I told her I would be proud to host it. So to read Martie's Oriole story- click on the tab, "Hosting the Bullock's Oriole" at the top of this page (and enjoy her clever wit.)

A what do rare birds have to do with botany?

Cut-leaved Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) and Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), at the Yoder Farm.

Yesterday, being a "weedpicker" paid off. While looking to re-located a Varied Thrush on Andy Yoder's family's farm... of course, I was looking down.... at wildflowers. I did stop to give every "Robin" the once over.

... Varied Thrush Photo by Minette Layne

I had no more arrived at the property when I can across the female Varied Thrush foraging through wet leaves a short distance in front of me. Utterly stunned- I froze. I even forgot to reach for my camera in my excitement! I tried to motion to the others without creating TOO big a scene, and by the time I turned back I had lost my opportunity for a photo.

And so, today many eyes are searching the wet woods in hope of catching a glimpse of this lovely thrush. My advice, keep your eyes on the ground! I am sure it will be re-found.

After all, we have the "Holmes County birding team" on the job!

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Kentucky Springs in Ohio

Kentucky Spring Salamanders, Reds, Mud... they all run together for a weedpicker. I wouldn't be able to identify any of these dark world inhabitants if it weren't for the tutelage of John Howard or Greg Lipps. Even more than that, many plant oriented folks must wonder why we should even care about these slimy, gooey, wetland lovers.

Kentucky Spring Salamander- one species you might expect to find in say- Kentucky? Or perhaps West Virginia and the southern parts of Ohio.

The Midland Mud Salamander. It didn't look much different to me as I pulled it out from under a log, but I was assured- it is the ONE. A state listed species, rarely seen.

Shoot, I still think all salamanders are mud-dy! But it doesn't matter if I understand these species or not. Salamanders need areas that are still pristine enough to support their lifestyle. And that I get.

IF we don't protect the habitats of rare plants and animals- they will soon be extinct plants and animals. The first step to preservation is respecting that which we do not understand.

Released back to their watery domain: sch-loo-oop! They disappear into that which seemed to be stream bottom. How many of these creatures cavort beneath the ground surface of this fresh water spring? We restrain from tromping our boots through these habitats, lest we inevitably do the small creatures harm.

This area may not look like much of anything, to you or I, but it may well be the Taj Mahal of salamander land. Thanks to those who protect water sheds, and the rarities which inhabit them.

Special thanks to John Howard for helping understand these creatures, and to The Friends of the Scioto Brush Creek and other like minded groups all across our state.

. Clean water is our future, and not just for salamanders, but people as well.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Wildflower Pilgrimage

This weekend was the annual Wildflower Pilgrimage at the Arc of Appalachia Nature Preserves. The weather has been cooler than normal of late, which delayed the bloom of the Redbud until now. Redbud, Cercis canadensis is putting on a great show in southern Ohio. These knockout flowers are unmistakable as one travels down the roads draped in purple.
The Dogwood, Cornus florida is flowering later than usual as well. And while it is in full bloom along the Ohio River, the back roads of Shawnee boast half open flowers in hues of yellow and cream. It makes and altogether lovely contrast, especially as seen along Pond Lick Run. This stream always produces some of the best birding spots, this day being no exception. Three Black-and-white warblers squeaked like rusty pulleys in the trees overhead.

Dwarf Larkspur, Delphinium tricorne and Blue-eyed Mary, Collinsia verna

The most heart-stopping flower display was taking place on The Bluffs at the Ohio River. The winding, narrow path weaves through the largest display of Dwarf Larkspur I have ever seen. Add to that Blue-eyed Mary, Wild Hyacinth, and drifts of Virginia Bluebells: heaven on earth.

The Arc of Appalachia does and amazing job of preserving and protecting their properties, without over managing or over developing. I look forward to seeing more of their preserves.

My friend John Howard gave the Saturday night keynote program on Orchids. He did a fine job of helping us sort out those confusing Spiranthes and his program was filled with his amazing photography. John is knowledgeable in so many areas, from butterflies, flora, salamanders and other most anything else that crawls or creeps. He'll be leading a trip "Streamside" for Flora-Quest.

And as this picture shows, we found a couple of doozies crawling around! More on that later.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Daughmer Burns- fire as a tool

Fire can either be friend or foe. Usually considered destructive or bad, fire can be a tool for rejuvenation. Fire has played a significant role in the management of prairies since the days of Native Americans. Lack of fire even led to the decline of lupines, and Karner Blue butterflies in the Oak Openings.

Fire is added to the landscape at Daughmer Savannah, our state newest- and 135th State Nature Preserve. Managed by Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, now under the Ohio State Parks.

These are well planned operations, with plenty of fore-thought for safety, wind speeds and directions are monitored and copious amounts of water is on standby.

Daughmer- a diamond in the rough. This Bur Oak Savannah is a significant piece of Ohio history and one of the rare remnants of Ohio land that escaped both plow and timber crews.

These majestic 200 year old oaks speak of perseverance, even fire can not penetrate their thickened bark. They remain as sentinels of a time past. The prairie at their feet was degraded by sheep grazing, and the creep of invasive plants. Fire will help to turn back the time, and allow fire dependant plants to thrive again.

The back-fire is set, crawling slowly across the ground, it provides a safety line.

Wind pushes the head fire across the prairie to meet up with backfire. This burn was the ultimate in safety and control, with high moisture content in the grass, it created a slow smoldering burn.

Sunlight plays on smoke as the fire creeps through the oaks. There is nearly mystical feeling to see the blending of fire and forbs. This power, which can be so destructive can also be a source of new life and growth.

Daughmer Prairie survives to see another century, and we are fortunate to witness a small part of its story.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

First Blooms at Fowler Woods

Fowler Woods State Nature Preserve is well known for its fabulous spring ephemeral display. The earliest flower, Harbinger-of-Spring was all but spent yesterday, but the next blooms are queuing up for their annual appearance. ... Blue Cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides These odd purplish-brown flowers will give way to a more recognizable plant in midsummer. Blue Cohosh is named for the blue berries held roughly a foot high off the rich forest's floor. The berry is known to be toxic, and yet is has been used medicinally since the time of the Native Americans. So if it didn't kill you, I guess it just might cure you. It is still touted in many "women's" formulas today. Hmmm.... ... Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum These early "May" flowers are now pushing through the soil, looking much like miniature beach umbrellas. Closed now, they will be opening against the sun of coming days, certain to be warmer than the 45 degrees offered of late. ... We can check back in a week when the Marsh-marigolds should be in good display. It is not-to-be-missed!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Who likes Native Plants?

Who likes native plants in the landscape? Apparently, I am not the only one! A recent visitor to Mt Hope, Ohio has been wowing the locals- birders and non birders alike. This Long-eared Owl was recently taking shelter in the arborvitaes, or Northern White-cedar, Thuja occidentalis.
Late March and early April are a good time to search evergreens in nature preserves, woodlots, cemeteries and....

in your landscape?

This was the easiest Long-eared Owl find ever- a short walk to the front-yard!! The home owner had no idea what an amazing find they had discovered- until they causally mentioned it to "birding" friends!

Most birders will willingly trudge or ski miles in the snow for the prospect of searching for wintering Long-eared Owls. Even then, we usually come up empty handed, as their cryptic plumage conceals their presence. This is strictly a wintering species in Ohio; soon our visitors will be winging back to Canada for the breeding season.

So farewell little friend! You have inspired me to plant Northern White Cedars in my yard!

And if you visit Mt Hope, be sure to get the pie! It is one of the joys of birding-

Friday, April 8, 2011

Lifestyles of the Red and Toxic

Springtime is for salamanders, and the herp people have been a slither with spring sightings. Several good programs produced by the Ohio Vernal Pool Partnership and Ohio Environmental Council were held at Stratford Environmental Center. ... A Red Eft - the juvenal form of the Red-spotted Newt. Photo by John Howard

Red-spotted Newts have a perplexing life cycle. Eggs are laid in the water, and 3-4 months after hatching, the juvenile crawl onto shore to begin a terrestrial phase of life as a brightly colored Red-Eft. Their bold coloration is a warning: TOXIC personality! Since they are poisonous, they fear no predators and can occasionally be found on rainy days as they boldly cross woodland trails.

After 3-7 years they return to the water, changing to a mature coloration of olive green and - you guessed it- red spots! Their tail flattens and becomes keeled for this aquatic stage of life. Although their appearance changes, they keep their toxicity into adulthood.

Ah, a handsome fellow! But how do we know it is a fellow?

The males acquire this dark patches of rough skin on their hind legs and toes during mating season.

These "nuptial pads" are best compared to those sticky black mats you may use on your dash board to keep sunglasses and cellphones within reach.

"Nuptial pads" photo by John Howard

With true Salamanders, the mating season involves much snout rubbing and tail waving... and let's just say, these pads come in useful. They disappear after the mating season.

Red-spotted Newt all photos by John Howard

The life-cycle of the RSN is a bit more complicated than other salamanders, and are certainly the most toxic. If you do have an opportunity to handle one of these beasts- be sure to wash your hands well afterward.

And don't lick the Newt.


A very special thanks to Mr. John Howard for his amazing photos. He and Janet Creamer will be leading Quest 7, "Streamside" for Flora-Quest. Call me if you want in (419-683-8952), there are only 2 places left!

Monday, April 4, 2011

The Curious Flower

There is not a sprig of grass that shoots uninteresting to me. .... ........... Thomas Jefferson

The "Father of American Botany," Benjamin Smith Barton named Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla, to honor Thomas Jefferson. It was not his political prowess or scientific accomplishments, but rather Barton cited "his knowledge of natural history."

Jefferson was a man of great curiosity, and it is fitting that this curious flower is his namesake. It is the only plant in this genus, and oddly enough- one of its relatives is Barberry.

The subtle white flowers are short lived, often lasting but a day. The corolla resembles that of a Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis, however the similarity end there. This flower was conspicuously present on the Twinleaf Trail at Whipple, and although the flower will be past, it is still well worth seeking out the plant.

The Twinleaf is well named, easily recognizable by the paired leaves (two leaf + diphylla.) Is it any wonder these plants with delicate butterfly-like "wings" would capture my imagination? This was a plant I have dreamed of seeing in flower, since my childhood. It is not everyday one fulfills childhood dreams. Let's protect them in our Natural Areas and Preserves for future children of great curiosity.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Adams County for Saxi-philes!

Adams County offers some of the best botany and geology in Ohio, and yesterday we made a botanical foray filled with learning experiences. Not only did we find the rarest of mustard (Draba) species in a cemetery, and the "mouse-tails" that inhabit mudflats, we admired some rocks and flora at the Whipple State Nature Preserve just outside of West Union, Ohio.

Hepatica, Hepatica noblis on a dolomite rock outcropping

Much of Whipple Preserve is dolomite slump blocks, boulders and outcroppings. We admired many of the individual plants, beauties against the beast, eking out a living on the moss and moisture found in a harsh environment.

It is difficult to get a scope of the scale of some of these boulders, long parted from the native rock which spawned them. To move rock of this size would require the efforts of Sisyphus, the mythic Greek King.

Smooth Rock Cress, Arabis laevigata

The plants who cling on for dear life, often delicately rooted in mosses, are saxicolous: rock loving plants. We also see some of these same plants in Mohican State Park, like this common rock cress.

Much rarer is the Snow trillium, Trillium nivale, also found on rock formations. (Not in Whipple Preserve)

Photo from previous year...

This chunk of Adams County dolomite is festooned with Wild Columbine, Aquilegia canadensis. A favorite plant of hummingbirds and sphinx moths, it should be in bloom during Flora-Quest.

Like to learn more about geology and botany? There is one spot left in Tim Snyder's and Guy Denny's trip for Flora-Quest. This is your chance to spend 2 days with the experts and an evening with friends. Check out the Flora-Quest website - and call the hot-line to reserve your place.


Thanks to my friends at Mid-West Native plant folks for making this trip possible! You can read more at Heather of the Hills', Jim McCormac's, or Mid-West Native Plants' blogs (all have quick-links on the sidebar of this blog.)

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Dangers of Botany

APRIL 1st NEWS ITEM: Shawnee State Park and Forest issues a HIGH DANGER Alert for preoccupied botanical enthusiasts (PBEs.) Several botany types have been found road-killed along forest road #1, where they were worshiping the first buds of spring, unaware of oncoming traffic. Please be alert while driving through Ohio's natural areas, and be on the look-out for the unpredictable behaviors of PBEs. provided by Greg Cornett Two unclaimed bodies, were found along forest Rd. # 1 in Scioto county. If you or someone you know is missing a botany enthusiast, please notify local officials. These unidentified nature lovers wander about, taking photos and sniffing flowers... completely unaware of traffic.

If you must take close up botanical photos- please use the buddy-system:

have a fellow botanist watch for on-coming traffic.

Only you can prevent roadside botanical tragedies!!