Saturday, August 29, 2009

More Mohican

A day of serious hiking along the ridge top of Mohican yielded spectacular views-

The Black-gum tree, Nyssa sylvatica leaves have already begun to turn into the brilliant reds that give them away. Finding the elusive Black-gum is generally a challenge, but this leaf is a beacon against the browns and greens of the forest floor, alerting us to the "nice-a" tree.

Botanizing in the nature preserve (across from the firetower) produced this Downy Rattlesnake Plantain, Goodyera pubescens. Although this orchid was not in flower, the heavily veined leaves are always a delight to the eye.

A sky-blue sky at the Gorge Overlook produced regular views of Turkey Vultures riding high upon the thermals with their buoyant flight, while a lone Osprey made quick work of cruising through the valley and on southward. Ready or not, fall and migration has begun.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Best of Mohican

Scenic river, covered bridge, Lyon Falls, Black-throated Green Warblers, a hot day in a cool gorge, shaded roads, fern filled embankments... the list from Mohican's hushed and hazy wooded trails goes on and on.

Regular readers of this blog know I travel far and wide in Ohio and beyond, appreciating the beauty and diversity of flora and fauna. Mohican holds its own- an oasis of fresh-pine and hemlock, damp earth, bird song, insect hum and babble of the river as it flows through the gorge.

Rock outcroppings, where glaciers came to grinding halt, where hemlock begin. Tonight's visit to the forest office for an open house, reminds me why. Why do I spend my time protecting Mohican and helping others to learn more of nature's secret way? Compelled by the grandeur of it all, how can I not protect and preserve this for others? It is as second nature as breathing... this forest, simply must be.
It needs no one, and yet needs us all, at the same time.

Even the roadsides here are festooned with fall flowers, Wingstem, Joe-pye-weed, and Goldenrod dance freely along the berm. Mohican State Forest's wildflower display puts the neighboring county roads to shame, and should be a model to the other state forests. Come spend a day and you'll see.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Shades of Blue

Greater Mohican Audubon's monthly walk at Byers Wood presented many opportunities for admiring the color blue on Saturday.

Albeit a Gray Hairstreak, it was briefly thought to be a dark female Eastern Tailed Blue. The dove gray underwings, not visable here, tell the full story. This is a hairstreak with few markings, and the unusual habit of perching with open wings. Not a surprising find for this open field, it was fluttering about one of its host plants: Partridge-pea.

Chicory, Chicorium intybus, the most lovely of the summer blues, the softest shade imaginable. This non-native plant, fond of road sides and waste lands was imported as a coffee substitute. It is still served in the breakfast halls of the French Quarter in New Orleans, but I couldn't down a whole cup of the swill. Real coffee for me please!

Indigo Bunting, indigo blue. This fellow perched high among the corn tassels singing a tune and caused us to wonder why bunting favor corn tops. Is it the bugs or the view? We may never know-

And some fine feather-friends from Audubon, all decked out in denim: Bianca, Darrick, Sue and John. It was pleasant to have lower temperatures requiring light jackets, and the sky floated puffy gray clouds in an incredible blanket of blue.
These are the "blues" one wishes to to share with friends!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Partridge-pea at Marion Prairie

Partridge-pea, Chamaechrista fasciculata is in full flower at the OSU Marion Campus Prairie. You'll have to look down to find this smaller scale prairie plant amongst the towering grasses, as it barely clears a foot tall. The sunny yellow flowers make it worth the search, and note the elongated pods- presumably filled with peas. A member of the Fabaceae family, it seems to be well named as it would be a food source for our native Northern Bobwhite, a pretty good facsimile of a partridge. Unfortunately they have been non-existent in this part of Ohio since the winter blizzard of 1978.

Behind the OSU Campus Marion on Route 95 on the East side of town, this lovely prairie is worth the trip, and welcomes visitors. The windmill adds just the right touch of nostaligia.

Bob Klips (third from right) teaches at OSU Marion and knows this prairie well. He made the visit a weedpicker's delight, and had Jan, Annette and Mike all sporting botany brouches of Tick-trefoil leaves before the day was over. Be sure to check out his "Bob's Mind on Botany" web pages for a real treat!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Shawnee Forest Foray

Shawneee State Forest near Friendship, Ohio is one of our state's most scenic treasures, filled with unusual botany, winding forest roads and drop-dead overlooks. The bluff from Picnic Point overlooks the river valley below which stretches all the way to Portsmouth.

Our State Heritage Botanist, Rick Gardner led a formidable foray into Shawnee on Wednesday. With his personal paparazzi to shoot photos and write down every scientific name, we scoured the earth for rare finds and hung on the master's every word. This elite corps of botanical bloodhounds document new finds and re-confirm the best of older discoveries. Setting all time records, this crew of 21 was made up of local experts and thrill seekers from across our state. Thanks to Tom, Melissa, Ray, Dave, Jenny, John, Kasmira, Janet, Nina and many others, for sharing the day.
All kidding aside, our Ohio State Parks and the people who protect, preserve and monitor them do an amazing job- and deserve all the praise and support we can give them. Remember to buy a Wildlife license plate or do a tax check-off to support Ohio's biodiversity.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Protecting Us from Flora

At what point did road side flora become a public nuisance? The roads of my childhood were always in bloom, with Tiger Swallowtails cruising for nectar and bees humming off to work the clover fields. We are allowing our cities, townships, parks and forest managers to groom our roadsides as if Ohio was the world's largest golf course.

Leave me a few flowers, please. I miss the butterflies on my daily walks. And if you are interested in helping us make a difference, feel free to use the following letter (written by my favorite radical) and adapt it for your city, park or town. Thanks Shelly- I am very proud of you.

Dear Editor:
As my husband and I took off for a relaxing bike ride along the bike path, my blood began to boil; huge swaths of the Hocking River Banks had been mowed- scalping the bank sides-from the Athens Public Library to the Habitat House. I was crushed. Usually I look for butterflies, birds and interesting insects along this section of the bike path because I don’t have the luxury of owning my own property yet. I saw a few birds and a few butterflies- all of which I could have found in my lawn at my apartment- but I couldn’t find any wild flowers, red-winged blackbirds, hummingbirds, finches, tree swallows or bluebirds. Usually these are easy to find along the bike trail along this section, but because of the mowing the habitat was missing and so were its inhabitants.

Some people don’t realize how such areas help our environment because they’re too blinded by the idea of nature needing to be controlled and manicured, like endless golf courses. Mowing such areas decreases biodiversity and such “scrub” also helps naturally filter run-off water (deeper roots than basic lawn grass) and prevent erosion. While manicured lawns have their places, it seems absurd to try to control the banks of the Hocking in such a way, particularly when this area of bike trail is so fully exposed to the sun; grass doesn’t fare very well during periods of little rain like we’ve seen this summer. It’d be nice to see more areas of such flowery “chaos” around town in places that really don’t ‘have’ to be mown.

I realize not everyone really cares about birds and insects and simply asking institutions such as the city, the university and the state to stop mowing for environmental and aesthetic reasons seems na├»ve. However, I do realize all of these institutions are having financial difficulties as we all hear the phrases “budget cuts” or “in-the-red” in the news in reference to Athens City, Ohio University and the State of Ohio. So, during such financially trying times, why would we continue to support wasting time and money on mowing and paying the individuals mowing, when that money and effort could be used in more significant ways? Couldn’t we just leave the bank sides alone and use that money and energy to improve other areas that have been so drastically cut? Better yet, has anyone really looked into the costs spent on such unnecessary mowing and how much might be saved by simply “neglecting" to mow in select areas? Meantime you’ll find me biking areas with more biodiversity.

Michelle Goodman

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cardinal Flower

Putting on one of the most spectacular displays possible, the Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis is now in full bloom. Found in 2/3 of our Ohio counties, Cardinal flower is not a rare plant, yet it tends to only inhabit high quality, wet woods.

The the river bottom at the new Gilliom-Cherp Nature Park in Ashland County is a-blaze with these beauties. It can be grown in your landscape, but give it plenty of water!

Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinal Flower is said to get its name from the color of a Cardinal's robes- yet if you pull off an individual floret, it has an uncanny resemblance to a bird in flight. Either way, Roger Tory Peterson declared this to be America's most popular wildflower.

We dedicated the newest of Ashland County Park District's park on Saturday morning, with ODNR's Director Sean Logan as keynote speaker. It is amazing that the folks of Ashland have dedicated their 11th park in seven year's time! You'll want to visit this one, just south of Ashland on Route 603, to see the incredible diversity and wildflower displays with your own eyes. The 189 acre park abuts the Blackfork Wetlands and Ashland University Wetlands, creating 600+ acres of wetland corridor, now permanently protected from urban sprawl. I can wait to get back to investigate all the dragonfly and sedge species!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Pond Life

Pickerel-weed, Pontederia cordata at the Gorman Nature Center pond. (click for full size)

Pickerel-weed can be purchased at many garden stores, and purchasing native plants for your water features is a good way to protect the environment from some of the nastiest invasives to be found- the wicked witches of the wetlands! Promote the use of these gorgeous purple flowers on the edge of your pond, and watch your friends go frog green with envy.

Gorman Nature Center has one of the coolest ponds around, too bad we can't use it to take a little dip on a hot day like today, as it does look refreshing!

Schedules have been crazy- so I am posting while at work in the nature center. So, let me take this opportunity to remind folks to support their local park districts, especially during tough economic times! Nature is a great healer and helps us put everything in perspective. Who can be depressed for long when there is so much beauty and wonder around us? Take a walk, look around you and develop your sense of: Why? Could this flowering mass of Pickerel-weed a possible host plant for dragonfly eggs? Is that why we see so many dragonflies here?

Visit the website and calendar page at Gorman Nature Center and see our diverse habitats in the landscape and the many interesting programs we have to offer! Hope you make it to our pond sometime soon!

Friday, August 7, 2009

The Ornithological Orchid

Three-birds Orchid, Triphora trianthophora

On the northern edge of Ashland County lies a National Natural Landmark named Crall Woods. Owned by the Ashland County Park District, the 283 acres that make up this tract are filled with year-round beauty. Spring marks the most spectacular wildflower displays known in our area, and the stream cascades over mini-falls near the park entrance.

Scouting through the park with well known blogger, Tom Arbour, from Ohio's Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, we had something very different on our mind: orchids! Tom had discovered one of Ohio's rare and most diminutive orchids on this plot two years ago.

Jim Sloan, Tom Kruse of Ashland Park Board and Tom Arbour inspect the orchids.

Hard to believe that the ground around our feet was littered with the delicate beauties, however they are so small it nearly requires a head-stand to get at good look at them! At first blush, its growth habits reminds one of the ground-hugging saprophytes, but it more closely resembles a shrunken Arethusa orchid.
A sense of the minuscule proportions becomes evident next to the Blue Cohosh berries lying on the ground. These plants are listed as potentially threatened in Ohio, but some believe they may be more common than once believed. Given the eye-straining size of the species, combined with the short-lived bloom, usually withering in a day, they are difficult to locate. Add to the mix their sporadic blooming, and it becomes obvious why we were so excited by relocating these Lillipution sized orchids.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

The pale one...

Pale Touch-me-not, Impatiens pallida

A few more passing comments about these native impatiens. Their name is derived by their explosive seed capsules- Touch-me-not. When fully ripe, the 1/2 inch long mini banana-looking fruits peel themselves under pressure. Ka-pow! The seed goes blasting out in all directions, and you are left with a curly green husk in hand.

The yellow species tend to grow a bit taller than the orange one, some form stands in ditches well up to 5 feet in stature- perhaps even more. And interestingly enough, both species seem to like similar conditions: damp ditches or road-sides, stream banks and generally low light. However, they rarely seem to grow side-by-side. Any one care to comment on this?

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Will the REAL Impatiens please stand up?

Our native impatiens, Jewelweed or Touch-me-not is rarely utilized in formal gardens, although it is just as lovely as the colorful imported impatiens of lesser stature. These members of the Balsam family have distinctive irregular blossoms held aloft on 1-2 foot stems. Impatiens capensis is orange, Impatiens pallida pale yellow, both sport similar trumpet-shaped flowers which quickly becomes an attractant for Ruby-throated Hummingbirds.

This plant is a "natural" for free ranging among the Hosta. Yes, we ex-landscape gardeners won't give up our Hosta any sooner than we would give up our children (however if you had asked while the kids were still in their teens- I might have considered...)

Impatiens capensis, Spotted Jewelweed frolics among the Sea Monster Hosta.
This Hosta is a stout fellow of 3.5 feet or so, and holds his own against any wildflower encroachment, however native Impatiens are easy to manage in the garden beds and can be readily thinned if they become too crowded. Try seeding some native impatiens to attract wildlife in your home flowerbeds, and enjoy the flutter-by-products of the natural-looking, healthy Ohio native plants.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Looking Out My Backdoor

Native plants are a huge part of the landscape at our house, tucked into formal plantings and pots, along with the more traditional floral fare. In an informal grouping with pink impatiens you can find the following natives: Clearweed- Pilea pumila, Spotted Jewelweed- Impatiens capensis, White Vervain- Vervain urticifolia, and Virginia Jumpseed- Tovara virginiana.

Tovara virginiana- known as Virginia Jumpseed or Virginia Knotweed is another member of the Smartweed Family, the Polygonaceae. Polygonum means "many knees" in Latin, and it refers to the ocreae or sheathes that resemble swollen joints, commonly found on these plants. The flowers, a fine wisp of white held aloft, and the medium sized leaves are often water-marked with a chevron of color.

Balancing along the unopened flower stem like a tight-rope artist was this year's first Woolly Bear, the Isabella Moth caterpillar. A mere half inch long, it is probably too young to predict the coming weather by the condition of his coat, but it might be as accurate as some weather forecasters.