Sunday, April 22, 2012

Earth Day, 1970

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Early, early spring wildflowers

The mad dash is on to see the spring ephemerals before the successive weeks of 76 to 80 degree temperatures encourage the oaks and hickories to leaf out and the delicate early wildflowers to burn up completely. One Missouri Native Plant Society chapter has cancelled the spring wildflower walks in April, aware that the bloom cycles are tracking two to three weeks early....

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Little guys

Grand is the day walking through a recently burned high quality landscape knowing that I will return there shortly for long, long days of vegetation sampling! Little sprouts of stickery rattlesnake master poked up through the black ground, and I found one very early blooming hoary puccoon, partly smashed under a hunk of chert but blooming nonetheless. Sampling season begins in late May, giving the deep rooted perennial fall-blooming plants a chance to spring new vegetation. By late May, a suite of tiny little late winter blooming plants take on the appearance of a single blade of straw with, hopefully, a seedhead left behind to make keying easier.

Now is the time for the little late winter guys to come up and bloom for their very abbreviated flowering cycle. It's exciting to run into the first Cardamine pensylvanica in bloom, even if its found first in overgrown, abandoned city lots. But the winter annuals (so called because the seeds germinate the following autumn after flowering in the previous late winter and therefore overwinter as little basal rosettes) have begun to bloom on limestone and dolomite glades throughout the Ozark Highlands. These plants are adapted to remain small in size, some the height of an upright dime, in order that they may remain close to the warm ground during our typically cold late winter days.

The smallest Brassica in Missouri, Leavenworthia uniflora (CC value 7), sends up a tiny little white flower from a sweet dark green rosette that measures about the size of my thumb. Leavenworthia is not as common on the landscape as some of the other spring blooming Brassicas, but it is locally abundant in the White River Hills. You'll find Leavenworthia at home on burned glades and by the thousands in parking lots in Branson. It particularly thrives on balds, barrens, such as the glade systems in White River country. By late May, expect a threadlike piece of straw with a hint of a seedpod (but it's a 7 so it can jack up the Mean C of the quadrat).

Draba cuneifolia (CC value 5) is at home also on limestone and dolomite glades, but also on roadsides, what Steyermark called "waste places" and railroad rights of way. Steyermark remarked in the 1963 Flora in his customary conversational way, "this species is a good one for rock gardens if planted from seed..." and, I feel certain his wife Cora did just that. Draba is actually well recognizable by late May, what with the telltale Brassica seedhead blasted out and paper thin.

Arenaria patula (CC value 7) actually doesn't bloom until late March, early April in most of the Missouri Ozarks. A. patula can be found on limestone, dolomite, rare chert glades and even the last remaining overgrazed and totally beat up sandstone glades in the Ozarks. Unlike Arenaria stricta, which can grow in thick mats and bloom in May, A. patula sends thin hairlike stems upon which heavy white flowers bloom. In a late May sampling plot, imagine a tumbleweed stuck in among the thick, verdant green of grasses, sedges and forbs. I didn't know this plant until 5 years ago when I clipped the thin multibranching seedless stalk in my clipboard to bring back to my colleague who identified it immediately. And now I can, too.

Lovely line drawings of these sweet winter plants from USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database / Britton, N.L., and A. Brown. 1913. An illustrated flora of the northern United States, Canada and the British Possessions. 3 vols. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York. Vol. 2: 149.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Spring Wildflowers in the Ozark Highlands

My classy botanist friend in St. Louis posted his first-of-year [aptly named] Harbinger of Spring photo over the weekend, almost two weeks before his first photo last year. Last winter was, well, wintry, icy, harsh, snowy and so forth. These 45 degree days that have persisted throughout February did not occur last year, and spring wildflowers didn't break through the leaf litter until much later than they have this year. Hepatica nobilis, for example, didn't bloom last year in Current River country until the third week of March; reports came in over the weekend that Spring Beauty was in flower as far north as St. Louis. If bloom cycles are tracking two weeks early this year, I hope we don't see a repeat event of April 2007 when the temperatures plummeted to the low teens for three days in a row, blackening the spring green of the canopy and impacting the 07 Norton vintage. Walking through the windy woods in May 07 was reminiscent of autumn with the rustling of dead leaves on trees.

With the Harbinger of Spring reports comes my annual posting of Paul Nelson's beautiful botanical illustrations from his out of print book, Spring Wildflowers of Missouri State Parks, published in 1981. Aside from the exquisite full page illustrations, the book's cover is an original oil painting, a well-composed assortment of his glade wildflower illustrations (very rare, actually. Paul hadn't worked in oil since high school art class in Berkeley, but did so late at night for this terrific publication). In the past few years I have posted a number of the illustrations to serve as a crash course for visitors to Ozark woodlands and glades in the spring. See here and here for more illustrations.

Harbinger of Spring (left), also called Salt and Pepper because of the stark white petals and deep maroon stamens, has been noted to bloom as early as late January. Find this wildflower in deep, moist coves, protected, more forested areas (rather than in a frequently burned area). Harbinger of Spring has been noted to bloom when snow is on the ground.

A perennial favorite of mine, Bloodroot sends up its flower early in the spring wildflower season. Cut the deeply incised leaf with a knife and the sap runs red. The single leaf of Bloodroot will remain visible well into June.
There are several species of trilliums in the Ozarks, but the maroon flowering T. sessile is more often encountered. Visit rich dry mesic woodlands, bases of bluffs and true forests throughout the Ozarks for T. sessile.

Visit bottomland woodlands to find a suite of buttercups including this one, Ranunculus septentrionalis. Named for its bright yellow flowers that resemble fake butter.

Glade plants! You'll find Yellow Star Grass on most dolomite glades in early April, usually sharing the space with Bird's foot Violet and Hoary Puccoon. Unlike some of the forest associates in the spring wildflower category, this bright yellow wildflower loves fire. Check out burned glades for heartier populations.

...and don't forget about visiting recently burned woods for Tall Larkspur which usually begins to bloom in late April.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Ozark Spring Wildflower Guide

The cold, dreary wet weather will be a mere memory soon, and spring wildflower season will ramp into gear with longer, sunnier days. Many years ago, the illustrious duo of esteemed ecologists Bruce Schuette and Paul Nelson published a wildflower guide for Missouri. All original illustrations inked in late at night with a rapidograph and easy to follow text, this guide was widely available in the 1980s. It's out of print now, and difficult to find in used bookstores.

When I first moved to Missouri, this book of illustrations served as my initiation tool to Ozark wildflowers--plants that are common in Missouri (wild geranium, for instance) were rarely, if ever, encountered in Louisiana's woodlands. As a child, the lack of fire in Louisiana's woodlands had a serious impact on spring flora; nary a wildflower could be found there but the spring beauty and an anemone or two. So, I needed a wildflower guide when I moved to the Ozarks.

In 2009, I published a post here with Nelson's beautiful illustrations of some of the more common spring wildflowers. The following illustrations are also taken from the book, and can serve as a quick refresher to those setting out into the April woods after our long, snowy (55 inches total in some parts) winter when wildflowers seemed like a world away...

I always return to the book to remember which is which--Solomon's seal vs. false Solomon's seal. This one is false Solomon's seal, with a flower at the end of the stalk. Found in dry or dry mesic woodlands, the flower of false solomon's seal gives way to bright red berries by mid-June. The stem is in a zigzag pattern unlike Solomon's seal.

The vegetative similarities between the false Solomon's seal and the actual Solomon's seal are real--long drooping stalk with alternate pinnate leaves. Solomon's seal is found in rich woods, moist areas, and the berries are dark blue in the summer.

The bright yellow pendant flowers of bellwort are just lovely. They resemble crepe paper, the way they droop down from the erect stem. Found in more mesic conditions, in rich woodlands. The leaves wrap completely around the stem, the telltale sign of this plant after the flowers are gone.

Mayapples are some of the first wildflowers to pop up after a spring fire in Ozark woodlands. Box turtles love the fruits of this plant, and I usually migrate to low, moist places where mayapples grow to find a morel or two.

Another brilliant yellow wildflower, hoary puccoon can be found on glades and prairies in the Ozarks. You'll see it around Indian paintbrush and bird's foot violet in a stunning display each spring. The densely hairy leaves and thick walled flowers are hard to miss on a glade.

I was recently asked "what's the showiest of the spring wildflowers in the Ozarks?" Such a relative question, I couldn't really answer it. Goldenseal may not be showy like a slipper orchid, but I think it's sexy because it usually indicates a pretty high quality site--find goldenseal and you'll likely find other good wildflowers. If you miss the brief flowering period of this plant, you'll likely encounter the red drupe berry perched on the leaf where it meets the stem by mid-May.

By early May, roadsides in the Ozarks are chocked full of tall, flowering penstemons. We have several species of penstemons in the Ozarks, but the most common is Penstemon digitalis. When I first moved here, I transplanted several from a recently graded roadcut to the yard where I lived where they were summarily mowed down. Visit high quality woodlands and the prairies of southwest Missouri that don't have cows on them to see another striking species of Penstemon.

Happy Spring!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Ozark spring

I raise a hearty glass of an 06 St. James Norton to spring fire season, to prescribed fires planned for all over the state tomorrow--from pine woodlands around Ste. Genevieve to the relict post oak country of the upper Current River Hills. I toast bloodroots and trout lilies, to delicate little anemones and celandine poppies and blue-eyed Mary. May box turtles avoid automobile tires this spring, and may cool temperatures allow the bluebells to hold their elegant blooms into late April when the canoe outfitters open for the season. To spring!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Spring in the Ozarks

Under today's bluebird skies, the gleaming sun melted the last patches of snow in woodlands throughout the western Ozarks. Last night's snow event, our first northeastern winter storm this season, possibly represented the final blast of snow and sleet we'll see for many months. My white daffodils and brilliant purple violets are unscathed, though splashed with a little mud from the heavy rains that fell earlier in the day. Spring wildflower season begins in earnest this week with warm temperatures coaxing delicate pink, white and yellow flowers out of the saturated, mineral rich, rocky Ozark soils.

Some of the most common spring wildflowers are also some of the most elegant and lovely flowers you'll encounter all year. See below the fine illustrations of the state's leading ecologist, Paul Nelson, who invariably creates images with a rapidograph as pretty as the flowers themselves.

Spring beauty (Claytonia virginica): Decidedly common, even springing up in lawns, spring beauty can be found in open woodlands, usually in large colonies. I find them wherever I find mayapples.

Rue anemone (Anemonella thalictroides): Found mostly in uplands, in well drained dry rocky soils, this diminuitive wildflower blooms well into June.

False rue anemone (Isopyrum biternatum): Every year, it's the same drill: grab the wildflower guide and relearn the differences between rue anemone and false rue anemone. On a basic level, unlike rue anemone which tends to grow singly in dry uplands, this plant grows in large colonies in moist stream bottoms. The leaflets are more deeply dissected in false rue anemone, and flowers are on stalks above the leaves rather than perched right on top of the little (and less dissected) leaves.

White trout lily (Erythronium albidum): Several years ago, I set fire to the outskirts of a moist hollow loaded with blooming trout lilies. It was a difficult move, torching literally hundreds of the exquisite spring wildflower, but I threw fire over them for the greater good of the ecosystem. I took pictures of the wide, flat plain covered in these flowers before I slung my torch along the edge of the burnline. I couldn't look. I didn't want to see melting flowers. When I went back the following spring, the large colony was there, but joined by four other species, long smothered by 50 years worth of leaf litter. White trout lily can be found in lowlands, along streambanks, in moist woodlands.

Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria): When I first moved to the Ozarks in late March, 2003, I grabbed the fine, glossy Missouri Wildflowers and studied it every night, trying to learn the Ozarks' abundant spring wildflowers before I saw them in the field. I never dreamed as a child, fascinated as I was with Rudbeckia species, that I would ever see a wildflower as graceful as this one. Intricate, pale pink flowers hang pendant from a barely perceptible stem, leaves like ferns, Dutchman's breeches continues to be a wildflower I intentionally seek every April. Look for it in moist woodlands growing among spring beauty, pretty mosses, and trout lilies.

Toothwort (Dentaria laciniata , orCardamine concatenata?): Blooming early in the season, toothwort can be found in most woodlands in Missouri, despite active management or neglect. I found a large colony growing in an old disturbed lot full of honeysuckle in the middle of a developed neighborhood in Rolla. Regardless, the simple, white, cross-shaped flowers that appear each March in Missouri's woodlands usher in spring.

Pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia): Not a very showy flower, but a common one in dry chert woodlands. Look for small colonies of these in drier uplands. Find them on the right day and you'll actually see the beads of brilliant yellow pollen on top of the white fuzzy flowers.

Pale corydalis (Corydalis flavula): Another common wildflower not dependent on active management, this one can be found in most creek valleys and at the base of bluffs.

Rose verbena (Glandularia canadense): Brilliant purple(ish)-magenta flower, commonly seen on glades and open woodland edges with ample light. Rose verbena is also commonly found on roadcuts, in areas usually dominated by dolomite. A star of the dolomite glade, this wildflower began blooming in the Niangua Basin last week.