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.