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!


A.L. Gibson said...

Glad to see someone else as excited as I am for the profusion of Spring bloomers well on their way! If only this cold snap would break back in Ohio. I can't wait to get back out and botanize!

Mike Whittemore said...

Allison, it's too bad this book is out of print. Such great illustrations for a resource that I couldn't even find online. I used to fall for field guides with the most colorful, vibrant photos but I'm realizing that line drawings are where its at. Newcombs has been good for me but has a lot of holes in it. I just ordered Gleason and Cronquist, which is supposed to be among the best - kind of reminds me of the field guide in your post.

I'm with you, I really like the rich site indicators like the cohoshes, goldenseal, and ginseng. Happy Spring!

Allison Vaughn said...

It's a great book, Spring Wildflowers of Missouri State Parks. Glad I have an old dogeared copy. By the way, I love your blog. Boy, you're in another world!

travis said...

if you pick solomon's seal seeds when they are roughly the size of a pea and bright green, they are delicious! kind of taste like the freshest green pea you could ever find.

Nickelplate said...

Talking about wildflowers has got me thinking of a neat discovery we made last year while planting seedlings. We found a patch of Ozarks Wake Robin, which you probably know is a very rare Missouri trillium. We informed the MDC who wanted pictures and GPS coords and everything else. They're a really pretty flower: It's a shame they are rare.

Allison Vaughn said...

Yes, known from only four counties in Missouri, but where found, locally abundant. I love the original Steyermark population in Barry Co. I stay at the little 1950s cabins a lot because the owners are so dedicated to protecting their trilliums.