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!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Harbinger of Spring

The photos have started trickling into my email inbox: harbinger of spring (Erigenia bulbosa) is in bloom now, officially ushering in spring wildflower season. Last week, I saw my first strappy Claytonialeaves poking through one year‘s worth of leaf litter, and (thanks to the cold weather) vernal witch hazel was still in bloom on an igneous knob. I actually haven't seen harbinger of spring yet this year, so I borrowed the lovely photo from one of Missouri's finest naturalists and all around stellar guy, John Oliver.

Harbinger of spring is a member of the carrot family with typical finely incised, fernlike leaves that appear after the flower is in bloom. It’s not a particularly noticeable flower, the small, white florets with bulging maroon anthers. Many people miss it on early spring hikes through Ozark woodlands. Look for it at the base of slopes, or along creekbeds.

Harbinger of spring is a perennial plant that sprouts from a tuber (hence the name bulbosa). While it is not one of the more commonly encountered spring wildflowers in the Ozarks, harbinger of spring is not rare in Missouri, though listed as such in Wisconsin.

Unlike several other spring ephemerals, harbinger of spring does not grow in large colonies that carpet the woodland floor (such as spring beauty. I can't tell you whether deer like it, but I imagine the fleshy stems and supple flowers look like ice cream to them in an otherwise brown landscape.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cloudy Wednesday in the St. Francois Mountains

I couldn't capture it, the breadth and scope of it. I seriously regretted not owning a macrolens or a panoramic camera yesterday as we crested the ridgetop on a not-so-recently cleared section of the Ozark Trail. The evening of May 8, 2009, full force gale winds from a storm that began in Kansas and Oklahoma ripped through the Ozark Highlands of Missouri in an historic weather event labeled by the Springfield NOAA as a "Super Derecho", a hook echo storm effect that has not occurred in Missouri in recorded history. It resulted in a massive swath of downed trees, decimated woodlands, roads blocked for weeks on end. The Ozark Trail Association was first on the scene, out there on the trail with chainsaws to clear the trail for everyone who wanted to see the impacts of such a remarkable storm event. Historic in nature, the derecho earned a paragraph and photos in the 2010 edition of The Terrestrial Natural Communities of Missouri by Paul Nelson (now with all color photos, available for 30$ at state parks or for 100$+ at the University of Missouri bookstore). The effects of the derecho will be seen in the Ozarks for many years to come.

After the roads were cleared and power was restored, land owners began harvesting, salvaging all that "downed timber." The shortleaf pine was salvaged first, a short shelf life after it's on the ground, and the oak was left for later. Now that the oak salvage is nearing its final days (before it becomes beetle food), parts of the St. Francois Mountains look like a lunar landscape--skidders and other logging equipment ripping up the understory to get to the logs. The soils in much of the derecho-damaged area is so disturbed that no regeneration is occurring and bush honeysuckle will likely become problematic.

So we went to one of the only largescale landscapes that wasn't logged, hiking up the hill to the sound of whispering pines and warm season grasses all taking advantage of the recent canopy openings. Looking out across the valley, I saw this:

Ridge after successive ridge of derecho damage, trees that didn't bend to the wind toppled by the sheer force of a very short lived storm that roared through the Ozarks that spring night. As far as the eye could see, randomly scattered pines and oaks standing, but oaks and hickories and pines, hazelnuts and dogwoods and the rest of the woodland associates all leveled, flattened, facing in one direction, the path of the derecho. I don't think I can express through words how moving it was to see the sheer force of nature, the brute force of nature, and the life anew in two year old pine saplings everywhere on the landscape. It's poetic. Ridge after ridge of untouched, raw, leaf off, force of nature. I was speechless, and still can't find the right words even sitting here in my bungalow in Columbia. Go see it. True wilderness in the St. Francois Mountains.

We continued to poke around the woods and the successive igneous knobs that go on and on throughout the landscape here in this ancient volcanic landform. Witch hazel is still in bloom, scattered in a wetland at Mina Sauk in a beautiful display with flowering alder. The national champion witch hazel is located at the base of Mina Sauk Falls, a 25 ft. tall tree down by the creekbed. You can't miss it.

The stillness of the winter landscape, the random pipping of a dark-eyed junco or peek! of a downy broke the silence that day. Go. Go to the St. Francois Mountains before leaf on in late April. Go before the hordes of people show up to break the silence.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Spinach, kale, lettuces, oh my!

Last fall, I don't think I ever really sufficiently explained to that old man running the truck farm on Hwy. 19 out of Eminence how grateful I was for his incredible produce. I bought boxes of his potatoes, his greens, his cantaloupe, tomatoes, onions, whatever else he sold, all for a song. I should have paid him in ways other than currency--like Goatsbeard Farms chevre, an 06 Norton, or that fancy chocolate made here in town that I can't afford for myself (but have bought as gifts). I'm a sucker for truck farms, and the man on Hwy 19 sucked me in with his plywood signs. I follow any signs painted in cheap acrylics or tempera paint that read: "Tomatoes," "Collards," "Fresh Trout." I pull over every time, and I pay with a stupid check riddled in all of my personal information because I don't wait tables anymore and, therefore, never truck in cash anymore. I even pay for Forest Service campsites with stupid checks, even though as a part-time cashier I know what an utter headache and hassle checks are to process. I need to wait tables again, (the money's better anyway) or work a coffeeshop. Cash trumps checks anyday, but I could adapt to a barter system like the one I subsisted on in graduate school...

Mid-March brings the beginning of farmer's market season! Undoubtedly ushering in the coming of spring more than tornadoes across the Central Plateau or the peepers and chorus frogs in farm ponds, those truckbeds full of boxes of hothouse lettuces, fresh eggs, cheese, spinach, hard squash and trout, they all signal spring.

Farmer's Markets are now common across the Ozarks, as most communities have them at least one day a week, sometimes twice, from May-October. Many farmer's markets aren't registered with the official Dept. of Agriculture site, or advertised online, since a lot of them are like a pickup game in basketball, always serendipitous when you drive through town on a Wednesday afternoon or a Saturday morning, but not well known outside the local area. Most farmer's markets ramp into gear in late April when everything from spinach to morels can be purchased. At least one is open year round: Stockton on the Springfield Plateau:

Stockton: Saturdays 9-12, open year round at the Southern Trades Building

Early to mid-April openings include the following:

Ava: Saturdays 7-12, Ava Square

Cabool: Wednesdays 1-6, Gateway Park

Carthage: April 3-October, Wednesdays and Saturdays, 7 am in Carthage Square

Dora: Saturdays 8-12, Hwy. 181 next to Roy's

Fair Grove: Wednesdays 3:30-7, Wommack Mill

Mountain View: Saturdays 7-12, West Park

Ozark: Thursdays 5 pm to sellout, Ozark Square

Rockaway Beach: Saturdays 8-2, Hwy. 176 E

Springfield: Greater Springfield Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays 8:30, Sunset and Glenstone

Springfield: Commercial Street Tuesdays 4-7, Saturdays 8-12, Jefferson and Commercial

West Plains: Saturdays 7-12, Wednesdays 11:30-4, Washington and 2nd St.

Willard: Saturdays 1-4

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Success is measured in btus.

If today's winds dried wet fuels, and if relative humidities drop into the 30s or at least super low 40s on Thursday, if forecasters aren't too trigger happy with fire danger warnings, the Ozarks may be able to see some of the first fires of spring fire season this week.

My personal and professional success is measured in acres treated, just as it should be for others whose goal in this pyrrhic landscape is to attempt to protect biodiversity in Missouri. I haven't had success in any aspect this year, actually, so any acres -barring piles of leaves in ditches- would help. Check in here periodically to see if your favorite tract of land is burning in the western Ozarks, or here for fire weather in the eastern Ozarks. [3/4/11: hit the forward arrow on the link to Springfield and see what Thursday's spot forecast requests looked like. Now, that's a good day, warms my heart and soul.]