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.