Walking into the beautifully burned woodlands down in Elk River country, the farthest one can go in the Missouri Ozark Highlands where you have to drive into Arkansas for a vegetarian meal without people smoking cigarettes all around you, I heard my first of the year ovenbird. And then a black and white warbler. A blue gray gnatcatcher. An Eastern towhee. A loggerhead shrike. And so forth for a long 48 species list of birds encountered on Saturday's fieldtrip. Migration is on, and folks in my neck of the woods are gearing up for May 11, the annual North American Migratory Bird Count. By May 11, especially if we have a little storm the day before, we may be able to pick up Connecticut warblers in the woods, but it may still be a little early.
It is an uncommon and great experience to visit burned woods in southwest Missouri--far out of my day trip range--with a cadre of botanists and birders in tow. We walked as slowly as any other botanist would at the first signs of spring in uncommon woods. When the same group assembled last April and we visited the Niangua Basin area, a .75 mile hike took us four hours. It's not because we're old and frail, but because everyone has to take photos of the same plant, discussions about taxonomy, more photo taking, and everyone has to have an intimate moment with said plant. Because spring has come late even to Elk River Hills, we walked at a fast clip for the last mile, but slowing down in the creek bottoms rich with spring ephemerals and curious plants, several species I had never met before.
If I spent more time in the Arkansas Ozark Mountains, I would likely have known these fascinating species that are restricted in Missouri (for the most part) to the southern counties (esp. the White River/Elk River country), but I don't spend a lot of time in Arkansas, so I didn't know the plants. Among the highlights of the day was meeting a less restricted species, known from throughout the Ozark Highlands, the powdery cloak fern (Argyrochosma dealbata) wedged into a tight crevice on a limestone boulder hanging out with with a deer browsed Woodsia obtusa: It reminded me of a Cheilanthes, and I love the deeply dissected fronds, the white powder on the underside of the frond and the tell-tale black stem. This is a very neat fern and I hope to find it again when I can identify it on my own. I normally don't have to ask folks to spell out Latin and Greek words for me (what with that worthless degree of mine), but A. dealbata was a tough one. I had to write it down to pronounce it myself.
In the dry chert woods, up in the uplands and steep slopes that characterize this neck of the woods, we encountered a lot of vegetative structures of Coreopsis palmata, Carex albicans var. albicans, usual suspects for dry chert woods. One Vicia, however, caught the eye of one of the botanists in the group. In the 1930s, outside of Noel, Missouri (stone's throw from Jane, where we were stationed), one historic record exists of Vicia minutiflora with the description "found in dry rocky woods." We were in the driest and rockiest woods around, and we found a Vicia but not in flower. A record for the site exists for V. caroliniana, but to relocate V. minutiflora known only from this historic record would have been terrific. I may have to go back down there in coming weeks to look for it again and hope it's in flower. Steyermark's illustrations show fine bristle tips on minutiflora versus the smooth tipped caroliniana, so vegetatively it should be easy to key out. (Unless Steyermark's illustrations were off base...)Alas, we didn't know this plant was on the unofficial Search For list until after we were well out of the woods.
Down in the creek bottoms, down in Hambrich Hollow, a primary tributary to Big Sugar Creek, we encountered lushness, green, false rue anemones carpeting the understory. It was here that we stumbled upon a stickery bugbear whom none of my small staggered group knew. Others were well behind us looking at the Ozark chinquapins that are so prevalent here, and others were high tailing it out of the woods for lunch. One of our brave group reached down to touch it, stinging hairs piercing his hand. Urtica chamaedryoides, a nettle, stood in large clumps around bellworts and sweet little spring wildflowers. I had never seen it before, and neither had the rest of my small group. Take plenty of photos of one of those stinging nettles and we'll ask the rest of the group back at the parking lot.Yup, U. chamaedryoides, a tracked species, common only in White River-Elk River Hills. Steyermark writes about this species that the known locations along the White River "have now been destroyed by the impoundment of Table Rock Dam." Steyermark really hated the Table Rock Dam for all the destruction of the White River country. Read his entry on Cladrastis or glade plants down there. It always comes back to how horrible Table Rock Dam is. I tend to agree with him, alas.
We're so fortunate in the Missouri Ozark Highlands to have such a great diversity of trilliums. I didn't see Ozark Least Trillium on this trip (though I stay at the cabins with the Cora Steyermark population outside of Cassville), but I met a new one: Trillium viridescens, today a clean species. Down in the bottoms, we found the first one in full bloom. This is another southwest Missouri species with a disjunct population up in Jefferson County, another glade-dolomite woodland dominated area.
Yes, it's fun to be in the woods with like-minded folks, and always a reminder that there's always something fun to discover for someone who has only lived in Missouri full-time since December 2005, part time since April 13, 2003. The spring dash is upon us!