Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Flowers on the Prairies

As I mentioned in my post about Lynx Prairie, Adams County is home to the rare xeric limestone pocket prairie habitat (man, what a name), also known as cedar glades.

*EDIT* Woo! I just passed 20,000 views on my blog with this post! Thank you all so very much for your support!

Lynx Prairie
The North Prairie at Lynx Prairie.
These small prairies that are scattered around Adams County are thousands of years old (possibly 10,000+ years). They have a basic soil (8+ pH) that is nutrient poor. Because these soils are typically only a few inches deep, water evaporates very easily which then makes for very dry soil. All these factors make for a very harsh living environment, and as a result many unique, and rare, plant species have come to adapt to this environment. This post will go over a few of the rare and some of the common flowers that were blooming in late July.

American Bluehearts, Buchnera Americana
Let's start with a rarity in Ohio. This is American Bluehearts, Buchnera Americana. This is state-listed as Threatened in Ohio, and is state-listed in many other states as well. American Bluehearts have only been recorded in 6 counties here in Ohio; however, only three counties have had records since 1980. Those three counties are Pike, Jackson, and Adams. American Bluehearts can be found in limestone glades (the one above was found at Lynx Prairie), prairies, open woods, and moist sandy soils like you might find on roadsides. According to ODNR, management is a necessity for this species to continue to exist in Ohio. American Bluehearts are yet another species that greatly benefit from the burning of land every few years. As a result, controlled burning should be carried out in the lands where this species grows to maintain a decent population there. I have covered parasitic plants on here before (Indian Pipe and Squawroot), and now I can also add American Bluehearts to that list. American Bluehearts are what is known as "hemiparasitic," which means that while they can live independently, they can also live as parasites. In the case of American Bluehearts, this species will attach parasitic roots to nearby trees and take nutrients from them, especially when there are difficult living conditions, like a drought, going on.

Canada Lily, Lilium canadense
Let's continue with another flashy flower, Canada Lily, Lilium canadense. This individual was found at Chaparral Prairie and let me tell you, you will not pass by this flower without noticing it. A tall species, Canada Lily can reach heights of 5 feet or so. Hanging reddish flowers 5 feet in the air are hard to ignore. I will admit I was very excited to finally find this plant.

Canada Lily Flower
While Canada Lily is showy when you look at it at the angle in the previous photo, look up into the flowers and you'll be blown away. Canada Lily is probably Ohio's most common lily species. A resident of the Allegheny Plateau of eastern Ohio, this species can be found in open woodland, openings in forests, moist prairies, and savannas.

Dense Blazingstar, Liatris spicata
Next let's move on to one of the Liatris species that was just beginning to bloom in the prairies of Chaparral Prairie SNP. This is Dense Blazingstar, Liatris spicata. Dense Blazingstar is the most common blazingstar species in Ohio (there are 7 native species). The individual above was the one that was most in-bloom at the time, as all the others only had about 10 or less of the flowers blooming. When blooming peaks, Chaparral Prairie is awash with tall purple spikes swaying in the breezing among the greens of the grasses and Prairie Docks. Dense Blazingstar is a species that prefers more moist (instead of dry) soils and as a result isn't limited in habitat choices. You can find this species in moist prairies, wetlands like fens and marshes, and other wet fields. Even though this is the most common blazingstar species in Ohio, it's still not overly common by any means. It has been recorded in about 27 or so counties that are scattered all throughout Ohio.

Scaly Blazingstar, Liatris squarrosa
Another Liatris species in bloom currently is Scaly Blazingstar, Liatris squarrosa, which I've previously covered. Another state-listed species, Scaly Blazingstar was blooming in force at Lynx Prairie. You can read more about this species on my Scaly Blazingstar feature.

Gray-Headed Coneflower, Ratidiba pinnata
A very common species in Ohio's prairies is Gray-Headed Coneflower, Ratidiba pinnata. Both Purple and Gray-Headed Coneflowers can be found in Ohio prairies, but in my experience the Gray-Headed Coneflower generally outnumbers the Purple. Notice the drooping yellow petals, a diagnostic feature. A taller species that can reach heights of 3-4 feet, Gray-Headed Coneflowers offered a nice contrast to the low greens of Lynx Prairie as their yellow flowers jutted up into the sky. Gray-Headed Coneflower is an inhabitant of prairies, forest edges, thickets, and railroad right-of-ways. A hardy species, Gray-Headed Coneflower can thrive in both xeric (dry) and mesic (moist) environments. This species can generally be found in the western, glaciated parts of Ohio, but has also been recorded in eastern counties like Athens County.

Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium
While Gray-Headed Coneflower is a common flower in Ohio prairies, a rare denizen of the Ohio prairies is Rattlesnake Master, Eryngium yuccifolium. This species is one that is more commonly found in the tall grass prairies of the west and south. In Ohio this species is state-listed as "Potentially Threatened" and according to ODNR has only been recorded in 6 counties here (although BONAP has more counties listed...). The flowers of Rattlesnake Master are unmistakable if you do come across one though, so there's no doubting you found one if you know what they look like. I love Rattlesnake Master and it's always a treat to come across. Chaparral Prairie SNP has the largest population in the state if you're wanting to see some for sure.

Rattlesnake Master Leaves
The leaves of Rattlesnake Master are an interesting aspect of the plant; they almost look like some sort of agave. Notice the small spines lining the edges. The curious name "Rattlesnake Master" comes from the plant's ability to control a rattlesnake if a human brandishes one of the flowers to the rattlesnake... Just kidding. In all seriousness, the name comes from its historical use by Native Americans to treat rattlesnake bites; however, as one might guess this treatment was ineffective.

Rose Pink, Sabatia angularis
A common flower dotting the pocket prairies at Lynx Prairie is the brilliant Rose Pink, Sabatia angularis. Rose Pink (you might also see the name as Rosepink) is a flower of prairies, rocky open woods, roadsides, glades, thickets, and fields. In Ohio this species is found predominantly in the eastern and southern portions of the state. Look for this beautiful species blooming in July to August.

Common Self Heal, Prunella vulgaris
Another common flower at Lynx Prairie was the small, but attention-grabbing, Common Self Heal, Prunella vulgaris. This species is by no means a prairie-only flower. In fact, this incredibly common species has been recorded in basically every single county in Ohio. You can find this flower in a variety of habitats including waste areas, edges of forests, fields, and the likes. The nativity of this species is questionable. There are different varieties of this species, and a few of those are considered native. However, other varieties are from Eurasia and have been introduced here. As a result, a close look by trained eyes can help determine if an individual is probably native or not. I, however, am not a trained eye, so I have no idea if this is a native or foreign strand. Regardless, this is a very attractive flower. Normally the ones I run across only have a few flowers on them as the others haven't bloomed yet or have fallen off. This individual had the fullest bloom I've ever seen in Common Self Heal. 

Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculate
Another common flower at Chaparral Prairie SNP was the Partridge Pea, Chamaecrista fasciculate. Notice the four petals with red center. Also notice the Honey-Locust-like leaves. This species almost looks like the tiny sapling of a locust tree in my opinion. Like many prairie species, Partridge Pea benefits greatly from a prairie fire every few years. After an area is burned, this species can be found in great numbers and generally decreases in number every year after until the area is burned again. This is a species that loves disturbed areas, dry and moist prairies, roadsides, savannas, and other similar habitats. Partridge Pea has been recorded in about 30 or so counties here in Ohio. It's mainly found in the southern counties and seems to follow Ohio River tributaries (like the Scioto River) northward.

Pale-Spiked Lobelia, Lobelia spicata
And finally we have Pale-Spiked Lobelia, Lobelia spicata. This isn't the greatest photo, I know, but it was raining and I didn't spend too much time on it. These spikes of white or pale-blue flowers were blooming all throughout the prairies at Lynx Prairie and added to the multiple colors already present. Pale-Spiked Lobelia prefers the more moist and rich soil of certain prairies, fields, and open woodlands; however, this species can also tolerate the rocky, dry conditions that make up Lynx Prairie. Pale-Spiked Lobelia is a relatively common species here in Ohio and has been recorded in a little more than half of the counties here, mostly those in the east and south.

These are only a handful of the flowers we came across while in Adams County, but to add them all would make for a massive post. There are more posts to come based around Adams County, but I also have a post on Gallagher Fen SNP in the works and a few others, so stay tuned!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Lynx Prairie

Adams County, Ohio, is a low-populated southern county that lies along the Ohio River. At first glance, Adams County has a mix of Appalachia Ohio and farmland Ohio, but a closer look reveals just how unique this county is. The Bluegrass Region of northern Kentucky just reaches across the border and into Adams Co. and a few of the other surrounding counties. This triangular-shaped region holds many plants that are more typically found in the southern US or the Appalachian Mountains. Many of these plant species are rare or uncommon here, as one would expect. Adams Co. also holds a type of rare prairie ecosystem called cedar glades which are xeric (dry) limestone prairies. This ecosystem is also known as a pocket prairie due to reasons you will soon see. This post will cover one of the best examples of cedar glades in the state, the famous Lynx Prairie.

Just warning you now, this is going to be a really long post because not only do I love this preserve, but its history, geology, and flora are simply too incredible to ignore.

Lynx Prairie is a public nature preserve that is a part of the greater Edge of Appalachia Preserve owned by The Nature Conservancy. This preserve is located right outside of the very tiny village of Lynx, OH. Since the last time I've been down, the Nature Conservancy has changed the preserve a bit. There's now a new entrance on Cline Rd. complete with their own parking lot, and a new trail that leads to the other trails from that parking lot. Previously (and you still can), one would park at a small church off Tulip Rd. and walk through the cemetery shown above. The new directions can be found on the Nature Conservancy's page for Lynx Prairie located here.

Lynx Prairie
We weren't aware of the new entrance (we actually got lost and stumbled upon it by accident), so we did the usual park at the church, walk to the cemetery, and appear at the entrance pictured above. On our visit it was going between sprinkling and outright raining with short periods of nothing in between. As a result I ended up using my small Canon point-and-shoot to take many of these photos. I wasn't overly happy with the results (many were washed out), but they're better than nothing. Anyway, on to the preserve itself...

Lynx Prairie Adams County
After entering, you find yourself on a small trail winding through a typical forest of the area. But wait a minute, you might ask. This is called Lynx Prairie. Where's the tall grasses? The wide open spaces? Well, these prairies are a bit different than your average prairie.

Cedar Glade
The North Prairie, my personal favorite in Lynx Prairie. Purple Coneflower, Gray-Headed Coneflower, Scaly Blazingstar, and Self-Heal are among the grasses. Look for Shooting Star, a showy wildflower, in this opening in late Spring and early Summer.
As you round a corner on the trail, the forest melts away and you suddenly find yourself in an open space; however, this still doesn't look like the prairies most people think of. Before I get into the specifics of the Lynx Prairie complex, let me go over the three broad types of prairies. There are tall grass prairies, mixed grass prairies, and short grass prairies. Tall grass prairies are normally 5-7 feet tall and occasionally reach heights approaching 10 feet. The prairies at Lynx are short grass prairies, but are not overly like the normal short grass prairies of the West.

Cedar Glade Ohio
Part of the extensive Elizabeth's Prairie, the largest at Lynx Prairie.
Lynx Prairie is made up of a system of 10 xeric limestone prairies. The prairie openings are many times small areas in a large region of forest. This characteristic has given rise to the name "pocket prairie" to describe the small openings. Some of these pocket prairies can be quite small while others are the size of an acre or so. The photo above shows one of the larger ones.

Peebles Dolomite
So what causes these pocket prairies to form? The answer lies in the photo above. That rock ledge is made of Peebles Dolomite, a type of sedimentary rock from the Silurian Period (443.4–419.2 million years ago). Most of the times the bedrock in Ohio is many feet underground which allows trees to take root and grow. However, in certain places of Adams Co., as in the case of Lynx Prairie, this Peebles Dolomite bedrock actually comes within 4 or so inches of the surface or even breaks the surface itself. This creates a shallow, harsh soil layer. As a result, most trees cannot take root and other short plant species take over. It's worth noting that the name "cedar glade" comes from the fact that Eastern Red Cedars can many times find a small crack in the bedrock and take root, and many times this leads to some of the only trees in the actual glades.

Cedar Glade Soil
The photo above shows just how harsh the soil is. Pebbles are everywhere in the orange-red alkaline (pH of 8.5+) soil. This poor soil has a lack of nutrients and ends up being very dry due to the water evaporating quickly, which is why this is also called a xeric (or dry) limestone prairie. These factors make it very hard for plants to grow and thrive, and as a result many unique plants have evolved to be able to cope with such a harsh environment. It is thought these pocket prairies in Adams County are older than the last glaciation which ended about 10,000 years ago. As a result, plants have had a lot of time to evolve adaptions for this environment. Many of these plants are rare as they can only be found in cedar glades, which are rare to begin with.

Smooth Cliffbrake, Pellaea glabella
While I'm on the subject of Peebles Dolomite and its effects on the prairies, I want to go over one of the more interesting plants I found growing on Annette's Rock, a good size boulder of Peebles Dolomite in one of the larger prairies. This interesting bluish-green plant is Smooth Cliffbrake, Pellaea glabella. Smooth Cliffbrake - which gains its name from its smooth, not hairy, stem - is actually a species of fern, although it doesn't overly look like a stereotypical fern. This species is epipetric, which means it grows on rocks (as you can see). Smooth Cliffbrake isn't overly a common species here, as it's only been recorded in about 20 counties. It grows on well-weathered limestone, so it is limited to exposed ledges, cliffs, boulders, and the like.

As many of you probably know, wildfires can be a good, even necessary, event for many various habitats. These pocket prairies are no different. Slowly, the woody plants of the surrounding forest begin to gain footholds on the edges and erode the bedrock; this is normal succession. Given enough time, these prairies will shrink and shrink as cedar trees do their work and the forest moves in. So, why hasn't that happened in the past 10,000 years? The simple answer is fire.

Lynx Prairie Edge of Appalachia
The North entrance of Elizabeth's Prairie. Look for Annette's Rock (not pictured) in this prairie. Notice the shrubs/small trees on the left boundary.
Here's the kicker; there's a lot of evidence that these fires weren't started by a random act of nature like a lightning strike. Most of the evidence points to Native Americans as the fire starters. Across the globe humans use controlled burns to help shape the land the way they want it. The Native Americans were no different. By burning the prairies, they preserved the prairies and kept the forest from eventually taking over. As some of you birders or hikers might have noticed before, there's a higher biodiversity in the edge between two habitats. This is called the Edge Effect. By preserving this boundary, Native Americans increased biodiversity and gave large mammals such as deer, elk, and bison good foraging locations. This of course helped the Native Americans as there was more game available for food. Native Americans didn't just burn prairies; there's evidence that they essentially burned every type of habitat in this region of the Midwest. Burning not only helped with hunting, but also helped with pest control, crop management, and also helped clear routes used for travel (as shrubby growth along the trails would give bears, cougars, and the like a place to hide). Nowadays The Nature Conservancy will burn the prairies every so often, as well as removing woody plants by hand.

Lynx Prairie Edge of Appalachia
At Lynx Prairie, the trails are set up into three loops built on each other. The trails will take you through the forest and into the prairies. The forest is very open in many places, like in the photo above. Oaks dominate most of the forest, but there are also Virginia Pines, Tuliptrees, and assorted other species.

American Bluehearts, Buchnera americana
Of course, Lynx Prairie is filled with wildflowers. The one shown above is the threatened American Bluehearts, Buchnera americana. Other wildflowers found at Lynx include Green Milkweed, Butterflyweed, Scaly Blazingstar, Shooting Star, Garden Phlox, Pale-Spiked Lobelia, Prairie Dock, Gray-Headed Coneflower, Purple Coneflower, Rattlesnake Master, Rose Pink, Self Heal, a few ladies' tresses orchids, Western Sunflower, Whorled Rosinweed, Crested Coralroot, and many, many more. I'll be covering a few of these species in my next post, so stay tuned!

Chasmanthium latifolium
There are many grasses that call Lynx Prairie home. Big Bluestem, Little Bluestem, and Indian Grass are the main species. However, the patch of grass above caught my eye. I came across this patch in a more forested part of the preserve. Upon taking a closer look I was met with a familiar sight...

Chasmanthium latifolium
At the ends of the grass were these flat, attractive spikelets. I knew I had seen these somewhere previously, and it suddenly clicked that this species grows out in the front flowerbed of my mom's house. It turns out that this is Woodoats (also known as Inland Sea Oats), Chasmanthium latifolium. Woodoat is actually a southern species of grass with its northern range lying in southwest Ohio. It's only been recorded in about 9 counties here, which makes it an uncommon/rare plant in Ohio. However, it can be locally abundant where it is found, as is the case at Lynx Prairie. It can be found in moist, shaded woodlands (as in the case of Lynx Prairie) and the likes.

Lynx Prairie
As I mentioned before, there are three loops at Lynx Prairie that one can hike. This is a new, updated map of the preserve that shows the new parking area along Cline Road that was completed in 2014, as well as the new connecter path from the parking lot to the red, white, and green loops. There are a total of 1.3 miles of trails currently.

Lynx Prairie in Adams County is one of the natural gems of Ohio. Containing a system of rare cedar glades, there have been over 600 plant species recorded on the preserve, many of which are rare. This preserve is so significant that it was designated as a National Natural Landmark by the National Park Service in 1967. If you are at all interested, I highly suggest that you take a trip to this preserve. You will not regret it.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Milkweeds on the Prairies

Okay, so I know essentially all my recent posts have been about plants. Part of that is because I've only really got into plants this past Spring, and I'm sort of obsessed with everything wildflower-related I come across. I go through phases like this. I will become interested in a new facet of nature, then for the next few months I will focus mainly on that new area. I mean, I'm still birding, herping, looking for insects and spiders, and so on, but right now the main thing on my mind is plants and my new-found love of them. I think that if you are a lover of nature, you can't help but be interested in all aspects of nature. Sure, you might have your big "thing," like how I am with birds, but it's hard to appreciate only one thing in nature without appreciating it all. Everything in nature is so connected that when you get interested in one area, you find yourself slowly getting interested in everything it's connected to. For example, if you bird, you can't help but notice some of the plant species certain birds prefer, then you start noticing the certain insect species that always seem to be hanging around certain plants, which then can lead back to birds because they eat those insects. There's no standalone subject in nature.

Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve
Chaparral Prairie State Nature Preserve is a prairie that contains multiple species of milkweed.
Monologue aside, as I mentioned in my previous post about Scaly Blazingstar, this past Friday I visited Adams County and some of the famous xeric limestone prairies that county is known for. One of the big denizens of prairies in any part of Ohio are the milkweeds, genus Asclepias. Milkweeds are a genus of unique flowering perennials (plants that live longer than 2 years) that contain a latex-based liquid that looks like milk that many use for defense. Milkweeds are known by many people for their ability to attract butterflies, especially Monarchs which are dependent on them, although they attract many other insects and pollinators. In Ohio, there are 13 native species of milkweed. This post will cover 5 of the species, all of which can be, but not always be, found in the southern prairies of Ohio.

Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca
The most common of milkweeds here in Ohio is the (surprise) Common Milkweed, Asclepias syriaca. This species can basically be found in any county here in Ohio. A sun-loving plant, you can see these growing along roadsides, in overgrown fields, along railways, prairies, and just open waste spaces. Many insect species are associated with Common Milkweed. Oftentimes you will see bright red Milkweed Beetles on the leaves. Monarch caterpillars also feed on the plant, along with certain moths like the Delicate Cycnia. Many times these insects take on the toxic glycosides in the leaves and become toxic themselves, making would-be-predators sick if consumed. As a result, many of these milkweed-associated insects are brightly colored (think of Monarchs) to warn of their toxicity to any possible predators.

Common Milkweed
Common Milkweed can be a tall plant, growing from 2 to 6 feet tall. The ones in the photo above were almost as tall as me (but I'm not that tall to begin with). As you can see, they contain multiple umbels. Umbels are a cluster of flowers in an umbrella-like shape. These flowers can range from very light pink, like the previous photo, to a more dark, reddish-purple color. It blooms from mid-June to August. We ran into a few individuals while at Chaparral Prairie SNP in Adams Co., but this species was not overly common there.

Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa
Next up is my absolute favorite, and I would also say the flashiest, milkweed in Ohio. This is Butterflyweed, Asclepias tuberosa. A shorter plant than the previous (Butterflyweed only grows up to 3 or so feet), what this species lacks in size it makes up for in color. The shades of orange vary, and can even be yellow, but a bright yellow to orange colored milkweed in Ohio is going to be Butterflyweed.

Just like the Common Milkweed, Butterflyweed requires full sun exposure. It can be found in dry habitats with sandy or gravely soil. Many times you will see this species growing along roadsides. A common species here in Ohio, you can pretty much find some in every county. A few individuals could be found at Lynx Prairie in Adams Co., along with Chaparral Prairie SNP. As the common name suggests, this milkweed species is especially popular with butterflies and other insects. This is due to the large amount of nectar the flowers contain.

Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias verticillata
Next we move on to a tiny, delicate-looking milkweed. Meet the Whorled Milkweed, Asclepias verticillata. This is not a common species by any means here in Ohio. Of the 88 counties, this species has been recorded in about 30 or so of them. The distribution is sort of scattered; there's a handful of southern counties, a few central ones, many northwestern ones, and a few northeastern counties.

Whorled Milkweed
Whorled Milkweed is a small milkweed, reaching a height of only 1-3 feet. They normally only have a few flowers in their umbels as well. A good identification characteristic is the leaves. They are thin, long, and needle-like, almost looking like a stereotypical pine tree branch of needles.

Whorled MilkweedWhorled Milkweed is another milkweed that requires sun exposure and dry soil. As a result, this species can be found in abandoned fields, prairies, savannas, roadsides, waste areas, and the likes.

Tall Green Milkweed, Asclepias hirtella
Now we come to one of the more uncommon ones. This is Tall Green Milkweed, Asclepias hirtella. This is a species mostly found in the southeast corner of Ohio, although there's a few scattered populations up near Lake Erie. The one in the photo above was a lone individual found at Chaparral SNP in Adams County, and that was a surprising find. I've yet to find an "official" record in Adams County, but Andrew Gibson, a field botanist for ODNR and the blogger behind The National Treasures of Ohio, said he's found A. hirtella in Adams Co. a few years ago. The location was surprising too; another person who's collected at Chaparral for a long time said they've never found it there. As a result, this was a really exciting find for me!

This photo shows some of the characteristics which help ID this species. Notice the thin leaves (but not as needle-thin as Whorled Milkweed). The previous photo also shows the whitish flowers with a small amount of purple, as well as the relatively openly-spaced umbel. These characteristics help differentiate it from the other similar milkweeds here in Ohio. This species can be found in dry to moist prairies and fields, roadsides, and the likes.

Green Milkweed, Asclepias viridiflora
Last, but not least, is Green Milkweed, Asclepias viridiflora. A smaller species, notice the compact, green-colored umbel, one of the defining characteristics. This is an uncommon-to-rare species here in Ohio. There have been records from about 20 scattered counties all across the state, but many of the records I found on OSU's Herbarium's page for this species are from the 1800's to the 1930's; as a result I'm not sure the current extent of this species. This species can be found in dry, sunny habitats such as fields, roadsides, and poor-soil prairies. This individual was found in a xeric limestone pocket prairie at Lynx Prairie in Adams County, one of the better places to see this species in the state.

While all these milkweeds can be found in a variety of prairie habitats, they are not the only prairie-loving milkweed species in Ohio. The ones covered in this post are simply the ones I came across on my last Adams County trip. Hopefully as I come across more, I can update this to be more of a "total" guide. I also have more Adams County related posts coming up soon as long as I actually focus and have the time, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Scaly Blazingstar

Last Friday I visited Adams County once again. For those of you who don't know where Adams County is, it's a southern county right along the Ohio River. Adams County is a treasure trove for nature lovers like me. Within the county are uncommon breeding birds, rare and uncommon snakes, rare and endangered plants, and even rare ecosystems. One of these rare ecosystems is the xeric (or dry) limestone prairie, and it is in these that one can find the subject of this post.

Scaly Blazingstar, Liatris squarrosa
Meet the Scaly Blazingstar, Liatris squarrosa. Many times wildflowers are small, nondescript to the untrained eye, and not overly flashy; however, this is not always the case. Take for example any of the Liatris species, better known as the blazingstars. My favorite by far is L. squarrosa. Scaly Blazingstar is state-listed as "Potentially Threatened" by Ohio, meaning it is at a great risk for becoming threatened. Being threatened is the step right before Endangered. Scaly Blazingstar is a prairie species that makes its home in dry, rocky prairie and savanna habitats. All the individuals I saw were at Lynx Prairie, an amazing system of "pocket prairies" in a sea of trees owned by the Nature Conservancy (You can read my post on Lynx Prairie at this link). Walking through Lynx Prairie you would never expect to learn that the countless purple flowers all around you are state-listed, but their habitat preferences are their downfall here in Ohio. Around 4% of Ohio used to be covered by prairies before European settlement, but after the 1800's those settlers plowed most of the prairies, thus destroying them. Now, Ohio has less than 1% of the original prairies remaining. Think about that: there's only a tiny fraction remaining of something that only covered a tiny fraction of Ohio in the first place.

Scaly Blazingstar Ohio
Scaly Blazingstar was a victim of this destruction. Before 1960, this species had been recorded in only eight counties in Ohio. Since 1980, there's only been records from six counties. This is out of the eighty-eight total counties, so you can see how rare they are. Nowadays, the populations that remain face a new problem. Left alone, the forest spreads into many prairies as a result of succession and the prairies simply disappear in time. Nature and Native Americans use to burn these prairies, which would kill the encroaching woody plants and preserve the prairie. Many conservation groups that own prairies today still burn them to keep the forest at bay, which as a result keeps the prairies healthy. But the prairies that are not actively controlled by any conservation group have an uncertain future, as well as all the plant species in them.

Scaly Blazingstar Identification
So how do you identify this species? The photo above shows the clues. The pointy leaf-looking things are called bracts and they're actually modified leaves associated with the reproductive parts of the flower. In Scaly Blazingstar, the bracts are long, pointy, and spread out from the stem. They also rest over each other in a scale-like fashion. This species is also pubescent, meaning it is covered in tiny hairs as you can see above. As a general rule, you have to look at the bracts of all Liatris species to help differentiate the species, so keep that in mind if you go out looking for them.

Scaly Blazingstar
Upon seeing Scaly Blazingstar for the first time on Friday, I quickly fell in love with it. I love the purple, and I love the thin stamens which twist and curl into the air. The purple offered a lovely contrast to the greens of the grasses and Prairie Docks and the yellows of the Prairie Coneflowers.

Scaly Blazingstar White Variation
And then there was this one. As I was walking through the second pocket prairie a white flower instantly caught my eye. Upon a closer look, I saw it was yet another Scaly Blazingstar, this time in the white morph. It was the only one we found the entire day, even though we saw hundreds and hundreds. It was definitely the star of the day in my eyes.

I loved these guys so much I just had to do a feature on them. I do have like 5 other Adams-County related posts lined up after this past trip, with this being the first. The others include ones about milkweeds, more prairie flowers, and individual park overviews, so stay tuned!

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Some Plants from Calamus Swamp

Last Thursday I visited Calamus Swamp in Pickaway County. I wrote a post giving a general overview of the park and the trails which you can read here, but I also promised to go over some of the plants I came across while there.

Calamus Swamp
As I mentioned in my previous post, the main attraction at Calamus Swamp is a 19 acre kettle lake, now mainly filled with aquatic plants as shown above. Many unique plant species can be found in this also unique ecosystem. I'm going to focus on more of the showy species you can come across here in late June and early July.

Common Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis
When it comes to the actual kettle lake, one of the most stand-out species in the water is the Common Buttonbush, Cephalanthus occidentalis. Common Buttonbush is a shrub that is about 4-10 feet tall that can be found in habitats such as wetlands (like Calamus Swamp), floodplains, mangrove swamps, moist understories, and on the borders of streams and lakes.

Common Buttonbush
Common Buttonbush becomes covered in these spherical flower clusters from June to August before giving way to small spherical fruits that stay on the plant from September to October. Interestingly, Common Buttonbush is actually a member of the family Rubiaceae, more commonly known as the coffee family.

Common Buttonbush
This is one of the dominate species at Calamus Swamp. There's buttonbush basically everywhere you look. The photo above shows a common scene while on the boardwalk. A wall of Common Buttonbush fills in the edges of the lake, offering many birds a place to nest and many waterbirds protection. Wood Ducks are especially fond of nesting in the dense growth. Bees are also a very common visitor to the flowers, as well as butterflies.

Sparganium eurycarpum
Another common aquatic plant in the kettle lake is Bur Reed, specifically the species Sparganium eurycarpum. Bur Reed is a flowering marsh plant that can either be floating in the water or emergent, meaning they grow in the water but also go into the air. Recent phylogenetic analysis has found that the bur reed genus is actually closest related to the cattail genus, which isn't surprising to learn when you see the 3-6 feet tall "grasses" coming out of the water.

Bur Reed
The large, pointy spheres are actually the fruit of Bur Reed. They also help identify the species. For example, the fruit of S. eurycarpum (shown above) are glossy and have an abruptly pointed beak, versus the similar S. americanum which is dull and has points that taper gently like an ice-cream cone.

Utricularia gibba
Next is another aquatic plant, and a unique one at that. This is the flower of the Bladderwort, a carnivorous aquatic plant. Specifically, this is the species Utricularia gibba, more commonly known as the Humped or Floating Bladderwort. Calamus Swamp only has one recorded bladderwort species, U. gibba. U. gibba has been recorded in 19 other Ohio counties, making it one of the more common bladderwort species, but still not overly abundant. Bladderworts grow in nitrogen and phosphorous poor water and have evolved to make up for this deficiency by consuming prey. Bladderworts have small bladders which actively transport water out of them, creating a vacuum inside of the bladder. Once the vacuum is great enough, all it takes is one tiny aquatic animal, like a Daphnia or mosquito larva, to trigger one of the hairs by the door. The animal, by hitting the trigger hair attached to the bladder door, creates a small hole which breaks the vacuum seal and water, along the with animal, rushes into the bladder. The door is shut and the trapped prey is dissolved normally within a few hours.

Bittersweet Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara
These small purple and yellow flowers belong to Bittersweet Nightshade, Solanum dulcamara, an invasive vine. Most of the individuals I came across that day were wound around the Common Buttonbush shrubs. This species, as I mentioned previously, is an invasive. It was brought from Eurasia as an ornamental and broke free of human control and now can be found in most of the lower 48 states. Bittersweet Nightshade runs a bad rap for being poisonous to humans and livestock. The flowers give way to small red berries, which to a cow or say curious child look tasty. Eating only a few can result in vomiting, dizziness, diarrhea, irregular heartbeats, and other symptoms. Eating a good amount of the berries can result in paralysis, hallucinations, and even death, although deaths have only been rarely recorded. 

Black-Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta
Now let's move on to some of the species that were growing in the prairie section. These familiar flowers are Black-Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta. There is also a large Prairie Dock leaf in the upper right corner. Black-Eyed Susans are a native species belonging to the daisy/sunflower family Asteraceae. They grow in a variety of habitats such as fields, open forests, roadsides, gardens, and so on. There are a few other species that can be found in Ohio that look like Black-Eyed Susan, all of which have a handful of characteristics which can help differentiate them if you know where to look. When it comes to Black-Eyed Susans, the stems and leaves are covered in hairs that help keep other insects away that might bother flying pollinators. This characteristics can help you know you're looking at R. hirta versus say Brown-Eyed Susan, R. triloba.

Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa
If you've been driving along the highway or on country roads recently, you might have seen a small, bright orange flower like the one above. This is Butterfly Weed, Asclepias tuberosa. Butterfly Weed is actually one of the many species of milkweed we have here in Ohio.

Closeup of the flowers of Butterfly Weed.
Butterfly Weed is named as such because the color and nectar attracts butterflies, as well as a lot of other insects. Butterfly Weed is a species that requires full sun exposure and can also tolerate dry soil, making roadsides a great place for it to go. In fact, this individual was in the prairie section along the road.

Monarda fistulosa
Blooming in force in the prairie was Wild Bergamot (also known at Bee Balm), Monarda fistulosa. This species is variable, so the photo above is not a good representative of what it will always look like. A widespread species, Wild Bergamot can be found growing in prairies, thickets, clearings, and on calcareous soil. Blooming from July to September, this showy flower added a beautiful contrasting bluish-purple to the greens of the grasses and the yellows of the Black-Eyed Susans in the prairie area of Calamus Swamp.

One of the more unusual plants growing was Wild White Indigo, Baptisia alba. The wind was blowing probably around fifteen miles an hour that day, making it incredibly hard to photograph flowers, so sadly I wasn't able to get a full-plant view of this tall and strange looking wildflower. A southeastern species, this plant has a spotty range in Ohio. It has been recorded in about 23 counties here, and most of those counties are grouped into a circle of 4-5 counties and scattered around the state. There were a handful of individuals located at Calamus Swamp, and they offered a unique contrast to the other species there.

And finally we have a wildflower everyone is probably familiar with. This is Purple Coneflower, Echinacea purpurea. The butterfly visiting is a Pearl Crescent. Purple Coneflower is known more as an ornamental plant to many people, but it is a native species that can be found in prairies, barrens, and dry, open woods throughout the eastern United States. Note the characteristic drooping purple petals and spiny center.

This kind of turned into a long post. To those of you who read it, thank you! There will be more posts coming up, as always, so stay tuned!