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Honoring DOD: Spring Ephemerals Day

Thursday, April 13, 2017

It always amazes me how many of my friends remember the day in 1994 the world lost the wise, wry light that was my Dear Old Dad (DOD, as he signed his typewritten letters).

With my newfound certainty that I'm accompanied in this life, I was delighted to find the weather report for April 10 was, in a word, ravishing. High of 79, abundant sunshine. Just the thing to make the spring ephemeral wildflowers pop out. I'll take it. 

So I decided to spend the day with DOD, doing all the things he and I loved doing. Mind you, he'd have been looking for bits of iron, wheels and crankshafts and the like in the weeds while I was looking at flowers, but still. We were going out into the country!

I hied myself first to Zaleski, Ohio, on the edge of the Hocking Hills region, where I'd gathered via some Facebook posts that there were flars to be seen. It was a drive of an hour and a half. Perfect for reflection and sightseeing.

The first thing that met my eye was a very large abandoned building that may have been an industrial mill. DOD could have told me. He also could have told me what the belt-driven machine overgrown by weeds might have been. I listened hard, but all I heard was moans. And the soft moaning issuing from its brickchinks told me this old mill was inhabited. 

Please click on the photo to see the amazing orange orbs on this rock pigeon.

He kept a watchful eye on the sky. Broad-winged hawks were just arriving, their thin whistles floating down from the warm sky. What a thing to hear!!

I love you so much, I believe I'll just sit on you.  Keep you safe. Hope that's OK.

My favorite shot. An accident, like most of my favorite shots. Some people don't understand why I love pigeons so much. It's because they don't understand pigeons. 

And it was on to the flars and the butterflies that love them! A fresh cabbage white nectaring on blue phlox has a lovely yellow wash.

Juvenal's Duskywing was to be expected on this hot sunny day.

Sleepy duskywing, on the other hand, was unexpected! I only added this one to our property list in 2004 (it was #67 for the property.) 

I thrilled to the first snowberry clearwing, one of the well-named hummingbird moths. Wild blue phlox Phlox divaricata must have some nice spicy nectar. Smells like a carnation, unsurprisingly, both being in the Caryophyllaceae, or Pink family.

Bloodroot Sanguinaria canadense  was, to my delight, still in full bloom. It's notorious for shedding its petals a few days after pollination. I just learned that if bloodroot comes out too early and pollinators fail to show up, its stamens will lengthen, bend over, and touch the pistil, in an impressive act of self-pollination! Thank you Andrew Lane Gibson! (The Buckeye Botanist on Instagram)

I chose a plant with several leaves so I could pick one to show y'all why it's called bloodroot. It's in the poppy family (Papaveraceae), most of which have lovely colored sap.

Here's your moment of Zen. What it's like to be out in the spring woods. No leaves yet, and the ephemerals exploit that narrow window of full sun for a couple of weeks to do their rush-rush blooming and growing!

Please pardon weird crackly leaf noises. Can't avoid it when shooting at ground level with iPhone6. They're right by the microphone. 

 Bluets. Innocence. Quaker ladies. By any name, Houstonia caerulea is an absolute charmer. I will never forget seeing a guy who lives on our road weedwhacking the drifts of bluets that come up on a bare steep bank in front of his house every spring. Because he couldn't get the mower there.
He also weedwhacked the white trillium until it gave up. And then he planted variegated hostas in its place. What a guy. What an ultramaroon. I probably should have said something, but where to start with a person who destroys Innocence on purpose?

A stunning composite with an unfortunate name, golden ragwort Senecio obovatus sounds like it should make you sneeze. Of course it doesn't. It's early and lovely.

I don't ignore the vetches. This is wood vetch, Vicia caroliniana. 

Cuckoopint! or swamp blue violet, Viola cucullata.  I was gobsmacked by the color variation in this species, from a brilliant rose-pink the likes of which I'd never seen in a violet, to that smashing true royal purple with a streak of delphinium blue in its hair.  If you click on this photo you may be able to see the fat white hairs in its throat, which differentiate it from other species.  Violets can be tricky.

Bloodroot, throwing a beautiful shadow. 

The first blooms from wild geranium or cranesbill, Geranium maculatum. Soon there will be gobs of it! But for now, its spectral rose pink lights up the forest.

Typical Dutchman's breeches Dicentra cucullaria

Some breeches for a very fat Dutchman.  I wondered if perhaps this could be a hybrid between Dutchman's breeches and squirrel corn Dicentra canadensis? Both Dicentra species. Probably not, but fun to consider.

The only yellow violet I found. Perhaps smooth yellow violet (Viola pensylvanica?)

With some hubris, I announced as I climbed this moist rich slope that I intended to find a dark blue hepatica. There was really no reason to grant my intention, but Fate intervened. I fell to my knees on viewing this round-lobed hepatica Hepatica americana with its leaves wholly obscured by a Christmas fern Polystichum acrostichoides.

What a blue!! Such a thrill for me. I was afraid the hepatica would all be done by now; it's among the first of the ephemerals to bloom, along with bloodroot.

Late to the party: This Mayapple  Podophyllum peltatum, just unfurling its little bumbershoot. Star chickweed behind it. 

I gazed up at the steep slope above me. It proceeded in a series of slumps, which told me that long ago, it was cleared for pasture, like most of Ohio. Erosion would take the soil downhill in slumps and tables. But clearly this mature forest had been here long enough to build up some lovely humus. And the richness gets richer the lower down the slope you look. There are far more and diverse populations of plants on the lower reaches than the upper ones, simply because the nutrients they need flow downhill. These spring ephemerals demand almost impossibly rich soil to do their thing in such a short window of time, while the forest is still leafless. And they get it, if we leave the forest alone. I don't see wildflower shows like this around where I live. People are too greedy, and have been for far too many years. They cut the forest before it's even a quarter of the way to mature: disturbing the soil, taking away nutrients, stamping out the ephemerals. 

Trout lily Erythronium americanum. It can take a decade or more for an individual plant to build up the nutrients and produce the number of leaves it needs to make enough food to bloom! You don't get trout lilies in disturbed forest. Needless to say, picking a trout lily is contraindicated.

It's all happening now. Right now, at least in southern Ohio. Wherever you are, get out there! This show of spring wildflowers lasts only a week or two, and it's gone until next spring. Hence the name "ephemeral!" If you don't know where to go, try searching for a Facebook wildflower group for your state. Ask a native plant gardener. Call your agricultural extension service. Look up your state Dept. of Natural Resources botanist. Then pick a day and go!



Thanks for taking us all along on your walk with DOD. I'm planning my own walk here in northern NJ just to soak in all the wonders of spring.

That's some fantastic botanizing there! Trout lilies----I keep looking for them around here in SE Texas (I know there are some somewhere in Angelina NF but don't know of a specific location, only seen photos) but I do know a good location up in Fort Worth that I can see them, but it has been several years since I've been up there during bloom time. Might have to plan on a trip next year to coordinate. Love seeing them!

Thanks for sharing spring with us! I love seeing seasons from everyone else's perspectives.

Here in southern Wisconsin still anticipating most of the ephemerals although the skunk cabbage, pasque flower and hepatica are in bloom. Just seeing the tiniest nub of the Mayapples poking through. In the spring its easy to see the miracle in everyday! Thanks for the preview of the good things to come. The wildflower 'migration'.

Interesting fact on the Bloodroot.Pretty independent.

Julie, I don't know if it is my computer problem, but your video links are not working. Can anyone else watch them? Wish I had gone on that walk with you!

Not your problem, @Sharon; I tried a shortcut and found that you can't simply import a movie the way you can a jpeg, no matter how short and sweet. I've gone and jumped through the hoops to import the files to create two movies in iMovie, export the .mov files to a folder, open Creator Studio in Youtube, drag the .mov files in there, and embed the resulting code in the html version of my blog. Yep, that's what has to happen to get videos on a blog, at least in my world. Lots of steps! I love making these short videos. I don't particularly love feeding them into Youtube's clunky interface.

Thanks for reminding me that this needed to happen.

Enjoy the flars!


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