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Museum of Diversity: Ohio Wildflowers

Monday, May 1, 2017

I hadn’t seen a woodland full of bluebells since 1991. I remember the year because Bill and I were courting, and he took me to a place in northern Virginia that was knee-high in them. The sun was piercing and warm; the flowers were dazzling, and I had trouble walking in line, as I was so busy kneeling and oohing and aahing. I was taken away by the splendor of it all. I’ve always wanted to see bluebells like that again.

So when I got a line from my friend The Buckeye Botanist on a big bunch of bluebells along the Athens-Nelsonville rail-to-trail bikepath, I decided to chase it down. I shouldn’t have been surprised that Dan, the proprietor of Fullbrooks Café on the square in Nelsonville, Ohio, was the source of exact information on how to find them. I walked into the little café, hungry; Dan took note of my camera and binoculars and we struck up a conversation. I told him what I was looking for, and he told me where to go to find it. Then he made me a fantastic, fresh and delicious sandwich. I shall return!!

The bluebell preserve would be about a mile and a half’s walk from the parking area, but it was like walking through a fabulous movie about richness and diversity.

The first thing I saw was Trillium grandiflorum. This is a plant that grows bigger and more magnificent the more nutrients it gets, and these slopes are rich. Enormous white blossoms fluttered in the breeze, as far as my eye could follow up the slope and forward down the bike path. Where they are, they are, and where they aren’t, they aren’t. And they mostly aren’t any more, because people are so greedy for timber, and won’t leave the forests undisturbed. You can’t take bulldozers to a woodland, fell trees and drag logs, and expect these lovely things to survive it.

When the white trillium finally thinned out, the spotted wakerobin Trillium maculatum started. There’s something so pleasing about trilliums, how everything is in threes—leaves, petals, even stamens. Sometimes even the plants themselves. 

Some spotted wakerobin aren't spotted.

Some are, sorta. 

And some knock your socks off with pure leopard power. If you haven't picked up on it, part of the joy of spring ephemerals, at least for me, is seeking out their vast and surprising genetic variation, weaving between the differing leaf and blossom colors, leaf forms, sizes and growing conditions to recognize the common thread that identifies each one. 

It’s hard to believe, only two weeks later, that these flowers are all but done, but that is the life of a spring ephemeral wildflower. On this day, April 10, I felt I was hitting it just right, there for the show at its peak. Hepatica and trout lilies were still out even as the trillium burst into snow-white splendor.  

Hepatica acutiloba, in shimmering pink.

And the same beauty,  but here in breathtaking blue.

How to tell what they are? Just look at the old winter leaves. Sharp point on the tip? Acutiloba.

I was alone, but I felt my father there, looking at it all with me. He was in the trout lilies and the wind that moved them. And oh, there were so many trout lilies! I'd never seen so many in bloom. Rich, rich soil here.

 I have to think that this is one of the most spectacular wildflower blooms ever. The weather’s been kind; there have been no hard freezes since things got going. There’s been enough rain, and it has been warm, but not unnaturally pumped up into the 90’s like 2016’s crazy April. The nights have been cool, and everything’s perked along a bit ahead of schedule, without perturbations.

Who has seen blue rue anemone Anemone thallictroides? I have. (It's almost always white.)

Core’s chickweed put on a spectacular show with Dutchman’s breeches.

When he bade me good-bye, Dan from Fullbrooks, who has also worked as  a woodland guide, told me he’d see me along the trail. And he came biking along a few hours later! I was so happy to see my new friend here amidst the wildflowers he loves so much. Biking to work every day has its perks; Dan has his finger on the pulse of spring and floral diversity.

It was that kind of day. The world opened its arms to me, people were kind to me and I was happy for a time, knowing that my father was with me and, despite all the sadness and anger and hideous things happening in the world, that here on this striped and dappled path the flowers were safe, still opening and blooming so beautifully, keeping pace with a schedule all their own.

Wild ginger Asarum canadense

Buckeye, opening

Cardamine diphyllum, two-leaved toothwort

Blue cohosh, Caulophyllum thalictroides

Cut-leaved toothwort Cardamine concatenata

A trillium/shelf-fungal tableau

Wildflowers, marching down the slope, pooling at the rich bottom

More sharp-lobed hepatica

Large-flowered bellwort Uvularia grandiflora
And I hadn't even reached the bluebells yet! Enjoying the journey, as ever. 

The journey = the destination


Thanks for the virtual walk in the woods.
My eyes enjoyed the feast, while my newly replaced knee is much better not having had to hike to see it.

wow! just WoW! sigh. xo b

Oh thank you thank you for these! I am wallowing in the woods at work every chance I get, stealing away from my other duties to make sure I don't miss any of the ephemerals. And there are so many to learn. You have solved several mysteries for me here and I am perpetually grateful for your encyclopedic knowledge of the tiny and sometimes overlooked wonders of this world. xo

Such wonderful wildflowers. We are blessed with a robust growth of a diversity of wildflowers here in Texas (Thank you, Lady Bird!) and they are especially abundant and beautiful this spring. Obviously, that abundance extends all the way to Ohio.

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