May 2007 Issue
This month, Ohio's hills, forests and plains display a luminous, if fleeting, display of floral beauty.
Think of Wildflowers as the bouquet Earth offers the sun for granting spring. Perhaps out of gratitude, nothing, neither in abundance nor in artistry, gets held back. Mild May is a fine time to admire flora painted in passing pigments and luminous-today, faded-tomorrow tones.
Ohio grows almost 2,300 plant species, naturally. Although the merry month doesn't bring out the diva in all of them, May's crowded stage puts on a winsome show.
Spring wildflowers sprout carelessly just about anywhere this month, but their performance is fleeting, mere weeks for the most persistent and sometimes much less. Gary Obermiller, north regional manager for the Ohio Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, mentions twinleaf, a white-blossomed waif that thrives at the 132-acre Augusta-Anne Olsen State Nature Preserve in Huron County, among other places.
"You have to be lucky to catch the flowers," he says. "They last only a day, two, three at the most, and they're done."
Those who miss twinleaf's hours upon the stage needn't feel cheated. As consolation, Olsen delivers a list of more than adequate understudies, such as bluebells, trillium, hepatica, wild hyacinth, saxifrage, ginger, bloodroot, dwarf ginseng and showy orchis.
Head to Fowler Woods State Nature Preserve, 187 acres of beech-maple growth not far north of Mansfield that eases into swamp forest. Acclaimed for its marsh marigolds, Fowler puts on a pageant that also showcases buttonbush plants, violets, jacks-in-the-pulpit, a variety of trilliums, phlox and spring beauties, all of which can be viewed from a wheelchair-accessible, 1-1/4-mile looped boardwalk.
Or stroll the 1-mile trail at the 54-acre Gahanna Woods State Nature Preserve near Columbus, keeping a leisurely eye out for swamp buttercup, goldenseal, windflowers, polemonium, May apple, yellow water-crowfoot and the lone Ohio community of cypress-knee sedge.
Or climb about on the 2-1/2-mile looped trail at Desonier State Nature Preserve, 491 acres of Appalachian habitat in Athens County.
Bellwort and trillium mug for attention, but green adder's-mouth orchids deliver the grandest soliloquies. A fever of ferns lends graceful green to the setting, and parasitic mistletoe, best seen before leaves unfold on its hosts, clings for its very life in the branches of oaks, hickories and beeches. Can't catch Desonier's opening act? No problem - trout lily, weak aster, Virginia meadow-beauty and Solomon's seal arrive in late spring and early summer to advance the plot.
Or explore a few of the 16 miles of hiking trails along wild Beaver Creek, where in Columbiana County a state park and wildlife area together comprise 4,827 acres of woodlands still in touch with the last glacial period that ended 12 millennia ago. Birches, hemlocks, Canada yews and mountain laurels mingle during the month with the blooms of impatiens, violets, Dutchman's breeches, hepatica, spring beauties and, later in May, pink lady's slipper orchids and scarcely seen wood poppies.
Beauty asks the beholder neither for knowledge nor for longing, but only for a look. But do it quickly, please, or lose out. Summer, with a different agenda, is approaching. For those serious about following their spring bliss, here are but a few showplaces out of many not to be missed:
Brukner Nature Center
165 acres - Miami County
A mixture of wetland, forest and prairie along a 6-mile network of trails allows extremely close encounters with a variety of spring-blooming plants.
"I think that one of the things that's nice about our trails is the flowers are all accessible. You see a jack-in-the-pulpit, and it's right there," says Debbie Brill, administrative director at the privately funded nature and wildlife rehabilitation center on the outskirts of Troy.
The headliner is the snow trillium, an uncommon gem among Ohio's several opulent trilliums. The snow trillium has an uncommonly healthy presence at Brukner and at Clifton Gorge Nature Preserve in Greene County. Brill also never tires of a certain south-facing slope that is covered with Virginia bluebells each spring.
"It's awesome," she says.
Shawnee State Park/Shawnee State Forest
63,000+ acres - Scioto, Adams counties
Known as "Ohio's Little Smokies" because its terrain and panoramas resemble a scaled-down version of the more renowned Great Smoky Mountains area of Tennessee, Shawnee earns some of the state's top billing when it comes to spring flowers - or to plant life in general, for that matter.
"It's so beautiful, so lush," says naturalist Jenny Richards, who grew up in the area but has worked in Costa Rica and Ecuador, giving her a basis for comparisons. "This is an amazing place in the world."
The reasons for Shawnee's floral abundance are tied to terrain and location. The land undulates in a way that is more pronounced than anywhere else in the state. An 800-foot height difference from ridge tops to river-gorge bottoms creates mini-habitats that welcome a diverse community of plants. Acid-loving species find comfort in the sandstone of Ohio's rather spare extension of the Cumberland Plateau, while only a few miles westward the limestone outcroppings create a sweet soil that draws an entirely different crowd. Meanwhile, a finger of southern climate beckons plants typically found beyond the Ohio River.
"The neat thing about this place is you get a flux between plants from north and south and east and west. Plus, in Adams County, you have remnants of prairie," says Kevin Bradbury, the state park manager.
Although the rarities and oddities have their distinct niches at Shawnee, making its 100 or so square miles a mecca for the aficionado, the landscape bursts as well with plenty of gregarious crowd-pleasers. Parts of the park and forest shimmer in pink during May because two types of rhododendrons, the glitzy pinxter-flower and the showy and aromatic northern rose azalea, put on an unrestrained exhibit of petal pushing.
Spring at Shawnee speaks perhaps most fluently a flowery language of orchids and irises. The pink lady's-slipper, the yellow lady's-slipper, the showy orchis, the vernal iris and the crested dwarf iris peek at hikers along dozens of miles of horse and hiking trails and more than 100 miles of roads that carry little vehicular traffic.
Although not all are May bloomers, "we have 19 of Ohio's 27 species of orchids, and you can see them all while walking in the forest," Richards says.
Those who prefer four wheels or two wheels to a pair of legs for getting around the hilly terrain can find wildflowers literally lapping at the roadsides this month.
Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve
19 acres - Marblehead Peninsula
Acres of hardscrabble moonscape exposed by 100 years of quarrying don't promise much in the way of kaleidoscopic visions. Yet, for a few weeks each year stretching from late April into mid-May, one almost mystical anomaly, the lakeside daisy, makes limestone bleed gold.
"They are beautiful. They are spectacular. People come to take photographs or just to take a look," says Jennifer Windus, a wildlife program administrator for the Ohio Division of Wildlife, who spent more than 10 years studying the extraordinary and incredibly rare daisy. "It grows, essentially, on limestone gravel."
The lakeside daisy's deep-diving roots adapted to an alkaline, dry, almost soil-free environment in which few other plants - let alone flowering plants - can grow. Colonies of the flowers sprung up naturally nowhere else in Ohio and in few other locations in the world.
The daisy sports 2-inch leaves and its petals sit atop 6-inch stalks, but the plant's local ubiquity more than makes up for its lack of size, an observation that becomes obvious when a few hundred acres of color smother the sullen drabness of rock quarry. The greater part of the quarry's vegetable raiment rests on private land inside a chain-link fence, but 19 public acres allow close-up viewing and picture shooting.
An open house at the preserve, which coincides with Marblehead's Lakeside Daisy Day Festival, is scheduled for May 13, when naturalists will be on hand from mid-morning through late afternoon to tell the officially imperiled plant's tale.
Jim McCormac, a botanist by training and a bird specialist with the Ohio wildlife division, says bloom chasers who visit the daisy preserve easily can hit the daily double by motoring "only a stone's throw away" to Resthaven Wildlife Area, a remnant of a once-vast prairie that lies just outside Castalia. The star attraction is the white lady's slipper orchid, which thrives at Resthaven and can be found in numbers at only one other site in the state, a patch of prairie in Adams County.
4,935 acres - Hocking County
Like Shawnee, which it somewhat resembles in terms of terrain, tree cover and plant diversity, Clear Creek drips with spring wildflowers, and May is one of the best months to drop in to walk some or all of its 15 miles of trails.
"It's a tremendously spectacular area," says John Watts, a resource manager for Columbus's Metro Parks system. "It's a place you can hike for a day and not see many other people."
But some of May's least-inhibited bloomers - such as blue phlox, trillium, the wood or Carolina vetch, wild geraniums and the blazing firepink - show off along roadsides and paths. Forty species of ferns grow lustily at Clear Creek, which is also a birdwatcher's paradise.
Other Flower Shows
In southern Ohio, Whipple State Nature Preserve in Adams County earns special mention for its ferns and its wildflowers, with twinleaf, fawn lilies, trillium and celandine poppy among the spring luminaries. Visit Vinton County to view wild geranium and bloodroot, common along the Hope Furnace Trail. Yellow lady's slippers bring elegance to the hollows at Lake Hope State Park. In Jackson County, Lake Katherine State Nature Preserve shows off pink lady's slipper, trailing arbutus, marsh marigold, mountain laurel, Solomon's seal, trillium and hepatica. Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve in Greene County is a spectacular setting to glimpse Virginia bluebells, hepatica, shooting stars, wild ginger and wild columbines.
In northern Ohio, Malabar Farm State Park, the Richland County site where Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall were wed in 1945, keeps a cast of perennial stars that includes trillium, spring beauties, Dutchman's breeches and wild blue phlox. Flowers are particularly abundant along the Butternut Nature Trail. Johnson Woods State Nature Preserve in Wayne County offers wild violets in white, blue and yellow interrupted by toothwort and trout lilies.
Click here for Wildflower Slide Show
WHEN YOU GO....
Augusta-Anne Olsen State Nature Preserve
Huron County, about 1 mile north of Wakeman on West River Road. Open to the public. Trails feature some improvements, such as boardwalks and bridges. 614/265-6453
Beaver Creek State Park
Columbiana County, access the park off St. Rte. 7, between St. Rte. 11 and the village of Rogers. 330/385-3091
Brukner Nature Center
Miami County, 5995 Horseshoe Bend Rd., 5 miles west of Troy off St. Rte. 55. 937/698-6493
Hocking County, 185 Clear Creek Rd., Rockbridge. From Lancaster, take U.S. Rte. 33 south about 7 miles to Clear Creek Road (St. Rte. 116). Turn right onto Clear Creek Road. 614/891-0700
Desonier State Nature Preserve
Athens County, travel east on U.S. Rte. 50, turn left on Twp. Rd. 117C, go .8 miles, turn left on Cty. Rd. 65, go .2 miles to where Cty. Rd. 65 turns left, proceed .7 miles to the parking area. 614/265-6453
Fowler Woods State Nature Preserve
Richland County, 13 miles north of Mansfield. From the north or south take St. Rte. 13 to Noble Road, go east on Noble Road about 1-1/4 miles to Olivesburg-Fitchville Road, then south 1/4 mile to the preserveâ€™s parking lot, which is located on the west side of Olivesburg-Fitchville Road. Look for the wheelchair-accessible boardwalk with kick rail and observation tower. 614/265-6453
Gahanna Woods State Nature Preserve
Franklin County, 1-1/2 miles east of Gahanna on Havens Corners Road, then 1/2 mile south on Taylor Station Road to the parking area. 614/342-4250
Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve
Ottawa County, south of Marblehead on Alexander Pike (Twp. Rd. 142), 1/2 mile south of St. Rte. 163. 419/981-6319
Shawnee State Park, Scioto County
4404 St. Rte. 125. To get to St. Rte. 125, drive west from Portsmouth on U.S. Rte. 52. 740/858-6652
Click here for Wildflower Slide Show