Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Spring,O How Slowly Doth Thou Come!

We've been teased with a few warm days, interspersed with cold since the arrival of spring.  In a typical Hickory Nut Gorge spring we would have seen bloodroot and trillium up by the first week of March and other spring ephemerals here at the last week of March.  That is certainly not the case this year.

As I drive around different parts of the Gorge, I tend to drive-by botanize which basically means trying to identify plants from behind the steering wheel.  Up until a week and a half ago, I was seeing very little in the way of early blooming wildflowers.  It has just been so cold this winter that nothing has seemed quite ready to emerge, as if waiting for the definite arrival of spring and the ceasing of cold temperatures and frost which can really mess up tender flower buds.

Every year about this time, I try to make a point to get into Bat Cave Preserve to see the spring beauties (Claytonia caroliniana), which typically blanket the forest floor this time of year.  Most years I'm either too early or too late to catch them.  This year I got there just as they were starting (about a week late compared to normal springs), knowing that my chances would not be too good of seeing any by the time the next opportunity arrives.
Spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana)
I have never been fortunate enough to photograph spring beauties so I was very pleased that the opportunity presented itself this year.  Bat Cave Preserve is the only place that I have seen spring beauties in the Gorge so it's where I go.

As I hiked the trail in Bat Cave Preserve, I was pleased to see that spring was finally arriving, as nearly all of the sunny spots had something blooming.  Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) was quite prolific and yielded several good shots.  Bloodroot is named for the red color of the sap in the rhizome which has been historically used as a red dye.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Another spring wildflower that I've never had good opportunities to photograph, at least not here in the Gorge is hepatica or liverwort, as some people call it.  Acute-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) is named for its liver-shaped leaves.  This plant derives its name from the "Doctrine of Signatures" which was the practice of naming plants based by comparing them to human organs, under the often false assumption that a specific plant would cure specific ailments based on its shape (i.e. if the leaves are shaped like your liver, then it's good for hepatitis).  Actually, hepatica has poisonous alkaloids that can be quite harmful in sufficient quantities, as do most members of its plant family (Buttercup Family).  It does make quite a nice photo though as it's petals turn from a slight rose color to white.
Acute-lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)
Another shot of hepatica with last year's leaves still present.

And of course little sweet betsy trillium (Trillium cuneatum) was pretty much everywhere.  Something I have noticed this year is that the little sweet betsies are very dark, almost black in low light, and I have never known them to be as fragrant as they seem to be this year.  I would hypothesize that it has something to do with the weather.  Perhaps that's a study for another day.
Little sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum)
This trillium is a mutant.  It never flowers and always has at least three sets of cladophylls.
Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) was blooming and I saw a few small violets, but everything else is still waiting patiently for winter to be over.  I did take some time to get some shots of some very healthy walking fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum) and shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum), both of which were in great places to photograph.
Walking fern (Asplenium rhizophyllum)
Shining clubmoss (Lycopodium lucidulum)
I have to give a huge shout out to The Nature Conservancy for the great job they do in taking care of Bat Cave Preserve.  I've been volunteering for TNC for a lot of years now as a steward for the preserve and it's only through the efforts of TNC's Stewardship Program that Bat Cave Preserve has remained as pristine as it has for all of these years.  If you've never been to Bat Cave Preserve, you need to take a guided hike and see what is perhaps the greatest wildflower destination in all of Hickory Nut Gorge.  For more information about Bat Cave Preserve and associated events, click on the link:  Bat Cave Preserve