By Jane Beathard
By the time this issue of Salt magazine is in readers’ hands, Ohio’s spring wildflower season will be well under way.
Skunk cabbage always appears first. The spunky plant pushes its way through icy surface soil in mid February via a unique ability to generate its own heat, according to Jim McCormac, a naturalist with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources.
Skunk cabbage blooms until mid March, when favorites like harbinger-of-spring, hepatica, bloodroot, white trout lily and buttercup begin to sprout.
Sunlight, more than warming temperatures, spurs the appearance of most wildflowers. They are subject to Ohio’s “photoperiod” — those brief weeks in late winter and early spring when leaves are not yet on trees and sunlight reaches the forest floor for more minutes each day.
“There’s not as much diversity of wildflowers after trees leaf-out,” McCormac said. “Although, some bloom all spring, summer and fall.”
Not surprising, wildflower color first blankets the slopes of the Ohio River. Thereafter, the season moves north about 10 miles a day. Peak bloom statewide comes between mid March and late May, he added.
“Ohio ranks toward the top among Midwestern states for wildflowers because we have such diverse habitats. It’s a ‘crossroads’ state with boreal forests from the north, prairies from the west, Ohio River Valley specialists on the south, and Appalachian influences from the east,” McCormac said.
He calls Adams County the state’s most floristically diverse — largely because the great glaciers that once covered much of Ohio missed that area.
“The shortgrass and cedar glade prairies in (Adams County) are loaded with rare species — perhaps the greatest concentration of rare plants in the state and the richest in native plants,” McCormac added.
About half of Ohio’s 1,800 native plants are wildflowers.
Naturalist Robert Henn categorized 313 of the most popular in “Wildflowers of Ohio,” the first field guide to the state’s wild blooms.
“It took me four years to write the first guide,” Henn said.
Indiana University published the book in 1998. A second edition appeared in 2008.
It included not only descriptions, but also background stories of the flowers and how pioneers used them for medicinal and other purposes.
The guide, currently priced at $19.45 through Amazon, remains popular, Henn said.
“Colleges use (the guide) for botany courses,” he added.
Henn’s book promotes wildflower preservation — an issue near and dear to the author’s heart.
“Humans tend to place little value on things they cannot name,” he said. “A field guide names the flowers and provides a reason to value them.”
Regular updates on Ohio’s spring wildflower bloom are available on the ODNR website at naturepreserves.ohiodnr.gov/wildflowers.
Best Places and Times for Spring Wildflower Walks
Hamilton County: Shawnee Lookout Park, mid March to mid May
Adams County: Ohio River Bluffs Preserve, mid March to late June
Adams County: Edge of Appalachia Preserve Lynx Prairie Trail, late April to late May
Adams County: Whipple State Nature Preserve and Gladys Riley Golden Star Lily Preserve, late March to late April
Greene County: Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve, mid April
Lake County: Hatch-Otis State Nature Preserve, mid April
Preble/Butler Counties: Hueston Woods State Nature Preserve, mid April
Jackson County: Lake Katherine State Nature Preserve, mid April
Fulton County: Goll Woods State Nature Preserve, late April
Richland County: Fowler Woods State Nature Preserve, late April to early June
Highland County: Miller State Nature Preserve, late April to early May
Portage County: Eagle Creek State Nature Preserve, early May
Fairfield County: Shallenberger State Nature Preserve, early May
Ottawa County: Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve, mid May
Champaign County: Cedar Bog State Nature Preserve, mid May to early June