Much as I appreciate a fine spread of early spring wildflowers, I used to think of them more as the icing on the cake. A pretty face, here and gone, no match for the gravitas of old trees. And it’s hard to get intimate with spring ephemerals; don’t touch-don’t-pick-stay on the trail. The most helpful thing we can do is keep our distance. I want to get in there and crawl around, experience them up close.
Have you ever wondered why plants have such varied architecture? Among the selection pressures shaping the planet’s flora, heavy burdens of snow have been major. This past week’s spring surprise, though very brief, showed how differently the plants in our forest handle this kind of stress.
Early spring trilling of frogs is not to be heard in this forest anymore, despite acres of temporary wetlands. But thankfully other herps have managed to survive the various uses this land has been put to, and its increasing isolation from other fragments of habitat. Box turtles find our moist lowland forest has everything they need, and I was lucky enough to witness the very early emergence of this male turtle on a warmish day over a week ago.
Fleshy leaves sheltering a cluster of flower buds – Cut-leaved Toothwort, Cardamineconcatenata, has already emerged on 3/5. “Spring Ephemeral” is not the best term for these hardy little early bloomers. Though their flowers are brief, they’re very long-lived. As the first to come up from the warming soil, they’re also well-adapted to any radical swings of temperature March may offer up. But early spring has its advantages, mainly a sunny leaf-free understory (when the sun is even out). Spring ephemerals are not “shade plants” when they’re blooming.
Going dormant early, they survive by storing energy in corms and rhizomes for most of the year. Their long absence definitely makes my heart grow fonder. Read More
This post is more of a rant, born of frustration over a situation (all too common) that affects this little forest fragment. When it comes to storm water, out of sight means out of mind. The useless old culvert pipe in the pic above once drained the area of Creason Park’s maintenance barn. The pipe was long ago undercut by the torrent of storm water that gushes from the culvert above it. Among the misfortunes of this forest – being situated on one side below a large area of pavement and parking lots that pour stormwater down its steep slopes with every heavy rain. Read More
Got a taste of the new February this past Sunday. 52 degrees and waves of Sandhill Cranes surging north, the forest filled with their ancient shrill croaking. Once you’ve learned this call you won’t forget it; you’ll always look up when they’re passing overheard. As the flocks moved over the forest they were flying low and circling, seeking a better stream of wind to ride on. I could barely focus on anything else; the sound of cranes is one of my gateways to an altered state of mind. Read More
Trees, like people, need to dodge a lot of bullets to get really old. The shade of other trees, browsing animals, insects, disease, wind storms, buck rubs, people with chain saws, and just plain bad luck. So many ways to lose out, it’s amazing that any tree makes it past 100 years. Even more so in this little fragment of forest, that has endured a succession of anthropogenic impacts over the last 200 years. There are just a few older trees left here; these survivors have been witness to the gradual fading of a remarkable landscape. Read More
One of the more unique aspects of Beargrass Creek SNP is the healthy Eastern Box Turtle Terrepene carolina population. Why have they have continued to thrive in this small fragment of forest? In part they’re protected by a quirk of geography – a human-made barrier. Though the preserve is completely surrounded by neighborhoods, it’s “walled” on two sides by the channelized South Fork. This deep ditch serves as a kind of moat, preventing box turtle movement in the direction of nearby busy roads, while allowing for movement along the stream corridor. Habitat is good in the forest, with varied terrain, moist soils, springs, berry-producing plants and plenty of snails and earthworms. Despite being in the city, it’s box turtle heaven. Read More
As I was leaving the forest this evening, about the time when it’s almost dark, a loud clumsy flapping in a nearby Black walnut tree startled me. It appeared to be a large bird, trying to steady itself on a small limb. Hawk? Owl? In my experience these masters of stealth would never draw so much attention to themselves. As it settled and stretched out its skinny neck, the bird’s identity was apparent. Have you guessed it? Yes, turkeys roost in trees at night. Read More
As a child, the idea of actually seeing a wild deer was exciting, but improbable. I was a city kid, and though we often joined a local club for hikes in southern Indiana, I don’t remember even seeing tracks very often. And I certainly never imagined that one day there would be herds of deer in the city that I could watch every day. In less than 40 years, Whitetails have morphed into a fast multiplying garden nuisance and road hazard. And as usual there isn’t one single reason, but a convergence of ecological and cultural changes. Read More