Several opportunities to view Dave Hale’s Lady Slipper Orchid patch along the Middlefork were made this spring. Rightfully so – this plant never gets old. One particular afternoon, in route to these yellow pouches of perfection, we scaled up hills and inadvertently slid down the trailing sides, saw every late blooming spring ephemeral imaginable, Wood Frogs, and even a small Hognose Snake. How about Yellow Star Grass? What a handsome little plant. We were able to coax the Hognose Snake into this species textbook dramatic defensive display. It repeatedly hissed and puffed up, then rolled over motionless with mouth agape and tongue hanging out. After this point, it will then defecate on itself and vomit up it’s last meal if prodded further. We didn’t want it’s last meal sacrificed for our viewing pleasures, so we smiled and politely moved on. That afternoon we saw a lot and had a blast in and out of the forest. In addition to our forest adventure, we went to the Hobnob Market, saw a real live Zebra, and attended a contra dance at the Kaylx barn…that day is forever ingrained in my memory with Sarah, Al & Jen. Sometimes the connections made en route to the destination ends up defining the adventure itself.
I guided a whole group a folk out across the Vermilion on a junk truck roller coaster and fish viewing expedition. A whole fury of colors were seined up for the groups’ viewing pleasures. Several culprits of this viewgasm included Greenside Darters, Rainbow Darters, Central Stonerollers, and Orangethroat Darters in spectacular glowing spawning colors. This was nestled within a weekend of camping out at Middlefork for Sarah and I. During our hikes we nailed spring ephemerals at the absolute height of the bling of spring, found multiple salamander species, spent the afternoon on a high overlooking ridge, enjoyed a hobo hash dinner, and were awaken come morning by the pitter-patter of rain. We even pulled a Jeep out at Kinney’s Ford that several kids managed to bury to the frame.
Back in Macon County, a conscious effort to view Puttyroot Orchid in full flower was made early May. This is a hard plant to catch just right. Individual flowers begin drooping a mere day or two after opening. Somehow the first day I set aside to view this plant yielded several in full flower. I’ve only caught this a couple times. Exciting! This less than spectacularly colored spike and flowers is easily overlooked nestled within the vibrant understory colors of the bling of spring. What it lacks in visual appeal, it makes up for with unique life history quirks. The yellowish leaf pictured at the base of the inflorescence is actually the plants’ decaying leaf. Why would it decay in the spring? It has a reverse photosynthetic period! It soaks up sun all winter. The ‘winter leaf’, as it’s called, emerges in September, is green all winter, and begins decaying preceding flowering. This allows Puttyroot to grow in alluvial soils of hardwoods and rich stream terraces without having to expend energy competing for sunlight from leafy aggressors typical of these fertile ecotones. How awesome is that?
I also met up with a researcher from the U of I working with Orangethroat Darters. We later crossed paths again one afternoon with several of her fellow nerd kin to avoid the grind of crunch time during finals week. We trudged through some mud, did some bushwhacking, and vedged out on a prairie overlooking the Middlefork. There we were kindly greeted by a Ring-necked Snake…well, it was a pleasant greeting for most of us – what a riot 😉