Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Raven Run Wildflowers - Too Early, Too Late

Blue-eyed Mary
Raven Run Nature Sanctuary is a county park on the bluffs of the Kentucky River in Fayette County, not far from Lexington.  Part of the property was acquired with funds from the Kentucky Heritage Land Conservation Fund. Much of the 734 acres is old farm land, full of invasive plants such as bush honeysuckle, multi-flora rose, garlic mustard, and poison hemlock, just like everywhere else. In the last few years, they had a project to get rid of bush honeysuckle, which appears to be successful in  part, but it's coming right back into the cleared areas. As I drove down the Interstate, I was saddened to see the fringe of green under all the trees - honeysuckle leafing out before anything else. 
Bumblebee on Dwarf Larkspur
But as you head down the trail, past old stone fences, the flowers began to appear. Dwarf larkspur comes in both purple and white, plus a few shades in between. This is the only place I have ever seen blue-eyed Mary. In the creek valley I've heard wild turkey every time I visit the park. Today, I could swear I heard a Broadwing Hawk, although I couldn't call it out of hiding. Might have been a Blue Jay trying to fool me (if so, it worked!), but I didn't hear any other Jay calls all day. 
Dwark Larkspur
Spring Beauty

Dainty spring beauty was abundant, with little pink stripes and anthers. Twice, several teenagers passed me on the trail, talking and walking fast, not looking at any of the flowers. How could they come to such a park and not look at this flowers this time of year? Makes no sense to me.
Early Saxifrage
Good old Kentucky limestone underlies everything, of course. In fact, you risk breaking limbs and cameras both, tripping over the stones in the trail! Where the trail cuts between two big boulders, those limestone loving plants like stonecrop and this early saxifrage grow right out of the rocks.
Squirrel Corn
And just beyond those rocks I finally found both squirrel corn and Dutchman's breeches. the leaves are similar, but you can tell the difference by the blossoms. The Dutchman hangs his breeches on a line with the pants legs pointing up, while squirrel corn (how did it get that name!) has rounded tops.
Sharp-lobed Hepatica and Sessile Trillium
The trail to the overlook on the Kentucky River Palisades hosts hepatica and columbine that I found nowhere else. Of course, the hepatica flower grows on a stalk before the leaves ever come up, so I never get to see them. Columbine also likes to grow right out of cracks in the rocks, but today it was only in bud. However, the twinleaf and cutleaf toothwort had finished blooming all together. Looks like I was both too early and too late at the same time!
Wild Ginger Blossom
One of my spring favorites is the little heart-shaped wild ginger. Under the hairy leaves, one solitary dark maroon blossom may grow down on the ground itself. The flower evolved to attract small pollinating flies that emerge from the ground early in the spring looking for a thawing carcass of an animal that did not survive the winter. By lying next to the ground the flower is readily found by the emerging flies. The color (and smell) of the flower is similar to that of decomposing flesh. Whether these flies pollinate the flower or not is in some dispute.You have to get way down on the ground to get a photo of them at all.
Flower Bowl Hillside 4-16-14
I was disappointed, but not too surprised, at the lack of flowers in the Flower Bowl (as I call it). This valley has always been too steep to farm, and has never been disturbed, as far as I know, so there are an minimum of invasives, and the ground beneath the trees is open, hosting huge numbers of native wild flowers. However, the cold winter, or just the cold snap this week, has affected it, since there were not the wide wide variety of flowers growing on top of each other up and down the hillside.
Flower Bowl 4-16-2010
The first year we went to Raven Run, I was absolutely breathless when we started into the valley. As far as you could see, up hill and down, the forest floor was covered with larkspur, wood poppy, phlox, and blue-eyed Mary. All those flowers were blooming, yes, but not in the outstanding numbers of previous years. The false rue anemone seemed to be most abundant this year. Maybe it would all catch up if I had time to return in a week. In May, we are returning to Natural Bridge State Park for more wildflowers!

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