Edge of Appalachia State Nature Preserve: Worth the Drive

I have wanted to visit Edge of Appalachia State Nature Preserve since shortly after I moved to Ohio and I found out many cool plants occur there, such as Red paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) and Dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne). Last weekend I drove the 2 hours to the border of Ohio and Kentucky to see what I could find.

Right at the beginning of the Portman trail on a sunny hillside I found a plant with one of the best common names ever – Hoary Puccoon (Lithospermum canescens). This beautiful plant is in the borage family, Boraginaceae. The name “Puccoon” comes from the Native American meaning a plant that is highly pigmented and “hoary” mean grayish which probably refers to the grayish hairs on its leaves and stems. It has a helicoid cyme inflorescence, which basically means the flower stalk curls under and flowers from the top down. This type of inflorescence is common in the borage family, and if you ask me it’s the best inflorescence type. There’s just something dainty and pleasant about it.

As I continued along the trail, scattered cedars soon turned into a thick over story of hardwoods. There I found this Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), a plant I had never seen in person before. Like many early spring ephemerals it belongs to the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae. Interestingly, it lacks sepals and petals. The white structures in this photo are actually the stamens or male reproductive parts of the flower. Due to extensive harvesting for use in herbal supplements, Goldenseal is classified as a vulnerable species.

This next one was all over, growing in the crevices of large boulders. It has been a long time favorite of mine although I recently discovered I have been mispronouncing the latin name. This is Eastern Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis, pronounced ah-quil-ee-jee-a and not a-quil-a-jee-a as I have been saying for several years). Columbine is commonly planted in gardens in several different colors and double flowering forms, but A. canadensis is the only species native to Ohio. It has long petal spurs which contain nectar and they are pollinated largely by hummingbirds, though nectar robbing insects can sometimes chew through the spurs to get the nectar without having to do the onerous work of pollination.

As I was driving from the Portman trail to the E. Lucy Braun Lynx Prairie Preserve Trail, I saw ton of this Dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne) along both sides of the road. It actually made for a slightly dangerous drive in as my attention was not entirely on the road but rather on these charming flowers. I decided to do the smart thing and pull over to take a closer look and snap some photos. Like Red Columbine, Dwarf Larkspur is a spurred member of the buttercup family, Ranunculaceae and is most frequently pollinated by bees and hummingbirds (1).


Once I arrived at the next trail it was getting late. I had a two hour drive ahead of me and I was worried I wouldn’t find the plant I had most wanted to see – Red paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea). I shouldn’t have worried because as soon as I crossed the small bridge over the creek at the trailhead, I entered a small cedar glade that was covered in Paintbrushes. I raised my hands in a cheer of triumph then quickly put them down because there were people around and I didn’t want to look like a weirdo cheering at plants. Paintbrushes in the genus Castilleja are honestly one of my very favorite groups of plants. They are hemiparasites in the family Orobanchceae and while they do some photosynthesis, they also steal nutrients from nearby plants via their roots. They can parasitize a variety of plants but may have some preference for grasses and members of the composite family, Asteraceae (2). Red Paintbrush flowers come in two color morphs, red and yellow. The proportion of red to yellow may indicate the amount of self pollinating which occurs in the population. Yellow individuals are more successful self pollinators so they are likely to be more common in area where pollinators are not prevalent (3). At this site I only saw a single yellow individual and a ton of butterflies like the Pipevine Swallowtail pictured above, so pollinators do not appear to be limited.

Growing with the Red Paintbrush was another favorite of mine, Wood Betony aka Canadian Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis). This is another hemiparasitic member of Orobanchaceae. Wood Betony flowers range from reddish purple to yellow. This is the more common species of the two Pedicularis species that occur in Ohio. The other species, Swamp Lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata), requires a wetter habitat such as a swamp or lake edge and blooms in late summer.

I hiked the majority of the trail and then, muddier and less bug-bitten than you might expect, I made the drive back home to Columbus. All in all this was a very enjoyable Saturday and totally worth the drive. I hope to get back to the area again later in the summer to explore some more.

Sources: 1, 2, 3

Additional photos from my day at Edge of Appalachia SNP

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