Monday, September 15, 2014


The first book I remember picking for myself at the Livingston Avenue branch of the Columbus Public Library was The True Book of Weeds and Wildflowers by Illa Podendorf. I can still remember pulling the green book with it's curly script font off the shelf. I think I was in the first grade. Then, when I was seven years old my mother bought me my first wildflower book . . . the Zim/Martin Guide to Wildflowers. I got a small green notebook and recorded all my finds with flowery descriptions filled with every adjective I knew. I searched for wildflowers everywhere, from my own suburban backyard to the shores of Buckeye Lake and the forests and field of Blacklick Woods. When I was 10, my family moved from Columbus to Erie, Pennsylvania. My dad drove us all over the county, exploring our new home state. Whenever I spotted a flower from the back seat of our station wagon, he would pull over so I could get out and get a better look. Presque Isle State Park on the shores of Lake Erie became my new hunting ground.

mountain rosebay or great laurel
Now many many many years and dozens of different field guides later, I'm still hunting for wildflowers. This summer my kids and I took a trip to the Great Smoky Mountains. It's known as the National Park with the most wildflowers, so I was, of course, keen to go. The kids like to walk in the woods and look for lizards and skinks, frogs and turtles, so they were keen to go as well. As soon as graduation was over, school was out, and the dance recital finished, we hit the road. And even though I only found three wildflowers . . . the mountain rosebay (or great laurel, pictured at right), cardinal flower, and partridge berry, it was a truly amazing trip! I spent a lot of time trying to get a photo of the partridge berry with only minimal luck: I never could get the flowers (so tiny, but so "furry") into focus. This berry, and the tiny leaves, came out okay.
partridge berry

I was already in love with the mountain rosebay after seeing one at Goodell Gardens in Edinboro, Pennsylvania, a few years ago. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, who were both enamored of native plants, grew mountain rosebay in their gardens Monticello and Mount Vernon. It is late-blooming and features one of my favorite things: lime green polka dots. I like how the pink buds are all crinkled up. The buds look grumpy, like the flowers on the turtlehead.

Nick saw a spotted salamander, but didn't get a photo (too busy trying to catch it). I't supposed to be a very "shy" animal, so I guess we should be happy that he even saw one at all. I also saw an amazing butterfly, which I tried to creep up on, so I could get a good picture. I was quiet as could be, but it kept flittering away. Back at the bottom of the mountain I googled it . . . a diana fritillary, the state butterfly of Arkansas. Doesn't it look like velvet? You can see another picture here. Lily and Jack found a black rat snake and Lily got this fantastic picture (at right). Apparently Lily is afraid of butterflies, but had no problem with this huge snake. You learn amazing things about your kids in the woods.

I'm toying with the idea of putting all these things together in a quilt, although I can't quite figure out how it would all go together yet.