Sunday, July 20, 2014

Scaly Blazingstar

Last Friday I visited Adams County once again. For those of you who don't know where Adams County is, it's a southern county right along the Ohio River. Adams County is a treasure trove for nature lovers like me. Within the county are uncommon breeding birds, rare and uncommon snakes, rare and endangered plants, and even rare ecosystems. One of these rare ecosystems is the xeric (or dry) limestone prairie, and it is in these that one can find the subject of this post.

Scaly Blazingstar, Liatris squarrosa
Meet the Scaly Blazingstar, Liatris squarrosa. Many times wildflowers are small, nondescript to the untrained eye, and not overly flashy; however, this is not always the case. Take for example any of the Liatris species, better known as the blazingstars. My favorite by far is L. squarrosa. Scaly Blazingstar is state-listed as "Potentially Threatened" by Ohio, meaning it is at a great risk for becoming threatened. Being threatened is the step right before Endangered. Scaly Blazingstar is a prairie species that makes its home in dry, rocky prairie and savanna habitats. All the individuals I saw were at Lynx Prairie, an amazing system of "pocket prairies" in a sea of trees owned by the Nature Conservancy (You can read my post on Lynx Prairie at this link). Walking through Lynx Prairie you would never expect to learn that the countless purple flowers all around you are state-listed, but their habitat preferences are their downfall here in Ohio. Around 4% of Ohio used to be covered by prairies before European settlement, but after the 1800's those settlers plowed most of the prairies, thus destroying them. Now, Ohio has less than 1% of the original prairies remaining. Think about that: there's only a tiny fraction remaining of something that only covered a tiny fraction of Ohio in the first place.

Scaly Blazingstar Ohio
Scaly Blazingstar was a victim of this destruction. Before 1960, this species had been recorded in only eight counties in Ohio. Since 1980, there's only been records from six counties. This is out of the eighty-eight total counties, so you can see how rare they are. Nowadays, the populations that remain face a new problem. Left alone, the forest spreads into many prairies as a result of succession and the prairies simply disappear in time. Nature and Native Americans use to burn these prairies, which would kill the encroaching woody plants and preserve the prairie. Many conservation groups that own prairies today still burn them to keep the forest at bay, which as a result keeps the prairies healthy. But the prairies that are not actively controlled by any conservation group have an uncertain future, as well as all the plant species in them.

Scaly Blazingstar Identification
So how do you identify this species? The photo above shows the clues. The pointy leaf-looking things are called bracts and they're actually modified leaves associated with the reproductive parts of the flower. In Scaly Blazingstar, the bracts are long, pointy, and spread out from the stem. They also rest over each other in a scale-like fashion. This species is also pubescent, meaning it is covered in tiny hairs as you can see above. As a general rule, you have to look at the bracts of all Liatris species to help differentiate the species, so keep that in mind if you go out looking for them.

Scaly Blazingstar
Upon seeing Scaly Blazingstar for the first time on Friday, I quickly fell in love with it. I love the purple, and I love the thin stamens which twist and curl into the air. The purple offered a lovely contrast to the greens of the grasses and Prairie Docks and the yellows of the Prairie Coneflowers.

Scaly Blazingstar White Variation
And then there was this one. As I was walking through the second pocket prairie a white flower instantly caught my eye. Upon a closer look, I saw it was yet another Scaly Blazingstar, this time in the white morph. It was the only one we found the entire day, even though we saw hundreds and hundreds. It was definitely the star of the day in my eyes.

I loved these guys so much I just had to do a feature on them. I do have like 5 other Adams-County related posts lined up after this past trip, with this being the first. The others include ones about milkweeds, more prairie flowers, and individual park overviews, so stay tuned!

No comments:

Post a Comment