Saturday, April 8, 2017. Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) petals glisten in the Springtime afternoon sunlight during an enchanting walk through the Washington State Park Hardwood Natural Area along the Big River on the 1000 Steps Trail.
Our trek for early Springtime Ozark wildflowers began in the high, dry glades above the Big River Valley among dolomite rock outcroppings and native prairie grasses.
As we entered the glade on foot, we passed a thunderbird petroglyph rock carving over one thousand years old.
An area rich in Native American shamanistic symbols of magic, warfare, fertility, weather, and animal spirits, Washington State Park was once host to a Mississippian mound-building culture known for innovation in shell tempered pottery, intricate carved jewelry, large community plazas centered around earthen pyramids, and a vast trading network across most of the continental United States.
Hummingbird and coiled snake petroglyphs, powerful symbols of the Missouri natural world past and present, were carved as rain elements in a compelling stone mural rich in tribal iconography.
These 1000 A.D. Mississippian culture elliptical, egg-shaped petroglyphs represent important concepts of mound-builder fertility shamanism.
Evenly dispersed throughout the glade, Bird’s-foot violet (Viola pedata) greeted us as the first native of our hike.
False garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve) also made an early appearance.
Freemont’s Leather Flower (Clematis fremontii) is a rare glade native of Missouri found in only two counties.
During our hike through several glade areas, we discovered a handful plants, only two of which had bloomed.
Based on strong intuition and past experience, our hike produced confirmation of Freemont’s Leather Flower blooming in the Missouri wild. During a chance conversation later in a different area of the park, the resident Washington State Park naturalist admitted neither he nor the Missouri Botanical Garden were aware of any Freemont’s Leather Flower already in bloom, or exactly where they might find them.
A member of the Lily family, Yellow-star grass (Hypoxis hirsuta) grows in acid soils of prairies and open glades.
Blue-star grass (Sisyrinchium campestre) is common throughout the park.
Squaw-weed (Packera obovata) bears the familiar shape and structure of most members of the Daisy family.
Common violet (Viola soria) is probably by far the most abundant wildflower in Missouri during early Spring.
A member of the Crowfoot family, Hepatica (Anemone americana) glows in the golden Ozark sunlight.
Typically found in the lower elevations and moister climates of the area, we were surprised to find Bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), another member of the Lily family, thriving in dry, open glade margins; an exciting and unexpected moment, this was only my second time observing Bellwort in the wild.
Hoary puccoon (Lithospermum canescens) was found simultaneously growing in small tufts and large bunches.
Because of its proximity to ancient volcano and lava fields once active over one billion years ago, Washington State Park lies in a quartz and geode rich region of the Missouri Ozarks.
The quintessential American prairie wildflower, Indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea) of the yellow variety thrives in the drier, open areas like the glades of Jefferson County, Missouri.
Both varieties of red and yellow Indian paintbrush grow in even numbers in the same glade locations. A fickle plant in captivity, Indian paintbrush takes years to produce a flower from seed.
Another glade loving native, Ground plum (Astragalus crassicarpus) produces bunches of small fruit later in the year.
As we exited the glade and descended further into the Big River Valley, we noticed a small group of Pussy toes (Antennaria parlinii), also called Indian tobacco.
Dog’s-tooth violet (Erythronium albidum), also called Trout lily, grew in large bunches down by the Big River in the Washington State Park Hardwood Natural Area.
Bluebells (Mertensia viginica) grew in great swaths between the river and steep hillsides.
The translucent petals of Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) glisten in the afternoon sunlight.
A native Missouri wildflower mostly dependent on ants for seed dispersal and reproduction, Dutchman’s breeches is a small flower found low to the ground in moist areas.
Sparkling Spring beauty (Claytonia viginica) was found mixed in on the forest floor with the Dutchman’s breeches.
The noble Trillium (Trillium sessile), also called Wake robin, was found on steep hillsides.
Another member of the large Lily family, Trillium’s form maintains both simplicity and sophistication.
Harvey’s buttercup (Ranunculus harveyi) requires moist bottomland habitat.
Blue-eyed Mary (Collinsea verna) was in full bloom across great swaths of the understory in the verdant Washington State Park Hardwood Natural Area.
Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata) was at home in bloom in the Springtime Ozark woods.
The gorgeous and glowing Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum) was found interspersed on steep hillsides along with Trillium.
With petal blooms around five to six inches in diameter, Celandine poppy was not only the largest wildflower of the day, but also by far the most luxurious, complex, and perfume-like in fragrance.