Thursday, March 29, 2012

Our Mammoth Trip

Our trip to Kentucky was all about flowers.  I mean, sure, there was the cave, which, being the longest in the world and home to unique species, is the natural wonder for which the National Park was created... but we all know I'm a plant person.  

The trees gave a spectacular show.  Even before we got to Kentucky it started.  In northern Indiana, the oak trees had dangling flowers that completed the green haze of spring.  Redbuds lined the highway, their brilliant purple coloring our whole drive.  As we got further south and the roadsides became more wooded and less farmed, the redbud understory intermingled with dogwoods, with their showy bracts and distinctive horizontal branching pattern... there's something about the southland in the springtime, and this?  Is it. 
My dogwood sketch.  I wrote, "Dogwoods decorate the forest.  From afar, each looks like a perfect ornament -- open towards the sky.  up close, each bloom is slightly asymmetrical, bracts twisted and misshapen and bruised."
Another dogwood sketch.
 Exploring the forests above the caves, we noticed distinctive burgundy flowers hanging like bells from many small trees.  We didn't know, at first, what they were... and neither did any of the rangers that we asked, and  we asked several.  (In their defense, I think Mammoth Caves hires their rangers based on geological knowledge, not botanical...)  Leaves weren't much help as they were just emerging, translucent and tiny ad the terminals of the twigs.  Turns out, these were pawpaw flowers!  Very lovely and unique.
My Pawpaw sketches and description.
We also saw a number of ground-dwelling wildflowers, including but probably not limited to:
bellwort, bluebells, celandine poppies, chickweed, Dutchman's breeches, fire-pink, foamflower, forget-me-nots, ginger, irises, jack-in-the-pulpit, larkspur, Mayapples (not blooming yet), phlox, pussytoes, ragwort, rue anenomes, trillium (multiple species), twinleaf (not blooming), violets, wild geranium, something I didn't know maybe a snakeroot...

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