Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Hepatica, the spring mental health flower of the midwest!

Hanging on tightly to a steep southeastern slope that spills down to the Little Miami River, Sharp-lobed Hepatica blossoms smile up toward the sky, looking for the sun between broken shadows of leafless trees. The breeze is sharp, and the temperature is cool, but these brave little spring wildflowers don't care. They've been waiting all winter, simmering on the back burner, waiting to push forth.

Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba)
...when winter seems like she'll never loosen her grip, these smiling puffs of color let me know the gray will soon be gone and Mama Nature is ready to dance.

These photos go back to early spring--April 3, 2011. I found the plants along the protected hillsides at Fort Ancient. Hepatica is one of the earliest spring bloomers. It comes equipped with a special adaptation that gives it an edge on the spring ephemerals--pre-existing leaves! Hepatica leaves have been there all winter (so it's not a true ephemeral), having emerged last spring after the flowers fruited and the old leaves started to wither and die. Therefore, Hepatica is ready for action as soon as those first few breaths of warm spring air pass by and sunlight filters all the way down through the bare trees to the forest floor -- "action," of course, meaning the leaves are able start photosynthesis right away and manufacture carbohydrates to fuel growth. While some spring ephemerals are just starting to produce leaves, Hepatica is already in full bloom.

Hepatica is no doubt one of the spring "mental health" flowers of the midwest. After enduring nonstop gray days since early November, white, pink and purply-blue blossoms glow on the forest floor and let us know everything will soon be fine--and color will return!

...furry bracts (modified leaves that in this case look like sepals) open to reveal the restorative colors of spring. The colorful "petals" are actually sepals (another type of modified leaf), which I only know because I read it here on the Bedford Audubon Society's Hepatica page, which has a very nice description of the flower.

A Hepatica acutiloba blossom pushes aside the brown leaves of winter to escort spring through the door...

...if you're going to be out and about in the frigid spring weather, wear a wooly sweater!!
Actually, the furry little hairs really do provide insulation for the tender spring flowers...

...well, hello! What are you doing here?
As I was photographing the underside of the Hepatica's bracts, a fly lighted on the blossom and proceeded to dance all around the flower's anthers (which contain pollen). Since not a lot of bees are flying around in early spring, flies are often seen pollinating Hepatica, but Hepatica is capable of self-pollination, so it doesn't rely on insects to get the job done.

...thanks handsome little fly for making sure the spring cycle goes on.

John Burroughs (1837 – 1921)

When April's in her genial mood,

And leafy smells are in the wood,

In sunny nook, by bank or brook,

Behold this lovely sisterhood.

A spirit sleeping in the mould,

And tucked about by leafage old,

Opens an eye blue as the sky,

And trusting takes the sun or cold.

Before a leaf is on the tree,

Or booms the roving bumblebee,

She hears a voice, "Arise, rejoice!"

In furry vestments cometh she.

Before the oven-bird has sung,

Or thrush or chewink found a tongue,

She ventures out and looks about,

And once again the world is young.

Sometimes she stands in white array,

Sometimes as pink as dawning day,

Or every shade of azure made,

And oft with breath as sweet as May.

Sometimes she bideth all alone,

And lifts her face beside a stone,--

A child at play along the way,

When all her happy mates have flown.

Again in bands she beams around,

And brightens all the littered ground,

And holds the gaze in leafless ways--

A concert sweet without a sound.

Like robin's song or bluebird's wing,

Or throats that make the marshes ring,

Her beaming face and winsome grace

Are greetings from the heart of spring.

I talk about Fort Ancient a lot on my blog because I live only 15 minutes away...and it's really cool. I should probably explain what it is every now and then. Fort Ancient is the largest and best preserved prehistoric Native American hilltop enclosure in the United States. For an earlier post with more information and a photo of one of the mounds, click here.


Elaine said...

Incredible photos, Kelly! I have never heard of this little flower before, but after seeing your photos I'm a fan! I absolutely love the first one!

Montanagirl said...

Your flower photos are simply divine. I tried to think of a great word to describe them. The poem is a lovely touch as well.

Carole Meisenhelter said...

absolutely beautiful; love the luminescent qualities.

Roy said...

Fabulous macros Kelly, I really like the first one the most.

Wanda..... said...

Always...amazing photos, Kelly. Fort Ancient is a close neighbor of mine too.

Grizz………… said...

I missed the hepaticas this spring, and really regret not getting to see them as they're one of my favorite harbingers of the season.

You know, I think the lead shot of the single hepatica bloom might be one of my all-time favorites of your photos—rich in texture and color, dramatic, awesome.
You're really getting into the 105 Micro lately, and it shows.

Lovely and well-written post of a neat place. I never fish Todd's Fork without stopping by Fort Ancient.

Out on the prairie said...

I looked where I saw them a month ago and didn't notice any leaves, but now many new plants are filling in the spaces. Lovely shots Kelly.

Kelly said...

Elaine...it's one of the first of spring...and since I was a little girl, I've always looked forward to seeing it. We had a patch of it under a tree in our front yard.

Mona...thank you! Burroughs' poem is amazing...in addition to simply beauty, he seems to hit on all the "scientific" aspects of the flower...one after another!

Carole...thanks! The was the sun was divided in shadow really gave drama to this photo...one shaft was striking it, putting everything else in black. It was cool looking in person too! :-)

Wanda...I love Fort Ancient. I bought a membership to the Ohio Historical Society and now entry is free. Since it's only 15 minutes (exactly) away from my house, I go there whenever I can pull myself away from the Little Miami at the Powder Factory (five minutes away!).

Grizz...I think I was so starved for color this year I was on my knees crawling through the muck early to catch sight of them. They really are beautiful...and such color after the gray winter is soooo nice. I love the 105 lens. Macro photography is so different from bird photography. With the birds, I'm hoping and praying they come into view, but with the flowers, they are right there (unless of course, the wind blows). Then unique views...and lighting...and shadow...and composition come into play. The best thing of all is you get to sprawl out on the ground! It's very relaxing (although sometimes a bit messy...I do a lot of laundry with muddy clothes!).

Kelly said...

Steve...Grizz missed seeing them this spring too. I guess the new leaves are pushing through, indicating the flowers have fruited. I need to look for the leaves and add some photos of them to the post. I usually try to add in photos of the leaves, but I didn't take any this time...

Chris said...

Wow this first shot is just excellent perfect and beautiful. Nice post Kelly... The clouds have returned over here .-)

Janice K said...

Great post! I love that first one, and that fly really makes you realize how small they are.

Paul Wells said...

Lovely photos, Kelly!

Kelly said...

Chris...you're never going to have good weather! The clouds are here too, but it's just rain...not snow!

Janice...thank you! That fly cracked me up when it landed. It has a bit of the "Beauty and the Beast" thing going on! :-)

Paul...thank you!

grammie g said...

Hi Kelly...This post slipped by me..but I am so glad I noticed it!!
What a beauty..it lifted my mental state for a bit...just breathtaken photos...the color and the shimmering petals, and fuzzy stem to keep it warm!!!
To much to do outside right now, we wait for spring them it gets so busy!!

Mary said...

I found your blog by clicking on your post to our frind Chris in Iceland...glad that I did too. You are just 85 miles from where I live. Your blog is wonderful and I love the photos! I became a new follower;)

Little Brown Job said...

I'm not big on flowers Kelly but those first two are stunning :-)

Kelly said...

Grammie...Thank you! Things are going to start getting busy now aren't they, but...it's always busy...and time waits for no one! (except for when you slip out to the woods and hunt for these little beauties!! :-)

Mary...thank you! Cool...another Ohio person! Do you have a blog?

Paul...Thank you! The color in these little flowers can turn anyone! :-)

Anonymous said...

Beautiful photos, Kelly. I've seen these flowers but not known the name. I think I need a few in my flowerbeds for an early-season pick-me-up.

Carol Mattingly said...

Beauty. The photos, the poem, your thoughts. Beauty. Carol

Tammie Lee said...

your photos are exquisite!! dreamy beautiful.
love your paintings in the next post too.

Michael Bartneck said...

Holy cow, the first shot is amazing.I love how the flower seems to "grow" out the darkness and just the right amount of light with the shadows of the stamen..plus I'm a huge fan of horizontal shots where possible! Thats a definite wall hanger!

Kelly said...

Wren...they are so pretty...definitely a pick-me-up! :-)

Thank you, Carol!! :-)

Tammie...thank you so much. It's easy when the subject is so pretty and the sun is just in the right spot!! :-)

Michael...thank you. The sun's light was falling at this incredible angle with dark, dark shadows all around and shafts of light filtering through. I was lucky when I was there...and I didn't mind getting a little muddy...

texwisgirl said...

your photos are just amazing.

Margaret said...

Wow, such amazing photos, really!