Saturday, December 17, 2011

Lilies in December? Lilium superbum in Ohio

Although more common in Ohio than the rarely witnessed Lilium philadelphicum, Lilium superbum is at the edge of its range in ohio and can be considered locally abundant at best.   This species can be found only in the extreme eastern and a few southern counties of Ohio, and in Ashtabula county, I was told by a reputable local botanist that Lilium superbum "could probably be found along every stream in the county."  Ashtabula county is the north easternmost county in Ohio and many northern plants reach their southern limit here, some rarities include: Acer pensylvanicum, Streptopus amplexifolius, and Dalibarda repens.  So, with this in mind, and information from the OSU herbarium, I headed north.

One of the best populations of Lilium superbum can be found along the Grand River.  In some places, the habitat is pristine and undisturbed, resembling what many of the rivers in northeastern Ohio looked like in pre-colonial days.

Throughout the world, Sedges are touted as indicators of untrammeled habitat, and the great lakes region is no exception.  Carex emoryi is one of the defining species along this stretch of the Grand River and forms extensive colonies that hug the river's edge and stabilize the sandy river bank.  In areas where the current slows, this species grows as a monoculture, forming texturally pleasing undulating islands that dot shallow portions of the river.

My first plants of Lilium superbum in the wild.  In peak flower on July 13, 2010.

A typical form of Lilim superbum along the Grand River

In this area plants of Lilium superbum grow under forest, but the largest number of flowers per plant and most luxuriant growth was found on plants growing in forest gaps and edges.  The extra light is a great boon to their development.  The forest is composed of riparian species; Acer saccharinum, Acer rubrum, Platanus occidentalis, and Fraxinus americana.

These were among the largest plants seen that day.  My backpack is included for scale.  The plants were as tall as I could reach standing on my tip-toes (topping 260 cm).  Two months later, I collected seed from the same plants.

This plant was growing directly at the rivers edge and had over 20 flowers / flower buds; far more than seen on any other plants.

I am fascinated by the interaction between plants and their pollinators.  I was fortunate to witness two separate pollination events this day, both of which involved Papilio glaucus (eastern tiger swallowtail).  Lily pollen could be seen on the butterflies.  The abundance of tiger swallowtails was an indicator of the ample seed set to be found two months later.

The bluffs and floodplain forest along the Grand River harbors many wonderful plants that contributed to one of the most memorable botanizing experiences of 2010.  Here are some of them that would make excellent native plants for native plant gardens, perennial borders, rain gardens, bog gardens, and the like...

Symplocarpos foetidus (Skunk Cabbage)

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal Flower)

Apios americana (Groundnut)

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp Milkweed)

Smilax herbacea (Smooth Carrionflower)