An Arkansas Blankland Sunrise

I cannot believe it has been almost a full year since I last contributed to Horticulture in Arkansas. Regardless of that lost time, my plant safaris have yet to cease. I am constantly peering through shaded woodlands, hoping to find a eye-catching splash of color or a bizarre leaf mixed-in with the vast canvas of green. Recently, I traveled to Southwest Arkansas to spend sometime in one of Arkansas' beautiful wetlands, next to the brand new Turk Coal Plant. Regardless of the smell of sulfur and the constant noise from the power plant, the power plant is incredibly environmentally friendly - it even feeds the birds. (Note the sarcasm.) Once I arrived at Grassy Lake, I was greeted by a Broad-headed skink. Some people believe that skinks are poisonous. Regardless of what you might think, that is almost not true. Have you ever seen the common Blue-tailed skink? Well, if you see him, do not eat him. His blue tail is poisonous when digested.

Plestiodon laticeps

After unpacking and getting settled in, my wife and I decide to go on a little hike through the woods. Aesculus pavia was in full bloom. The enticing red flowers covered the hardwood forests. However, I did noticed something a little out of place. I have seen these small trees through the Ozarks and Ouachita Mountains, but not in the blackland forests. There standing amongst all the other Red Buckeyes, was a single white flowered buckeye, the Ohio Buckeye.

Aesculus glabra

One common understory plant that caught our eye is the Mayapple. The foliage is the most eye-catching aspect of this little ground cover. The broad, lush-green leaves pop out out the forest floor from thick rhizomes, uncurling to soak up as much sun as possible before the trees choke out the light. Angela noticed the aroma before I did, most likely because she has super-human senses. But wow, the little flowers from the Mayapple do provide a nice "howdya-do" to our noses. They can almost go unnoticed if you're not careful. Also, remember where you find these plants and return later. The fruit is edible only when they turn yellow. If you can beat the wildlife, it might make a nice little snack.

Podophyllum peltatum

Further down the trail we spotted a fiery red flower in the distance. Oh, they colored the area with their grandiosity! Nothing screams "Hey! Look at me!" like these native Fire Pinks. These are some of the Hummingbird's favorite early flowers. And together with the Red Buckeye, a full course meal awaits our tiny flying friends. This would be a great addition to any wildflower garden, but only if the gardener wants to attract lots of birds and butterflies.

Silene virginica

At the top of one of the small hills in the area, a familiar growth was emerging from dormant crown buds. I could recognize that it was a kind of Baptisia, but which one? Last weekend, I returned to discover that the flower color was, drum-roll please, yellow. That's right, Yellow Wild Indigo. The native is not as impressive as some of the new cultivars available at nurseries and garden centers. However, it is always nice to see a familiar corolla now and then.

baptisia sphaerocarpa