In March, I was able to explore the backwoods of Ouachita National Forest in southeastern Oklahoma, among the Ouachita Mountains. This mountain range extends into western Arkansas and south of the Ozarks, the Arkansas River separating the two.
Typical of early spring, it was overcast and wet for most of our two-night stay. The forest had pretty clear trails for our off-road Jeeps (4-wheel drive, just in case), but we occasionally had to get out to remove larger limbs from the roadway. This allowed time to inspect the forest floor around me.
There were no shortages of mosses, lichens, ferns, and fungi here. This tree had fallen some time ago and now serves as a habitat for numerous woodland species, including a few newts. The arrangement of the log dependents is beautiful.
These shelf mushrooms are commonly referred to as Turkey Tails due to their similarity to the tail feathers of our Thanksgiving friend. This species serves as food for a variety of fungus moths and are found throughout North America. Despite their commonness, they are always stunning.
Allium is also not uncommon, and they have long been beneficial to humans and animals alike. Native American tribes would rub the plant on their body to treat insect bites. The onion-like bulb is edible, as are the leaves. It is cultivated as a vegetable in Cuba, and was foraged by tribes and white settlers.
I had to elicit help from my native plant friend, Carol, to identify this species. I confused it with Allium at first, but was directed to Claytonia. The flowers of both genera have similar bloom structure, but Claytonia has five petals and do not grow in umbels.
The Verbena family is a large one, and even the species within the genus Verbena are quite numerous. I am fairly confident in the identification of this Verbena cross, mostly from the leaf and petal shape. It has been documented a few counties to the west, but the documentation of the species is relatively light overall.
There were numerous species of Violets popping up all over the forest, and many of them were quite attractive. This wild Pansy is one of the smallest Violets in the area.
This fern is one of the only epiphytic ferns occurring in Oklahoma. You can see it peeking out its fronds from the masses of lichens and moss, clinging to the crevices of the exposed, hillside rock.
This lichen is commonly referred to as Reindeer Lichen, and for two reasons. First, the small branches can resemble the splitting of tines, as antlers do. Second, it is also beneficial forage for reindeer, and has true economical value due to this quality.
The petite, hirsute leaves of this species are nearly as attractive as the blooms.
Arkansas Yucca is one of just a handful of Yucca species found in the state, and one of the most northern occurring species in America. This exposed hillside was dotted with the succulents, free of shade trees and accompanied by Verbena and short grasses.
It's not often you see a low-water plant like Prickly Pear and a more wet plant like a fern growing side-by-side. But the slope here guarantees a quick drain of all rainfall, a quality essential to the survival of both species.
Species identification of all ferns in the genus Cheilanthes is especially difficult, and there are several species occurring in southeastern Oklahoma. This specimen was growing at the base of a Juniper, benefiting from the moisture that travels down the outside of the trunk when raining, and the shade the tree provides.
Euphorbia is one of the largest genera in the world, and they grow in all forms. This species isn't particularly showy, but the chartreuse color of the foliage and bloom made it noticeable on this cloudy day. The two large leaves under each yellow bloom are actually flower bracts, and the two "horns" are new blooms in bud stage.
Most people know Oxalis species as "clover", and is considered a weed in most, if not all, residential lawns. The foliage is edible, but in minimal quantities. A purple, large-leafed species is popular in the nursery trade.
I have encountered this species on its very western edge of its native reach in North America. It is known as Toothwort because of the jagged edges of its roots. The flowers are rather petite at less than a half inch across.
This Spiderwort species is defined by the hairs covering the stems and blooms.
This is definitely the largest blooming of all the Violet species found this day, and it is a stunner! This specimen had especially large-lobed flower petals. The shape of the leaves give it the common name Birdfoot Violet. This species is found in well-drained sites at higher elevations, making the sandy slopes of the Ouachita Mountains a perfect habitat.