Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Notable Recoveries and Losses in Louisville Parks

In 2005, the Louisville Olmsted Parks Conservancy began a nearly four million dollar formal woodlands restoration campaign for Cherokee and Seneca Parks in reaction to woodlands degraded by hundreds of acres of noxious vines, dominant invasive exotic shrubs and noxious herbs and grasses. With chainsaws and herbicide sprayers, biologists cleared most of Cherokee Park's 409 acres and about 200 acres of Seneca Park of primarily Asian bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), European buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), white mulberry (Morus alba), wingstem burning bush (Euonymus alatus), European privet (Ligustrum obtusifolium), Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima) and multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora). 

The worst vines strangling regeneration of edge conditions and preventing canopy light gaps from regenerating were Oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus), Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), English ivy (Hedera helix), wintercreeper (Euonymus fortuneii), and Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). To lesser degrees periwinkle and crown vetch are present, though they don't seem to be colonizing new areas.  

In the 2000's Cherokee Park's under story invasive shrub cover was dense enough that some areas had to be crawled through to be initially surveyed and cleared. The aftermath of exotic removal often looked like a logging operation had occurred as bucked down brush was left to biodegrade and decompose, and also reduce erosion on the bare soil left behind by four decades dominated by invasive species and exotic earthworms.

In some areas there might be only one shrub, oak, hickory, or beech sapling to get excited about in a whole acre worked for woody invasive plants, and a lot of careful follow up maintenance was required to keep out aggressive native disturbance species such as ragweed, black nightshade, blackberries, tall goldenrod, Devil's beggars ticks, horse weed, and poke berry, or wild cucumber in floodplains. Worse yet, sometimes these areas regenerate in only invasive species present in seed bank, such as buckthorn and garlic mustard, or mulberry weed which formed a lawn of seedlings in one Nettelroth south facing slope co-invaded by buckthorn and honeysuckle.

I once saw a herd of 15 white tailed deer walking the edge conditions of the park interior in fall of 2010. When an area is initially cleared, most of the sedges and rushes are eaten by rabbits or other herbivores, and deer eat the dicots, leaving whatever poisonous, thorny, or less palatable plants remain to be the first generation of succession. Coyotes have been seen as close as Seneca Golf Course and Cave Hill Cemetery, but dog leash laws provide deer a wildlife sanctuary in Cherokee Park and neighboring suburbs.

But interestingly a theory by Dr. Julian Campbell seems to have been borne out in the research of University of Louisville's, Dr. Margaret Carreiro in her bush honeysuckle experimental removal plots funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  In one of Carreiro's plots, a dominant invasive winter creeper ground cover had diminished greatly as it had been eaten, most likely by deer. 

Uniquely, Cherokee Park, which was designed by the venerated landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted has seen a great deal of historic data collection on species composition.  This includes a 19th century timber survey  (1891) and two floral inventories in the past century: the first by Mabel Slack for a flora published (1941), and another later by Patricia Dalton Haragan, (2006-present). The Olmsted Parks of Louisville: A Botanical Field Guide which will be available later this year. Beginning in 1891 a tree survey of the existing canopy species informed F.L. Olmsted Sr.'s General Plan for Cherokee Park completed in 1897: The Woody Plants of Kentucky, which would have included almost every native woody species to the city planted in arboretum style groupings. 

Between  Slack's 1941 flora and the present, the Cherokee flora has become dramatically weedier. What is impressive is the number of novel invasive species introduced to Cherokee since 1941: Johnson grass, fescue, poison hemlock, crown vetch, lesser celandine, Oriental bittersweet, porcelain berry, Princess tree, garlic mustard, hairy bitter cress, mulberry weed, roadside penny cress, Japanese stilt grass, Canada thistle, Siberian squill, Climbing yam, purple loosestrife, Teasel, wormwood, mugwort, musk thistle, sweet autumn Clematis, and now Japanese chaff flower. 

Many invasive species will prefer either the Knobs or the Outer Bluegrass portions of Jefferson County/Louisville more. In the Knobs parks such as Olmsted's Iroquois Park, and especially Waverly Park and Jeffferson Memorial Forest, autumn olive (Eleagnus angustifolius) is dreadfully invasive in exactly the way privet is in Cherokee Park, requiring foliar herbiciding for management success due to the vast number of stems that can cover a plot. Princess Tree and Tree of Heaven are very problematic canopy species that seem prefer the Knobs. Tree of heaven seems to be equally happy in Cherokee Park, forming dense colonies which are carefully managed chemically so clones don't revive from root system stress.

Whereas in Cherokee Park, the Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa) has reached maturity and produces seeds, it is not nearly as invasive there as when growing on the acidic siltstone of the Knobs along recently logged areas, or new trail corridors.

Teasel and purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), though appearing here as a few plants and there have not exploded in numbers the way they have in other settings. I killed the only teasel plant I ever found near Millvale Rd., out of a dread it might one day appear as a thicket the way giant reed does down around the Gene Snyder in drainage swales.

By the time of Mabel Slack, many desirable wildflower species had already disappeared. There is no record of blazing star, boneset,  frost weed, red buckeye, New England aster, Joe pye weed, Compass plant, butterfly milkweed, cardinal flower, false indigo, wild senna, partridge pea, Dutchman's pipe, green headed coneflower, prairie coneflower, Echinacea, wild cane, green dragon, white trout lily, ginseng, golden seal, switch grass, big bluestem, eastern gamma grass, or Indian grass. The above plants are on the wish list of almost any restoration biologist familiar with Louisville's flora.

Until the era of lawnmowers and tractors, the park had been grazed by horses and sheep, and before that cows, which would have eaten whatever cane was remaining. Poisonous species may have been deleted from bridle trails, or at an earlier time by farmhands to prepare woodlands for grazing. 

Hickory diversity was very low even by 1941, with primarily bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) growing in Cherokee Park. Slack attributes this to the many uses for hickory as a hardwood used in tools, yokes, and looms. That is still the case today. Shagbark hickories are still scarce in Cherokee Park, with a small cluster growing in Barrett Hill. The three largest Carya ovata in fact grow in Olmsted's designated Barrett Hill Rd. hickory grove Juglandaceae. 

In two other examples, species have stayed put where Olmsted planned for them to grow: Cross vine (Bignonia capreolata) still occurs in the BIGNONIACEAE grove near the entrance to the Dingle. And Dutchman's Pipe and Devil's Walking Stick farther up Barrett Hill both have made a resurgence through a ground cover of Winter creeper as Bush honeysuckle was removed by volunteers at the orginal boundary of the park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted Sr. Nearby also is the Olive Family Grove, OLEACEAE originally planned by Olmsted hunkers down against the Emerald Ash Borer, as an enormous green ash (Fraxinus pensylvanica) where Olmsted planned the Olive family to grow.

It appears Slack omitted the genus Ulmus and family ULMACEAE (Elm) from her flora. She does mention American elms in her foreword, and the entry for Wafer Ash (Ptelea trifoliata) is described growing at the base of an elm tree on Cochran Hill, and Dutch Elm Disease hadn't yet struck the Midwest which wouldn't happen for at least a decade or more. Though trees do succumb to the fungus, there are still a good number of slippery and American elm in Cherokee and Seneca Parks, as well as winged elms in the Knobs regions parks such as Iroquois or Waverly Park.

A modern day pest, the Emerald Ash Borer was discovered in Cherokee Park in the woods near the Baringer Overlook in late April 2013 the week before Arbor Day, less than a year after Louisville Metro Parks Foresty arborists discovered the pest in Shawnee Park on the Ohio River last year in a green ash tree, being pruned in preparation for the Arbor Day observation of April 27, 2012. A good number of blue ash (Fraxinus quadrangulata) occurs over the Park's interior limestone bluffs that overlook the Beargrass Creek corridor Cherokee Park so gracefully navigates. 

At one time now endangered American chestnuts and chinquapins would have been found growing in Lousville's canopy, according to Dr. Henry McMurtrie's 1819 Florula Louisvillensis. It also lists another rarity that was down to one tree by the time of Slack: the legendary black ash (Fraxinus nigra syn. F. sambucifolia) said to have grown on the cliffs by Park Boundary Rd. above Big Rock, presumably near a seep. This same area harbors good wildflower diversity of zigzag goldenrod (Solidago flexicaulis), wild yam (Dioscorea villosa), and short's aster (Symphyotrichum shortii), and trees such as hop hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana). The removal of dense honeysuckle from the tops of these cliffs produced good results, allowing this unique environment to flourish, with mostly native vines such as trumpet creeper returning.

Some of the most interesting plants that have been seen in Cherokee Park since the woodlands restoration campaign were not even listed in 1941, including wild cane, crested coral root orchid, white trout lily, cranefly orchid, stream side orchid (non-native), green dragon (Arisaema dracontium), and wild dill (Perideridia americana) a species that is endangered in Kentucky and threatened in Ohio.

Wild dill, or as Slack calls it Eastern yampeh grows near a south facing cliff in a mixed mesophytic grove of hackberry, American beech, blue ash, chinquapin oak, sugar maple, slippery elm, and Tree of Heaven. It was not previously known to still occur in Cherokee Park.

The endangered yampeh was first seen as about a half dozen plants along a trail overgrown in Asian bush honeysuckle and Standish honeysuckle (Lonicera standishii) in 2006. Nearby was a refugia of high quality native shrubs such as American pawpaw (Asimina triloba), Blackhaw Viburnum (V. prunifolium), and bladdernut (Staphylea trifoliata). Small pockets of native bottlebrush rye (Elymus hystrix), tall American bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum), and three lobed Black eyed Susan were growing among a relatively light honeysuckle infestation. The invasive five leaved Akebia (A. quinata) had maintained an artificial open woodlands environment by climbing and girdling everything below 20 feet, even choking out invasive shrubs. 

In April 2011, while doing a Sunday morning botany session I was able to photograph the Perideridia americana in flower, confirming it wasn't fennel, but instead a plant Mabel Slack had listed as rare and growing only in that one site. Atop the 40 foot cliff above the population, I found a small population of the Perideridia growing in the midst of dense bush honeysuckle and Standish honeysuckle in a small light gap. Presumably seeds from the biennial above washed down and germinated in the bare fertile soil left behind by Coast Guard Volunteers' 2009 bush honeysuckle removal. By 2011 there were dozens of plants. Now in 2013 after yet another perimeter clearing of nearby honeysuckle there are about a hundred plants. 

The soil where Eastern yampeh grows is a very rocky, dolomitic gravel. Crow poison (Nothoscordum bivalve) is still rare and growing there as it was in Slack's time; and it's clear she spent a good deal of time here collecting specimens, as we were able to rediscover Alum root (Heuchera americana), purple cliff brake (Pteris atropurpureea), blunt lobed cliff fern (Woodsia obtusa) growing out of the cliff rock, tall bellflower, and bottlebrush rye all growing where Slack described them. 

The next most exciting discovery was the Kentucky endangered Carolina allspice (Calycanthus floridus) found growing in a small colony in the woods north of Bonnycastle Ave. near a trail cleared of honeysuckle early on in the Woodlands Restoration campaign. An initial specimen had been found in another area of the park also in 2010, several years after this larger population had been set free. Carolina allspice typically grows in eastern Kentucky, but nevertheless we are happy to have it, and its produced a good crop of seeds one out of the past three years.

Though Cherokee Park had a population of federally endangered running buffalo clover (Trifolium stoloniferum) that went locally extinct in the mid 2000s, it wasn't listed in Slack's '41 flora. It grew near black walnuts (Juglans nigra), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), black cherry (Prunus serotina), wintercreeper (Euonymus fortuneii) and Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima). 

Other plants have gone locally extinct. Lady's tresses orchid, fall coral root orchid, skull cap (Scutellaria lateriflora), and purplish cudweed.

As a floodplain, Beargrass Creek would have harbored both buffalo and cane in pre-settlement times. The disappearance of the cane by the 1940s is no surprise, as the years of farming and free range grazing that occurred everywhere except the steepest slopes in the park interior. 

As David Fothergill, former Woodlands Restoration Manager of Olmsted wrote, the high quality steep slopes presented the best restoration potential by radiating outward from these high quality areas, and performing thorough review of those relatively undisturbed areas during the early and late growing season. 

As bush honeysuckle was removed the past decade, the problem of lesser celandine (Ficaria verna syn. Ranunculus ficaria) has become exponentially worse, spreading to remnant high quality uplands on Cochran Hill that Slack described as having abundant wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides), and a population of big leaved wood sorrel (Oxalis grandis). The hyacinth is still present in abundance at this one site only and is beginning to be invaded by the lesser celandine. The scourge lesser celandine has also heavily invaded the north and eastern aspects of Beargrass Meadows regarded widely as the keystone of the Park's biodiversity, where bloodroot, nodding Trillium, Dutchman's breeches, and perfoliate bellwort still grow. 

Using trails to disperse itself, the invasive lesser Celandine has spread from blanketing the floodplains every spring, and climbed the trails in seeds tracked by mountain bike tires, hikers' and runners' shoes, especially when trails are used in wet conditions. From there, the resulting new infestations usually begin growth on upland trailsides, then spread through seeds or eroded bulblets back down through dense high quality spring ephemeral populations as gravity washes them down the ravines. The celandine is still infesting high quality cliff faces and seeps harboring walking leaf fern (Camptosurus rhizophyllum), wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), or liverleaf (Hepatica acutiloba). The little yellow flower has also crowded out a natural population of wild geranium (Geranium maculatum) and crinkleroot which once grew downstream of bridge 1 of the Scenic Loop. As late emerging and late flowering plants are impossible to spray early in the growing season, without causing collateral damage to high quality wildlfowers, there is little that can be done. Though the earliest leaves of Ficaria verna have emerged as early as December 1, most leaves emerge in early March as soil begins to warm, and as the earliest spring ephemerals begin to emerge. 

There isn't an abundance of reference wetland plants listed for Cherokee Park in 1941 as the Lake now called Willow Pond was manicured to allow fishing even at that time. Slack describes the difficulty in getting flowering specimens, and was limited to a list of only about a dozen wetland plants, including umbrella sedges, tapertip rush (Juncus acuminatus), pondweeds, duckweed, spikerush (Eleocharis obtusa), with both lizard's tail and arrowhead occurring on Beargrass Creek. Water willow was listed growing only at Ward's Mill, but has taken root in at least a half dozen shoals of Beargrass at present. Historic arrow arum (Peltandra virginica) planted by Baringer Spring in a streambed has been reduced by competition with jewel weed to only a couple plants. 

The historic state threatened Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata) listed in 1819's Florula Louisvillensis was successfully reintroduced in a small population along rock work to the south of Willow Pond, which Slack calls Cherokee Lake. Plantings by Louisville Metro Parks Natural Areas Division at Mitchell Hill Lake and Waverly Lake have both been fairly successful at establishing emergent species such as Pickerel weed and arrowhead, and nearby grasslands have brought back species such as Indian grass, switchgrass, big bluestem, blazing star, boneset, eastern gamma grass, purple coneflower, Penstemon, and wild lupine.

With no mow management, and work on Willow Pond including runoff management with retentions and detention basins, some desirable wetland species have returned, including wool grass (Scirpus cyperinus), and sedges such as Frank's sedge (Carex frankii). These sandy rain gardens require intensive weeding of horseweed, spurges, beggar's ticks, knotweeds, amaranths, and ragweeds to maintain a high quality species palate such as Illinois bundleflower, Penstemon, blue vervain, sneezeweed, or New England Aster.

No mow zones in Baringer Spring have had to be abandoned because of new infestations of Canada thistle (Cirsium arvense), porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), or musk thistle (Carduus nutans). 

The newest weed spreading in Cherokee Park is Japanese chaff flower (Achyranthes japonica). The plant was discovered in August 2011 in Seneca Park by Bowman Field, and in Cherokee Park near the famed Barnstable Brown mansion at a trail head. The chaff flower appeared to be spreading from a larger bottom land population of about 100 plants in the direction of primary mountain bike travel toward the Barrett Hill upland, where only a few scattered clusters of plants were growing trail side. A third population was identified the following year about a half mile away upslope of a high quality area where liverleaf and walking leaf fern grow.

On a portion of the former Riverwalk Trail in the River floodplain, which is now subject to a detour for the Louisville Loop (in the woods between Shawnee Golf Course and the Ohio River) flooding has deposited enough Japanese chaff flower seeds that when I first saw the dormant infestation on Christmas 2011, it had grown to 4 continuous acres of mono culture completely suppressing any other herbs or grasses, in Cottonwood, sandbar willow woods with Indigo bush and button bush. The plant sticks to one's clothing at least as bad as field parsley or beggar's ticks, and as such could easily infest a new corner of the county during a long bicycle ride. 

In 2008, Japanese stilt grass (Microstegium vimineum) had been found at only one location and thought to be eradicated on the Baringer Multiuse Path, before it spread a couple miles away to the sinkholes of Barrett Hill Rd. by Chauffeur's Rest, presumably spreading in tractor tires or boots into the nearby park lawn. 

In the last five years, climbing yam (Dioscorea oppositifolia) has spread from its initial discovery site with combined sewer overflow flooding, as roadside penny cress has also spread quickly across riparian zones and moist woods near the creek to encompass multiple acres previously dominated by other exotic species prior to initial clearing. 

Josh Wysor is a partly self-trained botanist working as a horticulturalist for Jefferson Memorial Forest with Louisville Metro Parks Natural Areas Division, who formerly worked in the Olmsted Parks of Louisville for Olmsted Parks Conservancy from 2008 to 2010. 

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

A rare wild dill grows in the aftermath of Asian bush honeysuckle removal

In 2010 the United States Coast Guard got to volunteer in a special little portion of Cherokee Park under the guidance of Joe Manning, columnist with the LEO and then Zone Steward for Olmsted Parks Conservancy of the Glen Lily management area, known for being the most biodiverse portion of Frederick Law Olmsted's Cherokee Park (Manning, Haragan). Though the bridge immediately downstream of the Bernheim Bridge was part of Olmsted's original 1897 "as built" park, this is an area purchased later, which saw Olmsted's sons' hand in its design. It was in this same area that the rare wild dill (Perideridia americana) would reemerge from these efforts. 

In 1941 Mabel Slack lists a slew of plants now deemed rare or unusual in the Outer Bluegrass Region of Kentucky in this exact area: Eastern yampeh, or wild dill, wild parsley (Perideridia americana syn. Eulophus americanus) is among the rarest of them all. (Purple cliff brake (Pellaea atropurpurea), blunt lobed cliff fern (Woodsia obtusa), sleepy catchfly (Silene antirrhina), and Alum root (Heuchera americana) have all been rediscovered in the same areas described by Slack: "limestone cliffs near Ward's Mill and Alta Rd.")

The Kentucky Mountain Bike Association knows the wild dill area of Glen Lily as "Montana", a technical rocky trail which leads into another biodiversity gem of Glen Lily downstream of the Bernheim Bridge: "No-Net Trail" which traverses a rare native cane (Arundinaria gigantea) population. The cane was absent from Slack's flora, suggesting that somehow it had been eaten away by the time of Slack by sheep, goats and horses, in the days of bridle paths, and before lawn mowers, and zero-turn gas-powered lawnmowers and diesel tractors. 

The wild dill site (Glen Lily- B North) grows hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), "invasive" Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), chinquapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii), redbud (Cercis canadensis), Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra), bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), Standish honeysuckle (Lonicera standishii) and Asian bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii). The latter two, both considered "invasive species" were not even present at the time of Slack in 1941, and have mostly come in to Cherokee Park since the 1974 tornado's disturbance, and by intentional planting by the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet for erosion control.

Otherwise a flowering plant easily mistaken for onions: crow poison (Nothoscordum bivalve) and false Solomon Seal (Maianthemum racemosum) also grow. A small amount of bottlebrush rye (Elymus hystrix) also grows out of heavy clay, and highly eroded soil, with dolomitic gravel from the cliffs above. Otherwise a weedy mish-mosh of common chickweed (Stellaria pubera) and hairy bitter cress (Cardamine hirsuta) plague the calcareous seeps that water this slope. 

Eastern yampeh, or wild dill was rare even in 1941 according to Slack. It is also known as "thicket parsley." It is a perennial plant with stems hairless and rounded. Its bloom is white in April-May and was first observed in flower in 2011 on April 21st, on a botanical walk of herbalist Myron Hardesty and Josh Wysor the year following the Coast Guard honeysuckle removal. It had been previously misidentified as a waif wild fennel plant (Foeniculum vulgare). Its leaves are longer and thicker than Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota). 

Wild dill was never mentioned in McMurtrie's 1819 "Florula Louisvillensis." A close relative to wild dill known as squaw's potato is listed as edible by Plants for a Future database: Perideridia gairdneri. It is not known if the plant is toxic or not, but it is suspected to be non-toxic. 

The period of bloom runs from April 21, 2011 first bloom and April 23, 2013 almost blooming as a first bloom to May 27 as an end bloom in 2013. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Reappearance of the Crested Coral Root Orchid: A Tale of the Orchid and the Vine

The research of noted orchid scholar Stephen R. Hill at the University of Illinois at Champagne-Urbana would suggest that we have a gem that in 2008 may have approached a national record. The population of Crested Coral Root Orchid that grows near Ward's Mill in Louisville's Cherokee Park was one of the largest of its kind in 2006-2008. Dr. Hill teaches in the university's Division of Biodiversity and Ecological Entymology. A population in Oklahoma is believed to have outnumbered the potentially 100-150+ plants seen in Cherokee Park in 2008-2010, numbering several hundred in a blackjack/post oak community. No other populations approach these two, within the research of Dr. Hill.

A photo collage on Flickr would suggest that the orchid occurs at a similar density, but fewer numbers, numbering more than dozens of plants at the Atlanta, Georgia Botanical Gardens. According to Dr. Hill and other botanists consulted for his Conservation assessment, it is rare for the orchid to occur in populations larger than a dozen flowers in any locality it occurs. 

Crested coral root (Hexalectris spicata), is a saprophytic orchid; meaning, it lives in symbiosis with the roots of the trees which occur in "Glen Lily" as the area is known by the Olmsted Parks Conservancy. This fungal relationship feeds off the nutrient sharing fungal network known as mycotrophic, or ectomychorrhizal fungi. 

The orchid may disappear underground for periods of up to ten years, and it is not known how to propagate it. A flower resembling purple asparagus with notes of brown and pink, first rises from ground during the end of June, once warm weather rises to sweltering conditions leading into the 4th of July. Crested coral root blooms until at least the last week of August, with 2013 being an unusually cool summer, finally warming up into the mid 90s by the last week. 

When open, the orchid has softly painted brushstrokes of purple upon a yellow lower. Spiderwebs are seen on the orchids, but the flowers are not believed to be pollinated. What we see above ground in the individual flower stems are our only clue as to the presence of this unusual orchid.

The white tailed deer living in Cherokee Park are believed to browse on the orchids, although chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons or opossums may also dine upon the orchids. 

What the orchid likes is clear. It loves thin, rich soil, limestone, open woods and glades. In Cherokee Park, it appears to be associated with Shumard oak (Quercus shumardii), black oak (Quercus velutina), chestnut oak (Quercus montana), chinquapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii), blue ashes (Fraxinus quadrangulata), green ashes (Fraxinus pensylvanica) American elm (Ulmus americana), American beech (Fagus grandifolia), hackberry (Celtis occidentalis), white oak (Quercus alba), shagbark hickory (Carya laciniata), Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra), Pawpaw (Asimina triloba), blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium), Sugar maple (Acer saccharum), Eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana), redbud (Cercis canadensis) and bladdernut (Staphylea trifoliata). This would be known as a subxeric hardwood forest. The soil is well drained due to its slope with rich black topsoil occuring over heavy clay.

After a careful study of the other locations nationwide the crested coral root occurs, the following plants all are potential associates for this orchid. 

While in 2008,  a non-native "invasive" ground cover called "five leaved Akebia" or "chocolate vine" (Akebia quinata) blanketed the ground in this patch of open woods, the crested coral root existed in numbers as high as 100-150+ plants (Patricia D. Haragan).

The vine is called chocolate vine for its reportedly delicious fruit, which has only occurred once in the observation of Haragan, once Olmsted Parks Conservancy's staff botanist, publishing a flora this fall of the plants of the Olmsted Parks of Louisville, Kentucky.

So in 2008, the record setting year of the Coral Root, the ground cover was less than 1 foot deep soil and broken limestone from a Dolomitic cliff that straddles the boundary of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I would postulate that the ground cover may have provided the following benefits to the orchid: it maintained disturbance, by strangling any young saplings that threatened the openness of the forest floor. It therefore prevented the shrub layer from invading the open conditions the orchid seems to prefer. But don't think of it as sunlight competition. 

The orchid mainly lives underground. So it is mainly a matter for soil science to sort out. The chemistry of the fungal and bacterial colonies that live in the soil, coupled with the characteristics of the above ground trees, shrubs, grasses, and forbs (wildflowers) produces this orchid. It grows in association with the other plants, an ecologist would say.

The native grasses of this area are limited to bottlebrush rye (Elymus hystrix), while the forbs consist of tall American bellflower (Campanulastrum americanum), tall upland boneset (Eupatorium serotinum), and three lobed black eyed Susan (Rudbeckia triloba). A small amount of false Solomon's Seal occurs in this area as well (Maianthemum racemosum) and Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolius).

Besides Five Leaved Akebia, the other "invasive species" are garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), winter creeper (Euonymus fortuneii) - only one orchid has ever been seen growing from the winter creeper, and Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), which grows on the cliffs above the orchid, but has probably not invaded the soil occupied by Hexalectris spicata.

As the exotic Akebia vine has been controlled by foliar applications of glyphosate herbicide, the warnings of Dr. Stephen R. Hill have come true. He warns in "Conservation Assessment for the Crested Coral Root Orchid (Hexalectris spicata (Walter) Burnhart)" that fungicides and herbicides should not be used over a population of the orchid. Fire, should be used in preference of the other two methods to manage pathogenic fungi, or invasive species, is the inference suggested by his research.

The orchid population has been diminishing each year since 2008 in size. In 2010 as many as 100+ orchids occurred (Wysor). It was also 2010 that the United States Coast Guard under the management of Joe Manning released another rare plant suppressed by bush honeysuckle: Eastern yampeh (Perideridia americana). 

This same stump treatment method with glyphosate not foliar sprayed but rather carefully painted on cut stumps has restored another rare plant in the same area: Eastern yampeh (Perideridia americana) a wild relative of the carrot which is exceedingly rare in Kentucky, listed in Mabel Slack's 1941 Cherokee Park flora, and was rediscovered in flower in April 2011 by Wysor.

Then in winter of 2013 another rediscovery of purple cliff brake (Pellaea atropurpurea) and blunt lobed cliff fern (Woodsia obtusa). These discoveries have confirmed to a greater degree what Pat Haragan's survey of Cherokee Park had initially suggested: the Glen Lily area has the greatest biodiversity and intact remnant plant communities of the entire Louisville Park system, with a few exceptions at Iroquois Park.

In fall 2011, the chocolate vine was sprayed, killing much of the ground cover where the orchid resided resulting in a loss of topsoil, and exposing the heavy clay subsoil (Wysor). The upper areas above the trail along the cliff were sprayed last, as part of several 8% foliar glyphosate applications resulting in a loss of a test control (Wysor).

However when in 2012, during summer, Olmsted Parks Conservancy Woodlands Restoration Crew removed Asian bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) and Standish honeysuckle (Lonicera standishii) using a 25-50% concentrated stump treatment on chainsawed stumps, a new control plot emerged. On very sporadic centers, a light infestation of shrub cover now provided the control necessary to test herbicide application in proximity to the orchid. Due to the low density of the invasion, the amount of herbicide used was less than that used in the foliar applications to treat Akebia vine. It would seem the theory of David Fothergill, 2008 Olmsted Parks' Woodlands Restoration Manager, now with the US Forest Service may have been correct: stump treatments of higher concentration herbicide are less harmful to mychorrhizal associations than blanket foliar treatments at high concentrations.

What has occurred is that the population of the orchid has spread into the area previously occupied by the Asian bush honeysuckle, which is known to nitrify the soil, adding excess nitrogen, encourage invasive earthworms, and result in a quick breakdown of leaf litter according to Dr. Margaret Carreiro, Urban Ecology Professor of the University of Louisville, who has spoken on the phenomena on local television interviews spotlighting the environment. 

Since 2011's honeysuckle removal, where the population of the orchid has spread and has already started to build up a deposition of leaves, the humus is primarily oak leaves: black oak (Quercus velutina), chinquapin oak (Quercus muhlenbergii), red oak (Quercus rubra), Ohio buckeye (Aesculus glabra) blue ash (Fraxinus quadrangulata) and red elm (Ulmus rubra). It is not known how the death of the blue ashes and green ashes in this area will impact the growth of the orchid. But oaks are most important to this relationship, according to Hill.

Additionally, as Dutch Elm's Disease fungus has occurred in Louisville since the 1930s, it is not known to have an impact on the growth of the orchid. But when Mabel Slack wrote her flora in 1941, she does not list elms in her flora whatsoever. Whether this was an omission, or she declined to collect specimens for fear of spreading the fungus, we may never know. It is possible that even seedling elms had been deleted from Cherokee Park during the initial spread of the disease, though this is hard to fathom from their relative abundance in modern day times. 

The vine may also have provided moisture and shade from sunlight during periods of drought, by protecting the top of the slope's topsoil layer from rain, or sun during daylight hours to this south-facing slope. The vine's evergreen growth habit may have protected soil from winter freezing, and helped capture moisture from melting snows, ice. 

At the time of this publication, Sept. 1, 2013, the orchid has just gone underground for the growing season. Last Saturday, as I walked with a labor organizer with AFSCME, we counted less than a dozen still blooming. Troubleingly, there were never more than 35 orchids in bloom, and as few as 50-60 all year counting all the stems eaten, wilted, or trampled. 

The Akebia vine lay at heights of no more than one foot depth, climbing the undergrowth whenever it could, obtaining heights up to 30 feet, still visible in some of the American elms growing on Beargrass Creek across from a Native Cane planting at the design of Charles David Fothergill, Woodlands Restoration Manager in 2008, the year of the record. Noted Kentucky botanist and cane plantationist Julian Campbell helped guide the planting effort which simulated a design by Frederick Law Olmsted used along the entrance road of the Biltmore Estate, which Olmsted besides Cherokee Park was his final design.

From the vantage point of the edge of the orchid population to the East, where pawpaws grow, and produced fruit this year, one can see the restored Olmstedian cane plantation across Beargrass Creek, where water willows (Justicia americana) grow upon the shoals of the Creek at a rare location where the stream bank is still healthy, because it runs across a gigantic slab of Jeffersonville Limestone the surging sewers of Beargrass Creek have not been able to flush into the Ohio River, with its mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris), Japanese chaff flower (Achyranthes japonica), and wild bean (Phasoleus polystachios). 

Missing from this equation is the Short's goldenrod (Solidago shortii) not yet discovered at the time of McMurtrie's Florula Louisvillensis. Missing also is the big leaved scurf pea (Orbexilum stipulatum), now believed extinct, that may have grown on Beargrass Creek at this location. 

Also we do not have bobcats, bears, wolves, elk, or bison. 

How will the crested coral root orchid persist into the future of this biome? Only time will tell. 

Monday, July 22, 2013

Louisville, Kentucky has a rich botanical history. As a city founded in 1777, there's a long written record of the floral discoveries Europeans made in this unique intersection of the Knobs region, the Outer Bluegrass Region and the Ohio River Valley floodplains. Famed botanists such as Andre Michaux, his son Andre Michaux, Constantine S. Rafinesque and Charles Wilkins Short, Robert Peter, Henry Griswold, P. A. Davies, Max Medley, Patricia Haragan and Julian Campbell have all made great contributions to our botanical knowledge of this region.

Two centuries ago, in 1819, Dr. Henry McMurtrie published Sketches of Louisville and its Environs, Including Among a Great Variety of Miscellaneous Matters: a Florula Louisvillensis or a Catalog of Nearly 400 Genera and 600 Species of Plants That Grow in the Vicinity of the Town, Exhibiting Their Generic, Specific, and English vulgar names. 

The title, incredibly long as was often the case with many 19th century gentleman's publications, sums up the contents of the list rather completely.

There are flaws and misidentifications, including plants not yet discovered which are absent from the list, but Florula Louisvillensis provides great insight into the state of the flora as it was early into the settlement of the town. There are many vegetables, herbs, crops, and early European weeds listed in addition to a plush list of native herbs, grasses, and aquatic plants.

The earliest crops being grown in Louisville included corn, soybeans, buckwheat, wheat, hemp, hops, tobacco, and jute, while vegetable gardens contained a combination of native and European vegetables such as North American natives: potatoes, squash, pumpkins, peppers, Jerusalem artichokes, and tomatoes. Louisville's earliest introduced vegetables included asparagus, parsnip, okra, kidney and lima beans, sweet potato, garlic, shallots, horseradish, cabbage, mustard, eggplants, beets, radishes, turnips, cucumbers, garden strawberries, watermelons, and spinach.

Now completely absent from the city, were the wild strawberries (Fragaria virginica) that graced lawns, which have since been completely supplanted by false Indian strawberry (Duchesnea indica) which would not have been in Louisville until much later. Where we now grow leeks, wild ramps would have once grown in many of our rich woods (Allium tricoccum) -[not listed in Florula]

We now fill out our farmer's markets with novel exotic vegetables such as arugula, kohlrabi, Siberian kale, canteloupes, peanuts, broccoli, zucchini, leeks, figs.

European herbs such as basil, fennel, rosemary, oregano, marjorum, thyme, carrots, celery, parsley, yarrow, Roman chamomile, mayweed, lavender, catnip, sheep sorrel, and mugwort were mentioned in Florula Louisvillensis.

The orchards of the early 1800s contained introduced apple, peach, and pear trees, red raspberries, and native blackberries, dewberries, currants and black raspberries. Early 19th century Louisville also contained native wild fruit and nut trees such as pawpaws, persimmon, black huckleberries (Gaylussacia baccata syn. Vaccinium resinosum), hickories (Carya spp. syn. Juglans spp.), butternuts, hazelnuts, and black walnuts.

Medicinal European plants included Castor beans (Ricinus communis), common burdock (Arctium minus) and common mullein (Verbascum thapsus). When C.S. Rafinesque published Medical Flora: Or, Manual of the Medical Botany of the United States, fully 77% of the plants listed were native to North America, according to Ronald Stuckey a famous Charles W. Short researcher. Dr. C. W. Short was known for his time teaching early American medical botany at Transylvania University, later moving to Louisville and playing a key role in the founding of the medical academy that would become the University of Louisville.

The earliest Kentucky forage grasses were barley, spring rye, oats, Timothy, perennial rye, and the native grasses, Virginia rye, woodland bluegrass (Poa), switchgrass, and Kentucky's native bamboo, giant river cane (listed in duplicate as both Miegia arundinaria, Arundo gigantea) now known as Arundinaria gigantea.

Prairie grass enthusiasts find Indian grass (Sorghastrum nutans syn. Andropogon nutans, L.), feather grass (Stipa virginiana), Bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis), Broom sedge (Andropogon virginicus), eastern gama grass (Tripsacum dactyloides), Canary grass, Phalaris Grass (Phalaris arundinacea), but notably absent were Big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii), dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepsis), and river oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). Early perennial year round grazing patterns may have put a lot of pressure on certain grassland species in the days soon after the disappearance of the migratory buffalo.

I speculate that many plants poisonous to grazing cattle, sheep, and goats might have disappeared quickly due to agricultural eradication attempts including false indigo (Baptisia spp.) -[not listed], and Wild Lupines (Lupinus perennis) which did make the list.

Wetland plants of this list have been largely devastated by the 20th century draining of the Wet Woods to install the drainage canals throughout Fairdale and Auburndale to the southwest of Louisville. Certain ponds, lakes, and marshes contain disjunct populations of some of these species which are all but gone otherwise: sweet flag (Acorus calamus), Pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata), Steeplebush (Spiraea tomentosa), the now extinct Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), swamp lousewort (Pedicularis lanceolata), swamp speedwell (Veronica scutellaria), bog violet (Viola lanceolata), Bladderwort (Utricularia macrorhiza), Willow herb (Decodon verticillatus), Illinois pondweed (Potamogeton illinoensis)- [being herbicided in FINS properties to make fishable], Twisting screwstem (Bartonia paniculata syn. Centaurella paniculata), and Swamp tupelo (Nyssa aquatica), Arrow arum (Arum virginicum), and Marsh St. John's wort (Triadenum virginicum), Virginia willow (Itea virginica).

Some notably missing forbs from this list, now rare, endangered, or extinct include Big leaved scurf pea (Orbexilum macrophyllum), Short's Goldenrod (Solidago shortii), Running buffalo clover (Trifolium stoloniferum), Kentucky glade cress (Leavenworthia exigua var. laciniata), the rare saprophytic Crested Coral Root Orchid (Hexalectris spicata), Indian turnip (Medeola virginiana), Green dragon (Arisaema dracontium). Even the common wingstem (Verbesina alternifolia) was absent the list.

Some surprising species listed in Florula Louisvillensis include Golden club (Orontium aquaticum), Skunk cabbage (Symplocos foetidus), Trailing arbutus (Epiegaea repens), partridge berry (Mitchella repens), spotted wintergreen (Chimaphilus maculata), Great rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum), Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), High bush cranberry (Viburnum macrocarpon syn Vaccinium macrocarpa), American columbo (Frasera verticillata), Indian paintbrush (Castilleja coccinea syn. Bartsia coccinea), Virginia Tephrosia (Tephrosia virginiana syn. Galega virginiana), Fairywand (Chamaelirium luteum syn. Veratrum luteum), Green False Hellebore (Veratrum viride), Eastern featherbells (Stenanthium gramineum syn. Veraterum angustifolium), Leather leaf (Myrica asplenifolia), Meadow beauty (Rhexia virginiana), hemlock (Tsuga canadensis syn. Pinus abies), and the endangered American barberry (Berberis canadensis).

The earliest traces of European and Eurasian weeds in 1819 Louisville, KY included Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale syn, Leontice), ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea), groundsel (Senecio vulgaris), Poison hemlock (Conium maculatum), Queen Anne's lace (Daucus carota), Daisy (Leucanthemum vulgare), Indian heliotrope (Heliotropum indicum), roadside pennycress (Thlaspi alliaceum), common field bindweed (Convolvulus arvensis), Teasel (Dipsacus sylvestris), perennial sowthistle (Sonchus oleraceus), hedge mustard (Sisymbrium officinale), speedwells (incl. Veronica agrestis), English plantain (Plantago lanceolata), clovers (Trifoliums), stinkgrass (Eragrostis cilianensis syn. Briza eragrostis) and forget me not (Myosotis scirpioides). To this day, they each can be easily found in dense populations almost anywhere in the city.

The flora of 1819 contained no traces of modern invasive species such as garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Johnson grass (Sorghum halepense), Tree of heaven (Ailanthus altissima), Princess Tree (Paulownia tomentosa), Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), Lesser celandine (Ficaria verna), Japanese knotweed (Polygonum cuspidata), Kudzu (Pueraria montana), Porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), Chicory (Cichorium intybus), Asian bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii), Japanese honeysuckle vine (Lonicera japonica), Crown vetch (Segurigera varia), Autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata), Clematis (Clematis ternifolia), Shepherd's purse (Capsella bursa-pastoris syn. Thapsia trifoliata), or Musk thistle (Carduus nutans).

There had already been the introduction of the hedgerow shrub species Privet (Ligustrum vulgaris) which is quite invasive in modern day Louisville. Some less aggressive ornamental European additions to the landscape of 1819 included European Larch, European St. John's Wort, Quince bush, Lilac, and European hawthorn.

A couple questionable orchids appear on the list: the Three Birds Orchid (Triphora trianthosphora syn. Arethusa pendula), and the Dragon's Mouth orchid (Arethusa bulbosa) which doubtfully ever occurred in Louisville or Kentucky. Additionally some milkworts (Polygala spp.) were listed, which did really occur here but are very rare.

In place of our invasive 21st century honeysuckle one would have found orange trumpet honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens syn. Lonicera virginiana), which has been nearly driven locally extinct, now only known to occur wild in Iroquois Park. Where we would now find Oriental bittersweet vine, once Wax work grew (Celastrus scandens), which now only grows well in southern Jefferson and north Bullitt Counties, locally speaking.

The northeastern shrub Pinebarren goldheather (Hudsonia ericoides) was a waif, if it ever really grew in Louisville but found its way onto Frederick Law Olmsted's list of Woody Plants of Kentucky planted in Cherokee Park by virtue of its appearance on McMurtrie's list. The same was the case for American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) which has not been recorded growing native and wild in Kentucky. Several Andromeda also found their way into Olmsted's arboretum style design for Cherokee Park. Many
of the Ericaceous (Heath family) shrubs listed by McMurtrie were also unsuccessfully attempted by Olmsted on Cherokee Park's limestone soils, though probably occurred in Knobs, such as Iroquois Park, Waverly Park and Jefferson Memorial Forest. The exotic buttercup--devil in the bush (Nigella damascena), is not found in Kentucky in modern times, but may have appeared here in the 19th century. http://plants.usda.gov/core/profile?symbol=NIDA

Some plants now long missing from Louisville, listed by McMurtrie include American chestnut (Castanea americana), American chinquapin (Castanea pumila), Virginia bunchflower (Veratrum virginicum), Wyandotte beauty (Synandra hispidula), White Gentian (Gentiana alba), Atamasco lily (Zepharanthes atamasco), Canada lily (Lilium canadense), Woodland pinkroot (Spigelia marilandica), Canadian Yew (Taxus canadensis), Lupine (Lupinus perennis), and wood lily (Lilium philadelphicus). 

Others from Florula Louisvillensis which have become exceedingly rare include American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius), Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis), Big toothed Aspen (Populus grandidentata) misidentified as quaking Aspen.

Not only did McMurtrie's list include vascular plants, but also a list of fungi and mosses and lichens growing in the vicinity of Louisville. The list was rather limited and crude, but still it mentioned six species of Boletus, Agaricus mushrooms limited to two genera. Mosses included six genera: Brium, Fontanalis, Hypnum, Mnium, Phascum, and Sphagnum. Over the last two centuries, many discoveries have been made in this field including Morels (Morchella), Chicken of the Woods (Laetiporus),

The full list can be viewed at http://books.google.com/books/about/Sketches_of_Louisville_and_Its_Environs.html?id=ySAmAAAAMAAJ beginning at page 211.

Then in 1941, a master's thesis was published by a Louisville, KY schoolteacher named Mabel Slack for Cornell University under Dr. Wiegand, which exhibited the flora of Cherokee Park (located in the Highlands neighborhood). The floral inventory showcased the surviving flora of the park designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, who was heavily informed of the local flora by C.S. Rafinesque's list allegedly plagiarized by McMurtrie for the Florula Louisvillensis according to Mabel Slack.