May 7, 2014

Spring in Shawnee State Forest

In my last post I illustrated several of the spring sights at Adams County preserves. Hiking the many trails is the best way to explore those areas, but in adjacent Scioto County we usually drive and walk the mostly unpaved roads in Shawnee State Forest. As long as they haven't been mowed, the roadsides host a variety of interesting wildflowers. Birds and butterflies are also present in this rich area of southern Ohio.

One of our favorite things to do in the forest is to walk one of the unpaved roads that is closed to car traffic. This spring it was lined with colorful redbud trees that were breathtaking:

Here is a closer view of the beautiful blossoms:

The redbud is the caterpillar food plant for a tiny butterfly called the Henry's elfin; we saw a lot of these lovely insects this year:

Another road that we walked has a few stands of mountain laurel, which isn't very common in Ohio but it does occur in certain areas. It won't bloom till early summer, but it and blueberries are the caterpillar hosts for another tiny butterfly, the brown elfin, which was new for us this year:

Birdfoot violet is another uncommon plant in Ohio and it is one of our loveliest wildflowers. It likes dry slopes and is quite at home in this area of Shawnee:

Ohio has at least 20 species of violets, and another of my favorites is the lovely longspur violet:

Violets are caterpillar food plants for the fritillary butterflies, so don't try to eradicate them from your yard!

Another stunning wildflower is the vernal iris, a threatened species in Ohio. It spreads via rhizomes so can form large colonies:

On our last visit we enjoyed looking at the puffy blooms of the sassafras tree:

Sassafras is a beautiful tree that has gorgeous fall color. It and spicebush are caterpillar food plants for the beautiful spicebush swallowtail:

Four spicebush swallowtails and one zebra swallowtail.
A few dragonflies are out now; more will be flying as summer approaches. Here is one of the early ones, a female blue corporal:

Driving the roads in Shawnee State Forest is a great way to hear a lot of spring warblers and to see even more flowers and butterflies. Along one road, thanks to a tip from a friend, we found a lot of a small plant called Carolina vetch so we looked carefully for the butterfly that feeds on it, the silvery blue. We had never seen it before so we parked in a pullout beside the plant and searched the roadside for about a half hour. When we got back to our car, there was the butterfly, nectaring in the Carolina vetch:

Like many of the blues, the underside is pale but the upper side is a lovely blue:

We always enjoy driving up to Picnic Point for the view of the Ohio River

and for the butterflies that frequent the the flowers in the grassy areas. Here is a falcate orangetip nectaring on bluets:

The females lack the males' orange wing tips:

Female falcate orange-tip perched on the left and male hovering in flight on the right.
Shawnee State Forest is well worth a visit, especially in the spring. Extensive logging that is going on now may change things in the future; the longterm impact of the logging remains to be seen.


  1. Where we lived in Cincinnati, we had many redbuds around-a beautiful sign of spring. We had a sassafras in our front yard......wondered if I could make tea from the roots, but I never tried! Linda Hoffman

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