The challenge with hiking in Midwestern prairies is their beauty peaks at the same time that the summer temperatures dance around the 90 degree mark, making a prairie trek a sweltering endurance test.
With that reality, if I was going to design an ideal prairie hike, I would break the prairie exposure down into pocket sizes so the hiker’s sun exposure would be shorter. I would then have the trail wind from prairie pocket to shaded wood to prairie pocket, giving the hiker the opportunity to get out of the sun to cool down. To enrich the experience, I would give the prairies different sun exposures, soil types, and altitudes, allowing for a variation of plant populations. Finally I would place the entire ecosystem on hillsides and hilltops to allow gentle summer breezes to provide some cooling relief.
In fact, I just described the exceptional hike that one can experience on the trails at the E. Lucy Braun Lynx Prairie.
This was the second preserve which we have visited that is part of the outstanding Edge of Appalachia Preserve System, having visited Buzzardroost Rock previously. These outings have not disappointed us.
When we arrived ours was the only vehicle in the parking lot and we were immediately greeted by the Meadow Pink. Up to that time it had been an unidentified pink flower aside the road that had caught our attention on our drive to the preserve.
As I have written previously, the “Pinks” family are some of my favorite wildflowers, having seen the Marsh Pink on the Gulf Coast, and the Deptford Pink in the Midwest.
Leaving the trailhead, the path extends along the margin of a wood and prairie, heading up a comfortable grade.
We were only about 50 yards onto the trail, still within earshot of the parking area, when we heard additional cars hurriedly pull into the parking lot, and shortly later, had two guys, Daniel Boone (indeed, he showed me his I.D.) and Jim Bundy, bounding up the trail. They were excited and energetic and told us that they were professional botanists, who were also there to photographically document the flora. Their positivity about what we were going to experience added scientific credibility to the uniqueness and value of the ecosystem that we were just starting to enter.
The preserve is named for E. Lucy Braun, a pioneering and acclaimed female botanist at the University of Cincinnati from 1914 till 1948, who studied the ecology of these prairies and advocated for their protection. In 1959 the Nature Conservancy, following her suggestion, established the preserve, their first in Ohio, with the purchase of 42 acres. In its entirety The Edge of Appalachia Preserve System totals over 20,000 acres and is managed as a partnership between The Nature Conservancy and the Cincinnati Museum Center. The Lynx Prairie itself now totals 52 acres.
As mentioned previously, the trail weaves through both prairie islands, which total 10 in number, and forest. The woods are a mix of trees including Virginia Pine, Chestnut Oak, White Oak, and Red Oak, and have a relatively open understory, allowing for expansive views in all directions.
The trails are extremely well maintained and marked.
The prairie is described as a “dry limestone prairie”, which is found almost exclusively in Adams County, Ohio, and evidenced by the limestone rocks noted along the surface of the trail.
The changing landscape of prairie and woods adds great diversity to this hike. The woodland part of the hike itself was very rewarding. The presence of Virginia Pine, which is at the most western aspect of its range in Ohio, adds to this variety. In addition, the woods featured some shaded limestone outcroppings that hosted a collection of mosses, lichens, ferns and Columbine, another of my favorite wildflowers.
The marriage of the Bulblet Fern (medium green) and Purple Canebrake Fern (silvery blue) was even more enticing on close inspection.
But the passage from prairie to woods was not strict and frequently flowering plants would be found in the transition zone. These included St. John’s Wort in an upright shrub form with somewhat isolated flowers.
These pastel purple flowers of Heal-All, were thriving in the dappled shade of the wood edge.
I had been seeing the whorled compound leaves of Thimbleweed in dappled shade all spring and early summer and I was glad to finally be able to put a name to it using my wildflower field guide. It is also known as Tall Anemone.
Still, it was the brief passes through the prairies that made the day. What was interesting was that it seemed that each opening featured a different prairie flower. Or perhaps I was just distracted by the appearance of ever changing performers. In the title photo, and the one below, it was the Grey-headed Coneflower.
But the cast of characters was many:
Queen Anne’s Lace – which is a member of the carrot family and was used as part of the centerpieces at our July wedding nearly 40 years ago.
Whorled Rosinweed – like sunflowers, a member of the aster family.
Scaly Blazing Star – a butterfly favorite on this day.
Hoary Mountain Mint – the leaves smell of spearmint when crushed.
Purple Coneflower – these were not as common as I anticipated at Lynx Prairie.
Hairy Wild Petunia – these tend to have a trailing habit and are shorter than the other wild petunias.
Whirled Milkweed – I have seen some guidebooks refer to it as prairie milkweed. Its slender leaves are atypical for the milkweed family but it has the classic shaped milkweed flower.
Potato Vine – arises from a large bitter tasting sweet potato like tuber that can weigh up to twenty pounds. As the flower suggests, it is a member of the Morning Glory family.
Nodding Wild Onion – somewhat less showy than the other flowers, but common in prairies.
Pale Spiked Lobelia – a cousin of the fall flowering Blue Lobelia.
As I have said before, the flora (plant life) is not the only attraction of a prairie. There is also the fauna (animal life); in this case the insects, particularly the butterflies.
By far the most common butterfly on the day we visited was the Pipevine Swallowtail. Interestingly, we first saw it in caterpillar form, working its way along the trail on the edge of the woods, perhaps looking for a place to pupate.
Where they will turn into this beauty.
But being a butterfly is not all about cameo shots and bold colors as witnessed by these photos of aged and battle-worn specimens with tattered and bleached wings.
Often times you are just avoiding becoming someone’s dinner.
Perhaps this photo of a Pipevine Swallowtail was the photographer’s best work of the day. Notice the color difference between the lower (seen in the photo above) and upper sides (seen in the photo below) of their wings. All these photos are of the same butterfly species.
Maybe I spoke too soon, considering this inflight photo of a Spicebush Swallowtail.
There were many other butterfly sightings on the hike but given the vastness of the prairie and the need to remain on the trail of the preserve, capturing them with the camera was a challenge. Some others that the photographer was successful with included:
Little Wood Satyr
A less glamorous sighting, but not necessarily less interesting, were these brightly colored aphids on a Coneflower. As a gardener I sometimes need to be reminded that aphids are part of the ecosystem too.
Finally, no prairie insect photo album would be complete without a dragonfly photo:
Widow Skimmer Dragonfly
The interesting insect of the day was when a hummingbird moth sped into our environs, strafing between the hikers. Initially its flight pattern suggested a hummingbird, but then you realized that it was too small, just under 2 inches in length. There are 4 species of hummingbird moths in the United States and this one was a Hummingbird Clearwing. Its speed and maneuvering made photography a challenge but the photographer did fairly well.
With the shape of its tail it looks like a flying crayfish.
A hike at the Lynx Prairie, and the other preserves in Adams County, is a walk through history due to the area’s association with forest ecologist E. Lucy Braun and her sister, famed lepidopterist Annette Braun, who studied and collected butterflies and moths. Annette was also on the faculty at the University of Cincinnati, and both were world renown in there respective fields. Lucy Braun’s book Deciduous Forest of Eastern North America, published in 1950, is still considered an authoritative tome on the subject.
After we completed a gentle climb across the largest prairie patch to the top of the hill,
we arrived at “Annette’s Rock”, in the shade at the forest’s edge, a reported resting place for the Braun sisters.
For a more complete history on the Braun sisters and their careers, see the University of Cincinnati Magazine article link below.
Plant of the Day – About a week prior to this outing, I had read online that Lynx Prairie was home to the rare Crested Coralroot Orchid and that we would be visiting during its flowering period. The photos that I had seen indicated that it was less showy than the tropical and sub-tropical orchids that most are more familiar with, and that one would have to be observant to see them amongst their robust peers. The botanists that we ran into early in the hike confirmed this impression. We were well into the hike before our daughter Ellen noted the first one.
What looks to be a dying plant is actually full of life and closer study reveals the understated, but colorful, orchid flower.
In total we saw four specimens and I suspect that there are many more along the trail, but their smaller size (6 to 18 inches) and plainness makes them easy to overlook.
This orchid has no leaves, contains no chlorophyll, therefore is not green, and does not photosynthesize for nutrition. It is saprophytic, living off fungi and decaying organic matter. While this is unusual for an orchid, all plants are placed in family groups based on flower structure.
For additional photos of Crested Coralroot Orchids please see the link below to Jim’s Bundy’s Natures Ark Photography website.
In summary, a hike at the Lynx Prairie during the height of flowering season is a unique and rewarding outing. There are numerous rare and threatened plants and the colors are dynamic. The associated vibrant animal life is an added bonus. Soon Prairie Dock will be flowering, so try to find the time over the next 3 weeks to experience the prairies at their peak.
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Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns.
Location – 79 miles east of downtown Cincinnati in Adams County, Ohio.
Parking – Nice gravel lot for 6 cars.
Facilities – None. There is a Speedway about 7 miles away.
Trail Conditions – Well maintained bare dirt path. It has mild grade changes but I would still rate it an easy hike. I have seen distance listings of 1.5 to 1.9 miles and that may depend on whether you complete all the trail loops.
Benches – None, but there are some downed trees along parts of the trail that are usable.
Kids – This is an ideal place to take kids as the grade is relatively easy, footing is good and there is a lot to see at their eye level.
Dogs – Prohibited
Suggested Paired Hikes – The other Edge of Appalachia Preserves are nearby including Chaparral Prairie and Buzzardroost Rock.