It had been 4 weeks to the day since the photographer’s last hike, having been laid low with her bout with Covid, and I was interested in getting her out for a “reconditioning” walk. At the same time, allowing her to spend a little time in a prairie – one of her favorite habitats for photography – would be ideal. This article leapfrogged 4 others that our daughters helped me pool as the photographer convalesced, as we are entering peak prairie season in the Ohio River Valley and I wanted to make readers aware of the opportunity.
The Shared-Use Trail is a 1.2 mile asphalt loop with mildly rolling terrain – ideal for this rehab effort. It weaves through both a parkland setting as well as a prairie meadow – one of the best “planted” prairies that I have seen.
From the parking area the trail parallels a young woodland border. There we saw a cluster of False Sunflower.
We saw it a little later on the hike, again on a woodland edge, its preferred environs.
As we worked our way through the parkland setting what struck me was the diversity of trees that were growing there. They were not formally labeled but I identified 27 species of trees without leaving the asphalt path. It would be a great place to practice tree identification.
One of my favorites to see was this healthy medium size Ash tree.
It’s health made me suspect that it was a Blue Ash, as they were much less susceptible to Emerald Ash Borer, with 90% of specimens surviving. The identification was confirmed when I found the square shape to the distal branches. This can be seen by the corner angle on the twigs in this photo.
One interesting tree pairing that we saw along the path was the wise placement of a Chestnut tree hybrid next to a Chestnut Oak. It allowed for comparing the two. The teeth on the Chestnut leaves, on the left, are more pointed than those of the Chestnut Oak, on the right, and have a bristle.
The nuts are also different. The chestnut, on the left, has a spikey husk whereas the Chestnut Oak has the beginning of a typical acorn, as seen on the right.
Prior to the arrival of Chestnut Blight in 1904, one in every 4 trees in the eastern United States was an American Chestnut. Mature trees, which reached heights of 100 feet, could produce up to 6000 chestnuts per year and therefore were important for wildlife. The wood, with its straight grain, strength, and rot resistance, was a valuable timber source. In the 1980s scientists started hybridizing the American Chestnut with the Chinese Chestnut due to its resistance to the blight. By selecting offspring with the most American Chestnut characteristics, and breeding these hybrids with American Chestnuts, which is termed “back crossing”, they now have hybrids that roughly 94% genetically American.
In this setting we were also entertained by the aerial acrobatics of a flock of barn swallows as they twisted and turned catching insects over a mowed grass field. They are best identified by their light rust colored abdomen and deeply forked tail.
Soon we were greeted by this view where the path entered the prairie area.
It was here that we got the photo of the Ashy Sunflowers seen in the title photo. They occurred in large swathes, featuring the 2 to 3 inch yellow flower heads and the dusky grey (Ashy) foliage.
We particularly liked this angled view of the flower which revealed an interesting texture to the flower head.
Another exciting sighting was Whorled Rosinweed. It can reach heights of 7 feet. Did we say it was tall?
I gently bent it over to get a good look at its flowers.
One of its identifying features are the whorled leaves that encircle the stem.
Another tall yellow flower was Yellow Wingstem, which is also called Yellow Ironweed.
One plant that got our attention was Compass Plant, which was reaching heights of 10 to 12 feet. The stem branches into numerous sunflower like blossoms. Its name comes from the leaves which tend to orient themselves in a north or south direction.
But it wasn’t just yellows that colored the meadow:
Bergamot – our native Bee Balm, occurred in large groupings, and were visited by pollinators of all types.
Ironweed – just starting its flowering season, it will be a prairie stalwart through the fall. Here we saw it in two forms; with the typical spaced flower heads, and some with closely spaced flower heads resembling a ball.
Rattlesnake Master – it brings to mind a collection of adjectives: Primitive appearing, non-flamboyant, and spiky . Yes, those are its active flower heads.
Flowering Spurge – a more understated flower and plant. On first glance, with its small well spaced flowers, it resembles Baby’s Breath that you see in floral arrangements.
Other flowers we saw that we have mentioned on recent posts included Meadow Pink, Goldenrod, and Queen Anne’s Lace.
But color was not just provided by the flowers, butterflies added their own, as well as the animation of their flight patterns.
Tiger Swallowtail – these were the most numerous butterflies on this day. The first is on a Teasel flower, the second on Monarda.
Spicebush Swallowtail – on Monarda.
Red Spotted Purple – sunning itself on a White Oak leaf. They lay their eggs exclusively on trees of many different tree species, but I did not find oaks mentioned as one of them.
Pearly Crescentspot – on Queen Anne’s Lace. It is one of the more common butterflies of the eastern meadow.
Odds and Ends –
These seed pods of False Indigo tell us that this meadow would have pastel blue or white flowers in late May and early June.
This colony of Tent Caterpillars was seen along the loop. Interestingly they were white in color. They are generally described as being dark brown or black with a white stripe down their backs. On warm sunny days they leave the tents to go out and feed on the leaves of the host tree – a Box-elder in this case.
One additional benefit of this walk is the expansive views it offers across the Ohio River to the hills of Kentucky.
New Plant of the Day – Illinois Bundleflower. I had seen this in my wildflower field guide but never in person and it is considered uncommon. Its leaves are similar to sensitive plant, being twice pinnate. The photo below shows one active flower, one that is spent, and several buds that are yet to bloom.
But it is the “bundle” of seed pods that give the plant its name.
The legume seed pod (think like a small pea pod) are bundled together into a ball.
In summary, the Shared-Use Trail at Woodland Mound Park was an ideal rehab track for the photographer. The gently rolling terrain gave her some element of physical challenge and the man made meadow was full of color and surprise for her photography. It is a great opportunity to see a prairie meadow for those who have mobility limitations. Finally, the entire route is a great place to see a variety of trees.
Footpathsblog.com posts are released every Sunday morning and some bonus content is added periodically. Please click on a social media icon above to follow for future posts and to make sure that you catch all our reflections on, and adventures with, the great outdoors.
Photo credits to Peggy Juengling Burns
Location – 12 miles from downtown Cincinnati in Anderson Township, Ohio.
Parking – large asphalt lot.
Trail Conditions – well maintained asphalt.
Print Map Link – none. See link below.
Benches – several seen along the route.
Picnic Tables – many in the parkland area.
Kids – kids of all ages would do well here. This would be a good route for a stroller and kids bikes as well.
Dogs – welcomed on a leash.
Suggested Paired Hikes – None.