Rebecca Thomas - Nature Notes column head format newest

Oct. 13 was a good day for a hike. The weather was perfect. The turning leaves needed people to see them before they fell. A friend and I had the time. Sometimes the question is where to go. This trek would be close to my home. Duty and time constraints made that mandatory. Should we choose Cooper Wildflower Garden, Jackson Lake, Scioto Trail, or Bristol Park? We settled on Scioto Trail’s Caldwell Lake.

After parking, we started counter-clockwise around the water. Three weeks into fall, nature is not dormant. Flowers are blooming. Insects are moving. Fish are swimming. Birding are singing. Nature is alive.

We found low-growing, bright yellow flowers. You could not miss these little bits of sunshine. Nodding Bur-Marigold favor damp places, wet but not flooded. A lakeside home fits that bill. These pollinator plants are members of the Daisy family. The shape of their flower does remind one of that flower.

NN20 - Nodding Bur-Marigold

Nodding Bur-Marigold

Ducks and other birds eat these seeds. Then those same birds sow those seeds. Seed dispersal by vertebrate animals (those with backbones) that eat the seeds is endozoochory. Endo- is a prefix meaning ‘within’. Zoo- is a prefix that means ‘animal’. Chory is a root word meaning ‘method of plant dispersal’. One nickname for this plant is ‘sticktight’. Thoreau, best known for his book “Walden” will tell you why: “If in October you have occasion to pass through or along some half-dried pool, these seeds will often adhere to your clothes in surprising numbers. It is as if you had unconsciously made your way through the ranks of some countless but invisible lilliputian army, which in their anger had discharged all their arrows and darts at you, though none of them reached higher than your legs.

Another member of the Daisy family caught my eye. Common yarrow is different from nodding bur marigold. It reminds me of Queen Anne’s lace. A Common Eastern Bumble Bee nectared on its corymb. A corymb is a flower cluster. The longer lower stalks cause the many, small flowers to have a flat head. Not many plants are native to Asia, Europe, and North America. Common yarrow is on that list. It grows in every state in the United States.

NN20 - Common Eastern Bumble Bee on common yarrow

Common Eastern Bumble Bee on common yarrow

The leaves go by many nicknames: millefolium (Latin for thousand-leaf), plumajillo (little feather in Spanish), squirrel tail, and thousand-leaf. If you saw them, you would know why. This hardy plant likes open, sunny areas. Carl Linnaeus, the father of modern taxonomy, used the genus name Achillea for common yarrow. He referenced Homer’s main character in “The Iliad”, the great Greek warrior Achilles. According to mythology, he used it to treat his army’s battle wounds. Civil War soldiers called it soldier’s woundwort. ‘Wort’ is an Old English word meaning ‘plant’. Its leaves have properties that stop bleeding. Native Americans used yarrow medicinally in many ways. Since the Middle Ages, people in Europe have brewed yarrow beer. During the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Corps of Discovery members gathered common yarrow near Kamiah, Idaho in May 1806.

As we made our way around the lake, my friend found a Common Watersnake. It was as still as a statue and well-camouflaged. We were not expecting it to be there. This snake is one of the most common in the eastern United States. It is non-venomous but can bite if disturbed. It was not far from the standing water of Caldwell lake, a preferred place.

NN20 - Common watersnake

Common watersnake

Common Watersnakes are light brown or gray with roughly 30 reddish or dark brown crossbands and blotches on their back and sides. The crossbands look like saddles. These snakes become darker as they age. On average, they are two to three and a half feet in length. Most of the time they eat amphibians frogs, salamanders, toads, and fish. They swallow their prey while still alive. Animals they should watch out for include Great Blue Herons, opossums, raccoons, and skunks.

From the snake spot to the red bridge was a short jaunt. This special place is one of my friend’s favorites. I can see why. The bridge overlooks the water leading to the lake. Talk about a photo opportunity! We reached it at “the golden hour.” (The period of daytime within an hour of sunrise or sunset when the light is softer.) We were there before the predicted Ohio 25 peak for fall foliage this year. The leaves were pretty. ODNR gives frequent Fall Color Updates for the state at and on their YouTube channel.

NN20 - scenic view at red bridge

This scenic view can be seen on the red bridge that allows visitors to cross over to a small island at Caldwell Lake in Scioto Trail State Park.

David Angotti is a statistics expert who lives in Tennessee. He created the Fall Foliage Prediction Map to help people decide when to visit the Great Smoky Mountains. His goal was to help them see the most beautiful leaves in autumn. Leaves peaked later this year across the country because of prolonged drought.

We did have good color in Ohio. The leaves were still beautiful a week after that date. Now that we are experiencing hard frosts, those pockets of color will not last.

Sunlight, rain, soil moisture, and temperature all affect peak fall foliage. Leaves are not really green. Chlorophyll masks their true colors most of the year. In fall, we get to see them as they really are before most let go and drop to the ground. They have finished their work for another year.

Any day is a good day for a hike. The weather does not matter that much if you are healthy and hale. Preparing for the elements and being safe are paramount. Use some common sense. Pick a place. Do what you can. That might be the Buckeye Trail for one person and a walk in the yard for another. When and where you can, go!

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