Picture Ohio! – Shawnee, Wildflower Photography Tips, & Flora-Quest!

Bluets & Lousewort, Jackson County, Ohio
Bluets & Lousewort, Jackson County, Ohio

During my visit to the Shawnee State Forest area in southern Ohio on April 2-3 there were many early spring wildflowers in bloom. In this article I’ll share images of some of my favorites, as well as provide some suggestions on where to find them and some tips to help improve your wildflower photography.

There are scores of species of spring wildflowers in southern Ohio. One of my favorites is the tiny, delicate Bluets (Houstonia caerulia), also called Quaker Ladies and Innocence. Bluets grows in large groups in woodland and grassy areas throughout southern Ohio. In the scene shown above, taken along a rural road  in Jackson County, the Bluets were growing with Lousewort (Pedicularis canadensis), also called Wood Betony. Lousewort got its name in Europe, where it was thought, erroneously, that if cattle ate  the Lousewort they would become covered with lice.

Columbine, Shawnee State Forest, Ohio
Columbine, Shawnee State Forest, Ohio

The beautiful Wild Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) grows on rocky bluffs and in dry, open woodlands throughout southern Ohio. Wild Columbine is the only species of columbine in Eastern North America, and is related to the blue, lavender, and white varieties found in the mountains of the American West. The slightest breeze causes the flowers to sway, so you’ll need to wait for a lull in order to get a sharp photograph of these gorgeous flowers. You may wish to set your camera’s ISO to 400 or even higher so you can use a faster shutter speed to combat any movement of the flowers during the exposure.

Larkspur, Ohio River Bluffs Preserve, Ohio
Dwarf Larkspur, Ohio River Bluffs Preserve, Ohio

The wooded bluffs along the Ohio River in Scioto and Adams Counties are great places to look for Dwarf Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne), whose deep purple flowers often cover the hillsides in early spring, as shown in the photo above, taken at Ohio River Bluffs Preserve, near Manchester in Adams County. Ohio River Bluffs is part of the Arc of Appalachia Preserve system, which protects more than 2,500 acres of natural areas in five counties between the Scioto River and the western edge of the Appalachians in southwest Ohio. Each year the Arc of Appalachia hosts a Wildflower Pilgrimage in mid-April – this year it will be held on April 20-22. Local naturalists lead hikes and auto trips to the Arc of Appalachia preserves as well as to Shawnee State Forest and other natural areas. This is a great way to learn more about spring wildflowers, as well as visit the Arc’s Appalachian Forest Museum, which features displays and educational programs that tell the story of America’s eastern temperate forest. For more information on the Arc of Appalachia and the Wildflower Pilgrimage, visit their website at:  www.arcofappalachia.org

Dwarf-crested Iris, Jackson County, Ohio
Dwarf Crested Iris, Jackson County, Ohio

There are several species of wild iris in Ohio, and two of them can be found in the Shawnee area in spring. The more common variety is the Dwarf Crested Iris (Iris cristata), which flowers in woodlands, often in large groups. Drive the forest roads of Shawnee State Forest in April and early May to find this beautiful wildflower. Maximize depth-of-field in these forest scenics by using a small f/stop (f/11 or f/16) and focusing about halfway up the picture frame. Technically you should focus on a point called the hyperfocal distance, about one-third of the way into the scene, but focusing halfway up the picture frame will usually provide a similar result.

Vernal Iris, Shawnee State Forest, Ohio
Vernal Iris, Shawnee State Forest, Ohio

Much less common in Ohio is the Vernal Iris (Iris verna), which has bright green, narrow leaves and lavender flowers which have a yellow stripe, bordered in white, but no crest. Most of the places I have found this plant have been on the rocky edges of the forest roads on the high ridges of Shawnee State Forest, especially along the western section of Forest Road 2. This photograph was made with a 180mm macro lens, my favorite lens for close-up photography. A long focal length macro lens, in the range of 180-200mm, provides a comfortable working distance that was very helpful with these plants, which were growing high on a steep rocky bank and hard to approach.

Bird's-foot Violets, Shawnee State Forest, Ohio
Bird's-foot Violets, Shawnee State Forest, Ohio

Even rarer in Ohio is the bi-colored form of the Bird’s-foot Violet (Viola pedata var. bicolor), named for the shape of its leaves. In southern Ohio, where only a handful of isolated colonies of this splendid plant exist, the upper petals are deep purple and the lower petals are lavender. Look for the Bird’s-foot Violet on high rocky edges of the dirt roads, especially Forest Roads 2 and 5, in Shawnee State Forest.

Cross Vine at the Ohio Governor's Residence in Bexley, Ohio
Cross Vine at the Ohio Governor's Residence in Bexley, Ohio

The last plant I would like to share is a native vine, Cross Vine (Bignonia capreolata), that grows in a few counties in southern Ohio near the Ohio River, using its tendrils to climb up to 50 feet on rock faces and trees. I first became acquainted with this attractive plant several years ago while working on the photography for a book, Our First Family’s Home: The Ohio Governor’s Residence and Heritage Garden (Ohio University Press, 2006). The photo above was taken in the Wall Garden at the Ohio Heritage Garden, where the Cross Vine thrives. The photo below shows a large colony of Cross Vine flowering on a roadside limestone bluff near Rome in Adams County.

Cross Vine in Full Sun, Adams County
Cross Vine in Full Sun, Adams County

Notice anything different between this photo and all the others in this article? The photo above was made in full sun, which the Cross Vine loves but which is the kiss of death in wildflower photography. The washed out highlights and black shadows add a degree of visual complexity that ruins both the composition and the delicate colors of the flowers and foliage. The photo below, of the same group of Cross Vine, was taken early the next morning when the cliff and the Cross Vine were shaded and in diffuse light. Let me repeat: bright sunlight is the KISS OF DEATH for expressive wildflower photography. No exceptions! Take record shots of plants on sunny days if you must, but reserve your serious wildflower photography for cloudy or partly days, or early and late on sunny days. If you must shoot wildflowers on a bright sunny day, carry a diffusion screen (e.g. by Photoflex) that can be held or propped up between the plant and the sun to create diffused light.

Cross Vine in Shade, Adams County
Cross Vine in Shade, Adams County

The Shawnee State Forest area in Scioto and Adams Counties is a wonderful place for wildflower photography in spring, as well as a great destination for birdwatchers and butterfly lovers. If you would like to learn more about these subjects in the company of other nature enthusiasts, join the folks at Flora-Quest, a weekend event organized by Ohio nature lover and conservationist Cheryl Harner. Flora-Quest is held at the Shawnee State Park Lodge, and this year the event is scheduled for May 4-6.  Speakers include my friend and outstanding Ohio naturalist Guy Denny, who will give a presentation on Native Americans and ethnobotany. No less than 24 local and regional naturalists will conduct hikes into the far corners of Shawnee State Forest and the nearby Edge of Appalachia preserves in Adams County. There is no better way to learn about the birds, butterflies, plants, and cultural history of the Shawnee State Forest area than to join your fellow nature enthusiasts at Flora-Quest. For more information visit www.flora-quest.com

 

 

 

This Post Has 4 Comments

  1. Nice, I’ve never seen those irises. Planning on taking a drive this saturday, trying to decide between Yellow Springs and the gorge, which we’ve been to but not in spring, or Arch of the Appalachia which we’ve never seen. Which would you do? I know you recommend both for spring flowers in your book.

  2. Thanks Ian for the shooting tips and location information. It is always appreciated. I am going to Utah this week, any suggestions of where to shoot in Arches or Monument Valley?

    Take care,

    Bill

  3. Sabrina: Clifton Gorge and the Arc of Appalachia preserves would both be great destinations. Both will have great wildflower displays this weekend. Enjoy whichever you choose – Ian

  4. Bill: I have never been to Monument Valley. At Arches National Park, simply drive the main road through the park and visit as many arches as your time permits. Be sure to do the hike to Delicate Arch, preferably early or late in the day to avoid the tourist crowds.Your first view of Delicate Arch will be a view you will never forget! – Ian

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