Shawnee News-Star Sunday May 13 2018 Becky Emerson Carlberg The Oklahoma Native Plant Society held their 'Wonders of Wildflowers' 2018 field trip April 28-29 2018 at both Pontotoc Ridge and Oka'Yanahli Preserves, properties of The Nature Conservancy (TNC). We field botanists came to botanize and become more familiar with Pontotoc Ridge south of Ada. Ticks.   […]

Shawnee News-Star Sunday May 13 2018

Antelope Springs

Becky Emerson Carlberg

The Oklahoma Native Plant Society held their 'Wonders of Wildflowers' 2018 field trip April 28-29 2018 at both Pontotoc Ridge and Oka'Yanahli Preserves, properties of The Nature Conservancy (TNC).

We field botanists came to botanize and become more familiar with Pontotoc Ridge south of Ada. Ticks.   This area is saturated with ticks.   The feisty little arachnids were just emerging from winter and had a powerful thirst. The very first thing everyone did was to take the duct tape and wrap their pant or jean cuffs tightly around the ankles; some taped shoes to their socks and pants. This was to foil the little beasties from crawling under the material and up the legs.   Next came the Wonder Woman duct tape wrist band, with the sticky side out.   This fashion accessory was a practical tick picker upper if a tick managed to avoid the first line of defense.   Small pieces of duct tape were strategically placed on shirts to use as backups.   One could watch the ticks 'writhe and scream' cheerfully exclaimed Jona Tucker, Director of Pontotoc Ridge Complex.   The tape could then be folded into a square and safely discarded.

Jona knows a thing or two about ticks.   She has had her share of tick-borne diseases during her 12 year stint at Pontotoc Ridge.   Needless to say, be prepared when visiting.   There are not only ticks but bees, wasps, and other critters of nature.   Not a good idea to wear sandals or shorts (who in their right mind wants to be a walking tick buffet.)   Actually, I was on one hike at Pontotoc and watched the kid in front of me wearing a short-sleeved white t-shirt collect an amazing array of tiny ticks.   We emerged from the woods and counted over 100 ticks on his shirt.   Some years are bad and some are worse.

Now that you are sufficiently warned, remember here in Central Oklahoma the tick problem this year is every bit as awful.   The milder winter only made them angrier and hungrier.   Check yourself at night if you have ventured through any woods or gardens or yards that day.   Tick fever is a terrible thing to have.   I feel things crawling on me right now, and all I did this morning was plant tropical milkweed seeds in a few pots.

Mayapple plants were plentiful.   These wood-loving low-growing large-leafed herbaceous plants form colonies under trees.   They bloom in May and the fruits come later in the summer.     Why not call them Mayblooms or Julyapples?

Munched Yucca

The Yuccas were looking as if Leprechauns had gone wild with tiny chain saws and sliced off all the upper leaves.   Practically every plant had been cut, and there are hundreds of yuccas at the preserve.   The new growth must be tasty, but what is eating this tough plant?   Deer, offered one person.   Ground squirrels, rabbits, mice and pack rats have been seen to dine on yuccas in other areas.

I became excited when I saw green leaves that resembled Compass plant leaves sprouting from the center of the path.   Only problem was they were very small.   A fellow field tripper told me the plant was an Englemann's Daisy.   A native of central US, this high protein perennial is relished by wildlife, as are compass plants, but is much shorter with yellow flowers on the ends of the stems.   The Compass plant flowers form along their lengthy stems. The splash or red alerted us to a scarlet tanager flitting in a tree on the hill, confirmed by three sets of binoculars.

Have you heard of Oldplainsman?   I hadn't until someone pointed to the plant and proclaimed there it is.   There what is?   This native is only found in our elite south central area of OK, TX, AR and LA (KS claims it grows there.)   Drought tolerant and a biennial (grows one year, blooms the next), the sturdy fuzzy white flowering aster has deeply dissected bright green leaves.  Buried in the grass nearby were Adder's Tongue ferns.   All of 3 inches tall, each weird fern had one leaf and one spike with spores.

Side-stepping the flowers, the plant people soon stood parallel to the sinkhole, one of several that dot the area.   Interested folk gingerly hiked up the rocky, grass covered ridge to see the opening in the ground.   It was a deep, dark abyss with stone ledges and a few ferns sprouting from the sides. The cave-in had occurred years ago in this recharge area of the Arbuckle-Simpson Aquifer.   Winged elms grew in mass around the sinkhole as protectors of the crater.

Barrel Cacti

The trail took us to a plateau. We had to be careful where we put our feet.   Small 3-inch-tall barrel cacti grew amongst the rocks.   Mid-May the hot pink blooms appear.   As we crested the small rise and trekked to the other side, there was a plethora of purple and yellow Shooting Stars, many in bloom.   The herbaceous herb with distinctive flowers seemed happy growing within the rocks on the exposed rough prairie slope.

In the woods, beside the trail, were hiding rattlesnake ferns, also equally strange.   One would never notice the tiny things but with a group of botanists and plant lovers, few things escape their penetrating eyes.   Someone quipped make sure the word 'fern' is loudly added after 'rattlesnake.'   Unaware of the brief excitement, some of the fern leaves had spores resembling green mini-grapes.   Overhead we heard a buzzy birdsong, then saw the yellow flash of the small Parula warbler.  The bird announced we were at Cave Springs.

This cave is concealed behind a small hill.   A narrow clear stream flows under the roof of rocks and is home to the Oklahoma cave amphipod, a freshwater shrimp that is blind, colorless and within spitting distance of becoming endangered. Fresh watercress often grows at the stream crossing.

Back at the field office, we ate lunch while Jona gave a brief talk about TNC, headquartered in Arlington, Virginia.     The Oklahoma state office is located in Tulsa while other offices are in OKC, Pontotoc, Pawhuska, and Tahlequah.   TNC owns or oversees 14 preserves totaling over 90,000 acres; each preserve lists and documents its wildlife.   Jona noted 'Parks are for people and nature preserves are for nature.'

Adder's Tongue

With that in mind, the group voted to visit Walnut Spring Canyon in the afternoon.   We decided it was time to leave and swung by Chickasaw National Recreation Area to investigate a few paths.   The park was relatively uncrowded.   Cold water flowed downhill from Antelope and Buffalo Springs becoming several inches deep at the low water bridge.   Periodically the stream formed small waterfalls as it dropped off short rocky ledges on its way out of the park. Before we departed, the tick bracelets were removed.   My partner had 6 miniscule ticks on his tape.   I had 3, but in the morning had sprayed with Repel. He hadn't.   That night we each found 2 more little blood suckers that somehow avoided/evaded the duct tape. This may be one reason why these guys have been around for millions of years!