I should have learned by now that this group of experienced nature explorers -- both passionate amateur enthusiasts and distinguished professional scientists -- always knows where the good spots are. As far as I was aware, Shenentaha Creek Park was too "civilized" a place for an interesting hike, but my friends in the Thursday group knew where the wild and woodsy parts were, and that's where they led me as soon as we climbed from our cars.
A beautiful wooded trail followed a rushing creek, and although we were never more than a few hundred feet from the tamer parts of the park, the trail back here was delightfully wild and woodsy.
Because the day was quite cloudy and cold, the woodland wildflowers were mostly huddling down snug in their buds. Notable exceptions were hepaticas in various shades of purple and white, and these dainty pale-yellow twin trumpets of American Fly Honeysuckle, one of our few native honeysuckles.
Our group was quite excited to find an extensive patch of small Leatherwood shrubs, whose presence was a sure indication that this woods had a rich limey soil.
The source of that lime became evident when we reached this steep bank of naturally eroded shale.
Around the little brook that ran at the foot of that bank, we found many lime-loving plants, including an extensive patch of Blue Cohosh (fully in flower) and a couple of plants of Early Meadow Rue just opening their flower buds. Early Meadow Rue bears male and female flowers on separate plants. These are the pistillate (female) flowers, containing the pollen-grabbing styles and the ovaries that will later produce the seeds.
And these are the staminate (male) flowers, just opening their buds. When fully open, those reddish anthers will dangle on long fine filaments that tremble in the slightest breeze, dispersing the pollen on the air to land on the nearby pistillate flowers.
We were quite surprised and delighted to find this Red Trillium fully in bloom, after first encountering many that were only in bud.
Rivaling that trillium for flashy color, these sprouting dogwood leaves (I'm not sure which species) gave the appearance of brightly colored birds perching on their branches.
Drab in color but no less intriguing for that, this flower bud of a Nannyberry is distinguished from those of other viburnums by its resemblance to a stork's head with a long pointed bill.
On a nearby bush, we found some Nannyberry buds that had already opened, revealing the rosy cluster of flower buds as well as the pair of terminal leaves, the winged stalks of which are diagnostic for identifying this particular viburnum. Now, I wouldn't know that fact if I hadn't been asked along on this hike to Shenentaha Creek Park by a group of folks who know just about all there is to know about plants and are happy to share that knowledge.
And they don't just know all there is to know about plants. They also know how to have lots of fun, should the opportunity arise. Even in the "tamer" parts of Shenentaha Park.