Making Arkansas Natural

July 7, 2011
Blue Eyed Grass

Blue Eyed Grass

Arkansas’s motto is “The Natural State”. The natural state just doesn’t mean having nature. If that were true all states can claim to be the natural state. We have to support and be our motto. A part of the State parks mission is to protect and manage our natural resources. I would have to say that each park does their best to uphold their mission…in the park. What we need is for all Arkansans to prove that we can come together and be “The Natural State” we claim to be. It is not hard to start. There are lots of things Arkansans can do. One of the easiest things you can do (and maybe the least thought about) is to plant native plants. Natural is something that is produced in nature and not artificial. What better way to start than to garden and landscape with native plants? You will actually find that our native plants help out our local businesses, are hardy and beautiful.

Blanket flower and Mexican Hat

Blanket flower and Mexican Hat

More bang for our buck! It seems to be more significant than ever to utilize and spend money locally. Arkansans, as well as those from outside Arkansas want to be connected and educated to this state. Almost every day visitors walk through our gift shop wanting to spend their money on gifts made in Arkansas. If people are asking for Arkansas items here, they are definitely asking for them in lots of other stores including gardens and nurseries. People generally like to know where the product they are buying is from. The benefits of buying native plants from local businesses include knowledge from community gardeners. There is rarely a better person to ask questions to than the person who grew the plants you want. Spending money at the local businesses helps your community grow right along with your new plants.

Yellow Indigo

Yellow Indigo

Native plants are much hardier. If you treat them right the first year they will survive. After finding the right plants for your environment, the maintenance for the new native plants goes way down. During the first year, most of your time and sweat is spent watering your plants. Watering a lot the first year is essential to any new plant. Personally, I only fertilized my plants once when they were planted. A year later everything is alive and bloomed out. Watering has gone down to once every one to two weeks for the trees during the summer. If you do your research you can find plants that thrive in this hot Arkansas weather. I am telling you right now you do not have to fight Mother Nature. If you would plant native plants you get the rewards without as much hassle.

There a lot of beauty in Native plants. They come in many shapes, sizes, colors and blooming seasons. The combinations are endless. Even the plants you do not see as beautiful will charm you just because they look healthy. These plants will not only be beautiful but the beauty will last for a longer period of time.

A great list of native plants can be found at PlantNative.org . An internet search of “Arkansas Native Plant Nursery” will give you a list of nurseries that specialize in native plants. I hope this will encourage you to pick native plants for your next project, big or small.

Let’s reclaim the natural state one plant at a time!

Amy Griffin, Park Interpreter

Amy Griffin, Park Interpreter

Amy holds a bachelors degree in Parks and Recreation from Arkansas Tech University. Her career in Arkansas state parks started as a seasonal interpreter in 2006 at DeGray Lake Resort State Park. She is currently a park interpreter at Toltec Mounds Archeological Park and has worked there since 2007. She is also a member of the National Association of Interpreters and a Certified Interpretive Guide.


The Outdoor Classroom

April 13, 2011

The best use of my park is as a classroom.  The thing I love to see are young people using their senses to enjoy this place that I have loved all these years.  My greatest hope is that through this contact that they will learn more about their world and come to care for the park.  What could be a more important goal of this special place?

Heavener Senior Trip of 1925.

Heavener Senior Trip of 1925

The first school field trip which I have a record of visiting Queen Wilhelmina is the Heavener Senior Trip of 1925.  There may have been many before that time but I do not know about them.  During my employment here I have witnessed hundreds.   From pre-school to college, they have come here to explore and enjoy.

Heading out for an evening hike.

Heading out for an evening hike.

The last field trip was April 6th.  We had the pleasure of hosting the Acorn High School Science Club.  The club is sponsored by Kathy Rusert, who is the kind of teacher you want your own child to have.  She knows how to use both the indoor and outdoor classroom to best effect.  She is also willing to schedule a rare night field trip to introduce the Science Club to astronomy.

The Club arrived in time for an evening hike on Lover’s Leap.   No text book or indoor classroom can teach kids about native plants better than the up-close, hands-on contact that comes from seeing, smelling, and touching the real thing.  No representation or reproduction can take the place of experience.  The outdoor classroom was filled with bloodroot, crested iris, bellwort, and windflowers.  Their size, color, and habitat were on display in this mountain-sized laboratory of science.  Where better to learn to identify them and understand their characteristics?

Acorn High School Science Club.

Acorn High School Science Club.

After dark, the Science Club traveled a mile from the sparse security lights of the park for the best view of the night sky.  The stars sparkled bright and clear.  This kind of night is rare in many parts of the United States.  Far away from the bright lights of the city they are able to shine to their full potential.  Even the small dim stars have the chance to be noticed.  The small sliver of the waxing moon only added to the bright and beautiful night.  In a couple of nights, the moon’s brightness would have overpowered its smaller neighbors.  This classroom has an up close view of Orion, Leo, Taurus, Gemini, Canus Major, and the two bears, both large and small.  The Greeks who named the constellations, some of the first students of the outdoor classroom, must have enjoyed a sight much like the one we saw.

Paul Hawken recently wrote:  “Ralph Waldo Emerson once asked what we would do if the stars only came out once every thousand years.  No one would sleep that night, of course.  We would be ecstatic, delirious, made rapturous by the glory of God.  Instead, the stars come out every night and we watch television. “

The televisions were turned off on this night.  Instead, the students stared out at the wonders of the universe in the outdoor classroom at Queen Wilhelmina State Park.

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

 

Brad Holleman has been the park interpreter at Queen Wilhelmina State Park since 1991. He started his career in 1983 as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park andLake Fort Smith State Park. In 1984 he received a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management from Arkansas Tech University. Brad worked as an interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park from 1984-89 and then at Petit Jean State Park from 1989-91. He is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter. He is also active with the Talimena Scenic Drive Association and on the Board of Advisors with the Ouachita Mountains Biological Station.


Spring Fever!

March 1, 2011

It’s spring fever.  That is what the name of it is.  And when you’ve got it, you want – oh, you don’t quite know what it is you do want, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!Mark Twain

In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt. Margaret Atwood

Who’s ready for spring? Signs of this much-anticipated season are everywhere, from fields carpeted with henbit to blooming elm trees; March reminds us that warmer weather is on the way. After this harsh winter in the Arkansas River Valley, I freely admit I have spring fever.

Falcate orangetip

Falcate orangetip

When I look ahead to March on the calendar, “spring break” comes to mind, a reminder that it’s time to schedule park programs that coincide with wildflower blooming and emergence of butterflies. It’s time to wipe the dust off the boxes holding my spring crafts for kids. It’s also time to work on my garden chore list and think about plants for this growing season. See? I have spring fever.

Due to higher elevation, spring temperatures come a bit later to Mount Magazine. A general rule of thumb is to add one week of greening or blooming for each 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The door of the season still opens in March.

Serviceberry dots the mountain.

Serviceberry dots the mountain.

Serviceberry will soon dot the landscape with bright white blossoms. Spring beauties, trout lilies, and daffodils begin to emerge this month. Bloodroot, with its one-day-only white flowers and large leaves will emerge like a phoenix from the fallen leaves.

The symbiosis of flowering plants and animals is easily seen during the spring months. In mutualism, both organisms benefit. Flowers advertise their nectar rewards with specific colors, shapes, and nectar rewards, much like the advertising we see everyday in every form. Insects and birds are attracted as the consumer, and pollinate the plant in the process, enabling the plant to reproduce. Lack of color, unique shape, and putrid scent attract flies and gnats as pollinators.

Count the question marks.

Count the question marks

As birds begin to migrate north, many will drill into trees in search of food. Sap trickling down a tree trunk left behind afterwards attracts butterflies that have emerged from torpor. Question marks, goatweed leafwings, and mourning cloaks feast on the sugar-laden sap.

Zebra swallowtail

Zebra swallowtail

Butterflies that emerge from chrysalides in early spring are darker and smaller than summer forms in order to use the sun’s energy more efficiently. Zebra swallowtails, falcate orangetips, hairstreaks, duskywings, and elfins begin to take nectar from sources such as plum blossoms, redbud, spiderwort, wild hyacinth, blue star, and so many more. Ruby-throated hummingbirds usually arrive the first full week of April, and the flowers of Ohio buckeye and yellow honeysuckle are usually ready for them.  The best way to experience these flowers is to bring a field guide, get a park wildflower checklist, and of course, go on a wildflower hike with a park interpreter.

I’m not quite certain when my love affair with wildflowers began. Part of my affection stems from my love of butterflies; a lepidopterist has to be part botanist in order to understand the relationship between them. But my love of spring wildflowers is separate, and not just because the majority of them aren’t pollinated by butterflies. I admire these flowers with a short blooming period; completing their life cycles before the leaves take over with such precision and efficiency.

Seldom-seen yellow trout lily

Seldom-seen yellow trout lily

After so many years of living and working at Mount Magazine State Park, I delight in being able to take visitors to fire pink, spiderwort, Ohio buckeye, historic quince, and lilac shrubs on Will Apple’s Road Trail; bloodroot, trillium, and crested iris on the Signal Hill trail, and Jack-in-the-Pulpit on the Cove Lake trail. I am asked lots of questions about which trail to take to see wildflowers, and am often asked to identify photos of wildflowers after the hike is over. Helping visitors connect to nature in this way, and helping them gain confidence in their identification skills, and helping kids begin their own butterfly gardens are highlights of spring.

If not during spring break, then at some point in spring, I encourage you to visit a state park and walk a trail to cure your spring fever.

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer, Certified Heritage Interpreter

Lori Spencer has been a volunteer at Mount Magazine State Park since 1997, and is chairman of the Mount Magazine Action Group. She holds a M.S. in entomology and is the author of Arkansas Butterflies and Moths.


The Milkweed Archipelago

October 8, 2010

“The universe has as many different centers as there are living beings in it.”  Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A tiny island of orange beckons an orange butterfly.  Down she goes as millions of her ancestors have for eons of time.  This brilliant orange flower and this beautiful insect have a relationship common in nature.  Milkweed is required for the reproduction of the Monarch butterfly.  The plant has many defenses for protection from hungry bugs.  One of the most potent is a chemical called cardiac glycoside.  It is poisonous to most animals.  It is life to the Monarch.

The female carefully sticks her cone shaped eggs to the bottom of the milkweed leaves.  In a few days they will hatch, and the tiny caterpillars will find themselves on a salad bar perfect for their taste.  Cardiac glycoside is the flavor they crave.  They like it so much it becomes part of them, stored in their tissues.

When they emerge from the chrysalis, their bright orange wings will fill with fluid.  Not only are they bold and bright in color, they fly slowly.  They are an easy target for insect eating birds.  Monarchs are easy to catch, but hard to digest.  Glycoside from the milkweed causes a nasty stomach upset for the hungry bird, and the bright orange and black pattern of the Monarch makes it easier to remember the nauseating dining experience.  It is no longer on the menu.  Monarchs that fly past this bird in the future can pass in safety.  The bold pattern of the monarch is a warning coloration.  While many species in the animal kingdom try to blend in, the monarch, armed with its own version of chemical warfare, stands out.

At least two other insects have adapted to eating milkweed and making glycoside their own.  The Milkweed Beetle and Milkweed Bug feed only on milkweed.  The orange-red Milkweed Beetles are often seen on the leaves, and the red and black Milkweed Bugs can be found on the seedpods.  They are brilliant, beautiful, and a sickening meal for predators.

 

Milkweed

Milkweed

 

Rich Mountain is an excellent stopover for Monarchs due to the many species of wildflowers that bloom during the end of September and the beginning of October. We can’t predict the exact days of the migration, but it usually happens in the first days of October.

A wave of orange will descend onto the white, yellow and blue flowers along the Lover’s Leap Trail.  The adult Monarchs are not limited to milkweed, but nectar on many different wildflowers.  Only as caterpillars are they tied exclusively to members of the milkweed clan.  Thousands of Monarch butterflies will steadily move over the mountain toward their wintering ground in Mexico.

A few Monarchs trickle through the park all through August and September. These early individuals are just the preview of the flood that will come.

This remarkable phenomenon of the fall season reminds us of the unending cycle of life. Each year Monarchs wing their way across the Ouachitas persistently fluttering toward the southwest.  Grounded, we watch them pass and take comfort in the promise it gives us for the years to come.

Next year the Monarchs will head north from their wintering ground in Mexico searching for the scattered clumps of milkweed. Their islands of survival, the milkweed archipelago, is the center of the Monarch’s universe.

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman, Park Interpreter

Brad Holleman has been the park interpreter at Queen Wilhelmina State Park since 1991. He started his career in 1983 as a seasonal interpreter at Lake Ouachita State Park andLake Fort Smith State Park. In 1984 he received a Bachelor of Science in Wildlife Management from Arkansas Tech University. Brad worked as an interpreter at Lake Catherine State Park from 1984-89 and then at Petit Jean State Park from 1989-91. He is a member of the National Association for Interpretation and is a Certified Heritage Interpreter. He is also active with the Talimena Scenic Drive Association and on the Board of Advisors with the Ouachita Mountains Biological Station.