Dr. Don Culwell


Saturday, April 16…around 11:00 AM, the day at South Fork turned to sunshine from what had been a colder, very breezy morning earlier that day…and it was nice!

Sporting their newly painted stones identifying trees with names as well as leaf, fruit, and twig drawings, the trails had yet another new addition: panoramic signs depicting animal life and plant communities on the peninsula. “Wild Wings” listed birds that could be seen along with their songs, “Creepy Critters’ showed common reptiles and amphibians in the area, “Are You Bugged” pictured insects, “Complex Connections” described aspects of the forest ecosystem, “Lichen or Not” addressed the types of lichens (symbiotic organisms that are around on rocks, trees and soil), signs at the glade and the seep areas let one know some ecology about those communities; “Remembering A. Riddle” pointed out the historic significance of the 100 year old cabin relocated to South Fork where the folk singer, Almeda Riddle, was born.

Trees, shrubs, and vines were out with their new leaves, just emerged from their woody trunks and limbs that were so recently in winter condition. Leaves helped us to recognize the bark patterns of Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana), Service Berry (Amelanchier arborea) and Sugar Maple (Acer saccharum) as well as those vines clinging tightly to the trunks of trees (Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquifolia), Cross-vine (Anisostichus capreolata), and Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)). The most obvious color in the woods was that of the Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia) with its tall flower clusters of red, tubular flowers and compound leaves of five, palmate leaflets.

The glade soil surface, though thin and rocky, was in early spring dress; lots of Yellow Star Grass (Hypoxis hirsute), False Garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve), Bird’s Foot Violet (Viola pedata), Bluets (Hedyotis caerulea), Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica), and Rue Anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides) were in bloom plus, in a recently cleared glade, a huge population of Verbena (Glandularia canadensis) in its stunning, purplish-pink flowers…it immediately caught your eye! Deeper in the woods on the forest floor were the fuzzy leaves and stems of Pussy Toes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) and their white, tight clusters of flowers; large clones of Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) were far out on the peninsula in the woods. Their large, white blooms, one per forked stem, were sheltered by the two, large, umbrella leaves directly above them. Over in the seep grew the uncommonly seen fern with its one lanceolate leaf and Adder’s-tongue fertile spike (Ophioglossum).

Heart-shaped leaves of Wood Sorrel (Oxalis violacea) with their maroon markings and occasional pink flowers bloomed along the trails and the logging road. High in the tree tops bloomed the large, showy, yellow, tubular corollas of Cross-vine marked with maroon (these were more elusive being up high and out of view until one noticed the colorful, spent flowers that had fallen in the trail from their vines above). And there was one, lone, bright red flower of Fire Pink (Silene virginica) standing above its leaves, the first flower to open on the stalk.

Surprise!! Morel Mushrooms (Morchella esculenta)! Three were growing right in the wheel tracks of the logging road, tan and showing the sponge surface of their cone-shaped tops. Other mushrooms could be found like the red capped one with white gills and stalk, the genus Russula.

Back at the yard beside the cabin, the shrub, Alabama Snow Wreath (Neviusia alabamensis), was in flower with several blossoms, each with many stamens; Neviusia is a rare plant in Arkansas normally located in rocky bluff areas. Dogwood (Cornus florida) branches were beginning to drop their white “petals” in the woods (they’re really just white, expanded bud scales from the flat, compressed, buds of winter; a cluster of tiny flowers lies at the base of the four, white bud scales).

The noisy waterfall at the end of the flat rock creek signaled the end of our walk with Steve Smith, Kay Verboon, and Don Culwell in the lead. (Later the next day, seven visitors to South Fork were seen walking the trails; they had come from the Washington D.C. area and to where they were visiting in Van Buren County.)