Get to know your natives

Story and Photo by Mary Russell-Evans

I often wonder what other folks think of when they think about Arkansas. Razorbacks? Swamps? BBQ? Music? Mosquitos? As a child of the Ozarks, a totally different image comes to my mind. I think of the natural beauty I grew up with outside, climbing mountains, hiking in waterfalls, catching tadpoles in streams, eating wild berries, making white clover necklaces. A day spent hiking in the Ozarks or the Ouachitas is still a good day for me … especially during wildflower season. This brings to mind two of my favorite people found “Only in Arkansas”… Not diamonds, or hot springs or fishing … folks.

The first is Carl Hunter. Carl was the author of Wildflowers of Arkansas and several other native plant books. He knew more about wild plants than anyone else I know. His books are still the “go to Bible” for us types, who must know the name of every weed in the road ditch or cannot go into the wild without his field guides. Carl also gave tours of his own garden. After Carl’s wife passed, I used to help out as his official Kool Aid mixer. Carl was very charming and the women loved it. We always ended with (usually me) digging up plants for the folks to carry home with them. At Wildwood, Carl would teach the natives and made me do the “civilized” plants to go with them. He referred to boxwoods as “green blobs.” One of his pet peeves was the wild beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) sometimes known as French mulberry. He was cute when he’d argue, stomp his foot, and perhaps spit a bit, “It’s not French! And it’s not a mulberry!” Carl’s books tell us where to find these gems. Once on a wildflower hike, he led us to a “secret” place where he knew of some lady slipper orchids (Cypripedium spp.) We had to promise to forget where we saw them. I obliged and totally forgot where we went.  

The other “treasure” is Tim Ernst. If you haven’t seen Tim’s books of Arkansas nature photography you are missing out. Tim’s books are collections of the finest photography of the Arkansas landscape! His collection also includes field guides – how to get to waterfalls and hiking trails all over the state. Directions to 186 (yes, 186) waterfalls are included in his waterfall field guide! The eco systems and microclimates surrounding those waterfalls are dripping with ferns, mosses, and sometimes the bonus wild hydrangeas (H. arborescens) clinging to the wet walls. All quite amazing and unforgettable … you don’t see that every day. Tim talks about what wildflowers you might encounter in his adventures and includes many photos of them in his books. He also knows where lots of lady slippers are.  

Take kids! Get them outside! Confiscate their electronics, grab a couple of Carl and Tim’s books and head out on an adventure. You never know what you might see! Watch where you step so you don’t “smash” the pretty flowers. Pause to “pet” the bright green mosses or to see if the reindeer moss is soft or crunchy. You have to look underneath to spot the little brown jugs on the wild gingers (Asarum canadense). Check inside the Jack in the pulpits (Arisaema atrorubens) to see if Jack is home. The ray petals hang downward on “our” native pale purple coneflower (Echinacea pallida). Blazing star (Liatris elegans) blooms from the top down, instead of the bottom up. Why do they call them spiderworts (Tradescantia spp.)? Why are Indian pinks (Spigelia marilandica) not pink? For us, roadside or trailside flowers also serve as “photo ops.”

Tim’s collection can be seen at www.timernst.com. Tim and Carl’s books are available at most local bookstores, state parks, and museums.

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