Tag Archives: hiking in the Ozarks

Exploring River Banks

The upper Meramec River is an easy walk down the gravel road. It is a popular destination for people out running the roads. On quiet mornings I enjoy exploring river banks for the many wildflowers growing there.

exploring river banks along the upper Meramec River
Most of the Meramec River current went down the far side of the channel until the last couple of floods. Then the main current shifted to the near bank taking out numerous trees and wiping out a local fishing hole. In places the gravel is high enough to attempt walking across, if rain has been scarce for a couple of months. For now the water is too deep and the current too swift so exploring the river banks is done on one side only.

Before we moved here a bridge went across the river passing an old cemetery and leading off somewhere. The center of the bridge collapsed and was never repaired. The remains have washed away over the years.

exploring river banks special flower find
Common blue violets are blue, all blue. Except for the confederate blue color variety I find down along the river bank. I’ve since seen it other places, but still look forward to finding it along the river every spring.

When the river floods, the flood plain is washed clean. The channel shifts from one side to the other. Pools form and disappear.

Trees wash out. The water carries fallen trees down the river, piles them on the bank and later washes them on down the river.

pale corydalis flowers
Pale corydalis is one of those plants that sneak in along the road or lawn edges or along the river banks. It isn’t very noticeable until the bright yellow flowers open. Even these are low key as they are small.

When the logs are piled high, it’s hard to walk down along the banks. When the logs are mostly gone, the walking is easy.

Exploring river banks is a way to find many wildflowers not very common elsewhere. And the open ground makes it easy to spot them.

ground ivy makes good ground cover
This little plant called ground ivy was first found in a friend’s yard as a ground cover. Finding it along the river was a surprise. It is a tough little plant holding dirt and shifting sand in place through floods and high water. The flowers are pretty and cover the plants.

When rain has been scarce, it’s possible to walk across the river. The far bank is much different from the one I usually walk. Crossing the river takes care as the current is strong.

The river is too high to cross so far this year. I’m hoping the cows often on the pastures on the far side won’t eat the giant cane down to nubbins before I can get across.

exploring river banks for Virginia bluebells
Virginia bluebells like moist soils so the river bank is a great place. The main patches were some distance up along the river. Now the patches are all along the distance I usually walk. The pale blue flowers look so fragile. Occasionally a plant has white flowers.

Once I found an American basswood tree while exploring river banks looking for a way across. It is washing out now so its upper branches are head high. I’m hoping to see it bloom one last time so I can complete the picture set for the tree.

This will be a great place to walk for another few months. Then exploring river banks will have to wait until the stinging nettle gets blasted by frost.

Read more about nature in the Ozarks in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.

Stalking Native Wildflowers

There are native wildflowers and there are immigrant wildflowers. Most of the immigrant wildflowers have made themselves at home and show their status mostly by blooming and leafing out earlier than the native wildflowers.

Among the naturalized wildflowers blooming now are the daffodils, dead nettle and little corn speedwell. All of these are easy to find around my yard. The bright yellow of the daffodils is cheering on dark overcast and wet days.

Corn Speedwell
Corn speedwell started in Europe and spread worldwide. It likes lawn areas with short grass and blooms as soon as there are a few warm days. I’ve seen it in January.

Blue corn speedwell hints of the blue summer skies coming in a few months. Its early flowers are small as is the plant. The plant never gets much bigger, but the flowers double in size in a few weeks.

Dead nettle resembles stinging nettle without the bite. It’s furry, triangular leaves hang down around the purple tubular flowers sticking out. Bees, both native and Italian love it and appreciate its abundant nectar after winter’s lack of fodder.

Dead Nettle
A mint, dead nettle started in Europe and spread worldwide. It’s a favorite of bees in early spring. It germinates in fall and forms a root mat in the spring.

The early native wildflowers must be hunted down. These are the harbinger of spring or salt and pepper plants. It likes wet soil like that down along the river.

Harbinger of Spring, one of the native wildflowers
Harbinger of Spring is also called the Salt and Pepper plant. This is the first wildflower listed in wildflower guides and takes searching to find due to its small size.

The river is a half mile walk down the gravel road. With all the rain lately the river is up and it has changed its banks. The first time I walked down to look for these plants, the path along the bank was almost clear of logs, branches and other debris. Nothing, not even the bitter cress, was blooming.

bitter cress one of the native wildflowers
Bitter cress is the first cress to bloom in the Ozarks. It is in the Brassicaceae family and the leaves are edible, but bitter. The plant is small, less than eight inches tall, and grows in lawns, moist areas.

After another round of flooding, the river undercut trees along the bank so they have fallen into the river. Other trees have washed up on the bank. The area where I find harbinger of spring had been scoured and landmarks were gone.

These are small plants and easy to miss. I did finally find a few and they were in full bloom. The parade of wildflowers , both the immigrant and the native wildflowers has begun.

Meet more Ozark wildflowers in “Exploring the Ozark Hills“.