Revel in a Wildflower Tour of Forest Park
With names as remarkable as their blooms, the wildflowers now beginning to bloom in Forest Park offer opportunities to experience natural beauty in its native setting.
But the Park’s wildflowers are not just pretty — they are essential components of the Park’s ecosystem, Nature Reserve Steward Josh Wibbenmeyer says.
“Wildflowers are the first thing to emerge in the spring that provide nectar to spring insects,” he explains. “Some species of ground-nesting bees have evolved alongside the spring flora, and they need that nectar. Many early spring wildflowers also have elaiosomes attached to the seed that are rich in protein and a good food source for ants.”
Wibbenmeyer and his crew work hard year-round to help the wildflowers flourish in various areas of Forest Park by planting seed, nursery grown plugs and occasionally digging up roots from large populations and moving them to new areas to help them spread.
“Our goal is to promote their establishment and further their spread,” Wibbenmeyer says.
On April 30, you’ll get your first opportunity to meet Wibbenmeyer as he takes you on an expert-led wildflower walk through Round Lake Vista, an area of the Park that he and other Forest Park Forever Nature Reserve staff members, volunteers and partner organizations have been restoring for the past several years. Future guided walking tours are scheduled for May 28 (Kennedy Forest), August 27 (Deer Lake Savanna), and September 24 (returning to Round Lake Vista).
But with about 30 species of spring ephemeral wildflowers in the Nature Reserve, why wait? Here’s a three-mile walking tour that will give you a preview of what you might see on those tours. We encourage you to use ForestParkMap.org, an interactive GPS-enabled resource, to help guide you.
Our tour starts at the Hampton Ave. roundabout. Walk down Wells Drive past Carr Lane Dr. On your left, you’ll see the Successional Forest. Climbing the hill toward the Jewel Box roundabout, you’ll pass by an area of the forest where some 5,000 plugs will be planted in May.
Enter the Successional Forest after turning left at the Jewel Box roundabout onto McKinley Dr. If you venture off the sidewalk and explore a bit, you can find two healthy patches of white trout lily. Forest Park Forever staff have helped them spread by replanting their roots.
Back on McKinley, head to Union and turn right. About a quarter of a mile down, across from the intersection of Summit and Union, a creek flows on the right. Along its banks grow patches of phlox and bluebells.
At Theatre Drive, turn right. Near the intersection of Grand and Faulkner is the start of the Round Lake Vista. On April 30, Wibbenmeyer will take guests through the trail that meanders through this little-known area of the Park.
“With about 200 different species of seed or plugs planted here since 2014, this three-acre area is our most diverse restoration in the Park,” Wibbenmeyer says.
In Round Lake Vista, you can see golden Alexander, woodland phlox, Jacob’s ladder, golden ragwort, dwarf larkspur grown from bare-root transplants, foxglove beardtongue, and blue-eyed Mary planted from seed collected at Emmenegger Nature Park in Kirkwood, founded by Missouri Wildflowers author Edgar Dennison.
Next, go west on Theatre Dr. At the northwest corner of Theatre and Union is the recently cleared area of Deer Lake South. Here, look for Virginia bluebells and golden ragwort growing in the dappled sunlight amidst the trees. The golden ragwort, a new addition for 2019 in Deer Lake South, features an attractive deep purple color on the underside of its leaves.
Continue on Union to Grand Dr. Turn left onto Grand. Before you reach Cricket Field is Deer Lake Savannah on your left, site of the August 27 tour. If you go in the morning, you’ll see fresh blooms of spiderwort. The blooms last until evening when they fade, only to be replaced by fresh blooms in the morning.
At Cricket, turn left and go to the roundabout in front of the Muny. Go around the roundabout to return to McKinley. Between McKinley and Concourse, after you cross the bridge, is another recently restored area.
Explore along the bike trail to see celandine poppy, Jacob’s ladder, bloodroot planted from seed, trillium transplanted from the Kennedy Forest, site of the May 28 tour. Dutchman’s breeches and the appropriately named harbinger of spring, both planted from seed, round out the wildflower features of this wooded area.
Now you’ve earned a break — head over to the Boathouse for a beverage!
Forest Park’s wildflowers are a true sign that spring has finally returned to St. Louis. Sign up for your guided tours now, as spaces are sure to fill up quickly!
Jack-in-the-pulpit is one of the most visually interesting flowers in the Prince William piedmont forest. Standing one to three feet tall, the stalk offers jack a commanding view of the forest congregation during the April and May blooming period. The flower, at the same height as the leafy stalks, has a pale green exterior extending into a leaf which curls roof-like over the pulpit. The inner surface of the flower is darker green with white and brownish-purple stripes. In the fall a cluster of bright red berries provides food for birds after the flower has withered. The root of this plant, if eaten raw, can cause a severe burning sensation and possible blistering and swelling of the mouth and throat.
Cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis
The cardinal flower, Lobelia cardinalis, so-called because of its similarity to the bright red robes of Catholic cardinals, flames among the forest plants from May through October. Standing one to six feet tall, the bright red flowers bloom primarily along streams or in wet, moist areas. Interestingly, because the floral leaves emerge from an extremely narrow tube at the base, insects find it difficult to reach the pollen, leaving propagation of this plant to hummingbirds. The lower portion of the stem is lined with lance-shaped green leaves.
Spotted Touch-Me-Not, Impatiens capenesis
The small orange flowers of the spotted touch-me-not, Impatiens capenesis, decorate stream banks and swampy areas July through September. The implied warning in the name refers to the explosive quality of the seed pod, which, at the slightest touch, throws its seeds up to five feet away. Multiple inch-long blossoms, dotted with red spots, dangle from thin stems on thick succulent stalks up to five feet tall. A spur-like tail extending from the blossom curves back under the flower as a defining characteristic. Native Americans found that the sap from the leaves and stems offered relief from the discomfort of poison ivy and stinging nettles. Scientific research has also documented touch-me-not’s effectiveness in treating the fungus of athlete’s foot.
Common Mullein, Verbascum thapsus
While this plant is not native to North America, it has been here since Europeans came to North America. Mullein has a variety of uses. It is especially recommended for coughs and related problems. It may also fight a variety of skin problems. The plant was used to make dyes and torches. Native Americans lined their moccasins with the leaves.
Spotted Wintergreen, Chimaphila maculata
While spotted wintergreen is endangered in many parts of North America, it is abundant through out the park.
Exotic Species: Purple Loosestrife
Native to Eurasia, purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) now occurs in almost every state of the US. It was introduced to the east coast in the early 1800s, possibly as seeds in ship’s ballast or as an ornamental. Now the highest concentrations of the plant occur in the formerly glaciated wetlands in the Northeast. In the West, purple loosestrife invades irrigation projects. In all areas of the country, purple loosestrife also tends to occur in wetlands, ditches, and disturbed wet areas. Although it grows best in soils with high organic content, it tolerates a wide range of soils. However, it requires open, moist, and bare substrate for initial establishment. After establishing, purple loosestrife populations tend to remain at low numbers until optimal conditions allow the population to dramatically expand. The dense colonies that result can displace native vegetation and wildlife.
Purple loosestrife is an erect perennial herb that usually grows two to six feet tall. A mature plant can develop into a large clump of stems up to five feet in diameter. Each stem is four- to six-sided. The root system consists of a very thick and hard taproot, and spreading lateral roots. Seedlings that germinate in the spring grow rapidly and produce a floral spike the first year. The seeds, which are very light, are mainly dispersed by wind, water, and mud. Although purple loosestrife reproduces primarily by seed, stem fragments are able to develop roots under favorable conditions. During the cool season, purple loosestrife dies back, resprouting from the woody crown in the spring.
© Linda Wilson / University of Idaho
The leaves are narrow and long—about two to six inches in length. The bases are slightly heart-shaped. The leaves occur in opposite pairs or whorls that attach closely to the stem.
Flowers and Fruits
The magenta flowers occur in long spikes at the end of the stems. Along the stem, one to two flowers attach closely to the stem above each pair of leaves or bracts. Each flower has four to six, occasionally seven, petals. The petals occur above a cylindrical tube.
The fruit is a capsule, or a fruit composed of more than one carpel that opens at maturity. The dark brown capsule is surrounded by the persistent tube of the flower. Each capsule has many reddish-brown, tiny seeds.
Lyth’rum comes from the Greek word lythron, which means “blood”. The word refers to either the color of the flowers or to its reputed ability to help stop bleeding. Salicar’ia means “resembling a willow”.
From a distance, purple loosestrife may be confused with Epilobium angustifolium, Verbena hastata, Teucrium canadense, or Liatris spp. Up close, purple loosestrife is easily distinguished from these plants.
Possible control methods are explained at these websites:
Bender, J. 1987. Lythrum salicaria in Element Stewardship Abstracts. The Nature Conservancy, Arlington, VA.
California Department of Food and Agriculture. No date. Purple loosestrife in Encycloweedia. Available at https://www.cdfa.ca.gov/plant/ipc/encycloweedia/weedinfo/lythrum.htm (accessed 9 April 2010).
Charters, M. L. 2009. California plant names: Latin and Greek meanings and derivations. Available at http://www.calflora.net/botanicalnames (accessed 9 April 2010).
Munger, G. T. 2002. Lythrum salicaria in Fire Effects Information System. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fire Sciences Laboratory. Available at http://www.feis-crs.org/feis/ (accessed 9 April 2010).
Prepared by Kelly Reeves, Southern Colorado Plateau Network Inventory and Monitoring Program, 2010.