Botanizing at Pickle Creek Natural Area

View atop a sandstone hoodoo.

Our destination for this week’s Monday field trip with the Webster Groves Nature Study Society (WGNSS) Botany Group was Pickle Creek Natural Area. This gem of a site has one of the most natural history action-packed 2.5 miles of trail in Missouri, featuring moist sandstone canyons, fascinating sandstone “hoodoos,” and unique sandstone glades. Fr. Sullivan got there early to beat the heat and had a few interesting things to show us in the small sandstone glade (more correctly called a xeric sandstone prairie) near the trailhead. These included two new-to-me glade specialists: Hypericum gentianoides (pineweed), and Trichostema dichotomum (blue curls).

Hypericum gentianoides (pineweed).
Hypericum gentianoides (pineweed).

Beginning along the trail we saw two species of aster still not quite ready to bloom: Symphyotrichum anomalum (many-rayed aster), with its distinctively reflexed phyllaries, and S. patens (spreading aster), distinctive by its strongly clasping leaves with rounded basal auricles. Two species of goldenrod were also present: the very common Solidago nemoralis (old-field goldenrod) in early bloom, and the very conservative (CC value = 8) S. buckleyi (Buckley’s goldenrod), its buds still growing for bloom in early September. Passing through the first of many deep cuts through the sandstone, we saw a small Aralia racemosa (American spikenard)—cousin to the devil’s walking sticks (A. spinosa) that we saw last week in southeastern Missouri. The plant was already past bloom and sporting bright red-purple berries.

Aralia racemosa (American spikenard).
Aralia racemosa (American spikenard).

Further down into one of the moist valleys, we found one of our objectives: Goodyera pubescens (downy rattlesnake plantain). I have seen this native orchid many times, as it’s distinctive white-veined leaves are a prominent winter sight in this area; however, this was the first time that I’ve seen them in bloom. Most of those with flower stalks were a bit past peak bloom, but we found at least a couple of plants still with good flowers for photographs. There were also many more basal leaf rosettes in the area without flower stalks, indicating a good population.

Goodyera pubescens (downy rattlesnake plantain).
Goodyera pubescens (downy rattlesnake plantain).
Goodyera pubescens (downy rattlesnake plantain).

The sandstone hoodoos of the area are among its most unique feature, and John showed us a spot on one of them where all three Missouri species of Vaccinium (a genus of plants in the blueberry family) can be found growing right next to each other: V. arboreum (farkleberry), V. pallidum (lowbush blueberry), and V. stramineum (deerberry).

All three Missouri Vaccinium species can be seen in this photo: V. arboreum (farkleberry) at upper right, V. pallidum (lowbush blueberry) at right-center, and V. stramineum (deerberry) at lower left.

The last mile of the hike was more difficult due to the heat, but the deep, sandstone canyons and moist north-facing bluff still provided visual interest and a bit of cool relief. At the end of the hike, John almost tripped over a Geotrupes splendidus (splendid earth-boring beetle) lumbering across the trail.

©️ Ted C. MacRae 2021

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