Wildflower explosion, old-growth at Shrader-Weaver; camping on the White River

Last week’s exploration of the Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve was three years in the making. If fact, this National Natural Landmark (NNL) is the reason A Guide to Natural Areas of Southern Indiana’s subtitle includes the curiously un-round 119 Unique Places to Explore.

Designated an NNL because of its presettlement, old-growth forest, Shrader was planned as Southern Indiana natural area No. 120. But at the last-minute I discovered that, even though it’s located south of Interstate 70 just north of Connsersville, ecologically the preserve is in Indiana’s Central Till Plain Natural Region and was therefore out of book's range.

Due to timing and weather, the delay continued for another costly two to three weeks this year. Costly because, by the time landscape photographer Gary Morrison and I ventured to Shrader-Weaver on Monday, the state-endangered nodding trillium were past prime photo time. Still, the journey was worth the wait.

The National Park Service has designated 29 of Shrader-Weaver’s 96 acres as an NNL “for their “outstanding pre-settlement beech-maple forest” with “unusually large trees, such as a fifty-six-inch diameter burr oak and a thirty-four-inch diameter black maple.”

The preserve is almost as noted for its diverse wildflower population, whose species number “too many to count,” The Nature Conservancy says on its website. And while they were countable as we hiked both the Woods and Succession Trails, the wildflowers were spectacular, even if we missed the flowering nodding trilliums.

The blue-eyed Mary’s exquisite, whorled petals with radiant white upper lips and royal blue lower lips, were rivaled by a nearly as diminutive broad-headed skink as the subjects of the day. Great waterleafs, whose lavender corollas, in bunches of up to 10, were indeed too many to count. Other wildflowers included gently shaded Mayapples; two-toned, purple-and-white fleabanes; shimmering wild geraniums; and expanses of golden ragworts absorbing the day's full sun.

As magnificent as Shrader-Weaver's trees were, I was focused more on the forest floor than the canopy or the swampy seep in the successional forest, though I captured small tastes of each.

Ready to sleep on the ground

Speaking of the Central Till Plain, I finished writing the first drafts on 52 natural areas in this largest of Northern Indiana’s six Natural Regions for the Northern Indiana guidebook. As the name implies, the Central Till Plain encompassers Central Indiana, spanning all or parts of four dozen counties from Terre Haute to Fort Wayne.

The mostly flatlands are drained by the White River West Fork and Wabash River, whose watersheds I’ve followed east since last October, beginning at the Jackson-Schnyder Nature Preserve a couple miles from the Wabash, just northwest of Terre Haute.

In the past six months, I’ve moved up the West Fork’s Watershed from the Fern Cliffs Nature Preserve west of Greencastle to Shrader-Weaver and Summit LakeZiegler Woods Nature Preserve near the Ohio border.

Now, I’ve planned to the mile and hour an overnight camping trip to Mounds State Park that will cover the final five sites in the White River Watershed. I picked up an air mattress. I’m digging out my camping gear.

After the Mounds, I’m following the Wabash from Lafayette to Fort Wayne. After that …

Photographs: Shrader-Weaver Nature Preserve -- Top, blue-eyed Mary; Center, broad-headed skink; Bottom, old-growth tree


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