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       A "Quick Guide" Article from OMW

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The Simple Art of Ozark Flower Hunting
a tourist's guide
by Gary Cooley, OMW
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The Flower Power Excuse
Wildflower hunting always makes a great excuse for getting out of the house. There are new blooms every week 8 months of the year in the Ozark Mountains so the urgency factor is always present meaning the excuse works almost anytime. Flower hunting costs little but takes you far in the Ozarks. And since most wildflowers grow best on the sides of little-used Ozark back roads, you can enjoy this pursuit from the heated and air-conditioned comfort of your vehicle. That's Flower Power!

Flower hunting is a very special event for children too. The constantly changing scenery, all the stopping and starting, and all the things they discover keeps their attention hopping along at top speed. Give them a plastic grocery sack and it will soon be full of rocks, sticks, and other souvenirs they discover. Back roads also make a great place for harmless rock-throwing, a sport most boys never get enough of.

It's More than Flowers
Along any Ozark back road you'll discover the real Ozarks at the same time you pursue wildflowers. What starts as a simple wildflower outing turns into a full blown Ozarks anthropologic adventure. Scenery, wildlife, beautiful old barns and other things historical, and curious locals assure you'll have anything but a dull drive. Photographers soon find they have more subjects than they can shoot in one trip. The final treat comes with a stop at small local Mom & Pop cafes and general stores where locals with time to talk hang out.

Ozark Variations of Common American Wildflowers
Many of the wildflowers growing in the Ozark Mountains are not unique to the Ozarks. While there are species which are common to the Ozarks but scarce in other regions, what most wildflower enthusiasts report as delightful is the different color and shape variations they find in Ozark specimens. Mineral content of soil and cross pollenation accounts for many of the variations. Now add in the area's own unique species and you have the diversity many wildflower enthusiasts seek.

The Basics of the Hunt
Any county in the Ozark Mountains has several hundred miles of well-maintained back roads. These are gravel affairs with plenty of room in most spots to pull over safely out of traffic's way, should anyone actually come along! Stay alert as locals sometimes drive at break-neck speeds since they are used to the roads. Have your passenger(s) do most of the flower spotting. When they "spot color", pull over and park safely out of the road.

A short stroll along the roadside in any given spot usually reveals a number of flower species in bloom. Be sure to walk along both sides of the road. Look slowly and carefully. Flowers are not always instantly visible. Look in any area where the environment changes. Transition zones, such as where forest meets pasture, slope bottoms, and creek banks are where different species will grow. What direction a slope faces affects sunlight amounts, which in turn affects species grow in a particular spot.

If you make two or three trips to the Ozarks area each year, be sure to re-visit spots you have previously found flowers. Go back to any spot 10 or more days after spotting and chances are good entirely different species will be in bloom. This is true from the last two weeks of March through most of November. As long as temperatures stay above freezing, there will be wildflowers in bloom in the Ozark Mountains.

How To Prepare for a Wildflower Hunt
Ask your lodging host for directions to close-by gravel county roads, then go for a slow drive. Within a matter of a couple of hours you'll find at least 10 to 15 species of wildflowers. Regardless of the time of year, these few basic preparations will guarantee a more enjoyable outing.

Bring a good county road map, snacks, beverages, a field guide, and a large magnifying glass. Field books identifying Ozark wildflowers are available in local bookstores, or your lodging host may have copies you can use. Magnifying glasses can be purchased in local stores for about $3 to $5 each. The larger the magnifier better, and preferably white glass, not green glass lenses.

It is best to dress in long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Every so often you'll see a tempting bloom bobbing about up a bank 10 feet. The extra clothing keeps you protected should you choose to scramble up the bank for a closer look. If you wear shorts and short-sleeved shirts stay on the road. Walk into the grass with bare skin, and between the stickers and chiggers you will wish for several itchy days you had not!

Fill your vehicle with gas, and make sure you have a good spare tire and a working jack. Cell phones don't always work in the hills. In the event of a serious break down the locals are very helpful. Unless you really want to go deep into the Ozark back country, there are always plenty of farms and homes along the county roads.

An item of luxury is a tough foam cushion that you put on the ground to sit upon while gawking at blooms under the glass. The pad needs to be a material tough enough to withstand sharp rocks. I use standard gardener's foam knee pads which work well.

Photography Tips
Few subjects of beauty are as easy to photograph as wildflowers. The biggest challenges are the right light conditions and the wind. As with many outdoor photography subjects, natural light is best in the morning and early evening. Bright sunlight in mid-day is the worst. Too much light causes color wash in flower photos, whether using digital or film cameras. However, it is very easy to hold something like a square of cardboard, a cooler top, or even a person standing in the right position to cast a shadow over your subject. Overcast days are perfect for flower photography because there is no bright light glare.

The slightest breeze causes flowers to sway and nod making a clear shot impossible except with a very fast shutter speed. While I have tried numerous home-made contraptions like tents and windscreens to solve this problem, the best solution is simply to wait for the breeze to die. Get your body into position, compose your shot, focus, and freeze in position. If you are using an auto focus camera depress your shutter button one level to focus, then hold it there so that you do not have to waste time with re-focus.

Pay close attention and you'll notice that a breeze always slows slightly before stopping completely. This is your signal to get ready to shoot. As soon as the flower quits moving, take the shot quickly as you have about two seconds before the breeze kicks up again. If all else fails come back in the morning or evening before the wind starts.

For macro shots you will need to get down on your stomach in the dirt, rocks, and thorns. Bring an old blanket to put down. The blanket will soon be full of burs and other sharp sticky things so keep it in a bag of some kind to keep the burs and dirt from getting on your upholstery. When putting the blanket down be careful not to crush nearby blooms.

Put a foam pad under your elbows to protect them from the rocks. Uncomfortable elbows make clear focus impossible. If you are getting down in the weeds like this wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts. Spray your clothes with insect repellent as the chiggers will be all over you if you don't. Using a good zoom lens with your camera tripod mounted allows you to remain standing in many shots. However, for the absolute best results, you'll need to "belly down" with a macro lens.

Dealing with the "Natives"
Local people, in most cases, are very friendly. To win their respect all you need do is show consideration for their land. Nothing enrages an Ozarker more than seeing someone climbing his fence, or someone leaving a pasture gate open. It takes a lot of work and money to keep cattle fences in good repair. And nothing causes more cussing than chasing loose cattle around the Ozark hills and thickets.

Occasionally you'll run into a grumpy Ozarker. Their attitude is a result of having to deal with too many inconsiderate persons who have caused them problems. Trash dumping, fence damage, and leaving gates open causes hard feelings. Like most Americans who work farm land, Ozarkers respect other people's property and expect the same in return.

Most flowers occur on roadside easements, meaning they are on public property. But from time to time you'll see that special species you have been looking for out in the middle of a pasture. Resist the urge to climb the fence to go look. First go to the closest house and ask for permission and how to gain access without fence climbing. For me this step has always resulted in fun and rewarding interaction with locals.

Not only do they willingly grant permission, but some have lead me to some awesome flower colonies. I'll ask them about a certain flower. I know I'm on a hot track when they respond with, "Oh you mean those old nasty weeds growing along the creek? Hell, they are all over the place. Want to see 'em?" Off we go, cheerfully escorted by the ever-present country dog that moments ago wanted to tear me apart. The trick is to be polite, respectful, and most of all, not in a hurry. And that stands for both the dog and the owner!


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Copyright 2002 Gary R. Cooley and the Ozark Mountains Website, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this presentation may be used or reproduced in any manor for any reason without written permission from Ozark Mountains Website, Inc. This includes, but is not limited to, any or all photographs, and any or all text. For use permission phone 870-491-5751. Any party who uses any text, any photographs, or any other part of this presentation without written permission from Ozark Mountains Website, Inc. will be billed a minimum fee of $1,000. Cooley Digital Imaging is a division of Ozark Mountains Website, Inc.