Echinacea purpurea
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea © Richard Baumer

Stories in Ohio

Ohio Summer Wildflowers

Spring might get all the attention, but summer has some important showstoppers, too.

Ohio has some of the most interesting and beautiful wildflowers.  Some are prolific and can grow anywhere while others need specific soils and habitats.  We encourage everyone to learn about and observe these plants, but to never harvest plants from their habitats.  There are many reputable native plant nurseries around to find sustainably sourced plants. Our work to protect the lands and waters of Ohio includes protecting the diverse plant communities that are native to our state. This list is just a sample of what you will find on our preserves through the summer months across Ohio.

Asclepias syriaca
Common Milkweed Asclepias syriaca © TNC

Common Milkweed

Very aromatic and sweetly scented, this milkweed species is the one seen most often in Ohio. It can be an aggressive grower which might be why some think of it as a weed.  This species is an important part of the monarch butterfly life cycle, though.  Monarch butterflies deposit their eggs on the plants.  The eggs then transform into brightly colored caterpillars with white, yellow and black stripes.  The caterpillars can only get the nutrients they need from milkweed plants. These can be found at any of our preserves, but a good place to see them is our Big Darby Headwaters Preserve where we are transforming retired farm fields into native habitats.

Bloom Time: June through August

The preserve’s marshes are part of the West Harbor Basin, a long, narrow pool of Lake Erie backwater that geologists believe was once the channel of the Portage River.
American Water Lotus Nelumbo lutea © TNC

American Water Lotus

This native lotus is the largest wildflower in Ohio.  The fragrant flowers can grow up to 10” across and the perfectly round leaves can reach up to 3’ in diameter.  They provide important habitat for young fish to hide from predators (and provide predators a place to search).  Cone shaped seed heads provide food for ducks and other water fowl and migratory birds.  Plants are rooted into the ground and spread by rhizomes rather than floating on the water like some other aquatic plants.  Beaver and muskrats use the rhizomes for a food source.  You’ll find these in shallow inlets of ponds and lakes across Ohio.  One place to see them is our Great Egret Marsh Preserve where we are preserving and restoring wetland habitats. View these amazing plants from the overlook along the trail or better yet, grab your kayak and put in at the preserve to float among the flowers.  

Bloom Time: July to September

Liatris aspera
Rough blazing star Liatris aspera © Angie Cole

Rough Blazing Star

There are six species of liatris that are native to Ohio. They can be found in the prairies across Ohio.  This particular species is mostly seen in southern Ohio and a few spots in the sandier soils of the Oak Openings region. It is a slightly shorter species, but with larger more wild looking flowers. This photo is a close up of one of the flowers that grow along the 2' tall stalks. Important for pollinators like butterflies and hummingbirds for nectar, but also useful for birds who eat the seeds after the flowers are spent. Find some at our Kitty Todd Preserve.

Bloom Time: August to September

Sisyrinchium angustifolium
Blue-eyed Grass Sisyrinchium angustifolium © Angie Cole

Blue-Eyed Grass

The narrow leaves of this small plant make it look like a grass, but it is actually a member of the iris family. The adorably sweet flowers grow about ½” across. It’s one of the earlier blooming plants that attracts pollinators, mostly small bees. This species can be found all across Ohio in meadows and prairies. You might find these at our Edge of Appalachia Preserve System or Kitty Todd Preserve.

Bloom Time: May to early July

Asclepias tuberosa
Butterflyweed Asclepias tuberosa © Anthony Sasson/TNC

Butterflyweed

Bright orange eye-catching flowers are the signature feature of this milkweed plant.  Milkweeds attract an assortment of pollinators – not only Monarch butterflies.  This species actually attracts fewer monarchs than some of the other native milkweeds.  Numerous butterflies and other insects feed exclusively on milkweed.  One great place to find these plants is our Big Darby Headwaters Preserve.

Bloom Time: May through early September

Blue Flag Iris colors the landscape at Maxton Plains Preserve on Drummond Island.
Blue Flag Iris Iris versicolor © Jason Whalen

Blue Flag Iris

You will most likely see these plants in large groups.  They are clump forming; spreading by rhizomes.  They tolerate a variety of soil types, but you’ll only see them in the wetter areas of our preserves.  The strap-like leaves give it a grass-like appearance.   They attract butterflies and other insects, birds and hummingbirds, too.  They can be found at any of our open preserves.

Bloom Time: May to July

Calopogon tuberosus
Grass Pink Orchid Calopogon tuberosus © Angie Cole

Grass Pink Orchid

The grass pink orchid is a small, native orchid found mainly in sunny areas of wet prairies.  Short stalks grow from the grass-like basal foliage to hold the bright pink flowers.  Stalks vary in height and in the number of flowers they hold. There can be as many as 24 flowers on one stalk! These orchids attract pollinators like bees and other small insects. It is listed as threatened in Ohio due to habitat loss and collection of wild specimens. This photo is a close-up of the individual flowers and was taken at our Kitty Todd Preserve. You can also find them at Brown's Lake Bog Preserve.

Bloom Time: June to July

Opuntia humifusa
Eastern Prickly Pear Cactus Opuntia humifusa © Angie Cole

Eastern Prickly Pear

Ohio’s only native cactus!  It is state-listed as potentially-threatened because of irresponsible collection from preserves. It can be found in responsible garden centers, so there is no need to dig and collect these from the wild.  Each individual flower is short-lived, only blooming a day, but luckily, these form in colonies, so multiples will bloom at the same time and in succession.  The blooms are little bursts of sunshine. Pollinators (mostly bees and other insects) love this plant. It likes more sandy soils that can be found in the globally unique habitats of the Oak Openings region and our Kitty Todd Preserve in northwest Ohio.  

Bloom Time: June to July

Silphium terebinthinaceum var. luciae-bruniae
Lucy Braun Prairie Dock Silphium terebinthinaceum var. luciae-bruniae © Terry Seidel/TNC

Lucy Braun Prairie Dock

Also known as Lucy Braun's Rosinweed, this plant is named after famed botanist E. Lucy Braun who was a pioneer in land conservation in Ohio.  This species is similar, but generally smaller than the straight species. When in flower, it can grow up to 8’ tall. Individual flowers are yellow and grow about 2” across. These plants can be found in the prairie remnants of Ohio.  Plants form large taproots so it is a more drought-resistant plant and can recover quickly after disturbances to the soil such as prairie fires. Leaves grow vertically and are oriented north-south which is believed to help the plant conserve water on hot summer days. Native bees use the plants for nesting and birds and other wildlife utilize the seeds.  Of course, you might guess, you can find this at our E. Lucy Braun Lynx Prairie Preserve.

Bloom Time: July to September

Echinacea purpurea
Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea © Richard Baumer

Purple Coneflower

One of Ohio’s most popular and recognizable native plants.  Purple coneflowers (pictured here with a Monarda species) are an important food source for butterflies and other pollinators.  They feed on the nectar from the flowers while blooming.  Birds and other creatures also use these plants by eating the seeds after the flowers are spent and the ‘cone’ starts to dry in the fall and through the winter.  This is also a great plant for your garden and can readily be found in garden centers.  If you have these in your garden, don't deadhead the flowers in the fall.  Keep these up as long as you can to serve as a food source for wildlife.  You can see these at many of our open preserves.

Bloom Time: June through August

  Melanthium virginicum
Bunchflower Melanthium virginicum © Terry Seidel/TNC

Bunchflower

Large groupings of white and off-white flowers grow atop tall stems. When in flower, plants grow up to 5’ tall. Pollinators, namely native flies and bees, utilize the nectar. You’ll find these in wooded wetland areas and fens.  It is state listed as threatened likely due to loss of viable habitats. There are only a few spots around Ohio where this exists.  J. Arthur Herrick Fen Preserve, which is owned and managed jointly by The Nature Conservancy and Kent State University, is one of those places where we are protecting and restoring habitat for these types of plant communities.

Bloom Time: June to July

Sarracenia purpurea
Northern Pitcher Plant Sarracenia purpurea © Emily Speelman

Northern Pitcher Plant

Also known as purple pitcher plant, this is one of Ohio's few carnivorous plants and is a rare plant, officially listed as threatened in Ohio.  It is only found in a few sites around Ohio, almost all of those sites are bogs. It can form in larger colonies, but it takes a while to establish.  When you see a grouping of these, realize that much time went into forming that community.  The plant itself is interesting enough with its tube-shaped foliage, but the flower is amazing, too.  It’s an unexpected surprise that pops up out of the foliage like a balloon nodding on a string. These can be seen at our Brown's Lake Bog Preserve. As with any plant in the wild, do not harvest the native plants.  They often can be found at reputable nurseries.

Bloom Time: May to August

Allium cernuum
Nodding Onion Allium cernuum © Terry Seidel/TNC

Nodding Onion

This species can be found all over the United States and are considered common in most states where it occurs. Delicate looking umbels droop downward giving its nodding appearance.  When blooming en masse it is a beautiful sight.  Individual flowers are pale, rosy pink and bell-shaped.  It is an important pollinator plant that attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. These can be found intermittently in the prairie areas of many of our open preserves.

Bloom Time: July to August

Platanthera ciliaris
Orange-fringed Orchid Platanthera ciliaris © Angie Cole

Orange-Fringed Orchid

This is also sometimes called yellow-fringed orchid.  It is state-listed as threatened in Ohio. It is native to the eastern and south-central United States. It can be found in a variety of habitats, but most often in meadows and open woods. Flowers are very showy and exciting to see in the landscape. Large clusters of fringed flowers grow atop stalks that reach 3 feet tall. Butterflies and moths are attracted to this species to collect nectar. 

Our staff along with people from the University of Toledo, University of Michigan, Great Lakes Orchids and many volunteers took on the task of planting hundreds of these orchids at our Kitty Todd Preserve. The project aims to study this species in the hopes to apply the information to other similar species with threatened populations. These can be found in a few spots around Ohio including Shawnee State Forest and our Kitty Todd Preserve.

Bloom Time: July to September

Saururus cernuus
Lizard's Tail Saururus cernuus © Terry Seidel/TNC

Lizard's Tail

You’ll find these quirky plants in abundance along parts of the Grand River in northeast Ohio. A native species that can be found from New England all the way into the southern U.S., it likes moist soils and shallow waters.  When in bloom, the slender stalks are covered with clusters of tiny white flowers that make the stalk droop over and nod about. This feature gives it the name ‘Lizard Tail’. These plants are important for attracting birds, water fowl, pollinators and beneficial insects.  Wildlife find this spreading groundcover helpful for providing cover.

Put in your kayak or canoe at our Morgan Swamp Preserve and travel along the Grand River to see them. At 2,000 acres, Morgan Swamp preserve holds one of the largest privately protected forested wetlands in Ohio. We're working to protect these wetlands so that the Grand continues to live up to the title of 'State Wild and Scenic River'. 

Bloom time: June to August

 Hexalectris spicata
Crested Coralroot Orchid Hexalectris spicata © TJ Vissing

Crested Coralroot Orchid

A truly unique plant and a treasure to see.  It is state-listed as a threatened species.  Up to 15 intricately decorated blooms appear along 12” tall stems.  Flowers themselves can be up to 1” across.  Hikers might not notice these unassuming plants right away.  The coral-root does not have leaves or any other structures that appear above the ground unless it is in flower. And it only blooms when the environmental conditions are right, which might not be every year, making it harder to keep track of.

It is a saprophytic plant, which means that it cannot produce its own food like other plants do through photosynthesis. It uses the help of mycorrhizal fungi in the soil to get nutrients. The Crested Coral-root and the fungi form a symbiotic relationship.  The fungi grow around the rhizome of the plant and are able to draw out nutrients from other nearby plants to send back to its host plant, the coral-root. 

In Ohio, these only occur in a few southern counties. TNC has worked to protect and restore unique habitats that will support biodiversity.  These can be found at our Edge of Appalachia Preserve along the Lynx Prairie or Joan Jones Portman Trail.

Bloom time: June to August

Ratibida pinnata
Gray-headed Coneflower Ratibida pinnata © TNC

Gray-Headed Coneflower

This is what you might think of when you imagine a prairie plant.  These tall, slender plants grow up to 6 feet tall when in flower.  Their deep roots allow them to thrive in dry conditions. Bright yellow blooms with dark brown cones are important for pollinators like birds, bees and butterflies. When the flowers are done blooming, the dried cones hold seeds that are a great food source for birds late into the fall and winter. You might find these in the prairie remnants along one of our most popular trails, Buzzardroost Rock Trail at the Edge of Appalachia.

Bloom time: July to September