FORT POLK, La. — Sunny days, bees drifting from flower to flower and soft breezes are some of the moments found during the spring days that entice folks from the weary confines of their humble abodes.
Take that spring incentive and go for a stroll through Fort Polk’s Marion Bonner trail — a 10-mile, two-way walking, jogging, running path through the Fort Polk woods. If the thought of exercise and lovely weather aren’t enough to get you moving, maybe curiosity might be what you need to push you out the door.
Just drive into the parking lot along Chaffee Road on the way to North Fort Polk to reach the trail. Once you hit the path that leads through the heart of Fort Polk, you can find any number of nature trails off the beaten path. Your reward for this effort is the beauty of unexpected flowering bushes and wildflowers found along the track, some with signs detailing information about certain flora.
The following are just a few of the flowers you might see as you explore nature’s spring show:
• Native azalea — these wilder relatives of the azalea have a much different look than the ones you see in perfectly landscaped yards across the South. You will find these flowering shrubs in either dappled shade or sunlight. The flowers are tubular with flaring petals and long stamens and come in a range of colors.
• Red buckeye — red buckeye is a medium-sized deciduous (a tree or shrub that sheds its leaves annually) tree-like shrub in the horse chestnut family. It can be found growing throughout the southeastern United States in its native habitat. Trees are found from Virginia to Florida to Texas and are distributed throughout the Gulf south, growing along streams and as an understory tree in forests.
• Bird’s-foot violet — this wildflower is one of the largest and perhaps most attractive member of the genus Viola. Its flowers consist of two pairs of upper petals and one lower, spurred petal. Two color forms are seen in the wild: In one, all five petals are uniformly lilac; in the other, which is much rarer, the two upper petals are deep, velvety violet. Clustered in the center of the flowers are five orange-tipped stamens. The three-to-five-parted leaves of this plant arise from a short, underground stem and bear some resemblance to a bird’s foot — hence, its common name.
• Parsley hawthorn — this is a shrub to small tree of the rose family. You will find it in woods and low pastures. The leaves look similar to parsley. Flowers are five white petals with red stamens in clusters but don’t smell them — though pretty, they have a fishy or rotten scent.
• Lyre-leaf sage — is a Salvia perennial ground cover from the mint family with large deeply three-lobed leaves and showy blue flowers in the spring. It reseeds easily and its flowers provide an excellent landing platform for bees.
• False garlic — is an early spring wildflower of the lily family that appears on lawns, meadows and roadsides. It grows from a bulb and looks like a wild onion, but has fewer and larger flowers on long stems and lacks an onion odor. The white flowers have six white petals and six yellow stamens (the male fertilizing organ of a flower that is pollen producing). They grow in clusters.
• Prairie verbena — doesn’t look much different from the verbena you buy at your local plant nursery. Its flowers are rounded clusters of pink, lavender or purple blooms on top of stems with highly divided leaves. In the wild, the plant forms brilliant displays that can cover acres of ground.
• Narrow-leaf blue-eyed grass — is a perennial wildflower of the iris family. The stems may be up to 18 inches long and bear light blue, star shaped flowers a few inches above the leaves. Only one flower at a time blooms on these small plants and the leaves are grass like.
As always, when walking along the nature trails, be careful and understand that none of these plants are edible.
Editor’s note: The information for the flowers and plants highlighted in this article were found at http://www.lsuagcenter.com, https://louisianadigitallibrary.org, http://friendslaarb.org and http://www.wildflower.org