This page was last updated:  03/11/2017

News for March 2017

Our March Meeting will be held March 16 at 7:00pm at the Louisville Nature Center.  The speaker will be Curtis Carman, educational coordinator from the Parklands.  Snacks will be provided by Pat Meyer, and I guess I'm included there too, and Larry and Susie Hilton.  Many thanks to those that volunteer. There is no scheduled activity for March. 

Curtis, hired as Education Coordinator in March 2015, previously served as an Interpretive Ranger for the Parklands. As Education Coordinator, Curtis oversees programming and staffing for The Parklands Outdoor Classroom, based in the PNC Acheivement Center for Education and Interpretation. A native of Louisville and a graduate of Ballard High School, Curtis returns to Louisville after having worked as an environmental educator at Acadia in Maine and Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. Curtis also served as Membership Manager at the Rocky Mountain Conservancy. Curtis enjoys hiking, biking, camping and kayaking.

Meetings at the Louisville Nature Center the 3rd Thursday of the following months:  March, May, June, September and November.  Our spring conferences are normally held in April (see below for details) and the Fall Conference is normally held in October.  July is reserved for our annual picnic and December for our winter dinner.

A reminder that our membership year begins on January 1 to December 31 each year. If you are presently a member and have not renewed for 2017, it's time to do so.  Most of the monies collected though dues goes to our Grant Funds and operating expenses for our two conferences.  All our positions in the Kentucky Society of Natural History are strictly voluntary so we have no paid positions.  You may renew online ( PayPal ) or send in a membership form found through a link on our website.  A link to a tax- deductible donation is found there as well.

Upcoming Spring Wildflower Conference at Cumberland Falls State Resort Park April 21st to 23rd.  Here is a link to the reservation form.  Please have this form to Mary Alice by April 1st for our planning purposes.

We willbe are honored to have Rick Hill with the Kentucky Division of Fish and Wildlife as our featured speaker Saturday night at the conference.  He is their artist and illustrator.  To see what Rick has done, just watch the short viceo below.


Our annual dinner held December 5th was a great success.  Larry Hilton, past naturalist of the Jefferson Memorial Forest and KSNH board member. was presented the William M. Clay service award for his many contributions To KSNH over the years. 
 Berl Meyer, president of KSNH, with Larry Hilton

All of us are devastrated by the news of the wild fires in eastern kentucky and Tennessee.  Here is a link to the winter 2016/2017 edition to the Smoky's Gude that gives you detail information about how the fire affected the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Also.there is a map of the fire areas included.

Land, Air & Water is a quarterly publication focused on the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet's work to preserve and protect the state's land, air and water resources.  This publication has been discontinued.  All updated articles are found on their website.

Meteorlogy is an important field in the Natural Sciences.  If you think about it, this area is discussed by most people at least once a day or more.  Every once in a while, I will post a webinar from CoCoRaHS (Community Collaborative Rain, Hail and Snow Network).  CoCoRaHS is a unique, non-profit, community-based network of volunteers of all ages and backgrounds working together to measure and map precipitation (rain, hail and snow). By using low-cost measurement tools, stressing training and education, and utilizing an interactive Web-site, our aim is to provide the highest quality data for natural resource, education and research applications. They are now in all fifty states. Our contact in Kentucky is at Western Kentucky University.



CoCoRaHS Just how to measure snow fall

As part of NOAA’s Weather Ready Nation, NOAA encourages you to “Be a Force of Nature” when it comes to extreme weather by learning about potential hazards. Help advance the Weather-Ready Nation by being prepared for the worst. NOAA’s National Weather Service (NWS) and its partners encourage individuals, families, businesses and communities to know their risk, take action, and be an example when it comes to dangerous weather.


Wildflower for February


GRASS OF PARNASSUS (G.O.P.) – Parnassia grandifolia L. – Largeleaf G.O.P. 

One of Kentucky’s most threatened, rare, and pretty flowers, Grass of Parnassus is considered a “Life” plant by many.  Found in boggy stream heads, moors, bogs, or seeps (moist/wet places where water comes to the surface from an underground aquifer (permeous rock/soil layer)).  It is a true gem of nature to find.  A few lucky individuals who attended the KSNH 2016 Fall Conference had the opportunity of seeing the Largeleaf G.O.P. (Parnassia grandifolia) still in bloom.  Largeleaf G.O.P. is a native, perennial dicot found in Clinton County. It blooms from September to October and is hardy primarily in zones 4-7 in constantly wet/boggy habitats.  It is endangered in Kentucky.

Largeleaf G.O.P. is a distinctive attractive flower.  Lightly scented blooms are 1-2 inches across and consist of 5 bright white slightly waxy petals that have 7-9 greenish/yellow-brown veins/netting (nectar guides) that  are not clawed – without a stalked base.  Five white sepals are most noticeable once the petals have dropped off.  Thick, succulent, shiny, oval-cordate shaped leaves that are considered evergreen, are longer than wide and are up to 4 inches long. Leaves, on very long petioles, arise from a basal rosette.  Occasionally, a single sessile leaf is present that wraps/encircles the stem’s middle half making this cauline leaf appear perfoliate.  The green one-celled superior ovary has a short style with 4 stigmas. The flower bears 5 sets of infertile stamens (staminodia – false stamens) whose bases are each 3-5 parted creating the appearance of 15-25 separate staminodes.  These staminodes have an orange, rounded tip which serves as false nectaries.  The real nectaries are at the base of the true stamens’ filaments.  The flower is unique in that when it opens the stamens are bent inward over the pistil in order to prevent self-fertilization.  Each stamen unfolds one at a time and releases its bright orange pollen away from the pistil.  Once all 5 stamens have unfolded, the pistil is now receptive to pollination by flies/bees that have picked up pollen from other nearby Parnassus plants.  Grass of Parnassus species must be cross-pollinated to produce seeds.  The flower’s petals, with attractive nectar guides and the false nectaries on the staminodes, lure pollinators to itself.  After landing on the petals which serve a very convenient landing place, the pollinator quickly recognizes the false nectaries and is directed to the true nectaries at the base of the true stamen’s filaments. In the process of reaching these true nectaries, the pollinator is dusted with pollen that will be transported to other Parnassus flowers – it is cross-pollination at its deceptive best.  Fertilization creates a 4-valved thin capsule about 1.5 cm long containing numerous fine seeds.

 A similar species of G.O.P. – Parnassia asarifolia (kidneyleaf G.O.P.) – is also present in Kentucky (McCreary County).  The main differences between these two Parnassus species are listed next.    Largeleaf G.O.P. – staminodes longer than stamens, petals not clawed, petals have 7-9 veins, and it prefers calcareous sites.   Kidneyleaf G.O.P. - staminodes equaling or shorter than stamens, petals are clawed, petals have 11-15 veins, and it prefers acidic sites.  Interestingly both of these species are separated by Wayne County, which has similar habitats, but neither Parnassus has been reported in that county.  Both species are listed as endangered in Kentucky.  


Parnassia grandifolia (largeleaf G.O.P.) has several other common names: Bog Stars, which is derived from the petals’ star-shaped appearance and the habitat where it resides and it also known as Lime Seep Parnassis due to its preferred calcareous seep habitats.  Another common name, Undine, is seldom used but has an interesting history.  Undine is a mythological, bright-spirited water nymph who becomes human when she falls in love with a man – but she is doomed to die if he is unfaithful to her.  Undine(s) was first mentioned by the Swiss/German physician, botanist, philosopher and general occultist, Paracelsus.  Born Philippus Aureolus Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim (1493-1541), Paracelsus proposed undines as beautiful spirited nymphs who inhabit the element water.  The beautiful bright white flowers and watery habitat of Parnassia plants are thus associated with undine(s).

G.O.P. plants/species, as Largeleaf G.O.P., are very baffling/confusing.  Controversy exists over which plant family to place it in and how the name Grass of Parnassus was derived.  Grass of Parnassus has been in 3 families.  The genus Parnassia was first named by Linnaeus in 1753 after Mount Parnassus in Central Greece where these plants were believed to be present and first described by the famous Greek botanist/physician Dioscorides (c. 40-90 AD).  In 1821 German botanist Samuel Frederick Gray put the genus Parnassia in its own family – Parnassiaceae.  In 1930, the famous German botanist and greatest plant systematist and phytogeographer of his era, Adolf Engler (1844-1930) published detailed descriptions and illustrations of Parnassia and placed this genus among the subfamilies in the Saxifragaceae family.  Detailed DNA studies in 2005-2006 concluded the family Parnassiaceae belonged in the order Celastales in the Celastraceae family as genus Parnassia.  In 2009 the Angiosperm Phylogeny Group (APG III) (an international group of botanists who try to establish a consensus of plant taxonomy) expanded the Celastraceae family to about 100 genera – including the genus Parnassia.  The APG IV (2016) still does not recognize a Parnassiaceae family.  The taxonomy of Grass of Parnassus is still an issue.  This group of plants can still be found listed in the Parnassiaceae Saxifragaceae or the Celastraceae family.  Amazingly, with all the taxonomy changes, Largeleaf G.O.P. has had only one scientific name – Parnassia grandifolia.       


Grass of Parnassus is also enigmatic in regards to the origin of its genus name – Parnassia.  Linnaeus named the genus Parnassia 1753 after Mount Parnassus in Central Greece as it was said that cattle grazing on the mountain thrived on eating the local “Grass of Parnassus”, now believed to be Parnassia palustris.  Linnaeus derived the Parnassia genus name based on a remarkable written work from around c.50-70 AD De Materia Medica (On Medical Material). It was a 5-volume Greek encyclopedia on herbal medicine and related medicinal substances.  A leading pharmacological text for over 1500 years, it was written by Pedanius Dioscorides (c. 40-90 AD), a famous Greek physician-botanist.  Dioscorides named the plant, whose foliage and seeds were eaten by cattle, other mammals, and birds, Agrastis En Parnasso – Greek for Grass of Parnassus (agrostis – a grass and is now the name of the bentgrass genus).  Linnaeus made no mention to the origin of the genus name Paranassia in his 1758 work Species Plantarum (The Species of Plants) and likely used a pre-existing name.  Linnaeus and other botanists may have deduced this was the plant Dioscorides described on Mt. Parnassus. The connection to Dioscorides is dubious at best. The genus Parnassia may also come from the ancient Greek word for Parnassos, the mythological son of the nymph Kleoda and the human Kleopompus.  A flood forced Parnassos and his family up a mountain to safety.  This mountain was named Parnassus and was sacred to the Greek God Apollo, who was leader of the Muse goddesses.  Mt. Parnassus was also home to the Oracle of Delphi!  No Grass of Parnassus is found on Mt. Parnassus and it certainly isn’t a grass.  There are, however, several species of Parnassus in northern and southern Greece.  Linnaeus honored Dioscorides by naming the  genus, which includes yams, Dioscorea.  Mt. Parnassus is known as the home of poetry, music, and learning as it was home to the Greek muses – inspirational goddesses. The common name, Grass of Parnassus, is also believed derived from the green stripes on the white petals appearing as “grass” blades.  Parnassia grandifolia gets its species name from the Latin grandis meaning large and folium meaning leaf. The genus Parnassia has about 70 species worldwide with 9 species in the United States – 2 of which are in Kentucky (grandifolia and asarifolia).  At least 10 species are known cultivars used as ornamentals.

Overall the genus Parnassia does not have many documented medical/culinary usages or folklore references.  As populations of G.O.P. are usually small, quite possibly  the plant’s various/possible uses were never fully recognized or documented.  Medical usages that have been documented include its use as a diuretic, sedative, and “tonic”.  Dried and powdered leaves were used to heal wounds.  Distilled water from its foliage was used as an excellent astringent eyewash.  A decoction was used as a mouthwash for stomatitis.  A leaf tea was used by Cheyenne parents to treat babies affected by “dullness”.  The Gosiute Indians (a Shoshonean tribe meaning desert people) used a poultice from G.O.P. to treat venereal disease.  Parnassia grandifolia flowers are the symbol of the Scottish Clan MacLea and it is said to be the favorite flower of the 6th Century St. Moulag, an Irish missionary whose staff were responsible for bringing Christianity to the “heathen” Picts of Scotland! Three G.O.P. flowers don the flag of Cumberland, a British County where these Parnassus grow on the “fells” (old Norse for mountains) of Cumberland. No record of human culinary usages are cited.  Mammals and birds do browse on the foliage and seeds.  Swedish folklore credits Parnassia as “luring the eyes of the love-lorn maiden weakened by excessive weeping and renders the bright eyes of the conquering flirt more dazzling and destructive”! Parnassus flower’s essence is said to open one’s heart to the healing power of love –“Open the heart to healing.  Let down your barriers and release your fear.  Restore your faith in the healing power of love.” G.O.P. opens your heart freely which lets you radiate warmth and love which leads to real happiness.

The real definitive benefit that Grass of Parnassus/Bog Stars affords humans is in their sheer beauty and aesthetic value.  Largeleaf G.O.P. is one of Kentucky’s prettiest, most graceful wildflowers.  When its flower opens in the autumn’s cold and wet it is a true symbol of wilderness, strength, and endurance.  Even from a distance, largeleaf G.O.P. stands out and begs to be noticed.  On closer examination of the flowers’ bright white petals with distinct green/yellow veins, orange-tipped staminodes, and stamens, one realizes it as an absolutely magnificient/spectacular plant.  G.O.P. aesthetic value is virtually unmatched. Mt. Parnassus is cited as an inspiration for the impressionistic oil painting masterpiece, “Ad Parnassum” (1932), by the famous Swiss painter Paul Klee.

Grass of Parnassus seeds are easily spread by wind and water as each seed is aided by an air-filled, pouch-like appendix.  Plants also spread by rhizomes.  Seed propagation is possible but not easily accomplished and these rare plants are not often commercially available.  G.O.P. in Kentucky, as elsewhere, are threatened by habitat-loss development, hydrological changes in seepage/water flow, trampling/grazing by cattle or over browsing by deer, invasive exotic plants, and senseless/selfish thievery.  Conservation and protection of our seeps/bogs from hydrologic disturbances, cattle, exotics, insect pest, and thieves can help ensure G.O.P. survival.

Do not pass up the chance to view our Grass of Parnassus species in Kentucky.  It is well worth a trip to see these native, fantastic, beautiful, yet enigmatic, plants.  Their aesthetic value is priceless.  Perhaps the following poem, “Grass of Parnassus” (1988) by Scottish scholar, poet, folklorist, historian Dr. Andrew Lang (1844-1912), depicts the true beauty and purpose of the G.O.P.  This poem appears in Dr. Lang’s book of poetry that goes by the same name: Grass of Parnassus (1889).

Grass of Parnassus” (1988)

Pale star that by the locks of Galloway,

In wet green places ‘twixt the depth and height

Dost keep thine hour while Autumn ebbs away,

When now the moors have duffed the heather bright,

Grass of Parnassus, flower of my delight,

How gladly with the unpremitted bay –

Garlands not mine, and leaves that not decay –

How gladly would I twine thee if I might!

The bays are out of reach! But far below

The peaks forbidden of the Muses’ Hill,

Grass of Parnassus, thy returning snow

Between September and October chill

Doth speak to me of Autumns long ago,

              And these kind faces that are with me still.

I’ll end with one last thought.  Since Grass of Parnassus is abbreviated as G.O.P., maybe another synonym could be the Republican Flower! (I’ve had few takers on this.) Enjoy and respect our Kentucky natural areas.

Chris Bidwell, naturalist and past president of KSNH

Mary Alice Bidwell, KSNH treasurer/typist

Susan Wilson, photographer

Click Here for the biography of the above article.

Here's a new link sponsered by Louisville Water Co. and others;  Native Plants, Pest Management and Pollution Prevention

Please note that all our meetings especially during the winter months' are subject to change because of weather conditions.  Please check our calendar for any cancellations.

...and as always, please keep us informed with any address or email changes.