MARBLEHEAD, Ohio - As Gary Obermiller recalls, he was underwhelmed when he got his first look at the 19-acre site that would become the Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve.
It was February, 1988 and Mr. Obermiller, a local manager for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources' Division of Natural Areas and Preserves, stood shivering as he looked out over a barren landscape of limestone and stubby red cedar trees.
"I thought, 'What could possibly have motivated the state to buy this?'●" he said.
Mr. Obermiller and hundreds of other visitors are reminded why every spring, when the
bright yellow Lakeside daisy blooms like magic out of the dry, rocky terrain of a former limestone quarry along Alexander Pike.
The daisies' vivid display lasts only a few weeks each year, providing a brief glimpse of one of the world's rarest plants.
The preserve is home to what state officials say is the only natural Lakeside daisy population in the United States.
"It's pretty neat," said Walt Jinks, preserve manager for the division of natural areas and preserve's north central district. "It's pretty unique, isn't it, to think it's the only natural site where these things grow? It's precious."
The flowers, which thrive on sunshine and the calcium contained in limestone, also are found in their natural state on Canada's Bruce Peninsula and Manitoulin Island.
The flowers have been restored to some of their original habitats, such as a site in Illinois, and transplanted to other areas, such as Kelleys Island State Park, across from Marblehead.
In the preserve, thousands of the flowers bloom from leafless, rubbery green stalks that grow from 6 inches to 11 inches high. Mr. Obermiller said the Lakeside daisy thrives in an environment where few other plants can survive.
In the Marblehead preserve, other vegetation is limited mostly to red cedar trees, grass-like patches of sedge, and some cottonwood trees that have managed to stretch their roots toward nearby water supplies. Each autumn, stiff goldenrod and spike blazing-star bloom in resplendent gold and purple, respectively, Mr. Obermiller said.
"It's spectacular up here in the early fall too," he said.
On the preserve's eastern border stand 15-foot-tall stalks of fragmites, a notorious invasive species that wildlife officials are battling elsewhere around Lake Erie. But the brown plants, which tend to crowd out other species, can't make it in the preserve's dry limestone bed, which is elevated slightly from the surrounding wetlands.
That cuts down on maintenance, Mr. Obermiller said.
"It does not require a lot of effort," he said. "We make sure the fragmites doesn't come in. We come in and pull sweet clover. It's such a harsh environment that there's not a lot of competition."
ODNR hopes to increase public awareness of the Lakeside daisy, which is listed as a state endangered species and a federally threatened species. The agency is sponsoring an open house at the preserve from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. tomorrow that will include a ceremony at 11 a.m. led by Marblehead Mayor Jackie Bird.
Tours will be conducted from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, and on May 15, 22, and 29.
Mr. Obermiller said village officials have talked about organizing a Lakeside daisy festival next year, and he's all for it.
"We want to encourage people to come up and see this marvelous plant," he said.
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