In Search of Shrinking Violets

This informal wildflower foray was before Kay's time. The undated photo from the early 1930s shows friends of Mrs. Steele's hiking along the Peckerwood Trail, one of five trails at T.C. Steele State Historic Site.

This informal wildflower foray was before Kay's time. The undated photo from the early 1930s shows friends of Mrs. Steele's hiking along the Peckerwood Trail, one of five trails at T.C. Steele State Historic Site.

If you’re like me, you classify violets as blue, yellow or white. If you’re wildflower authority Kay Yatskievych, you know that violets are far more varied. Her book Field Guide to Indiana Wildflowers lists 22 species, plus subspecies — and they can hybridize as well. She’ll be quick to tell you that they are her favorite wildflower.

Kay has led very popular and well-attended hikes on opening day of Brown County’s Annual Spring Wildflower Foray. This year marks our 24th Foray, and we’ve added an extra hike at T.C. Steele State Historic Site to give flower-seekers one more chance to benefit from Kay’s plant expertise.

Kay has a quality not always found in experts. Although she literally ‘wrote the book’ on Indiana wildflowers, she is eager to share her knowledge in a way that is interesting and informative. Even if you are just a beginner at wildflower identification, you’ll find Kay easy to understand and patient in answering your questions.

I first met Kay sometime around 1986 while working at Brown County State Park and was amazed by her curiosity and persistence. Using field guides can sometimes be frustrating. If I couldn’t locate a flower in the guides I’d just assume it was my fault. Kay figured there needed to be a better book, and like the little red hen she just decided to write it herself.

She was instrumental in developing the annual species count which soon grew into the Spring Wildflower Foray that we look forward to each year. Most people don’t get too excited about statistics. Kay does. She has lists — and more lists. She tallies lists from all 20 plus hikes offered during the Foray, and compiles them for Saturday’s evening program.

Her summary of the wildflower count is worth listening to. If a flower that’s not listed in a previous count was found, the announcement is greeted by cheers. Kay seems to enjoy it even more if she can’t identify a plant immediately, but she always has it figured out by the end of the Foray.

If you haven’t been on one of Kay’s wildflower hikes yet, don’t be a shrinking violet — make this year your first — April 24, 25 and 26. If you are a returning Foray-er, you’ll find even more opportunities to ‘quiz Kay’. Either way, you’ll find her enthusiasm contagious and the violets more colorful. (Did you know there is even a Green Violet?)

Davie Kean is the master gardener at the T.C. Steele State Historic Site.

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