Thursday, June 27, 2013

June 27, 2013, Ramble Report

The reading this week, a poem by Walt Whitman (1819-1892), was provided by Hugh Nourse: 

The Dalliance of the Eagles

SKIRTING the river road, (my forenoon walk, my rest,)
Skyward in air a sudden muffled sound, the dalliance of the eagles,
The rushing amorous contact high in space together,
The clinching interlocking claws, a living, fierce, gyrating wheel,
Four beating wings, two beaks, a swirling mass tight grappling,
In tumbling turning clustering loops, straight downward falling,
Till o'er the river pois'd, the twain yet one, a moment's lull,
A motionless still balance in the air, then parting, talons loosing,
Upward again on slow-firm pinions slanting, their separate diverse flight,
She hers, he his, pursuing.

This morning we took the White trail to the power line cut, turned left and went downhill to a Trumpet Vine and then returned uphill, pausing to examine some insects where the White trail enters the woods. Then we continued up the power line to the fence, turned left, following the fence to the White trail and returned in the woods back to the Arbor.

The Trumpet Vine (also called Trumpet Creeper), Campsis radicans, has conspicuous red trumpet-shaped flowers – just right for attracting hummingbirds. But pollinators are not the only animals attracted to these flowers. Careful examination will reveal numerous ants hanging out on the surface of the flower buds and, later in the season, on the surface of the long, bean shaped seed pods. The ants are in search of nectar, but not from inside the flower. The nectar they find is secreted by the plant on the surface of the flower buds and the seed pods. These “extrafloral nectaries” are thought to attract ants to defend the plant from attack by herbivorous insects and especially those that might try to eat the developing seeds. There is currently no direct evidence that this is the case for the Trumpet Vine, but many other plants have extrafloral nectarines and in some of these the evidence for ant defense is quite good.

Walking up the hill we passed a stand of very healthy Pokeweed, Phytolacca americana, with a developing inflorescence. Most parts of this plant are poisonous, but the young shoots and leaf tips can be eaten if properly prepared (boiling with at least two changes of water).

Where the White trail enters the woods we found several different types of insects feeding on the freshly emerged leaves of a Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera). Viewing them with a hand lens is an exciting experience. We saw aphids and the nymphal stages of a treehopper as well as several forms with fuzzy, waxy secretions that conceal part of their bodies. (Yesterday I found a aphid lion, the larval stage of the Green Lacewing (Chrysopa sp.). It has sickle-shaped jaws that pierce the skin of its aphid prey and suck them dry. It then sticks the husks of its victims on its back, apparently to serve as camouflage.) Lacewings are Neuropterans, related to Doodlebugs.

It took us over an hour to walk up the rest of the power line to the fence, there were so many plants in bloom – summer has finally arrived! Perhaps it’s best to just list the plants seen: 

Common Name

Scientific name
Rose Pink
Sabatia angularis
Yellow Star Grass
Hypoxis hirsuta
Stiff-haired Sunflower
Helianthus hirsutus
Curly Milkweed, Bluntleaf Milkweed
Asclepius amplexicaulis
Spinypod Milkvine
Matelea decipiens
Bitterweed, Sneezeweed
Helenium amarum
Sensitive Brier
Mimosa microphylla
Deptford Pink
Dianthus armeria
Carolina Wild Petunia
Ruellia carolinensis
Hypericum gentianoides
Wild Bergamot
Monarda fistulosa
Whorled Coreopsis
Coreopsis major
White Horsemint
Pycnanthemum incanum
Common Yellow Wood Sorrel
Oxalis stricta
Common Mullein
Verbascum thaspus
Longleafed Bluet
Houstonia longifolia
Leafy-stemmed False Dandelion
Pyrrhopappus carolinianus

The Wild Bergamot was especially abundant. 

As we wandered up the path we met several Botanical Garden workers engaged in plant rescue efforts. This part of the Garden is being converted to a Piedmont Prairie and the initial steps involve removal of much of the broad leaved herbaceous vegetation. (This means, in large part, the Wingstems that grow so abundantly in the power line cut. We’ll miss their colorful yellow and white flowers that provide masses of color during the summer before the goldenrod and ironweed begin blooming.)

Finally, into the woods to cool off and look for mushrooms! And there were mushrooms galore, especially Chanterelles which glowed orange against the light and dark browns of the leaf litter. Besides the Chanterelles we encountered Amanitas and Russulas as well as others that perplexed us. We need an experience mushroom collected to join us some time and give us a little guidance.

On the way back we noticed the fruits of two plants in the shade garden: Camellia and Sweet Shrub. Both surprised us – none of us had ever seen the fruits of these plants before.

Then it was on to Donderos’ for iced beverages and the reconstruction of the list of plants we had observed.

Note: There will be no Nature Ramble next week (next Thursday falls on July 4). Hope to see you all again on July 11.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

June 20, 2013, Ramble Report

The reading this week was provided by Carol Nourse and is from The Garden, by Freeman Patterson, p. 100:

If it weren't for fungi the planet would soon cease to function, probably within minutes.  Like many other fungi, Amanita mushrooms are important to the collective health of the forest, though I've also found and photographed them in open areas, where other species also live and do their work, often in gardens. For example, the delicious Agaricus, often called the "meadow mushroom," is common wherever there is decomposing manure of farm animals.
The visible part of mushrooms, those weird constructions I love to photograph, are the reproductive organs. However, the daily work of most species is carried out by mycelia: fine, fibrous, root-like hairs that invade dead wood and other material, causing it to decay. Then bacteria take over and complete the process of making it part of the soil again. One day it occurred to me that we all garden with fungi and bacteria to a greater extent than we do with shrubs and herbs and grasses.

The route:  We went through the Shade Garden and on to the white trail.  Just past the Power Line Right of Way we took the Green Trail, then continued to the right on the White Trail to a large group of Chanterelle Mushrooms. Then we returned the same way we came.

Our first stop was under the Power Line on the White Trail.  Gary identified the white button mushrooms as Puffballs. He told us they should be eaten when the inside is white, before it becomes yellow. They must be cooked to get rid of dangerous alkaloids before eating.
Under the power line we also found a False Caesar’s Mushroom (Thank you Sandra for working with the mushroom guide and finding some of these names) (Amanita parcivolvata).  As we rambled along, we found many more mushrooms than we could name. We only managed to identify about five. We found many individuals of Black footed Marasmius (Marasmiellus nigripes), a really interesting small, white mushroom growing on a twig (and eventually found growing on the trunk of a tree) that had dark thread-like projections emerging from the wood below the mushroom itself. There were so many interesting mushrooms to see that we were hardly moving on the Green Trail. We wanted everyone to see the Chanterelles, we decided to move on to where they were growing and then come back along the Green Tail at a leisurely pace. Gary said the Chanterelles (Cantharellus cibarius) were excellent eating. There were quite a number of them at this site. We turned around and started back.

The first stop on the way back was for a mushroom that looked like a Chanterelle, but was growing on wood and not on the ground. Gary noted that this one was poisonous. I could not find latin name of the poisonous Chanterelle-looking mushroom.  But we did find the name (Thank you Sandra) for the red mushroom bursting out of a white covering, American Caesar’s Mushroom (Amanita caesarea). One of the slime molds and a coral mushroom were seen along the Green Trail on the return.

In addition to mushrooms we noted several rattlesnake ferns (Botrychium virginianum), partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) not blooming, and pipsissiwa (Chimaphila maculata). We also identified several trees:  Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata), Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea), mockernut hickory (Carya tomentosa), pignut hickory (Carya glabra), shagbark hickory (Carya ovate), and a tulip tree (Liriodendron tulipifera).

Don Hunter found our last mushroom off the trail:  Silver Ear Fungus or White Jelly Mushroom (Tremella fuciformis). Gary said that Jelly mushrooms were edible.

As we walked by the old flower garden we saw wild petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis). 

Returning to the Arbor, we dispersed with many retiring to Donderos for coffee and snacks. This was a very pleasant day with eye-catching mushrooms even if we could not identify most of them.


Thursday, June 13, 2013

June 13, 2013, Ramble Report

Today’s reading was from Rachel Carson, The Sense of Wonder, 1956. This short piece was originally written for Women’s Day magazine. Ms. Carson intended to expand it later, but died before this could be done. A short paragraph follows (Roger was her grand-nephew):

When Roger has visited me in Maine and we have walked in these woods I have made no conscious effort to name plants or animals nor to explain to him, but have just expressed my own pleasure in what we see, calling his attention to this or that but only as I would share discoveries with an older person. Later I have been amazed at the way names stick in his mind, for when I show color slides of my woods plants it is Roger who can identify them. "Oh, that's what Rachel likes -that's bunchberry!" Or, "That's Jumer [juniper} but you can't eat those green berries-they are for the squirrels." I am sure no amount of drill would have implanted the names so firmly as just going through the woods in the spirit of two friends on an expedition of exciting discovery.

Today’s Route (mostly in the shade due to the hot weather):
From the Arbor we went past the Dunson Native Plant Garden and then on to the White Trail to the gate; left at the gate on the old service road, past the Torreya project, then onto the Blue trail back to the White trail.

Stuff we saw or talked about:
On the way down the switchbacks to the Dunson Garden we paused to look at the galls on the Witch Hazels (we examined these on May 16; see the Ramble Report).

The Black Cohosh was still blooming even though the inflorescence had fallen over (see this Ramble Report for more on Black Cohosh).

On the White trail we stopped where an American Beech and a Hophornbeam stand side-by-side, making comparison of the leaves easy. The branch of this Beech is low and exposed to more sun than is usual and its leaves are not typical of the Beech leaves we normally observe. Because of the increased sun exposure they are thicker, darker and feel tougher. They are “sun” leaves. This is typical for many trees – the leaves we see low to the ground are usually shade leaves – thin, wider and larger than the leaves in the canopy. The sun leaf thickness is due to an extra layer of photosynthetic tissue that develops when a leaf is exposed to high levels of light.

Another thing we noticed was an absence of fruit on the Hophornbeam. Last year at this time we saw lots of the hop-like clusters of maturing seeds on these trees. Many of the canopy species exhibit a pattern of fruit production called masting. (Mast is the collective name for the fruits of all tree species in an area. The amount of mast varies considerably from year to year and the mystery is that many trees over large areas synchronize their mast production. Such years of heavy seed production are called mast years. We usually think of the masting habit in terms of the canopy species like oak, chestnut, or beech. But some of the subcanopy species, like Hophornbeam also have the masting habit. This year is not a mast year for the Hophornbeam.)

We puzzled over some saplings with compound leaves that I at first thought were alternate (they were not). When we realized that it had opposite, compound leaves we decided it must be an Ash, probably a Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica).

Along the way we noticed a few flowers: Daisy Fleabane (Erigeron strigosum), Spiderwort (Tradescantia sp.), Deptford Pink (Dianthus armeria), Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) and Wild Petunia (Ruellia caroliniensis).

We also noticed a lot of fire ant (Solenopsis invicta) nests that I can’t resist poking into. There is a reason behind my madness. Fire ants frequently produce their reproductive castes (future queens and males) in the spring or early summer and these are released from the nest soon after a rain. Not many people have seen winged reproductive ants and I’m eager to show them to everyone, but no luck today. After their mating flight the inseminated queens separately fly off to a hopefully suitable site, land and discard their wings. Each solitary queen then begins, by herself, to dig a nest. She doesn’t feed, living off the energy she gets from metabolizing her now useless flight muscles. If she’s lucky she will live long enough for her first brood of workers to emerge and start to forage for food. Then she will attend to her only function – laying eggs. I’ll tell you more about fire ants on later rambles.

Finally we entered the woods and escaped the sun. It must have been 10 degrees cooler, but just as humid. (The coolness is not only due to the shade but the evaporation of water from the tree leaves. It takes energy to turn water from a liquid to a vapor and that loss of energy lowers the temperature considerably. It’s natures air conditioning!)

Nothing was seen blooming as we walked through the woods, so we paid attention to the trees and looked for other things. We did manage to find a few mushrooms (fewer than I would have expected, given all the recent rain.) One was a pretty white one about 6 inches high and still fresh. It had the remains of a structure called the veil on the stem below the cap. Some mushrooms with veils are poisonous. Unfortunately, other poisonous mushrooms lack a veil and some with veils are edible. Lacking expert guidance, it’s probably better to not experiment.

You should think of a mushroom as a single flower of a perennial plant whose body is hidden from your sight. This “body” is a complex network of extremely fine threads, called a mycelium, that ramifies and permeates the soil around the visible mushroom, sometimes for many hundreds of feet or more. In some cases it sets up a mutualistic relationship with the roots of trees or other plants, giving its plant host mineral nutrients in return for sugars. Such mushrooms are called mycorrhizal, which literally means “mushroom root.” In other cases the mushroom secretes digestive enzymes into the soil and absorbs nutrients that are released. These are called saprotrophic fungi, meaning that they feed on dead or rotting organic material.

We slipped past the Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia) protection plantings, noting only that they don’t seem to be thriving. Then it was back via the Blue trail to Donderos’ (for those who could stay) to enjoy cookies and beverages.