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.


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