Thursday, July 11, 2013

July 11, 2013, Ramble Report

First, we had a reading and a show and tell about dodder (Cuscuta gronovii) by Dale Hoyt

The reading is from: Cultivating Delight: A Natural History of My Garden, by Diane Ackerman, 2001, HarperCollins, pp. 75-76

Summer is a new song everyone is humming. From atop a chestnut tree, where spiked fruits hang like sputniks, comes the sound of a bottle band and the kazoo-istry of birds. On the ground, a blanket of dry leaves gives sound to each motion: falling berries, scuffling voles, a skink rising from its bog. Small fence lizards do rapid push-ups as part of their territorial display. All along the weedy roadways, grasshoppers thrash and rustle in the brush, playing mating tunes. Grasshoppers are musical instruments. They sing by scraping a row of . . . pegs on the inside of each back leg against hard ridges on their forewings. Different species have different calls, depending mainly on the arrangement of the pegs. There are alto and tenor grasshoppers, plus a band of crickets and cicadas rubbing shrill songs on their washboards. The grass has grown tall at last, and the trees offer shade for the first time in a year.
. . .
Countless birds seem to be auditioning for their jobs. Large glossy crows sound as if they're gagging on lengths of flannel. Blackbirds quibble nonstop from the telephone wires, where they perch like a run of eighth notes. I sometimes try to sing their melody. Because every animal has its own vocal niche . . . summer days unfold like Charles Ives symphonies, full of the sprightly cacophony we cherish, the musical noise that reassures us nature is going on her inevitable green way and all's right with the world.

Dodder is a parasitic plant that lacks chlorophyll and leaves. Its orange/yellow stems vine across and around its host. Where the vine lies close about the host's stem it sends out haustoria that penetrate the stem and tap into the conductive tissue of the host. The parasite gets all it's nutrition from the host plant.

Not many participants today (8), but the weather held beautifully.  We walked down the white trail from the lower parking lot to the power line right of way and down to the river.  Then walked up the power line right of way to the top of the hill.  There was an amazing number of things to talk about.  In fact we found a spade foot toad in the parking lot before we left.  They must have traveled up into the Garden area from the power line right of way at the river where they started.

The first find was a whole batch of Chanterelle mushrooms.  They lined the trail all through the woods.  A few spade foot toads were still around in the power line right of way by the river.  There were a number of plants of interest: Virginia Buttonweed (Diodia virginiana), Maypop or Passionflower (Passiflora incarnata), and Wood Sage or American Germander (Teucrium canadense).  Dale discussed how the maypop changes to a male or bisexual flower by either holding up its stigmas (male), or by lowering them to be close to stamens so that when bees visit the plant they deposit pollen on the stigma.  In this area we observed how high and fast the Oconee River was flowing and also loaded with silt (red soil).  Because of poor farming practices during the cotton era, the Piedmont has lost 12 feet or more of topsoil through erosion.  The muddy river is still picking up some of that soil and carrying it further downstream.

Two butterflies were seen, even thought the morning was very overcast: a freshly emerged Red Admiral (Vanessa atalanta) and a Pearl Crescent (Phyciodes tharos). We also heard a few isolated calls from a Bronze Frog (or Green frog) (Rana clamitans) in the wetland areas. It sounded like a very nasal "Gulp."

Walking up the power line right of way, a number of plants were discussed:

Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota)
Butterfly weed, or chigger weed (Asclepias tuberosa)
Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana)
Castor bean             
Bitterweed (Helenium amarum)
Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum incanum)
Whorled Coreopsis (Coreopsis major)    
Wild Bergamot or Beebalm (Monarda fistuloso)
Rose Pink Sabatia (Sabatia angular)
Crownbeard (Verbesina virginica)
Thimbleweed (Anemone virginiana)
Pineweed (Hypericum gentianoides)
Spotted St. Johnswort (Hypericum punctatum
Sensitive Brier ( Mimosa microphylla)

At the top of the hill it was time to return to the Visitor's Center for snacks and conversation.

On the way back we did take a short detour to see the flowers on the Devil's Walking Stick (Aralia spinosa).  Dale pointed out that the leaf is compound and huge, so huge that it may be the largest leaf in plants in North America.  Next to it was the Anise tree (Illicium parviflorum), also in bloom.

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