To see Don Hunter's facebook album with photos of today's ramble click here. (A small selection of Don's photos are imbedded in this blog post.) This post was written by Don Hunter with minor additions by Dale Hoyt.
Twenty three ramblers showed up for the weekly ramble, despite the threat of rain. Though it was raining in the area, the rain, except for one brief sprinkle during the walk, was absent for the ramble. Hugh presented the reading for the day from the work of John Burroughs:
After long experience I am convinced that the best place to study nature is at one's home,-- on the farm, in the mountains, on the plains, by the sea,-- no matter where that may be. One has it all about him then. The seasons bring to his door the great revolving cycle of wild life, floral and faunal, and he need miss no part of the show.
. . .
The science of anything may be taught or acquired by study; the art of it comes by practice or inspiration. The art of seeing things is not something that may be conveyed in rules and precepts; it is a matter vital in the eye and ear, yea, in the mind and soul, of which these are the organs….So far as seeing things is an art, it is the art of keeping your eyes and ears open. The art of nature is all in the direction of concealment.
(From The Art of Seeing Things, and Nature Near Home, by John Burroughs in American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau, Bill McKibben, ed. (New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 2008), pages 146-159, and 168-171.)
The ramble route today was down the hill, past the Dunson Native Flora Garden and over to the White Trail, and up and across the power line clearing. We moved from the White Trail to the Green Trail, then to the service road and then on to the Blue Trail back towards the power line to wrap things up.
As we passed through the Dunson Native Flora Garden, Hugh pointed out the Horse Balm (Collinsonia canadensis), which has just about played out. There was a single, lone flower atop one of the plants, and the foliage had seen better days.
We left the garden and crossed the road over to the power line clearing, where we saw numerous flowers:
|Late Purple Aster|
Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens)
Golden Aster (Heterotheca latifolia)
Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium)
The spiny fruit of Jimsonweed is responsible for its other common name: Thorn Apple. An early geneticist named Alfred Blakeslee studied variation in chromosome number in Datura and its effect on the fruits. Blakeslee's work led to the discovery that Down Syndrome in humans was caused by an additional chromosome.
We also found Eastern Fireweed (Erechtites hieraciifolia), a plant typical of disturbed areas, and a large Castor Bean plant (Ricinus communis), planted when this part of the power line right-of-way (ROW) was a more formal garden.
There is an unusual Sycamore tree (Platanus occidentalis) growing near the ROW. Its bark is smooth the entire length of the trunk, from ground level up. As a Sycamore ages the older bark, which is lower on the trunk, usually becomes furrowed and dark. This specimen is probably a cultivar planted when the ROW was a formal garden.
Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), a grass, was seen in the ROW, before we headed into the woods. Hugh and Dale described the nature of the so-called "pocket" prairies of the piedmont region. Prairies are maintained by frequent disturbance, especially fire. Without fire (or frequent mowing) they are invaded by woody vegetation that eventually shades out the grasses. It is thought that the Indians who once inhabited the area conducted controlled burns to provide agricultural areas and reduce the risk of fire to the habitable areas of their settlements, either from natural causes or from attacks on their villages. The Garden is in the process of converting this part of the ROW to a pocket prairie and will be introducing a collection of plants typical of these environments.
|Lance Leaf Greenbrier|
As the group entered the forest, we saw Lance Leaf Greenbrier (Smilax smallii), a Southern Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium elliotii) and several hickory trees.
|Hop Hornbeam bark|
[Hop Bark] We spent a little time discussing the Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) with it’s cat-scratch bark and doubly serrate leaves. When young the bark of Hop Hornbeam is smoother and resembles that of Black Cherry. The shredded, "cat-scratch" look appears as the tree grows and ages. The young twigs still retain the smooth, cherry-like appearence.
A Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata) leaf was found on the trail and the tree from which it fell was located. We then saw a white oak, with its shaggy bark and there was some discussion about a tree with similar bark, the Shag Bark Hickory, which is distinguished by its diamond shaped bark.
|Cranefly Orchid leaves|
We were on the lookout for the emerging leaves of the Cranefly Orchid, Tipularia discolor, and sure enough we saw quite a bit of it, just emerging from the leaf litter. The leaves are dark greenish black on top and egg plant purple on the undersides. Tipularia is unusual in that the single leaf appears in the late fall and persists throughout the winter. It then disappears in the spring and the flowering stalk emerges in the late spring-early summer. Why the lower side of the leaf is purple is a mystery waiting to be solved.
|Immature Puff Balls|
All along this section of the trail we saw numerous mushrooms, including a nice display of dry and fresh puff balls on a fallen log. Each puffball was about the size of quarter. Usually they are seen growing from the ground, but these were on a decaying log.
|Black Gum Leaf|
Several small Paw Paw trees (Asimina triloba) were seen and a little further down the trail, a spirited discussion ensued when we came upon what was thought to be either a Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) or a Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica) tree. Based on the perpendicularity of the limbs and the color and spotting of the leaves, the consensus was that it was a black gum tree.
|Post Oak Leaf|
As we made our way along the service road, we saw a Post Oak (Quercus stellata), with it’s Maltese Cross shaped leaves and Mockernut Hickories (Carya tomentosa).
|Wooly Aphids on Hawthorn|
Next we came upon a Hawthorn tree (Crataegus sp.) with Wooly Aphids (Family Aphididae, subfamily Eriosomatinae) on several of the lower limbs. These aphids are very similar to the Beech Blight aphids ( Grylloprociphilus imbricator) we have been seeing all summer on American Beech trees along the trails. The Wooly Aphids on the Hawthorn tree were not as excitable as the Beech Blight aphids, which, with the slightest provocation, raise their wooly abdomens in the air and shake them for all they’re worth.
|Banded Tussock moth caterpillar|
We also saw another Banded Tussock moth caterpillar (Halysidota tessellaris), this time on the bark of a Short Leaf Pine (Pinus echinata). While we were looking at the tree, the distinctive glandular pits, seen on the plates of bark were pointed out.
|LizardSpider with egg sac|
 A real surprise was the discovery of an the very uncommon Lizard Spider (Rhomphaea fictilium) with her egg sac. This is one of the strangest looking spiders to be seen this year.
After turning on to the Blue Trail, we arrived at one of the open clearings and saw Coffee Weed/SIcklepod (Senna obtusifolia), Silver Plume grass (Saccharum alopecuroides)
and Rabbit Tobacco (Gnaphalium obtusifolium).
Toward the end of the clearing Hugh discussed the Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia) which has been planted in the area as a safe guarding site for the plant that is not reproducing itself in the ravines along mid slopes of ravines and steepheads along the east side of Lake Seminole in south Georgia and along the Apalachicola River in the Florida panhandle.
Leaving the clearing, we were back in the woods, where we saw the leaves and acorn cups of the Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima), which is not a native plant.
|Leaves of young Water Oak|
There are many small Water Oaks (Quercus nigra) along this section of the Blue Trail, each with long and narrow unlobed leaves that resemble those of Willow Oak. But as these saplings mature the shape of the leaves change into the characteristic two-lobed form of the adult tree.
This section of the Blue Trail passes through the most recently farmed land. Farming ceased when the land for the Garden was purchased in the late 1960s-early 1970s. What we see now is an early successional forest where the terraces of the cotton farm are still visible. A common early succession forest tree is the Black Cherry (Prunus serotina) and several were seen. The bark of the Black Cherry tree was pointed out and described, with it’s peeling plates of horizontally striped bark.
The ramble would not be complete without an orb weaver spider spotting and a nice Triangulate Orb Weaver (Verrucosa arenata) was seen.
|Alice in Wonderland|
About this time, several ramblers, Bob, Martha, Alice and Don, became rather engrossed in a neat patch of moss and lichens and became separated from the rest of the group. Several more patches were seen and photographed and the group finally arrived back at the Visitor Center before the posse was called out to go find them.
We all retired to Donderos' Café for after-ramble coffee and discussion.
List of species observed:
Horse Balm (Collinsonia Canadensis)
Late Purple Aster (Symphyotrichum patens),
Golden Aster (Heterotheca latifolia)
Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium)
Jimson Weed (Datura stramonium)
Eastern Fireweed (Erechtites Sp.)
Castor Bean plant (Ricinus communis)
Sycamore Tree (Platanus occidentalis)
Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium)
Lance Leaf Greenbrier (Smilax smallii)
Southern Highbush Blueberry (Vaccinium elliotii)
Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)
Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata)
Cranefly Orchid Tipularia discolor
Paw Paw (Asimina triloba)
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana)
Black Gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
Post Oak (Quercus stellate)
Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa)
Hawthorn tree (Crataegus monogyna)
Short Leaf Pine (Pinus echinata)
Chalk Maple (Acer leucoderme)
Coffee Weed/SIcklepod (Senna obtusifolia)
Silver Plume grass (Saccharum alopecuroides)
Rabbit Tobacco . (Gnaphalium obtusifolium)
Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima, not native)
Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia)Water Oak (Quercus nigra)
Black Cherry (Prunus serotina)
Elephant's Foot AKA Devil's Grandmother (Elephantopus tomentosus)
American Holly (Ilex opaca)
Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboretum)
Wooly Aphids (Family Aphididae, subfamily: Eriosomatinae)
Banded Tussock moth caterpillar (Halysidota tessellaris)
Triangulate Orb Weaver (Verrucosa arenata)
Lizard Spider (Rhomphaea fictilium)