Friday, October 25, 2013

October 24 2013 Ramble Report

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.)

We came from near and far on this cold morning, with roadsides and ditches on
Catherine reading

"Four eyes" Dale reading
our journey’s routes blanketed here and there with the season’s first frost.   Everyone was bundled up as they gathered next to the arbor to discuss the weather and hear this morning’s readings before heading out on the ramble.  We were graced with two readings, one from Catherine and one from Dale.  The reading from Dale was particularly appropriate for today’s ramble, with the mention of the season’s first frost. First, from Catherine, an excerpt from Bailey White's Sleeping at the Starlite Motel.

Garden of Eden

 I know some people who believe that God created Adam and Eve one mile east of Bristol, Florida, on the Florida panhandle, and that the Garden of Eden was located in Torreya State Park just north of Bristol, and that Noah built the ark right near the intersection of state road 12 and I-10 out of the wood of the now-endangered Torreya tree, also called Stinking Cedar, which grows nowhere else in the world.
The book of Genesis says, “a river went out of Eden to water the garden; and from thence it was parted, and became into four heads.”  There’s only once place on earth where four rivers come together, and that’s near Bristol, Florida.
God told Noah, “Make thee an ark of gopher wood.”  The Torreya tree, an ancient and primitive species, has another name besides stinking cedar:  locals call it gopher wood.  When the flood came, so they say, the ark floated all the way from Bristol halfway around the world to Mt. Ararat, and Noah and his dazed family climbed out into a strange land, with nothing left but stories of their lost homeland in north Florida. 
(Note: Bailey White is from Thomasville, Georgia and has written several books, including the hilarious Mama Makes Up Her Mind. She was also a frequent commentator on NPR but seems to have disappeared.)

The second reading is from the Oct. 24, 2013, New York Times editorial series The Rural Life, by Vernon Klinkenborg, and read by Dale.

Waiting for What Comes Next

The sky to the west is kettle-gray. The last leaves on the sugar maple in front of the house are flickering but hanging tight for now. Most of the hickory nuts have fallen, but sometimes I still hear one clatter onto the chicken-house roof. Another couple of months and Orion will be visible when the dogs and I go out for the last walk at night.
The basil has not yet been blackened by a sharp, cold night. There has not yet been a morning when the dogs and I get our feet wet on frost instead of dew. We lit a fire in the woodstove the other day just because the color of the world outside seemed to demand it, but when the fire went out no one missed it. I have wood to stack and small engines to winterize, but the weather keeps telling me not to hurry, put it off, take it easy, and so I do.
There is still a stand of small, pale blue flowers growing along the fence by the barn. It has been alive with bumblebees of a kind I rarely see, leaner and darker over all than the thumb-size, yellow-banded bumblebees that have worked their way through summer. I can’t help thinking that all of them will be dead before long, their queen alone alive in the winter nest.
So we wait, me at the kitchen table, the dogs scanning the deck for chipmunks that scurry and start, overwhelmed by their work in this year of the prodigious hickory harvest. The dogs don’t even bother to bark. They simply watch and wait, full of expectation. 

For today’s ramble, we re-traced the route from last week, heading down the path to the Dunson Native Flora Garden, then following the White Trail up the power line right-of-way and into the woods to the Green Trail.  We walked the Green Trail to the service road and followed it, through the Florida Torreya clearing, finishing up with the Blue Trail back to the power line right-of-way.  From here we made our way back up to the Visitor Center.  Before we left, however, Dale teased us with the promise of a special spider to wrap up the ramble. 

Tulip Tree seeds
On the winding sidewalk from the Arbor down to the road we stepped on thousands of Tulip Tree (Liriodendron tulipifera) seeds.

Dale in a clump of Eastern Fireweed

As we made our way from the Dunson Native Flora Garden into the power line right-of-way, our first stop was a disturbed area containing Eastern Fireweed (Erechtites hieracifolia).  This plant, particularly in large numbers, really stands out this time of year.  They are generally four to six feet tall and are graced, near their tops, with conspicuous tufts of white, filamentous-like seed parachutes that shine and glisten in the sun while they wait for the breeze to pick them up and disperse them across the land.  The wind-dispersed seeds are typical of plants that are adapted to transient, disturbed habitats, like mowed lawns or recently burned fields. Such habitats have fewer competitors making it easy for "fugitive" species like Fireweed to establish themselves. (Dandelion is another example of such a plant.) Because they depend on disturbed environments they need to be able to disperse widely to stand a chance of finding the next patch of suitable habitat.

Also seen at this location were the beautiful pale purple, almost lilac-colored flowers of the Jimson Weed plant (Datura stramonium) and shiny green Lance Leaf Greenbrier (Smilax smallii) vines.

Red Maple leaves
As we made our way into the forest, we first encountered a nice Red Maple (Acer rubrum).  The leaves are broad, each having three main lobes and toothed margins around the entirety of the leaf.  The red petiole is typical, but not always present, so, if you see one you're pretty certain to have a Red Maple. But if the petiole is green you need to look closely at the leaf.

Just before we left the White Trail for the Green Trail, we stopped at a Mockernut Hickory tree.  The Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa) is easily identified, having a pinnately compound leaf, typically having seven leaflets and a fuzzy petiole.  As the leaf matures, however, the petiole become less fuzzy and may appear smooth.  The species name tomentosa  means “hairy” and refers to the fuzzy petiole seen on the newer leaves.

Red Mulberry young leaves

More typical leaves
Shortly after we headed down the Green Trail, we stopped at what, at first, was a puzzling plant.  After some collective head scratching, someone opined that the small sapling looked like it could be a young mulberry and, soon after, the larger tree, from which it appeared to be growing, was identified as a Red Mulberry (Morus rubra).  The leaves on the younger tree hardly resembled the larger leaves on the mature tree, some of which look like large mittens.

Sawdust from Carpenter Ant activity
We also stopped briefly at the base of a large, dying tree to talk about the small pile of sawdust-appearing wood that fanned out amidst the buttressed roots.  The source of this material is the large, black carpenter ant (Camponotus sp.).  No ants were seen but several openings into the tunneling that resulted in the “sawdust” were observed.  Carpenter ants are large, black ants indigenous to many parts of the world. They prefer dead, damp wood in which to build nests. They don’t consume the wood, however, as do termites.  Sometimes carpenter ants will hollow out relatively large sections of trees (Wikipedia).

Pipsissewa fruits

Before we reached the service road we saw some vibrant looking Spotted Wintergreen or Spotted Pipsissewa (Chimaphila maculata), with its beautifully veined, green two-toned colored leaves.  Several of the plants were sporting seed pods atop the tall stems that rose above the foliage.  

Here we also saw the leaves of the Crane-fly Orchid  (Tipularia discolor).  A single leaf, dark green on top and purple underneath, emerges in autumn;  it generally stays through the winter, then withers by late spring. There are no leaves at the time the orchid blooms, which is generally in late July or August.  Each plant consists of a single stalk, with many small flowers found along the entire stem.   

Not far down the trail a Hop Hornbeam  (Ostrya virginiana) tree was seen, with its “cat scratch” bark, a Crossvine   (Bignonia capreolata), several Ebony Spleenworts  (Asplenium platyneuron)  and a veritable pestilence of Puffball mushrooms were seen growing on a dead and fallen tree.  We stopped by this tree last week and there weren’t near as many mushrooms then as we saw today.  The puffballs, visible along the trunk of the tree, constitute only the visible portion of the mushroom.  Not visible to us is the mycelium, the vegetative part of the fungus, consisting of mass of branching, thread-like hyphae that penetrates through the woody tissue of the log, digesting (rotting) it. It is the mycelium that produces the puffballs, which are the equivalent of the flowers of flowering plants. The mass of hyphae is sometimes called shiro.

Prior to turning on to the service road, we stopped at a small cluster of Paw Paw trees.  No larger Paw Paw trees were observed and there was a discussion regarding the identification of these trees.  They are most likely either the Common Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) or the Dwarf Paw Paw (Asimina pygmea).  The leaves of the Paw Paw are interesting in that they are acuminate, that is, they taper into a drooping fine point.  This serves to facilitate the rapid removal of water from the leaf, as the water is channeled along the leaf veining on the leaf’s surface, down the margin of the leaf, and, upon reaching the tip, it readily drips off.  This keeps the leaf relatively dry, making it less susceptible to disease.

Moving down the service road we came upon a Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata).  The leaves of this oak are highly variable in size and function, depending on their location on the tree.  The leaves located higher in the tree are thicker, whereas the lower leaves are generally larger in surface area, to better utilize the limited amount of sunlight received by the lower limbs.  Next we saw the Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra).  Compared to the Mockernut Hickory, the leaves are generally smaller and the pinnately compound leaves contain only 3 to 5 leaflets, compared to the 7 leaflets  found on the Mockernut Hickory.

Several more oaks were seen, including the Post Oak (Quercus stellata), with its
Scarlet Oak leaves
Maltese Cross-shaped leaves and the Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea), with its sharp tipped leaves with deep sinuses.  An example of leaf harvesting by squirrels was seen, where the squirrels cut off the limb tips to be used in the construction of their nests or dreys.  The acorns of the Scarlet Oak typically have concentric rings near the tip of the acorn, but we were unable to find any good examples. (These rings look like the acorn was turned in a lathe by a sloppy woodworker. A good picture of the acorn is in Dan Williams' book Tree ID Made Easier. Many Ramblers have a copy, so ask one of them to show it to you.)

Twisted Sourwood tree

Sourwood bark
We saw a Sourwood tree (Oxydendron arboreum), with its deeply furrowed, corky bark and its characteristic contorted shape.  These slender trees typically grow towards the light, resulting in the curving, erratic growth pattern seen in the limbs and trunks of the trees.  Also of note, Sourwood trees, along with Black Gum trees, provide some of the first color to be seen in the forest in which they are found.

Moss with sporophytes
Considerable time was spent at a large mound of moss found along the trail.  Dale and Bob offered up a wealth of information on the growth and life cycles of mosses (sporophytes) and gametophytes. To read about the life cycle of plants and understand what sporophytes and gametophytes are check out this Wikipedia article.

We soon made our way into the Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia) clearing, where Hugh talked about the role of the Botanical Gardens in trying to perpetuate this rare species, native to a relatively small area in north Florida and southwest Georgia.  Also seen in the clearing were Coffee Weed/Sicklepod (Senna obtusifolia), Late Purple Aster  (Symphyotrichum patens).  After leaving the clearing we saw a small Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans), the Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima), not native), and a puzzling sapling with long, pinnately compound leaves that was possibly Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima), an import from China.

Walking back across the power line right-of-way, we saw a recently cut down Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica), that is being removed in preparation for the conversion of the power line to a pocket prairie and River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium). 

Marbled Orbweaver
At the Dunson Native Flora Garden, Dale finally revealed the treat for the day, a Marbled Orbweaver Spider (Araneus marmoreus), also appropriately known as the Halloween Spider.  It was truly gorgeous and was very patient, perhaps due to the cold temperatures, as we all crowded in for a look.  The tree next to it was a Torreya taxifolia about 20 feet tall but for which the Garden does not have a record of its source.

After viewing the spider, we all rambled back up to the Visitor Center and Donderos' for some fine fellowship and conversation.

Eastern Fireweed (Erechtites hieracifolia)
Jimson Weed plant (Datura stramonium)
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa)
Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)
Spotted Wintergreen or Spotted Pipsissewa (Chimaphila maculata)
Crane-fly Orchid  (Tipularia discolor)
Hop Hornbeam  (Ostrya virginiana)
Crossvine   (Bignonia capreolata),
Ebony Spleenworts  (Asplenium platyneuron) 
Puffball Mushrooms
Common Paw Paw (Asimina triloba) or Dwarf Paw Paw (Asimina pygmea)
Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcate)
Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra)
Post Oak (Quercus stellata)
Scarlett Oak (Quercus coccinea)
Sourwood tree (Oxydendrum arboreum)
Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia)
Coffee Weed/Sicklepod (Senna obtusifolia)
Late Purple Aster  (Symphyotrichum patens)
Trumpet Vine (Campsis radicans)
Sawtooth Oak (Quercus acutissima) (not native)
Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) (not native)
Japanese Cedar (Cryptomeria japonica) (not native)
River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
Tulip Poplar AKA Tulip Tree AKA Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Turkey Tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor)
Various mosses and grasses
Carpenter Ant (Camponotus sp.) (not seen but visual evidence)
Marbled Orb Weaver Spider (Araneus marmoreus)

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