Friday, November 1, 2013

October 31 2013 Ramble Report

This week's Ramble Report was written by Don Hunter. Be sure to take a look at Don's Facebook album with photos of today's ramble click here. (A small selection of Don's photos are imbedded in this blog post.)

Checklists and Trail Guides for Nature Ramblers
Links to plant checklists, common lichens and the Purple/Orange trail guide are here:

Sandy Creek Nature Center Guided Trail walk:
Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013, at 9:00AM Walt Cook will lead a trail walk at the Sandy Creek Nature Center (not Sandy Creek Park). Walt is one of the original group of people that started SCNC and this walk should cover some of the history of the nature center.

Many of the Nature Ramblers that were on the road by 7:45 a.m. or so this morning were rewarded with one of the more outstanding sunrises of the year.  The sun rose at 7:52 a.m., a brilliant red, with an opening in the clouds on the far eastern  horizon.  As it rose above the horizon, it lit up the entire underside of the cloud cover, from north to south and west, over our heads.  It looked as if the entire sky was on fire.  Avis had the good fortune to have this spectacle in front of her, in it’s entirety, as she drove over from the Atlanta area.
Twenty Ramblers gathered near the arbor and were treated with three readings before we headed out.  Don read, from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, the poem “We Two—How Long We Were Fool’d”.

WE two—how long we were fool’d!
Now transmuted, we swiftly escape, as Nature escapes;
We are Nature—long have we been absent, but now we return;
We become plants, leaves, foliage, roots, bark;
We are bedded in the ground—we are rocks;
We are oaks—we grow in the openings side by side;
We browse—we are two among the wild herds, spontaneous as any;
We are two fishes swimming in the sea together;
We are what the locust blossoms are—we drop scent around the lanes, mornings and evenings;
We are also the coarse smut of beasts, vegetables, minerals;
We are two predatory hawks—we soar above, and look down;
We are two resplendent suns—we it is who balance ourselves, orbic and stellar—we are as two comets;
We prowl fang’d and four-footed in the woods—we spring on prey;
We are two clouds, forenoons and afternoons, driving overhead;
We are seas mingling—we are two of those cheerful waves, rolling over each other, and interwetting each other;
We are what the atmosphere is, transparent, receptive, pervious, impervious:
We are snow, rain, cold, darkness—we are each product and influence of the globe;
We have circled and circled till we have arrived home again—we two have;
We have voided all but freedom, and all but our own joy.

Carol performing her stand-up act
Carol, channeling Rodney Dangerfield, regaled us with much mirth, with a collection of superb one-liners from her grand-daughter.  All we needed was someone on a snare drum to punctuate each one-liner as she rattled off one after the other of some very funny material. (In St. Louis, where Carol is originally from, it has long been the custom for the children present something, a dance, recitation, joke, etc., in order to receive the Halloween treat.):

What does a clock do when it is hungry? It goes back four seconds.
Broken pencils are pointless.
What do you call a dinosaur with an extensive vocabulary? A thesaurus.
I tried to catch some Fog. I mist.
I stayed up all night to see where the sun went. Then it dawned on me.
I wondered why the baseball was getting bigger. Then it hit me.
Why did the star hide behind the cloud? It had to twinkle!

And then Lili read a quotation from Willa Cather:

I like trees because they seem more resigned to the way they have to live than other things do.

Today’s ramble was primarily along the Purple and Orange Trails.  We left the Visitor Center parking lot and headed behind the Visitor Center, through the gardens and onto the Purple Trail.  This was followed to the river, where we turned left on the Orange Trail, took a brief detour up the path to the Heath Bluff, back down to the Orange Trail, skirting the Beaver Pond and up the stream to the foot bridge, which we took up the ridge to the lower gardens and back to the Visitor Center.  The focus today was identifying the different plant communities as we descended the ridge to the river, visited the Heath Bluff and then made our way, streamside, up the stream to the foot bridge.  Considerations such as soil moisture, e.g., xeric or dry vs. mesic or damp, and direction faced by the ridges play major roles in determining which plant communities are found in different areas of the Botanical Garden property. 

Beech leaves
Soon after we entered the forest on the Purple Trail, we stopped to observe the different species of trees and associate these species with the particular plant community present at that location.  We saw mainly American Beech (Fagus grandifolia), Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra), White Oak (Quercus alba) and Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa), all canopy trees, and Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana), a sub-canopy tree found growing under the taller/larger trees.  Pines were generally absent though several could be seen, widely scattered across the ridge.  The trees that were observed, and their location, are typical of a mesic Oak-Hickory forest community.  Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) was present on one of the White Oaks.  We learned that the leaf margin of the American Beech is wavy, like the waves at a beach, providing an easy way to help identify this tree, though there are probably no trees with which it might be confused, with it’s generally smooth, spotted silver gray bark and the beautiful, buttressed root system, particularly on the larger, more mature trees.

Old and fresh Sapsucker holes in Hophornbeam trunk
Also at this location, particular attention was paid to one of the Hop Hornbeams, where a fresh ring of bark-penetrating holes, created by the Yellow Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), a woodpecker, was seen.  These holes typically completely girdle the tree in a more or less horizontal pattern.  One of the Hop Hornbeams was densely covered with scarring from the seemingly relentless attack by the sapsuckers.  Although the sapsuckers consume the sap, they also dine on insects that are drawn to the sap weeping from the open wounds in the tree. (Sap is poor source of nitrogen, an element essential for making protein and other important substances in the body.)

As we moved down the Purple Trail, losing elevation, we noticed several Red Maple (Acer rubrum) leaves in the trail and quickly found the trees from whence they came.  These leaves have 3-5 palmate lobes with a serrated margin, unlike the typical “Canadian Maple” leaf shape, which has a smooth margin. The sinuses are typically narrow, but the leaves can exhibit considerable variation.  The petioles are usually red but this is not a hard and fast diagnostic feature, as they can also be green.  Just beyond the Red Maples were several Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua) saplings and some large Northern Red Oaks, with the “ski slope” bark, characterized by long ridges and furrows, with the ridge tops sometimes white or whitish in color.  The identification was based on the bark and the leaf shapes.  The leaves of the Northern Red Oak do not have the narrow waist and bell shape of the Southern Red Oak tree leaf.  This part of the forest is particularly devoid of wildflowers, compared to other locations.  This is due mainly to the cover provided by the tall and complete canopy and browsing of deer.

Beech tree; Mold on branch at bottom
Soon we came upon a Horse Sugar shrub (Symplocos tinctoria).  Despite walking this trail regularly, Hugh has not observed these shrubs blooming for the past several years, which is becoming a mystery.  Nearby was a smutty, black spot on the ground beneath the limbs of an American Beech tree, the result of the molding of the sugary excreta from a colony of Beech Blight Aphids (Grylloprociphilus imbricator), seen fairly commonly throughout the forest wherever American Beech trees are found.  We also paused here and became silent to hear hear the faint, scolding "chip" noise of a nearby Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus). This sound is a warning vocalization that lets trespassers know that the chipmunk is aware of their presence. It may also serve a territorial function, discouraging other chipmunks from coming closer. Near the bench at the bend in the trail we saw a Mockernut Hickory tree, with it’s typical seven to nine leaves.  At this point, the ridge became more or less south facing and we saw a large, double trunked Northern Red Oak and someone spotted the leaves of several Crane Fly Orchids (Tipularia discolor).  With the flowering stalks long since disappeared, we have begun to see the single leaves of this plant emerging through the leaf litter at many locations.  These will remain through the winter but will disappear prior to the re-appearance of the flowering stalks by late July or early August.

Beyond this, we saw a large Tulip Poplar AKA Tuliptree AKA Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera), indicating we were still in the mesic Oak-Hickory forest community.  We also saw more Red Maples and the first Sourwoods (Oxydendrum arboreum) and noticed that the trees present on the lower slopes of the ridge were generally smaller than many of the trees we saw as we began our walk down the trail, although there were many large trees to be found.
Passing through the gate, we came upon some small Chalk Maples (Acer leucoderme), which are indicative of the more calcium-rich soil weathered from the underlying amphibolite-rich gneissic bedrock, which contains roughly 12 percent calcium.  Most of the Bot Gardens property is underlain by bedrock with a much lower percentage of calcium, generally around 2 percent calcium and will not support the growth of Chalk Maples. 

Hen-of-the-Woods mushroom
As we approached the river,  we came upon a large White Oak tree, at the base of which was a spectacular display of Hen-of-the-woods mushrooms (Grifola frondosa) and nearby, there were several Silver Bell shrubs (Halesia carolina), with their bright yellow foliage, striped bark and reddish-brown seed pods hanging from some of the higher limbs.  

As we were turning on to the Orange Trail at the river, a Strawberry Plant (or Hearts-a-busting) (Euonymus americanus) was seen, with it’s beautifully colored, orange-red and purple open seed pods.

Here, we took a left, walking down the river towards the Heath Bluff, and immediately saw a large Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana).  Blue Mist Flower (Conoclinium coelestinum) , which we have been seeing the last month or so, was also seen along the trail but appears to be fading fast.  Red Mulberry (Morus rubra), was seen at the river, with it’s yellow-green and  highly variable shaped leaves, some heart-shaped, and some shaped like mittens.

At this point, we, for a brief moment, left the Orange Trail and took the one-way goat trail up to the Heath Bluff forest community.  Earlier in the spring, we saw numerous Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) blooming here, with their beautiful white and pink blossoms.  Today we saw only the remaining seed pods on these plants.  High up on the bluff we saw a Sand Hickory (Carya pallida) with it’s diamond-shaped bark pattern and five to seven slender leaves, seen on the limbs found high up in the tree.  Quite a few Sourwood trees, also found in the Heath Bluff forest community, were seen in the trail between the Sand Hickory and the Orange Trail, below.

The Beaver Pond
At the Orange Trail, we turned right to continue our way upstream along the edge of the wetlands and the stream feeding it.  The wetland area is referred to as the “Beaver Pond,” which it was ~15 years ago, but is now an engineered feature, with Sakrete bag concrete dams placed to retain surface water in the large wetlands area.  The Beaver Pond also serves to function as a natural filter, to remove pollution originating at upstream locations, most notably an old pig farm.  As we moved upstream we saw Duck Potato (Sagittaria latifolia) and White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra) seed pods remaining after the blooms, which we saw several weeks ago, have begun to wither and fall off the plant.

Sensitive Fern
At the foot bridge we saw several  Sensitive Ferns (Onoclea sensibilis) and a few Common Greenbrier vines (Smilax rotundifolia).  Not far up the trail a Winged Elm (Ulmus alata) was pointed out, as well as an interesting looking Musclewood tree, with numerous, upward curving limbs.  Even though the bark didn’t have the typical  sinewy appearance, it was obvious on the limbs, particularly at the point of attachment to the trunk.  At another Musclewood, not far away, it was pointed out that many Musclewood trees will have moss growing on the trunks.  Hop Hornbeams, which may be confused with Musclewood, does not support the growth of moss on it’s bark. 

We also saw a few Hairy (or Frost) Asters (Symphyotrichum pilosum), previously known as Aster pilosus.  The plants had solitary, white blooms with yellow centers growing on vibrant, dark green foliage.

Further up the trail we saw a Box Elder (Acer negundo), a type of maple tree.  This was a small example, with bright yellow leaves which strongly resemble Poison Ivy leaves.   We next saw another small Red Mulberry, under which was seen a Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica) sapling.

Colluvial floodplain
A patch of Cutleaf (or Green Headed) Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata) was seen along the stream but it has about played out for the fall, with very few complete flowers seen.  This area along the creek can be described as alluvial or co-luvial flats and is a narrow floodplain comprised of topsoil that has been eroded from the tops and slopes of the ridge.  Being comprised of topsoil, the material is particularly rich in nutrients.  For this reason, the area along the stream supports the greatest numbers and species of wildflowers of any area within the Botanical Gardens property.

Round lobed hepatica
Prior to reaching the footbridge across the stream, we stopped and enjoyed an interesting Red Mulberry tree.  It was growing from the right side of the stream but, over time, had leaned out and over the stream and appeared to be rooted into the opposite bank.  There was some discussion as to whether this tree was a Basswood tree or a Mulberry but the consensus was that it was a Red Mulberry.  At this location we also saw several clumps of Round Lobed Hepatica which will be blooming next spring.

After viewing the Red Mulberry and Round Lobed Hepatica, we crossed over the foot bridge to make our way back up the ridge towards the gardens and Visitor Center.  On the way up the ridge, a large colony of Beech Blight aphids was seen on some low limbs of an American Beech tree.  These were quite active, doing their usual display of booty shaking whenever the limb was disturbed. At the bridge into the formal garden we stopped to look at a Black Willow (Salix nigra).
This concluded the ramble and it was time for everyone to retire to Dondero’s to enjoy some refreshments and great conversation.


American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
Northern Red Oak (Quercus rubra)
 White Oak (Quercus alba),
Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa)
Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana)
Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)
Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Sweet Gum (Liquidambar styraciflua)
Horse Sugar shrub (Symplocos tinctoria)
Crane Fly Orchids (Tipularia discolor)
Tulip Poplar AKA Tulip Tree AKA Yellow Poplar (Liriodendron tulipifera)
Sourwoods (Oxydendrum arboreum)
Chalk Maple (Acer leucoderme)
Hen-of-the-woods mushroom (Grifola frondosa)
Silver Bell shrub (Halesia carolina
Strawberry Plant (or Hearts-a-busting)  (Euonymus americanus)
Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana)
Blue Mist Flower (Conoclinium coelestinum)
Red Mulberry (Morus rubra)
Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
Sand Hickory (Carya pallida)
Duck Potato (Sagittaria latifolia)
White Turtlehead (Chelone glabra)
Sensitive Ferns (Onoclea sensibilis)
Greenbrier vines (Smilax rotundifolia)
Winged Elm (Ulmus alata)
Hairy Asters (or Frost Asters) (Symphyotrichum pilosum, previously Aster pilosus)
Box Elder (Acer negundo)
Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica)
Cutleaf (or Green Headed) Coneflower (Rudbeckia laciniata)
Black willow (Salix nigra)

Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus)
Yellow Bellied Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius)
Beech Blight Aphids (Grylloprociphilus imbricator)


  1. Here is a photo of the Strawberry Plant that I took earlier this year up at Three Forks, at the head of the West Fork of the Chattooga River, near Clayton. Quite a difference!

  2. Don, that's a beautiful photo of Euonymous flowers. The fruits that we call "Hearts a Burstin'" develop from the central portion of the flower in your photo. The peripheral parts are the petals and stamens (the anthers have fallen off the flower in your photo).


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