Friday, February 21, 2014

February 20 2014 Ramble Report

Twenty five people gathered on this beautiful, spring-like day. Apparently our
Ramblers at Bridge
collective chattering as we caught up with old acquaintances we hadn't seen since last Thanksgiving made such a din that it upset a nearby Fish Crow (see below).

Todays route:

From the parking lot we took the sidewalk across the International Bridge and continued on to take the Purple Trail. From the Purple Trail we took the Orange Trail spur and then walked over to the Flower Garden, across the gazebo bridge, and down the spur to the Orange Trail. We then went a short distance to the right (towards the river) to check out the hepaticas and then back up the Orange Trail to the upper parking lot and Visitor Center.

Parking Lot to Purple Trail
Near the International bridge the buds of the Wild azalea (Rhododendron canescens) were beginning to swell and, nearby, a Japanese apricot  (Prunus mume) cultivar had several branches with flowers.

Further along is a group of three Florida Yews (Taxus floridana), two of which have retained a memory of growing horizontally; only one is erect.
Along this section of the ramble we were entertained by a very vocal Fish Crow (Corvus ossifragus) apparently making fun of our efforts to identify plants without leaves. Instead of the "caw-caw" of the American Crow the Fish Crow call is a nasal "eh-uh." This vocalization is the easiest way to distinguish the two crow species. They differ in size, the Fish Crow being smaller, but the difference is subtle and without a side-by-side comparison most people can't identify them. (And the never stand next to each other anyway.) Fish Crows are usually here only in summer, so these have probably just come back.

Purple Trail to Orange Spur Trail

Leucodon sp. moss
We stopped to look at moss growing on the trunk of a Winged Elm. This turned out to be a Hook Moss (Leucodon sp.) which is distinguished from the similar appearing Fan Moss (Forsstroemia sp.) by having no branches. Both species curl upward.
We also noted a Poison Ivy (Toxicodendron radicans) vine on white oak (Quercus alba) and, nearby, a small American Beech (Fagus grandifolia) with long, gangly grape vine (Vitis sp.). Vines are hard to identify when there are no leaves present, but Poison Ivy vines have numerous dark, short rootlets that anchor the vine to its host tree, making the vine look "hairy." 

Hornbeam Disk Mushrooms
We stopped to look at an American Hop Hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) we have seen many times. This individual is a favorite with a local Sapsucker (Sphyrapicus varius), a kind of woodpecker -- it is covered with sap wells that have been drilled by the bird or birds over the years. With the warming weather of the last few days the sap has begun to flow and several of the wells were actively weeping sap. This tree also has many tiny Hornbeam Disk Mushrooms (Aleurodiscis oakseii) growing on its bark and a Slug was present on the wet sap saturated bark. The Sapsucker not only drinks the sap from the wells it has drilled it also feeds on the insects that are attracted to the sweet, syrupy fluid.

Mosses on disturbed soil
Mosses are often found growing on the disturbed soils adjacent to the trails in the garden and here we found a large mound of red clay "soil" with two different moss species growing together. Bob Walker, who is becoming our moss expert, identified them as Slender Starburst Moss or sausage moss (Atrichum angustatum) and Rug Moss (Eurhynchiastrum pulchellum).

Orange Trail Spur to Flower Gardens:

We paused at a newly planted Eastern Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis) whle Hugh told us about an insect, the Hemlock Woolly Adelgid, that is destroying hemlocks in the northeast and the Appalachians. (An adelgid is similar to an aphid.)

Further along we saw several Swamp Hibiscus plants with interesting seed pods and, crossing the bridge, a Black Willow (Salix nigra) tree that we have seen when it had leaves and could be more easily identified. Also on the bridge just before the gazebo is a large vine, possibly a trumpet vine. Without the leaves the vines are difficult to identify. The lesson for us is to pay more attention to the stems when they have leaves.

Gazebo Bridge to Orange Trail

Pincushion Moss

Pincushion Moss (Leucobryum glaucoma) was seen along trial right after leaving the bridge.

Wild Ginger
We found the leaf of Wild Ginger/Little Brown Jugs (Hexastylis arifolia), but it was too early to find the flowers (the little brown jugs) that hide in the duff at the base of the plant. Here we found the first two leaves of a Crossvine (Bignonia capreolata) and several leaves of Crane Fly Orchid (Tipularia discolor). It has leaves that are pleated, green on top and purple underneath. It bears repeating that the Crane Fly Orchid leaf is out only during the winter. Emerging near the beginning of fall, it will wither away by the end of spring and the flowering shoot will
emerge later in the summer. This is a very peculiar growth pattern that is not shared by many other plants. By producing a leaf during winter it escapes insect herbivores and has clear access to the sun because the canopy trees have lost their leaves. But the cold temperatures of winter limit the rate of photosynthesis, so there is a downside to Tipularia's strategy.

Split Gill Mushroom
Continuing along the Orange spur trail we found the common Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) and, of course, more posion ivy. This section of the trail has a lot of downed wood and Don pointed out very young specimens of Common Split Gill Mushroom (Schizophyllum commune) starting to grow on it.

Hugh raised the question “When do the beech trees lose their leaves?” Is it before the new leaves emerge from the buds or do the new leaves push the old leaves off? No one knew the answer. We will watch for this on future rambles. 
Orange Trail:

Round lobed Hepatica
At the bridge we saw the first Round Lobed Hepaticas (Anemone americana) and John Burroughs was right (see reading). More hepaticas were seen in bloom both downstream from the bridge as well as upstream.

Also at the bridge was a Musclewood (Carpinus caroliniana) hosting two vines, a poison ivy vine and Climbing Hydrangea (Decumaria barbara).
A nearby boulder had an interesting moss growing alonside a Smokey Eye Boulder Lichen (Porpidia albocaeralescens).

Ed Wilde noticed a very invasive plant, Elaeagnus umbellata, also known as Japanese silverberry, umbellata oleaster, autumn olive, autumn elaeagnus, or spreading oleaster, and told us why this plant is such a problem. Unlike most shrubs it hosts nitrogen fixing bacteria in its roots and this makes it a strong competitor capable of displacing native plants in nutrient-poor soils.

Further up the Orange Trail from the bridge Hugh pointed out the large thallus of Great Scented Liverwort (Conocephalum conicum) on a rock by the stream.

Smilax smallii
Wild Geranium leaf

Lanceleaf Greenbrier (Smilax smallii) was seen in several of the smaller trees along the trail. 

A few Wild Geraniums (Geranium maculatum) leaves were peeking out amongst the leaf litter.

Proceeding upstream we encountered American Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), Sourwood (Oxydendron arboretum), Green Ash (Fraxinus pennsylvanica), more Smilax smallii, Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora), American Holly (Ilex opaca), and Black Cherry (Prunus serotina).
Other animals (besides us) seen on the trail were a hawk and a large Eastern Chipmunk (Tamias striatus) seen scurrying through the woods
And, of course, no ramble would be complete without finding the sooty mold growing on a small American Beech. The Boogie-Woogie aphids are, of course, long gone.

Although we looked for it, no one could find the Ebony Spleenwort fern.
As we approached the end of the trail Hugh pointed out the many pines among the deciduous tree species in the forest at this location. The presence of pines among the hardwoods indicates a young forest in the early stages of forest succession.

Many of us retired to Donderos' for coffee, snacks and great conversation at the end of the Ramble.

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