Thursday, March 6, 2014

March 5 2014 SCNC Ramble

Fourteen of the faithful gathered on this chilly, overcast morning to see what we could find in the way of "nature stuff." The photographs in this post are by Don Hunter; you can see all his pictures here. We were also accompanied by Carmen Champaign, Sandy Creek Nature Center's superb naturalist.  

The next guided walk at SCNC will be Wednesday, April 2, 2014, and our leader will be Hugh Nourse. We hope you will all be able to come.
Be sure to scroll to the bottom to see the recipe for Pumpkin bread with Chocolate chips.

Our route:  We started out on the Pine Ridge trail, turned off to follow the
Claypit Pond trail, walked up the numerous steps back to the Pine Ridge trail and followed it to the Brick Factory loop and then back via the Greenway, Kingfisher Pond trail and the ADA trail.

To begin with, Emily brought two tree branches for examination, Mockernut Hickory and Red Maple. The Mockernut branch has huge buds, both terminal and lateral, something that you don't often see because the branches are so high overhead.

The individual flowers of the Red Maple are very small, but there are so many
Red Maple flowers (stamenate & pistilate)
they collectively give the tree a glowing scarlet radiance that is one of the first signs of spring. The tree gets its common name from this spring time display, not from the fall leaf color, which is not always red. Red Maple has a very flexible attitude toward sexuality; some plants bear only male flowers, some only female flowers and some a mixture. This variability exists within a tree, as well. Some branches have all male flowers whereas nearby branches will have all female flowers. You can even find individual flowers that bear both pistils and stamens (the female and male parts, respectively). People have examined the same branches and discovered that they can vary from year to year in the type of flower they bear. The cause of this variation is not known.

Emily tells us about Mike Thurmond
Our first stop was at the beginning of the Pine Ridge trail, at Michael Thurmond's "Thinking Tree", a very large, hollow Water Oak. Michael Thurmond is a very prominent Georgian, a former Labor Secretary and now Superintendant of Schools in Dekalb County. When he was young his family share cropped the area SCNC now occupies. As a child he used to retreat to this tree to think.

Ground Ivy
At the base of the Thinking Tree we found our first "wild" flower, Ground Ivy, a non-native, naturalized plant originally from Europe: Ground Ivy (also known as Gill-over-the-ground).

Winged Elm with Hook Moss
On Claypit Pond trail we paused to examine a Winged Elm. Everyone has trouble recognizing Elms from just their bark, so we wanted to fix the pattern in our minds. Bark seems to be more difficult to remember than tree leaves, perhaps because we lack the ability to objectively describe it. While studying the trunk we noticed a nice patch of Frizzy Hook Moss growing on it.

There is a small Paw Paw patch on this trail and we looked at buds on the twigs. There are two types: one is small, sharp-pointed and is pressed up against the twig. The other is larger, rounded and darker in color; this is a flower bud. (You can see Don's twig photos here.)

Beech with barbed wire
Evidence of former land use is seen in a Beech with barbed wire imbedded in its trunk.

Other things seen along the way to the pond were Crane Fly Orchid leaves, River Cane and vines of Virginia Creeper.

A kind of Toothwort, maybe Broadleaf Toothwort (Cardamine diphylla), was common along this trail. This is definitely different from the Toothwort that has much narrower leaves which we see in the Dunson Garden at the State Botanical Garden. Toothworts get their common name from the doctine of signatures. This was the ancient theory, dating from the time of Galen, that if a plant had parts that resembled those of the human body it could be used to treat ailments of that part. The toothworts have rhizomes with projections that appear tooth-like, hence, it was thought to relieve toothaches. (Or it may have been that the plant was used to alleviate toohaches and the knobs on the rhizomes were decided to be toohlike ex post facto.) (The "wort" in the name is an old English word that simply means "plant", not to be confused with "wart."

Silver Bells bark
Silver Bell trees are fairly common several places here at SCNC and we noticed a few. They are small, subcanopy/understory trees, easily identified by their striped bark.

Smooth Hook Moss
We found a nice patch of Smooth Hook Moss (Leucodon julaceus) growing on a tree stump, clearly different from its relative we earlier found on the Winged Elm.

As troubling as the Privet that is found in abundance everywhere near water at SCNC is the Autumn Olive (Ealeagnus), another very invasive, difficult to eradicate non-native plant. We noticed several places on the trail where it is especially abundant.

Collapsed Beaver den
At Claypit Pond there is evidence of Beaver everywhere: gnawed trunks and cut off saplings, tunnels in the banks, a lodge in the deeper water. These large rodents are seldom seen but their tail slaps can be heard a night when they are disturbed.

Canada Geese are resident in the pond year round and are heard honking their alarm at being disturbed as we approach.

At the metal memorial bench by the pond there is a blooming Red Maple, its feet submerged in the water. Red Maples are very water tolerant and used to restricted to swampy areas, but in historical time have spread to upland habitats. They are now one of the commonest tree species in the eastern US. The most likely cause of this expansion is control of fire exerted by European colonists during the last three centuries of settlement.

On these walks we always find things we can't identify or understand and today was no exception. Tightly adhering to the trunk of a tree near the pond we noticed half a dozen small, white seed-shaped objects. Examining them with a hand lens revealed that they were, indeed, seeds, but no one had any idea of what they were seeds of or how they got there.

Several Grapeferns, probably Southern Grapefern, were seen along trail, but they had not yet developed their reproductive fronds.

Climbing the stairs up the hill we looked for signs of spring ephemerals
Buckeye inflorescence
emerging from the rich hillside soils. Although this area was farmed, hilly terrain would not have been plowed, so the soils would not have suffered as much erosion as more level ground. It is still early in the year, but we did see several Trillium and a single Bloodroot with a blossom. There is also a patch of Multiflora Rose that will need some looking after -- it's another invasive plant. There are several small Buckeyes with their leaves already out and infloresences with numerous flower buds.

Heading over to Walker Hall and the old brick factory we encountered the empty cocoon of a Polyphemus moth. Carmen identified it for us and told us a little
Polyphemus cocoon

about the life history of these large silk moths. The adults, after emerging from the cocoon, mate and live only a few days. During that short period of time the female must seek out appropriate food plants and lay her eggs on them. Their mouthparts are vestigial, so they cannot feed. All the energy that is stored in their body is derived from what they ate as caterpillars. Polyphemus moths are fairly general as to what kinds of trees they will lay their eggs on. The caterpillars will eat a variety of trees, including Sweet Gum. But once they start eating a particular kind of leaf it is very difficult to get them to switch to anything else. It's a type of irrational brand loyalty that can be seen in some Primate children.

Nandina with fruits
Along the way we also noticed another non-native plant, Nandina. It is attractive and evergreen, with pretty red berries that are held on the plant throughout most of the winter. Besides being an invasive, the berries are suspected of being poisonous, at least to Cedar Waxwing birds. If you have any of this pernicious plant growing around your house you should consider removing it.

We also found a reminder of early summer -- the dried fruits of Sourwood. Sourwood blooms in early summer and produces on each branch racemes of lovely small white blossoms. They remind some of Lily of the Valley flowers.

Another mystery appeared at the side of the trail. A large patch of light colored mammal hair was scattered around an area less than a yard square. Whether this was a dog that had been groomed or an animal that had a more sinister encounter we couldn't determine.

Down by the brick factory a large number of Trillium have emerged, but are not yet flowering. At the beginning of the Kingfisher trail the Wild Ginger are beginning to form buds that will develop into "Little Brown Jugs."

Then it was back to the Education & Visitor Center for coffee, tea and Emily's Pumpkin bread with chocolate chips and Apple-Nut Bread

Yields 1
Looking for a way to use up some of that leftover pumpkin? This tender moist quick bread is packed full of spices, rich chocolate chunks and pumpkin flavor. A perfect sweet treat for breakfast or a midday snack.

Cook Time
1 hr 15 min
  1. 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  2. 1 1/4 teaspoons non-aluminum baking powder
  3. 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  4. 1/2 teaspoon salt
  5. 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  6. 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  7. 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  8. 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  9. 1 1/2 cups pumpkin puree
  10. 1/3 cup oil
  11. 1/3 cup non-dairy milk
  12. 1 tablespoon ground flax seed
  13. 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  14. 1/2 cup brown sugar
  15. 3/4 cup semi-sweet or dark chocolate chips or chunks
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Lightly oil a 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch pan and line with parchment paper.
  3. In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger and cloves. In a large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, oil, milk, flax and sugars until smooth. Pour the dry mixture into the wet and mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
  4. Bake for 65 to 75 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes then remove and place on cooling rack to cool completely.
By The Vegan Cookbook Aficionado

Summary of species observed:

Red Maple (Acer rubrum)
Ground Ivy (Glechoma hederacea)
Ebony Spleenwort (Asplenium platyneuron)
Winged Elm tree (Ulmus alata)
Frizzy Hook Moss (Leucodon andrewsianus)
Paw Paw (Asimina triloba)
Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)
American Beech (Fagus grandifolia)
Crane Fly Orchid (Tipularia discolor)
Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)
River Cane (Arundinaria gigantea)
Toothwort (Dentaria spp.)
Silver Bell (Halesia spp.)
Smooth Hook Moss (Leucodon julaceus)
Canada Geese (Branta canadensis)
North American Beaver (Castor canadensis) (burrows and open water dens)
Grape Fern (Botrychium biternatum)
Multiflora Rose (Rosa multiflora)
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)
Trillium (Trillium spp.)
Buckeyes(Aesculus spp.)
Nandina (Nandina domestica)
Polyphemus Moth (Antheraea polyphemus) (cocoon)
Sourwood (Oxydendron arboreum)

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