Friday, April 4, 2014

April 3 2014 Ramble Report

Two dozen Ramblers assembled on a beautiful, summer-like day. The usual crew was there, as well as several new participants. We hope the "newbies" will be able to join us for future rambles. As usual, Don Hunter has memorialized today's ramble in his facebook album. All the pictures in today's post are selected from Don's wonderful photos.

There were a few announcements:

We congratulate Hugh and Carol Nourse, who are this year's recipients of the Alec Little Environmental Award!

Today, April 3, is the birthday of John Burroughs (April 3, 1837 – March 29, 1921), an American naturalist whose writing we have often read before our rambles. He was a contemporary of John Muir and a popular, even famous, essayist who influenced the development of the conservation movement in America.

Emily invited any Ramblers who might be interested in becoming a trail guide at Sandy Creek Nature Center to get in contact with Kate at the Nature Center. Trail guiding consists of taking small groups of Elementary School age children around the trail system at SCNC and simply introducing them to nature. Many children in our community have never walked in the woods and have never been exposed to nature. By volunteering you could help cure Nature Deficit Disorder and change the lives of young people
Wonderfully appropriate readings were provided by Sue Wilde and Kay Giese (click here to read them).

Ramble route, April 3, 2014
Our route is highlighted in red on the map to the left (White trail, Power line ROW, White trail, Red trail, White trail, Green trail, White trail).

On the way to the Power line right-of-way (ROW) we noted two types of Helebores, the Lenten Roses (Helleborus orientalis hybrids) that were part of the Perennial Garden that formerly occupied this area and a single Stinking Helebore (Heleborus foetidus), spread from elsewhere in the garden. Sue Wilde suggested that Helebores seemed likely to become invasive, as they easily spread by seed in a garden situation.

Field Madder
The ROW is a great place to find plants that grow in disturbed areas. Many of these are of Eurasian origin, brought to this country, either deliberately or acccidentally, by European colonists. These non-natives have become naturalized, growing along side of native species that also prefer disturbed areas. Many have tiny flowers and are easily overlooked, but closer examination will reward you with some dainty surprises, like this Field Madder. The flower of Field Madder resembles that of the Bluets but the plants differ in their vegetative structure. The stems of the Madder are encircled by whorls of 6 leaves. The Bluet flowers are born on leafless stems.

Small Bluets

Quaker Lady
Bluets (Small Bluet and Quaker Ladies). These tiny plants with equally tiny blue flowers resemble each other. They can be distinguished by the color of the center of each flower: if the center is yellow it is a Quaker Lady; a red center is a Small Bluet. The Small Bluet ranges in flower color from blue to purple; the Quaker Ladies vary from white to blue. If you're not certain what kind you're seeing you'll be safe just calling them Bluets.
Corn Salad

Corn Salad, another diminutive plant with tiny flowers is also starting to bloom. It is most easily identified by having four clusters of tiny white flowers at the end of each stem.

Green and Gold
Further up the ROW at the edge of the embankment we found Green and Gold blooming and the freshly emerged leaves of Dog Fennel. Green and Gold is available commercially and makes a nice ground cover. Some of those commercial varieties spread by stolons and will rapidly cover an area with cheerful green leaves and yellow flowers in the spring. The plants are green year round.

Bird's Foot Violet

Further up the ROW, where the soil is heavily eroded we found an exceptional plant: Bird's Foot Violet. This is the most beautiful of all the North American violet species. It's leaves are atypical for a violet, being divided into three to five lobes. Why someone thought that these resembled a bird's foot is a mystery to me, but that is what the name refers to. Another interesting factoid about this violet: most violets produce two types of flowers, the large showy ones that attract pollinators and hidden flowers that never open and self-fertilize. The latter kind of flower is an insurance policy. If the showy flower is not pollinated the plant can still produce seed by self-pollination. But the Bird's Foot Violet lacks these hidden flowers. For those of you who like to collect obscure terms, the name for this type of flower is "cleistogamous." The normal type of flower is referred to as "chasmogamous."

Common Mullein
A non-native growing at the upper edge of the embankment is Common Mullein. This plant is biennial, meaning that it produces flowers in its second year and then dies. The first year the plant produces a rosette of large, soft, furry leaves. One of our ramblers said that the leaves made a good emergency substitute for toilet paper. At least they are better than poison ivy. Look for a large flowering stalk with many yellow flowers to appear later in the summer.

Carolina Vetch
Another native found on the ROW is Carolina Vetch, a small member of the pea family with predominantly white flowers. Other common vetches have yellow or purple flowers.
Dwarf Plantain
I misidentified the Dwarf Plantain growing at the edge of the embankment. It is a native species and not one of the introduced plants that are usually found growing at the edge of driveways or along sidewalks.

Clambering over the top of a Dogwood to the west of the ROW path is a Carolina Jessamine vine with many bright yellow flowers. The flowers on this plant are the long-styled type. (For the significance of style length see last week's blog post.) All parts of this plant are toxic, including the nectar. This is something of a puzzle. Why would a plant that requires insects for pollination produce a nectar that is poisonous? A partial solution to this conundrum was recently published by a group of Canadian researchers. In a laboratory study they found that the toxic alkaloid in the nectar reduced the severity of an infection in a native bumblebee. This observation suggests that sick bumblebees could self-medicate by visiting Jessamine flowers and slurping up their nectar. An interesting project for a budding biologist!
Jessamine is an evergreen vine and will bloom vigorously only in full sunlight. In partial shade it still produces some flowers, but not as abundantly. It also needs frequent pruning to control its tendency to spread.
At the top of the ROW we pointed out the Dixie Reindeer Lichen growing on the very poor mineral soil at the top of the embankment. This part of the path is heavily eroded and needs remediation before it turns into a gully.
Ramblers amazed by Sourwood shenigans

Distinctive Sourwood bark
From the ROW we entered the woods and walked to the White trail and then through the gate to the north. Along this trail there is an area with an abundance of Sourwood. Two things are diagnostic of this tree: the bark is thrown up into prominent ridges and the tree usually twists and turns its way up toward the canopy. The trunk is seldom very straight, almost always twisting back and forth. Why do they grow in such a bizarre manner? My speculative answer is that they follow a path toward the most light, but other trees in the same woods grow much straighter. I have to confess that I don't really know why they grow the way they do.

Ramblers amused by my explanation of Sourwood twisty growth

Mayapple with single leaf
On the Red trail we found several vigorous colonies of Mayapple. As usual, only a few plants, those with two large leaves per stem, had flower buds. The plants with single leaves are building up energy for blooming. It may take several years before that store enough to be able to flower and produce a single fruit. All parts of this plant are poisonous. The fruit is edible only when ripe.
Fiddleheads of ferns, probably Christmas Fern, are beginning to emerge. We also sighted several flowering plants of Rue Anemone.
Perfoliate Bellwort

Sessile Bellwort
Two species of Bellwort, Sessile Bellwort and Perfoliate Bellwort, were seen on the Red and White trails. The leaves of Sessile Bellwort are simply attached to the stem; those of Perfoliate Bellwort enclose the stem at their base. In addition, the Perfoliate Bellwort has open flowers while the buds of the Sessile species are barely visible. The Bellworts get their name from the position of the flower. It hangs downward, like a bell. The "wort" part of the name is simply an Old English word for plant; it has nothing to do with warts. 
Oak Apple Gall
Martha found two items of interest: an Oak Apple Gall and the dried inflorescence of a Sourwood. The Gall is formed on an Oak leaf when a tiny wasp inserts an egg in the leaf tissue. The plant responds by producing a large spherical swelling and the wasp larva enjoys the protection of the gall tissue while feeding on it. The gall protects the larva from attack by some predators. When mature the larva will emerge from the gall, fall to the ground and, under the leaf litter, will metamorphose into its pupal stage. The adult wasp will emerge from the pupa the following year.
We also found a very young Hophornbeam with a Witches Broom -- a disease-induced growth of twigs from a short interval on a branch. How this eruption of growth is caused is not known but probably involves the formation of plant hormones that normally regulate growth in the stems and suppress twig formation.

Leaves emerging from their buds all over the woods.

Gazing into the distance you now see a long-awaited green mist, the stirring of leaves emerging from their buds. Soon we will be able to hear them rustling in the wind and this soft sound signals a change in the short life of the ephemeral flowers below. The closing of the canopy deprives them of sunlight and they must rush to produce their fruits and seeds and then retire until next spring. 
On the way back some ramblers looked through the Dunson Garden to see what was flowering. The list of plants flowering there is included in the summary of things seen April 3, 2014.

Then is was back to the start and coffee and conversation at Donderos'.

1 comment:

  1. Your notes are wonderful reinforcers of the earnings from our ramble. Thank you. The runner with a dog was really annoying, prompting me to check the rules of other botanical gardens. Norfolk Botanical gardens makes it very plain. Only trained dogs, performing a major task can accompany owners in the garden, and the dog must wear an identifying vest or collar. The rule is in line with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and with state law that makes the false claim of a service dog a crime. I hope the Georgia Botanical Garden will make similar rules and enforce them.


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