Friday, May 16, 2014

May 15 2014 Ramble Report

Despite the drizzle and threat of thunderstorms fifteen Ramblers met this morning, equipped with umbrellas or other rain gear. It wasn't a real rain although it was persistently moist. But that didn't dampen our enthusiasm -- there was still a lot to see.

Today's reading was contributed by Jackie Elsner:

The Sound of Rain by Byron Herbert Reece
sung to tune of Dillard Chandler's version of “Black Is The Color”

from A Song of Joy page 102  ©1952

I said to myself beneath the roof
One rainy night while fast they fell
From clouds with many in store for proof:
What raindrops most resemble tell.
The answer that my fancy gave,
Since it could say the thing it chose:
I think the rain sounds like a wave
As sucking down the shore it goes.

The rain was always like the sea,
I told my fancy, try again.
And then my fancy said to me:
A lot of sticks are like the rain,
A lot of sticks cut from the brakes
Of cane that by the river crowd,
And set in rows like slender stakes
With top ends reaching to the cloud.

Today's route:

From the arbor, down the Shade Garden walkway to the Dunson Native Flora Garden. Then over to the power line and down to the river, where we then returned back to the parking lot via the White Trail spur.

Shade Garden walkway:

We stopped at the Witch-hazel where in previous weeks we noticed
Gall opening on lower side of leaf
conical leaf galls that are caused by an aphid (Hormaphis hamamelidis). The galls are a little larger this week, but the most significant change is that each gall now has an opening on the lower surface of the leaf. The opening has two functions: it allows the aphids to leave when they are ready to disperse and it prevents them from drowning in their own excrement -- the "honeydew." Even more fantastic is the way the honeydew is eliminated -- the aphids secrete waxes from their backs and make waxy packages of honeydew that are dropped out the hole.

Before turning off to the Dunson Native Flora Garden some of the
Bigleaf Magnolia flower
ramblers noticed that the Bigleaf Magnolia was blooming. This remarkable tree has the largest simple leaves of all the North American trees. It's flowers must also be the largest of all the N.A. trees. They looked like white porcelain dinner plates perched on the branches above the huge, floppy leaves.

The Dunson garden seems strangely colorless today and not just because of the rain. All the flowers of the spring ephemerals are gone, leaving their leaves squatting in the shade of the canopy trees. They must eke out what they can from the filtered sunlight that reaches them, storing up enough energy to produce flowers next spring. We found the leaves of Trillium, Bloodroot, Wild Ginger, Little Brown Jugs and Mayapple. Several of the Mayapples had developing fruit. Perhaps we didn't search hard enough but we saw no sign of the vegetation of the other, true, ephemerals in our stroll through the garden.

There are a few Black Cohosh in the Dunson garden, but they are not yet flowering; we saw two plants with developing inflorescences, one of which will be blooming soon.

The Ferns are now conspicuous -- the always abundant Christmas
Sporangia on underside of terminal pinnae
Fern is starting to develop sporangia beneath the pinnae toward the end of many of its fronds. We also saw a small Resurrection Fern, a Rattlesnake Fern with its reproductive frond looking like the tail of its namesake (if you have a vivid imagination) and a group of Broad Beech Ferns. (Sporangia are the structures on a fern that produce spores. Pinnae are the individual "leaflets" that make up the frond of a Christmas fern.)

Further along the garden path is a Running Pine (Lycopodium clavatum). I think I mistakenly said that it is related to Pines. What
Running Pine
I meant to say was that they are not related to Pines. Pines are seed plants and Lycopodium is a type of plant called a Club Moss, which is not a seed plant (and is not a moss, either). The Club Mosses, like ferns, reproduce by spores, but are only distantly related to ferns. Incidentally, I said that the spores of Lycopodium were used as flash powder in the early days of photography (
watch this demonstration). In trying to confirm this information I discovered that I was again mistaken. (See here for a history of flash photography.) Lycopodium powder (spores) is also commercially used for a variety of purposes (click here). Jackie told me that collecting Lycopodium provided a source of income for many Appalachian families.

Fly Poison
On the way out of the Dunson garden Hugh spotted two Fly Poison plants. Why the name for this attractive plant? Every part of the plant is toxic. Early American settlers ground the bulb into a paste and mixed it with sugar or honey to attract and kill flies. (See here for more information about Fly Poison.)

We also spotted another Fern ball caterpillar nest on a Christmas fern, and, at the bottom of the Garden, the group of Yucca have numerous large inflorescences. They look like they might be blooming next week.

Power Line ROW:

The power line Right of Way (ROW) is bursting with plants right now. Many will be blooming later, but there are also many bearing flowers right now, although they may be closed due to the overcast skies and wet weather.

Inflorescence with flowers and bulbets
At the edge of the path we found many Wild Onions. Flowering plants have two ways to reproduce: sexual and asexual. The sexual pathway involves pollen and ovules coming together to make seeds. The asexual methods are diverse: stolons, rhizomes, cuttings, bulbs, corms, to name a few. In the Wild Onion we can see both sexual and asexual reproduction in the inflorescence. At the top of the flowering stalk you can see both flowers and small bulbets (also called bulbils). Different plants vary in the numbers of flowers and bulbets. Some completely lack one or the other, while other plants have a mixture of both. The flowers produce seeds and the bulbets can each produce a new plant, genetically identical to their parent.

One of the very abundant plants in the ROW are the wingstems
Note the "wings" and opposite leaves
(genus Verbesina). They get their name from the thin, flat ridges, the "wings," that project from the sides of the stem. There are three species of wingstems growing here, but, since they are not flowering yet, we can't easily tell them apart. The characteristics used to identify them are the arrangement of the leaves and the color of the flowers. Plants with leaves that emerge from the stem opposite one another are said to have "opposite leaves" (duh). If the leaves are not opposite they are usually "alternate." So if you find a Wingstem with opposite leaves you can be confident that it is Yellow crownbeard. But if it has alternate leaves you'll have to wait until it flowers to determine which it is.

Verbesina alternafolia
Yellow; Alternate

Yellow crownbeard
Verbesina occidentalis
Yellow; Opposite

White crownbeard
Verbesina virginica
White; Alternate

Scattered among the wingstems we found several other flowering plants:  Venus’ Looking Glass, Common Mullein, Ground Ivy, and Carolina Desert-Chicory. We would have seen more, but for the weather.

Also growing abundantly in the ROW are three types of grass-like plants: Sedges, Rushes and Grasses. These types are fairly easy to tell apart, but identifying species in each group is difficult. This little rhyme conveys the differences:
Sedges have edges,
Rushes are round,
Grasses are solid,
All the way to the ground.

There is a variant: "Grasses have joints, All the way to the ground."
Sedge stems are usually triangular in cross section. If you twirl one between your thumb and finger you can feel the edges. Rush stems are round in cross section and are also hollow. Grass stems are usually round in cross section and are usually solid. Grass stems also have "joints"; swollen enlargements along the stems. This has led to a third variant of the little ditty above: "Grasses have knees, All the way to the ground."

There was a very large patch of Ragworts growing in the low lying area to the east. These are Butterweed, a species of ragwort that is restricted to moist soils adjacent streams and rivers. This brings to three the kinds of ragwort we have found in the State Botanical Garden: an early blooming species, Golden ragwort (seen earlier this year in the Dunson garden), a later blooming species, Small's ragwort (currently blooming in the upper part of the ROW) and Butterweed, now blooming in the ROW near the river).

This part of the ROW was once overgrown with the invasive plant known as Privet. Several years ago the garden experimented with removal techniques to see which were most effective in controlling privet growth. The privet in the lower part of the ROW was almost immediately replaced by a native plant, Boxelder. As the Boxelder flourished, so did the migrating warblers, record numbers appearing during the spring migration. Why? Boxelder, a native species, is host to a large number of insects. Insects are the major food items for many birds, including warblers. Privet, a non-native, does not support many insect species, depriving birds of a food supply.

Boxelder is a type of Maple, but is unusual in that it has compound leaves. (Compound leaves are leaves that are divided into leaflets.) Boxelder typically has three leaflets, but can have as few as 1 and as many as 5 to 7, sometimes all on the same plant. As in all Maples, the leaves are opposite, and the young stems of Boxelder are usually bright green.

Another undesirable plant seen in the ROW is Musk Thistle; it has been described as a noxious weed. Several were growing among the Butterweed and one was on the river bank.

Armadillo disturbed soil
Lastly, we saw evidence of the presence of Armadillos -- a disturbed patch of soil with a characteristic depression where the creature thrust its head into the ground to eat worm or some kind of grub.

With that we turned around and beat a retreat to dry off and enjoy beverages, cookies and conversation at Donderos'.

Common Name
Scientific Name

Witch Hazel
Hamamelis virginiana

Witchhazel Leaf Gall Aphid
Hormaphis hamamelidis

Bigleaf Magnolia
Magnolia macrophylla

Black Cohosh
Actaea racemosa

Rattlesnake Fern
Botrychium virginianum

Christmas Fern
Polystichum acrostichoides

Podophyllum peltatum

Broad Beech Fern
Phegopteris hexagonoptera

Running Pine
Lycopodium clavatum

Sanguinaria canadensis

Fly Poison
Amianthium muscitoxicum 

Fern Ball Caterpillar
Heterogramma sphingialis

Yucca Plant
Yucca filamentosa

Wild Onion
Allium canadense

Venus’ Looking Glass
Triodanis perfoliata

Common Mullein
Verbascum Thapsus

Ground Ivy
Glechoma hederacea

Carolina False Dandelion 
Pyrrhopappus carolinianus

Verbesina alternafolia

Yellow crownbeard
Verbesina occidentalis

White crownbeard
Verbesina virginica

Musk Thistle
Carduus nutans

Packera glabella

Box Elder
Acer negundo

Armadillo rut
Dasypus novemcinctus

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