Friday, July 11, 2014

July 10 2014 Ramble Report

Twenty two ramblers appeared to take advantage of a relatively cool morning.

Don Hunter's album of today's walk is here. The photos in this post were selected from his album. When you see Don thank him for his wonderful work!

We had two readings today, a Mary Oliver poem, Moccasin Flowers, read by Rosemary Woodel and Jackie Elsner read selections from China Marine by E. B. Sledge (© 2002 The University of Alabama Press):

E. B. Sledge fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II as a U S Marine PFC: a 60mm mortar man in a Marine frontline rifle company. He wrote two books, With The Old Breed at Peleliu and Okinawa and China Marine, about his war experiences. This reading is from the second of those books.
                The war for me, A Marine infantryman, was many things—overwhelming, horrifying, degrading, fascinating. I somehow survived two of the most prolonged and lethal battles of the war, Peleliu and Okinawa, when so many good, promising young men did not and so many more came home without their limbs, or their eyes, or their minds. (Preface p. xiii)
                He was haunted by nightmares. “His father, who had treated World War I victims of combat fatigue, advised him to ...'Get an outdoor job, enjoy good books and good music, study the diversity of life,' he told his son. Sledge's new wife, Jeanne, quietly helped him deal with his flashbacks and find meaningful work. (Introduction by Joseph H. Alexander p. xxii)
                Science was my salvation! During many of those years, I was a graduate student in biology – first earning my M.S. Degree at Auburn, then my Ph.D. at the University of Florida. It was like an intellectual boot camp; standards were high. I found quite by accident that after a day of concentrating intensely on some difficult problem in biology or biochemistry, the war nightmares did not come that night. I also found that a conversation about the war with a veteran was a likely cause for nightmares – unless I applied my mind to some fact of biology or biochemistry before bedtime. An hour's intense concentration on science resulted in a peaceful night's sleep. (p. 150)
                "He loved the out-of-doors,” his wife Jeanne recalled, “and he didn't just walk, he paid close attention to every bird, every leaf, every bug that he encountered. He drew so much strength from nature.”
                For the next twenty-eight years, Dr. Sledge taught biology to undergraduate students at the University of Montevallo . . . (Introduction by Joseph H. Alexander p. xxiii)

Ramblers who have seen “The Pacific” (an HBO 2010 production) will recognize Sledge as one of the three Marines whose war experiences were the basis for the series.

Today's route:

Through the Shade garden to the White Trail; White Trail to power line ROW, up the ROW and then turned around and walked downhill toward the river. Before we reached the river it was approaching 10AM and getting hot in the sun, so we turned around and walked back through the gate and returned to the parking lot via the shadier and cooler White trail spur.
When we departed from the parking area I made the foolish statement that we would only see three plants in flower today. Unfortunately, everyone remembered this and reminded me of it frequently.

The first plant in flower we encountered was Daisy Fleabane. This plant is in the aster family and could be one of two species, either Erigeron annuus or E. strigosus. The common name implies that it might be a flea repellent. The Wildflowers of Tennessee book states that "When burned, fleabanes were reputed to drive away flies, gnats, fleas or 'any venomous thing.' It was once common practice to hang fleabane inside houses to rid them of fleas or bedbugs."
Growing adjacent to the fleabane was Heal-all, a plant in the mint family. As the name implies, this plant is reputed to have medicinal qualities. Wildflowers of Tennessee states that ". . .a leaf tea was used as a gargle for sore throats and mouth sores as well as to treat fevers and diarrhea. Externally, this plant has been used to treat wounds, bruises, sores and ulcers. . . .  It contains the antioxidant substance rosmarinic acid in larger quantities than found in Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) itself."

Carolina desert-chicory
At the lower edge of the upper power line ROW we noticed a solitary "False Dandelion." I don't care for that common name and I think that Carolina Desert Chicory (desert-chikory) is a better one. (But best of all is Pyrrhopappus carolinianus.) Desert-chicory might seem a strange name to apply to a plant growing in Georgia, but there is a reason. Pyrrhopappus is in the Chicory tribe of the Aster family. The other species in the genus are found in the southwest and are known as desert-chicory in the USDA Plants database, so Carolina desert-chicory is an appropriate common name. But irrespective of what it is called, it is a lovely flower with its lemon yellow blossoms that shine so brightly they seem to reflect the sun. Later we saw an unusual number of these solitary flowers scattered among the grasses on the west side of the upper ROW.

Seeds forming
Queen Anne’s Lace (Daucus carota) is beginning to set seed. Most of the large umbels of tiny flowers are now transformed into a cup shape that resembles a small bird's nest. When the seeds mature they will have small hooked spines/hairs that can easily fasten to animal fur and be transported elsewhere. I recall reading that the
Carrots from this?
nest opens and closes with the degree of dryness of the air, but I can no longer find this reference, so I'm not sure it is true. This plant is the progenitor of the modern carrot, but the root of the wild plant only slightly resembles the plump orange organ we purchase in our grocery stores. It is very woody and unappetizing to the taste. Some have suggested that the medicinal properties of the plant brought it to human interest first and the selective breeding to increase the size of the root came second.

Bitterweed is still abundant and in flower at the bottom of the upper
Mountain Mint
ROW. Hidden near some ramblers with sharp eyes spotted the Deptford Pinks also still in bloom. Numerous Mountain Mints are beginning to blossom. The showy whiteness is not the flower, but the leaves and bracts that surround them. They develop a whitish bloom, apparently to attract pollinators to the flowers themselves. A recent post on Ellen Honeycutt's blog, Using Georgia Native Plants discusses the use of this and related species in your garden.

Dog Fennel & Mullein
Dog fennel (Eupatorium capillifolium) is growing up all over the place. In spite of its common name it has no relationship to culinary herb Fennel. The two plants are in completely different families. Dog fennel is in the Aster family (Asteraceae) and Fennel is in the Carrot family (Apiaceae). The only thing they have in common is similar feathery leaves. (This is another way in which common names can be very misleading.)

A single Horse nettle (Solanum carolinense) was spotted growing
Notice the opening at the end of the anthers
next to the path. Its white flower with the brilliant yellow anthers immediately tells you who it is related to. You will find similar-looking flowers in tomatoes, potatoes, and eggplants. All are in the nightshade family, Solanaceae. Many of these solanaceous plants have the same unusual arrangement of the anthers. They are bright yellow and are clustered like a tent around the pistil. They differ further in that the pollen is dry, not sticky, and the anthers do not split open to release their pollen. Instead there is a pore at the end of each anther from which the pollen can emerge. But the flower must be shaken or vibrated to remove the pollen. To get this pollen a bee must engage in "buzz" pollination. It grips the flower with its mandible, curls it body over the anthers and makes a buzzing vibration that shakes out the pollen. The vibration is produced by the flight muscles contracting without causing the wings to move. The pollen is attracted to the bee's furry body because of a difference in electrical charge that is built up as the bee flies, just as you build up static electricity when you shuffle across a rug. The flower and its pollen are negatively charged, the bee carries a positive charge. Here is a link to a site that has a lot of information about buzz pollination, as well as several videos of bumblebees doing it: Buzz pollination videos.
Another cool thing: there is evidence that bees can determine when a flower has been previously visited. A bee visiting a flower will "discharge" it and subsequent bee visitors can detect the diminished charge, probably because some of their sensory hairs are not as strongly attracted to the bloom.

Spider molt & silken platform
Someone located a leaf that had a silken platform on its surface. When we looked at it with a hand lens we discovered what looked like a dead spider. It was the shed exoskeleton of a spider. Spiders, like other Arthropods, have to periodically molt in order to grow. This is a tricky business for them. Imagine you're wearing a one-piece suit complete with feet and mittens and buttoned up the back. How would you get out of it without using your hands? It's the same problem for a spider. The silk platform is a place where the spider can hook its feet so that it can pull its legs out of the exoskeleton sleeves that cover them. A lot of wiggling is involved, but it works. It's as if that one-piece suit had velcro patches on its hands and feet that could stick to the carpet when you wanted to take it off. During this process the spider's new exoskeleton is very soft and tender. It takes a while for it to harden. The spider is like a soft-shell crab during this time -- very vulnerable. (The soft-shell crab is a crab that has just molted and whose exoskeleton has not yet hardened.) After the exoskeleton hardens the spider is a little larger and ready to hunt for more food.
Sensitive brier (Mimosa microphylla) has small, spherical red flowers scattered among its
Sensitive brier flower
spiny stems which scramble across the ground. Like other plants in the Mimosa genus this one is sensitive to touch. Touch a leaflet and it wilts. Tap it with a finger and the entire leaf folds up and droops. How is this accomplished? At the base of each leaflet is a structure called a pulvinus (pl. pulvini). The cells of the pulvinus are filled with water that makes them plump and rigid. In that condition they hold up their leaflet. When the leaflet is touched an electrical signal spreads across the leaflet, much the same as a nerve impulse in an animal. When this impulse reaches the pulvinus it causes it to release its water, decreasing the pressure within and the leaflet collapses. That's how it works. Why it responds to touch is not really known.

Wild Bergamot (purple form)
Wild bergamot (Monarda fistulosa) is common in this part of
Wild Bergamot (red form)
the ROW. Most of the plants have light purple flowers but there is one plant that has red flowers. We have seen this same plant for a couple of years now. (Wild bergamot is a perennial.)

We also found a Common rose pink (Sabatia angularis) growing near the Monarda.

Many insects and spiders fold or roll leaves to make a protective
Folded leaf of Redbud
home that they can either retreat to or feed in. (Think of the fern leaf ball roller caterpillar we saw earlier this year.) So is was no surprise when someone noticed a folded
Caterpillar from folded leaf
leaf on a small Redbud. Carefully opening it we discovered not one but two small caterpillars. They were light colored with numerous black rings encircling their bodies. This turned out to be the Redbud leaffolder caterpillar (Fascista cercerisella); it was identified by Carmen Champaign, a naturalist at the Sandy Creek Nature Center. You can find her photo of the caterpillar on Pictures of the adult moth can be seen here. Folded or rolled leaf shelters can provide protection from parasitic wasps and other predators, but some animals are capable of using the folded leaves as a sign of a tasty meal inside. An observer on indicated that two birds, titmice and chickadees, were seen foraging on folded redbud leaves. When the leaves were examined after the birds left no caterpillars were present.

Asian multicolored lady beetle
During our progress up the ROW we also discovered two beetles, a Japanese beetle and a Ladybug. The Japanese beetle is an introduced pest of garden plants, beautiful to look at with its iridescent metallic color, but with horrible manners. The ladybug is an imported species, the Asian multicolored lady beetle (Harmonia axyridis). It is an avid consumer of aphids and related plant pests, but is also implicated in the decrease in our native Lady beetle (Ladybug) populations. A good discussion of its benefits, drawbacks and life history is here.

At this point we turned about and walked down the hill to the
Trumpet vine flowers
lower power line ROW. On the way we paused to look at some plants we saw in previous weeks: The Trumpet vine with its scarlet flowers that grows up a pine tree in the company of a truly vigorous Poison Ivy vine, and the Virginia buttonweed, a sprawling plant with tiny white flowers almost hidden on the ground among the grasses. This area was recently part of a more formal perennial garden and we still find some escapees from that horticultural past. In this case it is Cleome and Spiderwort. 

Passing through the gate at the foot of the
Variegated Fritillary
hill we saw our first butterfly and it was a beauty -- a Variegated Fritillary. This species prefers to lay its eggs on Passionvine and, sure enough, we found one plant nearby. (The Fritillary part of the common name is a reference to a plant with a brownish orange flower spotted with black. Several butterflies have this color pattern and because of this fanciful similarity have been given the name Fritillary as part of their common name.)

Several true bugs were seen on the plants in the flood plain, which prompted Hugh to ask what a true bug is. If you're interested, my answer is here.

We found another example of stitching together leaves to provide a shelter. This time it was a spider that had constructed a shelter for its egg case. The spider was long gone, but the shelter contained a mass of webbing and hundreds of tiny baby spider molted exoskeletons. The babies had departed also.

On the floodplain there is a mixture of goldenrod, ironweed and various wingstems all
Tim admires me holding a Goldenrod bunch gall
competing for space in the sun. Some of the goldenrod have an unusual growth at the top. It looks as if their uppermost leaves are all jammed together. This is the work of a fly, the Goldenrod bunch gall midge (Rhopalomyia solidaginis). The fly lays an egg on the topmost leaf of a goldenrod plant. The egg hatches and the larva burrows into the tip of the plant. The activity of the larva stops the elongation of the growing tip, but the leaves continue to develop, resulting in a stacked cluster of leaves, the bunch, at the top of the plant. I attempted to find the larva in one plant but was unsuccessful. Many times the attacked plant sends out lateral bud growths from below the bunched leaves. These will develop flowers later in the season, but not nearly as prolifically as an uninfected plant.

After attempting to find the larva we decided to adjourn to Donderos', so we returned to parking lot and the visitor center where we has the usual snacks and beverages.


Common Name
Scientific Name
Carolina Desert Chickory
Pyrrhopappus carolinianus
Daisy Fleabane
Erigeron sp.
Prunella vulgaris
Queen Anne’s Lace
Daucus carota
Helenium amarum
Deptford Pink
Dianthus armeria
Mountain Mint
Pycnanthemum incanum
Dog fennel
Eupatorium capillifolium
Horse nettle
Solanum carolinense
Sensitive brier
Mimosa microphylla
Wild bergamot
Monarda fistulosa
Redbud leaffolder
Fascista cercerisella
Asian multicolored lady beetle
Harmonia axyridis
Canada thistle
Cirsium arvense
Common rose pink
Sabatia angularis
Trumpet vine
Campsis radicans
Poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans
Virginia buttonweed 
Diodia virginiana
Cleome spider plant
Cleome hassleriana
Tradescantia sp.
Variegated fritillary
Euptoieta claudia
Goldenrod bunch gall midge 
Coffee weed
Common mullein
Dog Vomit slime mold
Spotted St. John's wort
Rhopalomyia solidaginis
Senna obtusifolia
Passiflora incarnata
Verbascum thapsis
Fuligo septica
Hypericum punctatum


  1. I've updated the information on the Ladybug, including its identification and an informative link on the positive and negative aspects of its introduction to the United States.

  2. Nice job, Dale! As I've said before, this is an effort that I'm proud to be associated with!

    1. Or is that "with which I'm proud to be associated"? I hate it when I notice these rookie grammar mistakes after I hit the publish button!


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