Friday, July 25, 2014

July 24 2014 Ramble Report

Twenty one ramblers gathered at 8AM on this slightly muggy morning to see what we could find at the State Botanical Garden of Georgia. Don Hunter's photos of today's Ramble are here; those that appear in this post were selected from them.

I provided the reading, an excerpt from Cheat Takes Over, by Aldo Leopold. The entire text can be found in Sand County Almanac, pp. 155-156 of the Oxford University Press paperback edition.
Today the honey-colored hills that flank the northwestern mountains derive their hue not from the rich and useful bunchgrass and wheatgrass which once covered them, but from the inferior cheat which has replaced these native grasses. The motorist who exclaims about the flowing contours that lead his eye upward to far summits is unaware of this substitution. It does not occur to him that hills, too, cover ruined complexions with ecological face powder.
The cause of the substitution is overgrazing. When the too-great herds and flocks chewed and trampled the hide off the foothills, something had to cover the raw eroding earth. Cheat did.

Today’s route:  We took the White Trail to the Green trail; then followed the Green until it rejoined the White. Turned right on the White for a short distance and then turned right onto the Red (Tree Trail). At the juncture of the Red with the White we turned right onto the White and then back to the power line ROW and right, down the ROW back to the Dunson Garden and back up to the parking lot through the Shade Garden, a total distance of a little more than one mile.

Hophornbeam doubly serrate margin
At our first stop on the White trail we looked at a young Hophornbeam and pointed out the cherry-like bark on the younger branches. Hugh also mentioned that the leaves of the two Hornbeams in our area have "doubly serrate" margins. That means that the leaf margin has teeth and each tooth has a smaller tooth on its edge. (See the photo to the left.)

Near the Hophornbeam we found two Sumacs, a Smooth Sumac and a small Winged Sumac. The Smooth Sumac is a good example of a plant with "alternate, compound" leaves. A compound leaf is composed of many separate leaflets. But each leaflet just looks like a simple leaf. So how do you tell a simple leaf from a compound leaf? Just look for a bud where the leaf stem is attached to the twig. A leaflet has no bud at this point, but a leaf does. The Sumac leaf has many leaflets, so you have to follow it back quite a way to find the point of attachment to the twig. There you will find the bud nestled between the base of the leaf stem and the twig.

"Alternate" leaves means that successive leaves emerge from the twig above one another, not opposite each other. But they don't emerge exactly above one another, instead they are placed slightly offset from the leaf below (and above). This prevents upper leaves from shading lower ones. You can see this if you look a twig bearing leaves from the end. The leaves are arranged to minimize shading.

The difference between the Smooth Sumac and Winged Sumac? There is a flange of leaf-like tissue, "wing", that connects adjacent leaflets in Winged Sumac.

As we approached the power line ROW we also noticed Black Cherry and Yaupon Holly.
Where the power line crosses the White trail is thicket of Dog Fennel, none of which is blooming yet. The "Fennel" in the common name is because the thin, filamentous leaves resemble those of the herb Fennel. But Dog Fennel is actually in the sunflower family (Asteraceae) and Fennel is in the carrot family (Apiaceae). The flowers of Dog Fennel are very inconspicuous, in keeping with the fact that they are wind pollinated, unusual for a plant in the aster/sunflower family. (Wind pollinated plants typically have greatly reduced petals -- petals would just interfere with the movement of pollen.)

Also blooming in this area we found Coffee Weed (also known as Sicklepod), Bitterweed and Wild Petunia. In addition, Don spotted a couple of small Parasol mushrooms.

Inside the woods we turned on the Green trail and started to review the trees. First up was American Beech, with its smooth, gray bark and thin, papery leaves. In this area of the trail we noticed a lot of the young saplings are hickories, evidence that the hardwood forest is reproducing itself. We also found a solitary specimen of Shagbark Hickory.

A parasol mushroom
The recent rains have brought out some mushrooms, but perhaps
False Turkeytail mushrooms
not as many as would be expected. We located another parasol mushroom, this one with a yellow centered cap, and on several twigs we found the small Blackfooted Marasmius. Many of the fallen branches and trunks were decorated with False Turkeytail mushrooms. These can be distinguished from the true Turkeytail mushroom by looking at the undersurface, where the spores are produced. If it is porous then you've found a true Turkeytail; if smooth, it's a False Turkeytail. It really takes a hand lens to see these differences.

At one spot on the trail we found signs of armadillo presence -- a roughly conical hole at the edge of the trail probably caused by the animal sticking its snout into the ground to grab a buried grub or insect larva.

The Muscadine vine that Avis found flowering a few weeks ago has no fruits. Either it didn't set any or the developing grapes have already been consumed.

Ronnie, our sharp-eyed young rambler, spotted a small American Toad. Ronnie is always excellent at finding creatures that the rest of us overlook (or can't see).

On the Red trail we noticed that more Northern Red Oaks have fallen or are in the process of falling. Some of us wonder if the warming climate might be responsible. Or it could also be that the poor soil in these former agricultural fields doesn't allow sufficient root penetration to anchor the weight of a tall tree. Then, when they reach a certain critical height they get blown over in thunderstorms, especially if the soil in which their roots are anchored is softened by rainfall. Northern Red Oaks can be identified by the presence of "ski trails" on their bark. These light colored tops of the corky bark ridges are especially prominent toward the upper reaches of the trunk. (Warning: Scarlet Oak also has "ski trails.") The ski trail mnemonic works if you remember that skiing is most popular in northern states or countries.

Other trees that we noted on the Red trail are Black Gum, Dogwood, and Sourwood. One of the Sourwoods we saw is extremely large for that species, but it is not known if it is a record size. Sourwood has a very distinctive deeply ridged bark and typically grows with a twisted trunk. It looks as though the tree is searching out a path to the canopy instead of growing straight up. By the way, Sourwood honey is a favorite among connoisseurs. Among it distinguishing features is its ability to remain liquid for a long time. Many common honeys will crystallize in a short time while sitting on the shelf. This difference may be due to Sourwood honey's high fructose content. So, if you like to avoid foods that contain high-fructose corn syrup you might want to avoid Sourwood honey. Or, actually, any honey, or, as I like to think of it, bee-spit.

Box turtle with damaged shell
Another spot by the sharp-eyed young ramblers was an Eastern Box Turtle, this one a small female. Sexually mature male Box Turtles have red eyes. But it is possible that this turtle is immature. Also notice that the upper front edge of its shell has been damaged, probably by some predator that was looking for a tasty turtle meal.

Dwarf Pawpaw fruit
One surprise was finding a small Paw Paw patch with actual fruits! These are very small trees, actually bushes, so they are likely to be Dwarf Pawpaw, Asimina parviflora. The other Paw Paw, Asimina triloba, is a large tree and does not flower at such a small size. In addition, its fruits are larger and more elongate than the ones we saw today. For a comparison of the two species look at this and this.

Mystery Mushroom
Returning to the White trail,
Same mushroom on Monday
Hugh showed us what remained of a mystery mushroom he first saw last Monday. We still don't know what it is, but one guess is that it is a type of Earthstar. We are consulting other people who know more about mushrooms than we do and will update this post when we find out its identity. In the meantime, enjoy the bizarre pictures (Don's on the left, Hugh's on the right).

Redbelly snake
At the point where the White trail crosses the fence one of Martine's children spotted a snake in the leaf litter. It was a small Redbelly snake, so called because its belly is a nice reddish-orange color. This small snake was quite gentle so several of the ramblers, including those with a fear of snakes, were able to handle it and feel its dry, smooth surface. This and a closely related species, the Brown snake, are fairly common in our area. Both are harmless, feeding on slugs and earthworms. They reach a maximum size of about one foot and both species give birth to living young instead of laying eggs. The upper surface is quite variable in color and pattern, but the underside is uniform and varies from red to orange or intermediate shades of color.

Beech Blight Aphids in closeup
We then encountered one of the sights that has entertained us many times -- the Beech Blight Aphids that perform their "boogy-woogie" dance when disturbed. They  occupied a single branch of a Beech and obligingly did their hula for us. Don's closeup photo clearly shows the fuzzy waxy threads that are secreted by each aphid. Presumably a potential predator is detered by a mouthful of sticky wax. Here is a Don's movie of the aphids doing the Boogie Woogie. 

Don found several slime molds (all unidentified) growing on most wood or the damp trail surface.

We then cut over to the power line and at the upper end, near the locked gate, we found Dixie
Reindeer lichen, Pixie cup lichen and Pineweed just starting to blossom. Further down the power line we found Common
Rose pink still blooming. Don's photo of this also shows a
Crab spider on Rose Pink
Crab spider lurking on the blossom, waiting to pounce on a pollinator. Just before the power line crosses the White trail there was a fresh
Puffball mushroom growing in the middle of the path, which is bordered with Mountain Mint and Carolina desert-chicory. Tim pointed out a Mississippi Kite soaring overhead.

Toward the bottom of the power line, was an unexpected treasure -- a Giant Lichen orbweaver spider. It was busy
Giant Lichen Orbweaver
feeding on its captured prey, either a large Carpenter Bee or some kind of beetle -- it was difficult to tell without disturbing the spider. My reference to identify this spider is Spiders of the Eastern United States, a photographic guide by W. Mike Howell and Ronald L. Jenkins, Pearson Education, 2004. They aptly refer to this species as ". . .this strikingly beautiful and rare spider. . ."

Next, we went back to the Dunson Native
Cranefly Orchid closeup
Flora Garden to see the Swamp Hibiscus now in bloom. After many of the ramblers went ahead Don spotted a Crane Fly Orchid in bloom and captured the closeup to the left.

We then adjourned until next week and many of us enjoyed our usual conversation at Donderos' in the visitor center.


Hop Hornbeam
Ostrya virginiana
Smooth Sumac
Rhus glabra
Winged Sumac
Rhus copallina
Yaupon Holly
Ilex vomitoria
Black Cherry
Prunus serotina
Dog Fennel
Eupatorium capillifolium
Parasol mushrooms
not identified
Coffee Weed/Sickle Pod
Senna obtusifolia
Helenium amarum
Wild Petunia
Ruellia caroliniensis
American Beech
Fagus grandifolia
parasol mushroom, Yellow center
not identified
American Toad
Bufo americanus
Blackfooted Marasmius
Marasmiellus nigripes
Hickory saplings
Carya sp.
False Turkey Tail Mushroom
Stereum ostrea
Shag Bark Hickory
Carya ovata
Nine-banded armadillo
Dasypus novemcinctus
Vitis rotundifolia
Northern Red Oak
Quercus rubra
Oxydendrum arboreum
Flowering Dogwood
Cornus florida
Black Gum
Nyssa sylvatica
Dwarf pawpaw
Asimina parviflora
Earth Star ?
not identified
Redbelly Snake
Storeria occipitomaculata
Slime molds on trail
Cladonia sp.
Hypericum gentianoides
Common Rose Pink
Sabatia angularis
Crab spider
Family Thomiside
Puffball mushroom
not identified
Mountain Mint
Pycnanthemum incanum
Carolina Desert Chickory
Pyrrhopappus carolinianus
Mississippi Kite
Ictinia mississippiensis
Giant Lichen Orbweaver
Areneus bicentenarius
Crane Fly Orchid 
Beech Blight Aphid
Eastern Box Turtle
Tipularia discolor
Grylloprociphilus imbricator
Terrapene carolina

1 comment:

  1. Good job writing this up, Dale! I know you were/are under the it out earlier than I expected! Cool re: the Giant Lichen Orbweaver! It was a beauty.


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