Friday, October 17, 2014

October 16 2014 Ramble Report

Twenty two Ramblers appeared for a ramble on this delightfully cool fall morning.

Click here to see Don Hunter's photos of today's ramble.

Today's reading was an original poem, by Kitty Everett, written to accompany a photograph of an unusual mushroom:

“Old Mother Nature is a tricky old girl,
She gave this mushroom a pretty little whirl.”


Today's route:  Through the International Garden to the Purple Trail, right on the Purple Trail to the Orange Trail.  Left on the Orange Trail, along the river, over the new bridge and back up to the upper parking lot.

International Garden Path:
We stopped to admire the Chinese tea tree which is flowering right now. This is the same
Chinese Tea flower
species from which the beverage is prepared. Tea has played a pivotal role in world history. Americans are coffee drinkers because of tea (remember the Boston tea party?). The desire for tea figured importantly in the forcible opening of trade with China. This story is recounted by Bill Laws in Fifty Plants that Changed the Course of History (Firefly Books, 2010). There he briefly summarizes the relationship between tea, the Opium Wars and the rise of communism in China.
Georgia Mint
Further along we stopped to see the Georgia mint still in bloom
and also to take notice of the Florida Torreya conservation effort.

Purple Trail:
This is what new sapsucker holes look like
It's been a while since we walked down the Purple trail so we stopped to examine some of our favorites. The first of these is the "sapsucker" Hop Hornbeam. [use SapsuckerFreshHoles.jpg from Oct31, 2013]. This tree is riddled with small holes up and down the trunk. The holes are made by a woodpecker, the Yellow bellied Sapsucker. This bird pecks holes in the bark reaching the trees sap conducting vessels, so the sugary fluids begins to weep out of the holes. The sapsucker, in spite of its name, doesn't suck this sap up. The tip if its tongue is brush-like and actually soaks up the oozing sap. Small insects are attracted to these sap wells and are eaten by the sapsucker as well. Gary pointed out that sapsuckers are winter residents in this area, breeding further north. He also told us that sapsuckers annually return to the same trees. In the Garden we most often find sap wells drilled in Hop hornbeams, but other trees may be tapped as well.

Just beyond the sapsucker tree is the fallen trunk of a Northern Red Oak. This tree came down earlier this spring and left a large gap in the canopy. The additional light reaching through this gap will allow understory vegetation to rapidly grow, ultimately filling the space left by the oak tree. The time scale for this event is rather slow by human standards -- it will take decades.

The mystery Viburnum
A small shrub nearby puzzled all of us. Don has determined that it is a Viburnum.
Slimy Salamander
George spotted a small, dark colored salamander beneath a small log. We placed it in a container so it could be safely (for the salamander) viewed and passed around. This is young Slimy salamander, appropriately named if you handle it. Its skin secretion are quite sticky and difficult to wash off. Slimy salamanders belong to a salamander family that reaches its highest diversity in the southern Appalachians. There are literally dozens of species in the Smokies and more elsewhere in the eastern United States. This family is unusual in that they lack lungs -- all their breathing is through their skin. This is why they are largely restricted to moist situations like heavy leaf litter and under logs. They are typically active only at night or during and after rains.
Hornbeam disk Mushrooms

Don also noticed some tiny mushrooms, barely 1/16th an inch in diameter, growing on the bark of a Hop hornbeam. He had discovered these Hornbeam disk mushrooms on our earlier rambles and we've noticed that they are seen only after rainfall. When dry they become very tiny and inconspicuous.

Orange Trail:
The river was up from the heavy rains we had earlier this week and it reminded me of something I learned years ago. In the summer of 1958 I worked as a field assistant for the ichthyologist Wendell "Mink" Minckley. Mink was studying the fishes of the Big Blue river in Kansas and each day, rain or shine, we drove 60 miles up and down the river. He would often tell me that the river was either rising or receding and it always looked the same to me, so I asked him how he knew. Mink's answer was: "When the river is rising debris from the banks is floated up and tends to collect in the middle of the river. When it is receding the debris is found toward the edges." Like many dichotomies (things with two choices) I could never remember which was which, until I thought of this mnemonic: Debris falls off the edges. (The river is falling when the debris falls off the edges.) Your mileage may vary, but if you do remember it, thank the late Wendell Minckley.

At the bottom of the purple trail there are two different Hornbeams growing next to one another: a Hop Hornbeam and an American Hornbeam. (American Hornbeam has many different common names; e.g. Musclewood or Ironwood. Both woods are very dense and hard, but also flexible. These properties make them useful for a simple method of yoking a team of oxen by tying a length of wood to the horns.

Identifying the two hornbeams is easy. The Hop hornbeam bark is flaky, rough and divided into narrow strips that look like a cat might have scratched it. American hornbeam has smooth, gray bark but the tree trunk looks sinewy and muscular. Those characteristics gave rise to two of its common names: Musclewood and Blue Beech. American hornbeam usually grows in very moist situations, along streams and marshy area. Hop Hornbeam has very broad tolerances and can be found in drier, upland situations as well as wetter environment. The leaves of the two trees look almost identical, but Hop Hornbeam leaves are fuzzy beneath whereas American Hornbeam leaves are not.

Witches' Broom
George explored a side path toward the old beaver marsh and discovered a Hop hornbeam with several Witches' brooms in its branches. This dense growth of twigs from a single point is caused by many different kinds of organisms: fungi, insects and others. It seems appropriate that we would see them in the same month as Halloween.

We were relieved to find that the new bridge constructed by Ben Tonks and his scout troop volunteers had survived the heavy rainfall this week. There was evidence that the water in the marsh had risen up to the bottom of the bridge but it remained rock solid.

Christmas Fern sporangia

Southern Lady Fern
The Orange trail has a great diversity of ferns and we found six different species today: Christmas fern, Netted Chain fern, Southern Grape fern, Southern Lady fern,
Southern Grape Fern with fertile frond
Broad Beech fern and Ebony Spleenwort. At least one of the Christmas ferns had fertile fronds,
Broad Beech Fern
which seems unusual because we usually see these appear in the early part of the year.

Old Man's Beard lichen
After heavy rains we find many things that have been dislodged from higher in the canopy. One of these was some fallen pieces of a common lichen that grows in trees: Old Man's Beard.

Sycamore fruits
The other fallen item was a pair of Sycamore fruits that were still hard and spiny. Usually these are seen only when they are ripe, soft and falling apart.

Beech Drops
On the east side of the trail, in the vicinity of American Beech trees we found numerous Beech Drops, a plant that is parasitic on the roots of the Beech. Being a parasite, it lacks chlorophyll. Most of the seed capsules had opened but a few still remained.

Wax Scale insect
Another mysterious object was encountered: soft, white and sticky blobs about 1/4 inch in diameter adhering to a High bush blueberry. These are Wax Scale insects but you could hardly tell that they are insects. The adult doesn't have any of the features that are usually found in insects -- the legs are reduced or absent, no visible eye or wings. These sticky white blobs do have a mouthpart that is imbedded in the vascular tissue of its host plant, sucking up the sugary sap. The blobs are all females and they developed from larval forms that look like insects and are called "crawlers." Many scale insects are parthenogenetic, reproducing without the need of males, but some do produce males, which have wings and legs, but lack mouth parts. All they need to do is find a female, mate with her and die. Scales are important pests of some crops but some are farmed to produce useful products. The red pigment cochineal is extracted from a scale insect that is grown on cactus and lacquer and other varnishes are made from the bodies of the lac scale
Not much is blooming this time of year but we did see a Bluestem goldenrod and Longleaf Wood Oats, a relative of River Oats.

And finally we adjourned to Donderos' for our usual conversation and coffee.


Common Name
Scientific Name
Tea camellia
Camellia sinensis
Georgia mint
Clinopodium georgianum
Florida torreya
Torreya taxifolia
Hop Hornbeam
Ostrya virginiana
Northern Red oak
Quercus rubra 
Viburnum sp.

Slimy salamander
Plethodon glutinosus
Hornbeam disc mushrooms
Aleurodiscus oakesii
Carpinus caroliniana
Christmas fern
Polystichum acrostichoides
Netted chain fern
Woodwardia areolata
Southern grape fern
Botrychium biternatum
Southern lady fern
Athyrium filix-femina
Old man’s beard
Usnea strigosa
Smokey eye boulder  lichen
Porpidia albocaerulescens
Wax scale
Ceroplastes sp.
High bush blueberry
Vaccinium elliottii
Beech drops
Epifagus americana
Broad beech fern
Phegopteris hexagonoptera
American sycamore
Platanus occidentalis
Ebony spleenwort
Asplenium platyneuron
Bluestem goldenrod
Solidago caesia
Longleaf woodoats
Chasmanthium sessiliflorum

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