Friday, October 24, 2014

October 23 2014 Ramble Report



We had another enormous (for us) turnout this morning -- 30 Ramblers gathered at the arbor for a ramble that started out chilly and turned balmy.

We had one recitation and two readings contributed today.

Bob Ambrose graced us with another of his poetic creations, An Old Field Encounter. Click here for the text of his poem.


Next was Tim Homan, who read an excerpt about Wood anemones from one of his books. (Tim's books are more than just hiking guides. They contain a wealth of natural history information.):

The wood anemone is a true spring ephemeral. Once pollination occurs, the sepals fall off and the fruit quickly develops. Soon afterward, the leaves die back and all the above-ground green vanishes, leaving nothing but the memory of them until the following spring.
This wildflower's seeds often disappear from sight too. Ants not only help disperse anemone seeds, they also plant them in their well-aerated tunnels. Like trilliums, the wood anemone has evolved tender, fleshy extensions on the sides of their seeds that offer ants a nutritious food reward for their effort, a process known as ant farming. Not only does each seed come ready made with a built-in food bribe (called an elaiosome), but that fleshy food is also shaped to serve as a handle, allowing the workaholic insects to quickly march to underground safety with the other-wise slippery seeds. After consuming the edible handle obtaining more energy to haul in more anemone seeds the ants ditch the impenetrable seed casings in their fertile compost pile. There the seeds germinate and sprout, making more anemones and more ant food, a beneficial symbiosis for both. Looking through evolution's ever-adaptive eye, the result is the same as if the seeds had sprouted six legs, walked away from the competition of their rooted progenitors, then buried themselves in a fertile underground spot away from seed predators. Even with a liberal allowance of time, that is still not a bad trick for the brainless.

Tim Homan, Hiking the Shining Rock & Middle Prong Wildernesses, 2012, Peachtree Publ., pp. 232-233.

Catherine Chastain supplied our other reading: a poem titled Burrows from the book Footprints on the Roof: Poems About the Earth by Marilyn Singer, 2002, Alfred A. Knopf.
          Burrows

Out in the country I walk across towns
            I'll never see:
mazy metropolises
            under the earth
             where rabbits hide from foxes
                 foxes hide from dogs
                 full-bellied snakes sleep snugly
            worms work uncomplaining
Where what you see is nothing--
what counts is what you smell
            or hear or feel
I try to tread softly:
            a quiet giant
               leaving only footprints
                      on the roof

Today’s route:  Leaving the arbor, we made our way down through the Shade Garden to the White Trail crossing the power line ROW.  Entering the woods, we took the Green Trail and followed it to the service road, then turned left and picked up the Blue Trail back to the ROW and home to the arbor.

Shade Garden:
In the Shade Garden we stopped to look at a Northern red oak and note the "ski trails" on the trunk. These are the light colored tops of the bark ridges that run the length of the trunk. Referring to them as ski trails is a mnemonic to help remember "Northern red oak", as ski areas are more numerous in the north. (If this doesn't work for you make up your own mnemonic.) The leaves of the Red Oak group are lobed and have sharp points. Those of the White oak group are also lobed, but the lobes are rounded. There is also another Red Oak group tree in this area that has ski trail bark: Scarlet Oak. It's leaves have much deeper spaces between the lobes, but the lobes are still pointed. Some people maintain that they can tell the difference between the Red and Scarlet oak ski trails, but I haven't been able to convince myself that I can.

Near the Northern red oak are two Witch Hazels, small trees that are just beginning to develop flower buds. Witch Hazel is very unusual in being the only tree in our area that blooms in the fall. Last year we found these trees with blossoms on Nov. 14 on a morning ramble where the temperature was 21 degrees!

We found a couple of Hickory fruits and nuts on the sidewalk and passed them around for examination. The largest was from a Mockernut hickory and had a very thick husk and large nut with ridges. The smaller nut was from a Pignut hickory and smooth and rounded, except for a part that had been eaten by a rodent.

White Trail:
The White trail between the road and the power line has many young Hop hornbeams growing at its edge. The bark on these small saplings and young trees is smooth and resembles that of young Black cherry. But Black cherry leaves have very fine teeth along the leaf edges while the leaves of Hop hornbeam are double serrate (meaning that the leaf edge has larger teeth and each large tooth has a smaller tooth.) As the Hop hornbeam ages its bark becomes rougher and looks like it has been used by a cat for a scratching post.

An American Beech tree was right next to the Hop hornbeam and we noted the sharp pointed buds at the ends of the branches and the papery leaves that have wavy edges. The mnemonic to help you remember this is that beaches (beeches) have waves.

Nearby was a young Black cherry with its relatively smooth bark that bears horizontal marks called lenticels. That smooth bark disappears as the Black cherry ages, and the mature tree bark looks very different. We found a mature tree growing next to the Green trail later this morning.

Post oak leaves
Just before the power line ROW we noticed another member of the White Oak group -- Post oak. Its leaves are in the form of a Maltese cross. The wood of Post oak is very durable and was often used for fence posts, hence the name.

Most of the wildflowers in the power line ROW have ceased blooming except for the Dog Fennel and one Late purple aster with three pitiful flowers.

Green Trail:
Vandalized American beech
On the Green trail we paused to look at some of our old familiar tree friends: American beech and Mockernut hickory. We looked at beech leaves earlier so here we noted the smooth gray bark that tempts so many people to carve their initials in it. This activity is so wide spread and common that carved initials are almost a distinguishing characteristic of the beech.
The Mockernut hickory bark is
Mockernut bark
very dark and the ridges form elongate diamond shapes that are diagnostic of this tree. The mockernut has compound leaves made up of 7 to 9 leaflets.

A White oak near the trail provided an opportunity to see how the bark changes color and texture in a mature tree. White oak bark is light in color but in older trees the lower bark is a little darker gray and is checkered. As you go up the trunk the bark becomes lighter colored and changes form into larger, shingle-like plates.

Don noticed a mature Hop hornbeam with the characteristic "cat-scratch" bark. But he also noticed that the "scratches" were
Twisted Hop hornbeam
twisted, spiraling around the trunk and not simply running straight up and down. This tendency to turn as you go up the trunk is very common in the wood of trees. It is why you have trouble finding a straight piece of long wood in the lumber yard. Individual trees vary in the degree of twist in their grain, but almost all trees twist in the same direction. Once, out west, Emily and I were driving through an area where there were many dead pine trees still standing. I only found one that twisted in the opposite direction. If you followed the twist going up the tree trunk of this Hop hornbeam you would twist to the left. This is clockwise, viewed from the top, and is the direction that most trees twist. The twisting growth may have something to do with strengthening the trunk to resist bending but I have never seen a satisfactory answer as to why a clockwise twist would be any better or worse than a counter-clockwise twist.

We found a small group of very shrubby Paw Paws. These are either young Dwarf paw paw (Asimina parviflora) or Paw Paw (Asimina triloba), but we can't be certain until next spring to see if they are flowering. If they don't bear flowers then they are Paw Paw, but if they have small flowers then they are Dwarf paw paw.
 
False turkeytail mushrooms

Turkeytail mushrooms

Whenever you walk in the garden's natural areas you will see a lot of dead wood -- twigs, tree branches, logs -- fallen on the ground. Many of these support the growth of fungi that are slowly digesting the dead wood. You may think of this process as decomposing, but the fungi really are digesting the wood. They are producing digestive enzymes that break down the material that wood is made of in just the same way that our stomachs and intestines digest our food. One of the commonest of these fungi is known as the Turkeytail because it resembles the tail of an adult male turkey when it fans out its tail to court a female turkey. But there are several different fungi that look like turkey tails and we found two of the today: true Turkeytail and False Turkeytail. They can be distinguished by looking at their lower surfaces. The true Turkeytail has a porous lower surface while the False turkeytail has a smooth lower surface. Unfortunately the color and pattern on the upper surface is very variable, both within and between the two species so you have to check the lower surface to find out which one you have.

Shagbark hickory bark
We found the very uncommon (in the garden) Shagbark hickory in two places on the Green trail. As its name implies, it has very shaggy bark, which means that the bark occurs in shingle-like plates that are loose on both the top and bottom edges. At first glance you might think you were looking at a White oak, but White oak bark plates don't curl away from the trunk to the degree that Shagbark does, and the plates are always tightly attached at the top.

Pignut hickory is common in the understory here and can be
Pignut hickory leaf
distinguished from Mockernut by its thin, smooth leaf petioles (the stalk that attaches the leaf to the tree), the presence of 5 leaflets and the absence of a strong odor when the leaf is crushed.

Red maple leaf
Red Maple is also found here. The leaf is usually divided into three lobes that are toothed. The petiole is often, but not always, red or reddish. Other maples have leaves with 5 lobes and smooth margins (no teeth).

We also found a Red mulberry. Our field guide to trees told us
Red mulberry leaves
to look for hair on the undersurface of the leaf -- if present it is a Red, if absent it is a White mulberry. A hand lens revealed some sparse hairs so that came down on the side the a Red mulberry, but there were many people skeptical of that conclusion.

Tuliptree leaf
Growing here on the Green tail (and many other places in the garden) are Tuliptrees with their characteristic leaves. This tree is often called Yellow poplar, but it is not a poplar and is only distantly related to them. It is related to Magnolias. The wood is relatively soft and easily worked.

Service Road:
Turning left onto the Service road from the Green trail we found a small tree that looked like it might be a hybrid between Mockernut and Pignut hickories. It had more leaflets that is typical for pignut and thinner, smoother petioles that mockernut. The hickories are known to hybridize so it is possible.

One of the Red Oak group trees is Scarlet oak and we found several leaves that were almost certainly from Scarlet oaks -- they had very deep sinuses (the space between lobes) that reached almost to the mid-vein.

Fungus infected cricket
Another fungus-infected insect, a cricket this time, was found dead, hanging from beneath a leaf. The spiky projections you see are the spore producing structures of the fungus. I don't know what type of fungus this is, but some fungi of the genus Cordyceps are known to infect other ants and alter their behavior. Life can be gruesome somtimes.

We finally found an older Black cherry tree with its dark,
Black cherry bark
"smushed, burnt potato chip"-looking bark. (Description compliments of Emily.)

There are some Sourwood trees alongside the service road and they are beginning to turn a pale red color.

Moss sporophytes 
On some of the disturbed soil at the edge of the road there are two kinds of moss growing. One of these is producing sporophytes, a structure that releases spores from the swelling on the end of stalk that grows out of the leaf-like green body of the moss.

Splitbeard broomsedge
The service road runs into a clearing where it joins the Blue trail. There are still Yellow crownbeard (the opposite-leaved wingstem) blooming here among the grasses. One of the prominent grasses is Split beard broomsedge (also called Splitbeard bluestem), looking very nice with its fuzzy white seed heads.

From here we returned to the arbor and several of us adjourned to Donderos' for our usual coffee and conversation.

SUMMARY OF OBSERVED SPECIES:
Common Name
Scientific Name
Northern red oak
Quercus rubra
American witch hazel
Hamamelis virginiana
Mockernut hickory
Carya tomentos
Hop hornbeam
Ostraya virginiana
American beech
Fagus grandifolia
Black gum
Nyssa sylvatica
Black cherry
Prunus serotina
White oak
Quercus alba
Post oak
Quercus stellata
Late purple aster
Symphyotrichum patens
Dog fennel
Eupatorium capillifolium
False turkey tail mushroom
Stereum ostrea
Shagbark hickory
Carya ovata
Paw Paw
Asimina triloba
Pignut hickory
Carya glabra
Red maple
Acer rubrum
Red mulberry
Morus rubra
Tulip tree
Liriodendron tulipifera
Hybrid hickory tree
mockernut/pignut
Scarlet oak
Quercus coccinea
Sourwood
Oxydendrum arboreum
Turkey tail mushroom
Trametes versicolor
Yellow crownbeard
Verbesina occidentalis
Splitbeard broomsedge
Andropogon ternarius



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