Friday, May 29, 2015

Ramble Report May 28 2015



Important reminder:
New Ramble time for June, July and August: Rambles will begin at 8:00AM. We will return to the 8:30AM start time in September.


Today's post was written by Dale.

It was another beautiful morning, especially since thunderstorms had been predicted but never showed up. Twenty-three Ramblers met at the Arbor and heard Rosemary read a selection from Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods. Rosemary' s 74th birthday is tomorrow and she is celebrating by taking her own solo "walk in the woods." We hope she fares better than the Bryson quotation she read:
Nearly everyone I talked to had some gruesome story involving a guileless acquaintance who had gone off hiking the [Appalachian] trail with high hopes and new boots and come stumbling back two days later with a bobcat attached to his head or dripping blood from an armless sleeve and whispering in a hoarse voice, "Bear" before sinking into a troubled unconsciousness.
The woods were full of peril -- rattlesnakes and water moccasins and nests of copperheads; bobcats, bear, coyotes, wolves, and wild boar; loony hillbillies destabilized by gross quantities of impure corn liquor and generations of profoundly unbiblical sex; rabies-crazed skunks, raccoons, and squirrels, merciless fire ants and ravening blackfly; poison ivy, poison sumac, poison oak, and poison salamanders; even a scattering of moose lethally deranged by a parasitic worm that burrows a nest in their brains and befuddles them into chasing hapless hikers through remote, sunny meadows and into glacial lakes.

Today's route: We took the paved walkway through the Shade garden, crossed the road and walked to the power line on the White trail. At the power line we turned right and went up the hill as far as the Redbuds, then turned around and descended the hill, crossing the road. We ran out of time before reaching the fence, so we returned to the Arbor via the Dunson garden.

Shade Garden:
There are several Black cohosh planted in the Shade garden and the tall, graceful racemes of white buds are finally starting to open. Only a few near the bottom of the inflorescence are currently open but this is only the beginning. Over the next few weeks the rest of the buds will open, the wave of anthesis starting at the bottom and traveling upward. (Anthesis is botany-speak for the time when a flower is fully open and functioning.

No walk through the Shade garden would be complete without a stop at the Witch Hazels to check on the leaf galls. There don't seem to be as many galls as we found earlier, but this could be due to loss of the leaves that were most heavily infested. Many of the remaining ones are blackened and hard, perhaps the tree's revenge against the aphids that lived inside the conical structures. The aphids may have fled to their alternate host, possibly the River Birch. (I discussed the life cycle of these aphids in an earlier post.)

Thimbleweed 
Toward the bottom of the Shade garden Don noticed a Thimbleweed growing within a clump of Black Cohosh. Sue remarked that the flower of this unusual member of the Buttercup family resembles that of Mexican Hat, which is in the Aster (Sunflowers, Daisies, etc.) family.
White Trail:
Just across the road from the Shade garden, growing in a bare spot, were several Yellow crownbeard plants, still far
Yellow Crownbeard 
from flowering (this happens later in the summer). We stopped to look at these because they were free from surrounding undergrowth and we could clearly see the "wings" on the stem that give this group of plants their collective common name: Wingstems. In the natural areas of the SBG there are three species of Wingstems. This one has opposite leaves and will produce numerous yellow flowers. The other two species have alternate leaves. We will see all three in bloom later this year.

Back in early April we visited an American Beech tree that was producing fruits: Beech nuts. Today we
Beech nut
stopped to look at the progress of these beechnuts; they are more than doubled in size. It is probably significant that the limbs of this tree that are producing nuts have stretched out some 20-30 feet horizontally to reach the sunlight in the pathway. It takes a lot of energy to produce an energy-rich nut and that means photosynthesis.

Near the Beech tree is a Hawthorn with leaves infested with a fungus that appears to be
Cedar Hawthorn Rust 
what is called a "rust." Most of the leaves have rust-colored blotches that are the spore producing structures of the fungus infecting the leaves. Earlier this year we saw a nearby Eastern Red Cedar with an unusual looking gall that I identified as a Cedar Apple Rust Gall. This Hawthorne may be the alternate host plant used by the Cedar Apple Rust (the Hawthorne is a crab apple). If this is true then we're looking at another example of a complex life history involving two host plants, just like the Witch Hazel aphids we saw earlier. My earlier identification is likely in error and what we found is probably Cedar Hawthorn Rust.

Next we stopped at a young Green Ash tree with leaves low enough to the ground that we could easily see their features. As a review for long-time ramblers and for the benefit of new members of our group I pointed out the pinnately compound, oppositely arranged leaves. It is sometimes hard to tell if a tree has alternate or opposite leaves, because if a leaf has been lost from a branch it will look like the leaves are arranged alternately. So you should examine the branch and see if there is a leaf scar on the opposite side of the stem from the leaf that is attached. If you can't get that close then you can look at other branches and if you see any opposite leaves that is evidence that the leaf arrangement is truly opposite. Commonly encountered trees in this area that have opposite leaves are: Maples, Ashes, Dogwood and Buckeyes (there are others, but they are less common).

To contrast with the Green Ash's compound leaves I brought along a small, terminal branch from a Southern Red Oak that was blown down by the recent thunderstorms. But there was more interest in why the branch fell. If you examine the end of the branch you can see that there is a smooth ring cut around the entire diameter of the twig. This was caused by an insect that fed on the tissue just under the bark, weakening the branch. When violent winds strike these weakened branches they break off and fall. This stimulated a lot of conversations about similar leaf falls that people have observed. For example several people had seen the flowers, not just the petals, of Tulip trees littering the ground in early spring. The likely culprits are squirrels, but I haven't caught them in the act, at least on Tulip trees. They are known to cut off insect-infested branches in an effort to get a tasty, protein-rich snack. Emily and I have observed squirrels in our backyard cutting off the seed-bearing twigs from our Red Maples. They then came down and ate the seeds on the fallen branches.

We found a fuzzy headed plant that, at the time, I thought might be wild lettuce. But now I think it was Spiny Sowthistle, but I'm not ready to wager a large sum on that identification. It did have a nice, dandelion style seed head to demonstrate how plants can get around in spite of being anchored to one spot. Blow on that head of seeds with their fluffy parachutes and help spread them around!

A Fleabane
There are a lot of Fleabanes in bloom this time of year, but they are difficult to identify to the species level. Perhaps we should be satisfied with just calling them Fleabanes. (The suffix, -bane, in a plant name indicates that the plant has some property that kills or repels the prefix, in this case, fleas. People apparently hung dried Fleabane in their homes to repel fleas.) This fleabane might be Lesser Daisy Fleabane, based on its small, narrow leaves.
Hophornbeam fruits

Finally we visited another tree we've been watching since the beginning of April, a Hophornbeam that we first noticed flowering on April 2 this year. The previous two years it had not flowered at all and now it is loaded with developing fruits that are beginning to resemble those of its namesake, Hops. (Hops are the fruit of the Hop plant and are used to impart the bitter flavor to beer. See a photo of hop fruit here.) Compare the photos below of the same tree taken on April 2 and April 30 with the picture of the fruits above.
Hophornbeam fruits (L) Apr. 2; (R) Apr. 30


Power line ROW:
The white, flat to rounded umbels of Queen Anne's Lace are very visible against the brown
Queen Anne's Lace
grasses that are so abundant in the power line right of way. Each umbel, as the inflorescence is called, if composed of hundreds of tiny white flowers. This inflorescence is typical of the plants in the carrot family and, if fact, Queen Anne's Lace (QAL) is the ancestor of our modern carrots. But the roots of QAL are barely edible, being almost flavorless and slightly woods tasting. It must have taken centuries of effort, selecting the plants with the largest roots and propagating from their seeds, to develop something as nutritious as the
Tumbling Flower Beetle
sweet carrots we enjoy today. If you look closely at the flower head you will find numerous tiny insects. Common among these are the Tumbling Flower Beetles, little wedge-shaped insects that, as their name implies, tumble and roll about erratically in their attempt to escape.

A plant with a luminous yellow flower
Carolina Desert Chicory
stands out like a beacon on a partly cloudy day like today. They are usually solitary and seldom have more than a single flower open at a time. They are known by several names, Carolina Desert Chicory being the most appropriate. (In many books they are called False Dandelion. These same books describe the flower color as "pale yellow", as unimaginative a description of their true color as I can imagine.) The other members of the genus are found in the west and are commonly referred to as "Desert Chicory", so it makes sense to call our single eastern representative of that genus a Desert Chicory as well. (Now I'll step down from my high horse.)

Another delightful plant found nestled in the grass is Sensitive brier. Like some other plants in the Mimosa genus its leaves will fold
Sensitive Brier
up and collapse if touched roughly. The condition is not permanent, though; if left undisturbed they gradually recover. This plant sprawls over the ground, has a stem covered with tiny spines and produces small, pinkish-purple spherical flowers. What appears to be a single, ball-like flower is really a cluster of tiny flowers. It is surprising to realize that this plant is in the pea family, because its flowers are so different from those of peas or beans. It is in the mimosa subfamily of the Pea family. You are probably familiar with the small tree commonly called a Mimosa that grows here in the southeast. It is also in the pea family, but has a similar, pinkish fuzzy flower, just not as ball-like. But both will produce a typical pea-like seed pod.

Deptford Pinks
Don spotted a few Deptford pinks hiding in the grasses and several coarse-leaved sunflowers were tall enough to rise above the grasses in the power line, but they are
Musk thistle?
nowhere near producing any flowers. A solitary Thistle, species not determined, perhaps a Musk thistle, was blooming in the ROW. Thistles are magnets for bees and butterflies and later, when their seeds ripen, seed-eating birds descend upon them.

One small weed that always fascinates me is Horse nettle. It's in the nightshade family and its flower, like most members of that
Horse nettle with yellow anthers
family, resembles that of a tomato. (Tomatoes, potatoes and eggplant are all nightshades.) These plants all share an unusual characteristic: their anthers open at the end in a single pore and their pollen is dry. (The anther is the structure that produces pollen in plants. In other kinds of plants the pollen is very sticky and emerges from a split in the side of the anther.) These flowers are adapted to buzz pollination by bumble bees. The bee grabs the flower and then vibrates its wing muscle very rapidly but without moving its wings. This creates a buzzing sound at just the right frequency to shake the pollen out of the anther. The dry dust-like pollen grains are attracted to the bees fuzzy body and get carried to the next flower the bee visits. The bee, of course, carries a lot of the pollen home to feed the developing larvae in the nest.

One of the young ramblers, Nathan, found a cluster of newly hatched insect eggs on the
Tiny newly hatched bugs on Dog Fennel
leaves of some of the Dog fennel that is just emerging. At the time I thought the small insects were the larvae of some kind of beetle, but, after looking at Don's photos I now realize that they are Bugs, not beetles. The reason: Bugs have what is called direct development which means that a newly hatched bug looks like a miniature version of the adult, only without wings. As they grow they molt and increase in size, still looking like miniature, wingless adults. At the final molt the wings appear. Beetles, on the other hand, exhibit indirect development. Their life cycle consists of four different stages: egg, larva, pupa and adult. The larva of a beetle look nothing like the adult. Like a butterfly or moth they undergo a metamorphosis in the pupa stage, transforming into the adult beetle. Don's photo shows some tiny, shiny black insects, but I can't make out any other features. To me they don't resemble any larval beetles I know about, so I'm thinking they are bugs. Plus, the eggs are clustered together, which is characteristic of bugs and they also look "bug-like." But I might be wrong.

Spotted cat’s ear is a Dandelion look-alike that is widely seen around town this time of year. You'll encounter in lawns and other disturbed areas. You can distinguish it from Dandelion easily: Dandelions produce one flower per stalk and the stalk is tan in color, hollow and oozes white fluid when broken. Spotted cat's ear has green, solid flower stalks that divide and bear more than one flower. Dandelion also blooms earlier in the year than Spotted cat's ear, at least in the Athens area.

Monarch butterflies & caterpillars were seen at west side of the lower part of the power
Monarch with Butterfly weed
line right of way, just above the road to the Lanier center. At least half a dozen Butterfly weed plants were sporting their showy orange blossoms among the grasses. Butterfly weed is a type of Milkweed and, if you've been following the news about Monarch butterflies, you'll recognize that Milkweed is the food plant of their caterpillar. We saw two of them flying about the milkweeds, suggesting that they, the butterfiles, might be looking for suitable plants to lay their eggs on. Further supporting this idea is that one monarch I got a close look at was a
Two Monarch caterpillars
female. Confirmation came when Nathan found several Monarch caterpillars feeding on the Butterfly weed. We passed them around for people to examine before returning them to their food plants.
Carolina Wild Petunia
Hidden among the grasses and other vegetations we found single plants of Carolina wild petunia and White avens in blossom. Alongside the path was another, slightly different Fleabane, perhaps Daisy fleabane. It has larger leaves than the ones we saw further up the hill and on the White trail.

Scattered throughout this area are large Pokeweeds, pink to red stemmed plants with large leaves.. Later in the year the clusters of flowers will produce dark purple berries that were used for ink in colonial times. Apparently the tender young shoots of Pokeweed are edible, but they have to be cooked with three changes of water to remove the toxins found in the leaves. All the parts of this plant are poisonous! The usage of the young growth as greens is the origin of another, more colloquial common name for the plant: Poke Sallet.

SUMMARY OF OBSERVED SPECIES:

Common Name
Scientific Name
Black cohosh
Actaea racemosa
Witch hazel
Hamamelis virginiana
Thimbleweed
Anemone virginiana
Virginia spiderwort
Tradescantia virginiana
Yellow crownbeard
Verbesina occidentalis
American beech
Fagus grandifolia
Hawthorn
Crataegus sp.
Cedar-hawthorn rust
Gymnosporangium globosum
Green ash
Fraxinus pennsylvanica
Southern red oak
Quercus falcata
Spiny Sowthistle
Sonchus asper
Lesser daisy fleabane
Erigeron strigosus
Hophornbeam
Ostrya virginiana
Queen Anne’s Lace
Daucus carota
Damsel bug
Genus Nabis
Carolina desert chicory
Pyrrhopappus carolinianus
Deptford pink
Dianthus armeria
Sunflower
Helianthus sp.
Sensitive brier
Mimosa microphylla
Carolina horse nettle
Solanum carolinense
Musk thistle
Carduus nutans
Wild onion
Allium canadense
Long leaf summer bluet
Houstonia longifolia
Butterfly weed
Asclepias tuberosa
Monarch
Danaus plexippus
Bumblebee
Bombus sp.
Spotted cat’s ear
Hypochaeris radicata
Carolina wild petunia
Ruellia caroliniensis
Daisy fleabane
Erigeron annuus
Pokeweed
Phytolacca americana
White avens
Geum canadense
Hoverfly
Family Syrphidae
Wolf spider
Family Lycosidae


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