Friday, April 8, 2016

Ramble Report April 7 2016

 Here's the link to Don's Facebook album for today's Ramble. (All the photos in this post are complements of Don.)
Today's post was written by Dale Hoyt and Don Hunter.

Twenty Ramblers met today – a glorious spring morning!
Today's readings: The first, read by Tim, from Trailside Botany: 101 Favorite Trees, Shrubs, and Wildflowers of the Upper Midwest, by John Bates, 2004, p. 111:

Daisies are named logically, "the day's eye," from the English daisy, which closes at night and opens at sunrise.

Next, Lee, who can ferret out the most ancient texts, read an excerpt from the For Sale section of the Georgia Gazette, August 15, 1765 (yes, 1765!):

The Subscriber has to Sell,
HIS ISLAND of GREAT - WAS-SAW, with ALL THE ADJOINING ISLANDS and HARD-FEEDING MARSHES, containing upwards of 4000 acres: Great part of the large island consists of a variety of low meadow and other planting land, which may be easily prepared for corn, indico, or rice; also a great quantity of live-oak, cedar, and the best kind of pitch-pine for ship-building; distant but one tide of flood from Savannah; and has on it upwards of 100 head of fine tame cattle, many sheep and hogs, and a few horses and mares, which will be sold together with the island.- Whoever is inclined to purchase the whole may have one, two, or three years credit, if required.
Savannah, August 2, 1765. JAMES DEVEAUX.

(Part of present day Wassaw Island is a National Wildlife Refuge.)

Today's route: From the Arbor we took the south White Connector Trail to the Orange Trail Spur which we followed across the wooded floodplain to the Orange Trail at the river. Turning right, we walked along the river, continuing past the power line on the White trail to a point about 50 feet past the first bench (to see the Silver Bell tree in bloom). We then returned to the power line and walked to the access road which we took up to the concrete walkway and then back to the Arbor.

White Trail Connector:

On our way down the mulched trail we stopped to take notice of how the understory trees were nearly fully leafed out but the canopy was still open. In this way the understory is similar to the ephemeral spring flora, taking advantage of unobstructed sunlight by the early emergence of their leaves. Once the canopy leaves fully emerge the rate of photosynthesis in the understory will diminish. The trees like Hophornbeam get their sunlight while they can.

The beauty of a large group of people on a Ramble is that multiple eyes find things that would escape the notice of a single person. Today confirmed that observation. The first find of the day was two Jack in the pulpits, each with more leaves than the typical three. Nearby someone pointed out a small Sweet Betsy trillium. Further along we found Coral honeysuckle almost a foot high. Later in today's Ramble we would find some actually blooming even though the vine was only 4-5 feet in height.

Cotyledons on Red Maple
Then Emily noticed a small tree that had its first true leaves just emerging and still retained its paired seed leaves. The formal name for the seed leaf is cotyledon. The seed leaf is structurally different from the true leaves – it is thick and fleshy and lacks the complex network of veins of the true leaves. Flowering plants are divided into two groups based on the number of cotyledons (=seed leaves) formed in the seed: the monocots and the dicots, which is an abbreviated was of saying monocotyledonous and dicotyledonous. The cotyledons transport or store energy-rich material in the seed that supports the early growth of the plant embryo when the seed germinates. In dicotyledonous plants, like the beans you probably sprouted when you were in grammar school, these seed leaves first appear as two thick green lobes at the end of the newly emerged plant. As the plant continues to grow the cotyledons shrink and the first true leaves develop on the stem above them. As their stored food is exhausted the cotyledons shrivel up and fall off. In some dicots, like oaks, the cotyledons remain within the acorn and don't appear above ground. In monocots, like corn, the single cotyledon remains underground with the seed as it germinates.

Bedstraw, AKA Cleavers

Bloodroot leaves

Looking for flower buds in the Mayapples
Along this section of the trail we discovered many leaves of Bloodroot. Unlike true ephemeral plants the leaves of Bloodroot persist after the seeds have developed and dispersed. We also found several sprigs of Coral honeysuckle, abundant Bedstraw and a large patch of newly emerged Mayapples, which we searched for flower buds but failed to find any.

Orange Trail Spur:

Where the White Connector meets the Orange trail spur we have see a large patch of Rue Anemone that bloomed earlier in the season. All but one of these plants have dropped their petals and now are developing fruits.

Kidney leaf buttercup fruit, flower & flower bud

Leaf variation in Kidney leaf buttercup
Don has a fondness for Kidney leaf buttercup so he takes a photograph each time he sees one. This is a plant that most of us would ignore because of the dinky flower and overall unattractive appearance. But even the ugliest things can surprise us. The common name implies that the leaves ought to be kidney shaped, but we have found that many of them are quite irregular; some of the basal leaves can be quite irregular with as many as three to four lobes, confirming a remark made by a famous 18th century Swiss-American naturalist and Harvard professor, Alexander Agassiz: ". . . study Nature, not books."

A small sapling of Box elder presented an opportunity to see the similarity of its leaves to those of poison ivy. Box elder has compound leaves, meaning the leaf is subdivided into two or more leaflets, in this case, three leaflets, just like poison ivy. The most reliable way of distinguishing it from poison ivy is that the leaves are arranged opposite one another on the twigs. In poison ivy the leaves come off the stem alternately. The petiole of Box elder is often red in color, like a Red maple, but this is not 100% certain. Box elder is never a vine climbing up a tree, but sometimes Poison Ivy grows like a small shrub or sapling.

A small Smooth Sumac provided the opportunity to look at how leaves are arranged on a plant. The problem a plant faces as it grows is that upper leaves can shade lower leaves. Because it's the sunlight that enables photosynthesis to occur it would be desirable to not shade that lower leaf, so the leaves should be staggered. But how much? The optimum angle separating adjacent leaves turns out to be 137.5 degrees. This will minimize the shading of lower leaves by upper leaves. By looking at the top of the sumac you can see almost all the leaves from the top to the bottom. Is it a coincidence that this angle is known as the "golden angle?"Google "golden angle" and you'll be surprised at the number of hits you get. There is an enormous literature devoted to the subject.

Emerging Lizard's tail plants

Lizard's tail flower from last year
In non-drought years the wooded area between the river levee and the hill has standing water during most of the year, dependent on rainfall. In years of severe drought these pools that form after rains quickly dry up. Last year, on June 4, we found a large colony of Lizard's tail growing in this area. Today we noticed large numbers of plants emerging with leaves that resemble those of Lizard's tail. In a month or so we'll find out if we are right. (I've included Don's photo of the flower from last year.)  

It was at this spot that Ed pointed out the absence of Elaeagnus, thanks to the labors of both Ed and Ted, our Rambler weed warriors. In our area there are two commonly found species of Elaeagnus: Thorny elaeagnus (E. pungens) and Autumn olive (E. umbellata). Both are invasive and should never be planted. If you want to learn to identify these plants talk to either Ed or Ted.

Philadelphis fleabane
Here we noticed a large clump of Philadelphia fleabane. There are several species of fleabane that bloom early in the spring, but this is the earliest. We will find Daisy fleabane blooming later in the year. The Philadelphia fleabane has large leaves that clasp the stems. The other fleabanes in the area have much narrower leaves.

We found a downed Mockernut hickory that gave us a chance to compare its leaves with those of a nearby Painted buckeye. Both plants have compound leaves, meaning that the leaf is subdivided into several small leaflets. But telling a leaflet from a leaf is sometimes difficult. The best way is to look for a bud at the base of what you think is a leaf. If you find one, you've got a leaf, if you don't, it's a leaflet. Except: 1)very young leaves may not have developed visible buds yet and 2) some, very few, plants have their buds buried in the base of the leaf. There are also two different kinds of compound leaves: pinnate or palmate. Buckeyes have palmately compound leaves – all the leaflets emerge from the petiole at the same point. The other type of compound leaf, pinnate, has leaflets arranged like the barbs of a feather; they arise on either side of the shaft of the leaf. The hickories all have pinnately compound leaves.

Crossvine climbing deer fence

Crossvine flower
This is the time of year when Crossvine blooms. It typically climbs high up into a tree and produces its reddish-orange blossoms with yellow lips just in time to be visited by Ruby throated humming birds. Crossvine has a characteristic leaf. Each node on the stem produces a pair of leaves and tendrils. The leaves are compound and have two leaflets. The tendrils have expanded disks at the ends that stick to the surface that the vine is climbing.

Southen chervil

Lyre leaf sage flowers

Lyre leaf sage leaf
Other flowers noticed were Southern chervil, Lyre leaf sage, Ground ivy, Wild geranium and Common yellow wood sorrel.The sage gets its name from the shape of its basal leaves; with your imagination they look like a musical instrument, the lyre.

Orange Trail, along river:

Large stand of Butterweed 
In the area along the river that is cleared of privet there are now spectacular stands of Butterweed, a type of ragwort. All the ragworts used to be included in the genus Senecio, but DNA studies have shown that the New World species are only distantly related to the Old World forms, so they have been placed in a different genus, Packera, and Senecio retained for the Old World species.
We have already seen an early blooming ragwort growing in the Dunson garden, Golden ragwort (P. aurea). Later in the year, late spring or early summer, we may find a third species, Small's ragwort (P. anonyma). Another species, Downy ragwort, P. tomentosa, is available at the SBG plant sale, Plantapalooza, tomorrow, April 9.
How is Butterweed different from Golden ragwort? Butterweed is an annual, Golden ragwort is perennial. In addition, Butterweed bears more flowers and has a thicker, hollow stem. The basal leaves of Golden ragwort are heart shaped whereas the basal leaves of Butterweed have broadly rounded lateral lobes.

I've mentioned before that the removal of privet from this area provides us with an opportunity to witness the kinds of plants that will occupy a disturbed area that is suddenly freed from a powerful competitor like privet. The early invaders are likely to be of two kinds: those that come from buried seeds (a "seed bank") and those that have the ability to widely disperse their seeds. The latter can be blown about by the wind, like a dandelion seed, carried by birds, or brought in by flooding river waters. Today we see plants whose seeds were probably brought here by wind (Butterweed) or by birds (Pokeweed). As the season progresses we'll identify other wind dispersed plants in this newly opened habitat.

In the wetter, sandy stretches of the trail Racoon tracks were visible.

Spiny leaves of Prickley sow thistle
We saw two kinds of Sow-thistles today: a single plant of Prickley sow-thistle and many Common sow-thistles. The name seems a little odd until you find out that the "sow" is pronounced like the name of a female pig, not as in sowing seeds. That gives you a clue as to its origin. In earlier times plants were believed to have features that indicated what they could be used for. The sow-thistles exude a milky fluid when their stems or leaves are broken. So it was thought that this meant they would be good food for lactating pigs (sows) and the pigs apparently agreed. That accounts for the "sow" part of the name. The "thistle" part of the name comes from the similarity of the leaves in shape and prickliness to thistle plants. But real thistles don't have the yellow flowers that sow-thistles have. (Sow-thistles are the exception to the rule that you shouldn't eat leaves of plants that exude milky fluids. The young greens are edible but they become bitter with age.)

Scattered along the trail are numerous Sweet gum trees some of which are huge. These are trees we never noticed when the privet jungle was here.

White Trail, along river:

The reason for coming along this part of the White trail was to see Silverbells in bloom. Unfortunately the thunderstorms Weds. night knocked down many of the Silverbell blossoms, so the one tree visible from the trail was not as spectacular as it had been earlier in the week.

Kudzu among the Privet
It's hard to know who to cheer for!
Along the way we spotted a couple of plants on the invasive species list: a Chinaberry tree and, irony of ironies, a Kudzu vine growing on Privet!

Power line:

On our way back we stopped at the ephemeral pool in the power line right of way to check on the tadpoles that were eggs a month ago. Unfortunately the water was still cloudy from last night's storms and that made it hard to see the tadpoles. There are two clearly distinct types, one is smaller and very dark, the other is larger and gray in color. The small, dark tadpoles tend to cluster together and are probably American toads. The gray tadpoles are most likely Southern leopard frogs.

It was getting late so we straggled back to Donderos' for our customary beverage and conversation.


Arisaema triphyllum
Sweet Betsy trillium
Trillium cuneatum
Coral honeysuckle
Lonicera sempervirens
Sanguinaria canadensis
Galium aparine
Podophyllum peltatum
Kidney leaf buttercup
Ranunculus abortiva
Box elder
Acer negundo
Poison ivy
Toxicodendron radicans
Rue anemone
Thalictrum thalictroides
Smooth sumac
Rhus glabra
American beech
Fagus grandifolia
Lizard's tail
Saururus cernuus
Southern chervil
Chaerophyllum tainturieri
Philadelphia fleabane
Erigeron philadelphicus
Mockernut hickory
Carya tomentosa
Painted Buckeye
Aesculus sylvatica
Southern blackberry
Rhus argutus
Bignonia capreolata
Lyre-leaf sage
Salvia lyrata
Ground ivy
Glechoma hederacea
Wild geranium
Geranium maculatum
Common yellow woodsorrel
Oxalis stricta
Packera glabella
Hairy bittercress
Cardamine hirsuta
Racoon (tracks)
Procyon lotor
Potato vine
Ipomoea pandurata
Common sowthistle
Sonchus oleraceus
Sweet gum
Liquidambar styraciflua
Prickly sowthistle
Sonchus asper
Halesia carolina 
Melia azedarach
Pueraria lobata
Ligustrum sp.
Beaked cornsalad
Valerianella radiata
Purple deadnettle
Lamium purpureum
White clover
Trifolium repens

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