Friday, May 13, 2016

Ramble Report May 12 2016

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

Twenty-nine Ramblers met today!

Today's reading: Mary Ann read a passage about the Scarlet Tanager from Twelve Moons of the Year by Hal Borland:

He comes like a fiery flash, incredibly brilliant, even brighter than a cardinal, and one stares in awe as he perches in the top of an apple tree. Swaying against the blue sky of May, green leaves and flushed white blossoms around him, he sings. His voice may be hoarse and he may be lazily deliberate, but for a moment he is the most beauti- ful songster in the world, no matter what he sings or how.
Some call him the firebird, some call him the black-winged redbird, and both names are apt. No other bird alive can match his color, and jet-black wings and tail emphasize it. He could loaf all summer, as he seems to be doing there in the top of the apple tree, and still be a welcome neighbor. But he doesn't loaf, and that is why the casual observer so seldom sees him. He spends most of his time eating gypsy moths, tent caterpillars, and other sylvan pests. He is worth his weight ten times over in chemical insecticides.
But now and then he pauses between meals, perches in a high treetop, and acts as though he had all the time in the world. He is as deliberate, for a few minutes, as the season itself. He is a proud dandy, so casual he pauses between notes when he sings. And he really hasn't much of a repertoire or a really distinguished voice. But when he perches in a full-bloom apple tree on a May morning he could jeer like a jay and still have our admiration. Just the sight of him is song enough to last all day.

Today's route:  We left the arbor and made our way to the International Garden, through the American South and Spanish America sections, through the Herb and Physic Garden and Heritage Garden and then down the path along the woods to the Orange Trail spur, which we took to the Orange Trail.  We followed the Orange Trail down to, then up the Middle Oconee River to the Orange Spur, where we turned right and walked it to the White Trail spur and back up to the parking lot.

American South section:

Oak-leaf Hydrangea
As you enter this section of the garden, on the right, is vigorous specimen of Oak-leaf hydrangea. On the left is a bed with plants that are just beginning to establish themselves. Some are beginning to flower and others are past flowering and are setting seed. Among the former is Narrow leaf blue star. It's leaves are very narrow, compared to Common blue star, reflecting their adaptation to a hotter, droughtier environment, the sandy soils of the coastal plain.

Fruit (seed pod) of Blue false indigo
Note developing seeds and the two valves

The Blue false indigo that we saw blooming in this bed two weeks ago is past flowering and has produced many seed pods. Each pod looks like a shortened, inflated pea pod, reflecting the fact that this plant is a legume. The word legume was brought into English from the French who got it from the Latin legumen that referred to both the seed, called a pulse, and the plant that produced it. Pulse is derived from an ancient Roman word, puls, that was a cooked bean dish. Many legumes have pea-like flowers, like we saw previously on this false indigo. But not all legumes have flowers like peas; the Mimosa tree is a legume, as are Acacia trees, both of which have very un-pea like flowers. But they all have the legume fruit: a hollow, swollen capsule composed of two parts, called valves, that are joined together at their edges, making a seam that runs around the length of the fruit. In many legumes, like this false indigo and garden peas, the capsule splits open along those seams to release the seeds, but in some cases the entire fruit never opens.

Redbud leaf with piece removed by Leafcutter bee
Further along we stopped an Eastern redbud tree, also a legume, to look for evidence of leaf cutter bee activity. This particular specimen is a cultivar, "Silver Cloud," that has variegated leaves. Some parts of the leaves lack chlorophyll while other parts are still green. Redbuds are one of the favorite trees used by leaf cutter bees, probably because the leaves are so soft. The bee carefully excises a semi-circular piece from the edge of a leaf and returns back to its nest, which is usually a hollow stem. The piece of leaf is used to line the next cavity and will hold a mixture of pollen and nectar that is also gathered by the bee. An egg is laid in the "bee bread" and the leaf lined chamber is closed by the next piece of leaf cut by the bee. Some leaf cutter bees are important pollinators of the alfalfa crop.

Spanish America section:

Showy Evening-Primrose
darker nectar guides are visible in the upper right flower

We stopped to take a closer look at Showy Evening-Primrose, a pretty, pink flower that is native to our area. It is widely regarded as "weedy" and capable of taking over a garden, but that seems a small price to pay for such a beautiful plant. My own experience with it has been different. We planted several, hoping that they would spread but they didn't survive more than one year. A closer look at the flower reveals two characteristics, one of which is typical of the Evening-Primrose family: a cross-shaped stigma. Whenever you see that you can be pretty certain that the flower you're looking at is an Evening-Primrose. The other feature is typical of many insect pollinated plants. The petals are marked with darker pink lines that direct your eye toward the center of the flower, where the nectaries are. These lines are called nectar guides and many plants have them. They are not always visible to the human eye, though. Bees and butterflies have a different visual range than we do; they can see ultraviolet light, which is beyond our capability. So many flowers that appear plain to us have dramatic patterns in the ultraviolet that show the bees where to get a sweet drink. This site has a number of examples of flowers as seen by humans and the same flowers photographed with UV sensitive film.

Herb and Physic Garden:

Pawpaw flower

Developing Pawpaw fruits
We stopped here to take a look at the Pawpaws. There were still a few flowers in bloom, as well as some developing fruits. Some people find the Pawpaw flower ugly with its dark maroon petals. But the Pawpaw doesn't care – it's attracting flies, not people, and the flowers resemble rotting flesh in color. (Some think that the flower's odor of also resembles something rotten.) According to Jeff J. some Pawpaw breeders have hung buckets with decomposing road kill in their orchards to guarantee Pawpaw fruit production.

Footbridge on path to Orange Trail Spur:

American wisteria
Growing on the bridge is a native American wisteria. It resembles the very invasive Chinese wisteria but is much more easily controlled. The Chinese vine has leaves with wavier edges than those of the American species, but you'll need to compare them side-by-side to really see the difference.

Path to Orange Trail Spur:

We noted several Jack-in-the-pulpit plants, only a few with "pulpits." The pulpit is formed by a part of the plant called the spathe. This is a leaf-like bract that surrounds a stalk that bears the flowers, called the spadix. The flowers on the spadix are usually only of one sex, either female or male. Only larger plants produce female flowers and these will produce brilliant red fruits in the fall. The fruits are favored by box turtles and are dispersed when turtle defecates the seeds after eating the fruits.

A little further along the path is clump of Dwarf crested iris that has finished blooming.

Two species of cool season grasses were noticed, Poverty oat grass and  Witch grass. Poverty oat grass is currently blooming and can be recognized by the curled remains of last years leaves at its base. The Witch grass is difficult to identify; it blooms in spring and late summer.

There was a small, bug-eaten speciment of Deerberry with a few flowers remaining. The flowers have flaring, short petals, not vase shaped like many other Vacciniums.

Sourwood leaves
A Sourwood with sprouts allowed us to see the leaves of this tree that normally would be way out of reach. The leaves are long and narrow, with sides that are approximately parallel. We also noticed that the bark of the young shoots was smooth and gray, not unlike that of Beech trees. The characteristic deeply furrowed bark develops as the tree ages, so you can expect to see all intermediate stages, from smooth to ridged, on trees of different sizes.

Near the Sourwood is a dead tree with the tar-black spots of the hypoxylon fungus that killed it showing in places where the bark is absent.

Flower of Maroon Carolina Milkvine

Maroon Carolina Milkvine
The big surprise was a Maroon Carolina milkvine climbing up the deer fence along the path. This plant prefers a soil with a higher pH than our typical soils, suggesting that some rock like amphibolite might underlay this part of the garden. The milkvines are closely related to milkweeds and even combined with them in the same family, Apocynaceae, in current molecular classifications. The traditional arrangement was to separate the milkvines in the Apocynaceae from the milkweeds in their own family, Asclepiadaceae. Monarch butterflies are restricted to using the milkweeds as their caterpillar host plant, but they can and do lay eggs on milkvines. But milkvines are much less common than milkweeds (at least they used to be, before no-till agriculture).

Orange Trail (along creek):

Hugh-patica leaves
We stopped at the bridge where Hugh Nourse always found Hepatica blooming early in the year. Yes, the "Hugh-patica" plants are still there, just no longer flowering. The three-lobed leaves are there, soaking up sunlight and storing it as chemical energy to fuel next springs blooming.

Summer bluets
Summer bluets are out and scattered along the trail by the stream. The Mayapple is in decline. Most of the plants are affected by a yellow-spot fungal disease that they acquire every year, but they still keep coming back.
Golden backed Snipe fly
We found a mating pair of flies on the trail. Both had dark wings, dark bodies and shiny, orange thoraxes. With the help of Sandy Creek Nature Center's ace naturalist, Carmen, we know that these are in the Snipe fly family, probably the Golden backed snipe fly or a closely related species. Snipe flies have predacious larvae that feed on soft bodied soil dwelling invertebrates, like worms. (Looking at the shiny thorax with a hand lens I immediately thought I was looking at the top of Donald Trump's head.)

Purse web spider, possible Sphodros niger 
Someone spotted an unusual black spider that I was able to coax into a vial to pass around for viewing. My best guess as to its identity is that it is a Purse web spider in the genus Sphodros, possibly Sphodros niger. (Few spiders have common names.) The Purse web spiders are related to Tarantulas, but placed in a different family. They construct a tubular web that stretches from the soil up a tree trunk, living inside the tube. When their prey (an insect) walks on the tube they rush to the spot and grasp it from inside the web, using their enormous fangs. (The fangs are not visible in the photo, but they are as long as the large structures that project forward between the front legs.)

Orange Trail (along river):

Hearts-a-Bustin' flower
Along the river we found several Strawberry bushes, better known as Heart's- a-Bustin for the spectacular mature fruit. At this time of year they have very interesting, unusual-looking flowers.

Deadly Nightshde

Carolina Horse-Nettle and bee friend
We found two plants in the Nightshade family near one another: Deadly night-shade and Carolina horse-nettle. Most of the members of this family have unusual anthers; they open by a pore at the end to release a dry pollen. (Many other plants have anthers the split open along their length and release large, sticky pollen.) In the nightshades the pollen is usually released by "buzz" pollination, in which a bumblebee visiting the flower vibrates her wings at a frequency that shakes the pollen out of the pore at the end of the anther. This dry pollen sticks to the hairs of the bumblebee by static electricity.

The large stands of Butterweed are still blooming, much to our surprise. Many of the flowers are going to seed, but just as many seem to be happily blooming. Don saw a pair of Goldfinches gleaning seeds from the plants.

Pennsylvania Smartweed

Lady's thumb Smartweed
At several spots we found plants of Curly dock and three kinds of Smartweeds; Mild Waterpepper, Pennsylvania Smartweed and Lady's thumb smartweed. Linda showed us the features that make it easy to identify plants in this family: ". . .a sheath called an ocrea wraps around a leaf node and the adjacent portion of the stem. In Georgia's species the ocrea is papery and pale green, tan, reddish or white. There may or may not be bristles along its upper edge.  . . . The name "smartweed" refers to the leaves of some species that have a biting, peppery taste that makes your tongue smart." (see p. 290 of Linda's book for more information.)

Tenthredinid Sawfly larva
Note: that's not the head end sticking up;
it's the rear end

We found two, possibly three types of Wing-Stems (genus Verbesina) growing all along the trail. The one with opposite leaves is Southern Crownbeard and the ones with alternate leaves could be one or the other of two other species: Frostweed or Wing-Stem. We found what we thought was a "caterpillar" on the leaves of an alternate leafed Wing-Stem. It proved not to be a caterpillar – it's the larval stage of a Sawfly. Sawflies are primitive Hymenopterans, the order of insects that includes the ants, bees and wasps. Unlike the ants, bees and wasps the larvae of sawflies are not maggots or grubs – they look just like caterpillars, except for having a different number of "legs" on the abdomen. Sawfly larvae are not well known, so identifying this one is next to impossible. I consulted and the best I could find was a reference to the family: Tenthredinidae. Here's the link to that page. Oh yes, in Don's photo the part of the "caterpillar" that is sticking up is not the head, it's the tail end of the larva. This is a typical sawfly larval behavior when disturbed, according to Carmen at the Sandy Creek Nature Center.

It was getting late and warmer, so we rushed back to the parking lot and many of us descended on Donderos' for our beverages, snacks and conversation.


Oakleaf hydrangea
Hydrangea quercifolia
Narrow leaf blue star
Amsonia hubrichtii
Eastern redbud cultivar
Cercis canadensis
Blue false indigo
Baptisia australis
Pink evening primrose
Oenothera speciosa  
Venus' looking glass
Triodanis perfoliata
Paw Paw
Asimina triloba
American wisteria
Wisteria frutescens
Arisawma triphyllum
American beautyberry
Callicarpa americana 
Crested iris
Iris cristata
Poverty oatgrass
Danthonia spicata
Witch grass
Dichanthelium sp.
Vaccinium stamineum
Oxydendrum arboreum
Hypoxylon sp.
Chrysogonum virginianum
Maroon Carolina milkvine
Matelea caroliniensis
Round-lobed hepatica
Anemone americana
Summer bluet
Houstonia purpurea
Podophyllum peltatum
Purse web spider
Family Atypidae:
Sphodros sp.; possibly niger
Golden-backed Snipe fly
Order Diptera: Rhagionidae
Chrysopilus thoracicus[?]
Strawberry bush
Euonymous americanus
Deadly nightshade
Atropa belladonna
Carolina horsenettle
Solanum carolinense
American goldfinch
Spinus tristis
Packera glabella
Curly dock
Rumex crispus
Mild water-pepper
Persicaria hydropiperoides
Pennsylvania smartweed
Polygonum pensyvanicum
Lady's thumb smartweed
Persicaria maculosa
Verbesina alternifolia or
Sawfly larva
Order Hymenoptera:
Ranunculus sp.

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