Friday, July 15, 2016

Ramble Report July 14 2016

Today's Ramble was lead by Linda Chafin.

All the photos in this post are compliments of Rosemary Woodel.

Today's post was written by Dale Hoyt.

Eighteen Ramblers met today.


Ed Wilde made the following announcement:

The “Nature Ramble” has become, for many of us, an important part of our week and an experience that has changed the way we look at and pass through the natural world. This remarkable experience is free, but there is a lot of work that goes into maintaining both the Ramble itself, and the documentation in the report by Dale, Don, and others.

It seems like it would be a good idea to show our appreciation to the Botanical Garden, and to the volunteers who diligently give of their time week after week.

I'm sure there are several ways to show this appreciation, but one way would be to make sure we all become members of the Friends of the Garden, and to either raise the level of our support, or give an additional donation beyond the cost of a basic membership. This can be done fairly easily by going online, or contacting the Garden directly. If you do this, please also mention that the Ramble is the inspiration for your financial support so that the Garden recognizes the significance of the efforts of those volunteers

Thank you, Ed!

Today's reading:

Lee Boyer supplied us with another of his historical curiosities, an article about Toccoa Falls from The Charleston Courier published in 1849.

The Charleston Courier, (Charleston, S.C), October 6, 1849, page 2.


The Falls of Toccoa lie on a creek of the same name, about eight miles from Wiley's ford, bridge or ferry, in Habersham county, Georgia. This creek is a tributary of Tugaloo river, which unites with the Seneca, from the S. Carolina side, to form the Savannah. The meaning of TOCCOA, is "Beautiful," or "The Beautiful," and it is a cascade of such charm and loveliness, as to be richly entitled to the epithet. It leaps suddenly, from a rocky precipice, 186 feet perpendicular descent in a sheet of sparking spray, and swells into bolder beauty, and is even lashed into angry foam, in seasons of deluge from the chambers of heaven. The view of the Fall, from the public road, which runs hard by, is very beautiful; and easy pathways, tending directly to its bring and its basin, bring the spectator into closer intimacy with its attractions. Near the basin are, or were, two large fragments of rock, detached and hurled from the precipice, by some shock or convulsion of nature, or perhaps by the attrition of water, within not very distant memory, the severances of which has somewhat diminished the original height of the rocky rampart. The descent of the curved waters, into an unbroken stream of spray and foam, (occasionally waving to and fro in the wind,) into the mimic lake below, is exceedingly graceful; and the volume of the fall being generally small and narrow, and its voice rather the music of a gentle cascade than the thunder of a roaring cataract, there are usually a quiet beauty and soft charm about it, which favor reposed more than excitement, and fill the fancy with dreams of fairies and naiads, than of water-demons or even syrens. When lit up with moonlight, or when Iris arches, with brilliant dies and dolphin hues, in the silver spray, the scene partakes still more of fairy enchantment. The valley of the fall, too, is lovely and romantic, and creatively suggestive of slyphs and dryads.

The sudden and abrupt plunge of the waters over the rock, without any previous warning, or "note of preparation," has probably 'given rise to a legend or tradition, which may be converted to poetic use. An Indian Chief is said to have become enamoured of a faithless maiden of another and hostile tribe, who pretended such a full return of his love, as to have impressed him with the delusive belief that she would betray her own tribe into his power. She accordingly arranged her plot; and, one dark night, affecting to pilot her confiding lover and his followers to the surprise of their enemy's camp, she treacherously led them over the precipice, to their utter destruction and the extinction of their tribe.

Today's route: From the arbor we took the mulched White trail down to the Orange connector trail; turning left on the connector we arrived at the Orange trail by the river. We followed the Orange trail downstream, turned left and walked a short distance to the first spur that lead into the beaver marsh. Then we returned back to the Orange trail and retraced our steps to the Purple trail which we took back to the Conservatory/Visitors Center and Donderos' Kitchen.


Among the regular ramblers are some who know their birds. Today Page, Tom, Sarah, and Linda were able to identify these birds by voice alone: Broad-winged hawk, Red-tailed hawk, Hooded warbler, Carolina wren, Acadian flycatcher and Pileated woodpecker

Insects and other Arthropods

European Hornet sipping fermented sap
A White oak at the back edge of the Arbor appeared to have been injured and was seeping sap which, because of the hot and humid weather, was starting to ferment. The odor attracted a number of insects, among them Yellow jacket wasps and a large European hornet. Also seen was a Red Admiral butterfly and a number of tiny flying insects too small to be identified.Sometimes an insect will imbibe so much fermented sap that it becomes drunk and unable to fly. We share a lot with insects. After a couple of beers I'm unable to fly.

Beetle antenna three times as large as the ant carrying it.
As we left the Arbor Emily noticed a large Carpenter ant carrying an unusual object in its mouth. Jeff thought it was an antenna from a large beetle. We can't be certain, but both of us think the beetle was a type of Longhorn beetle, family Cerambycidae, genus Prionus, that has similar antennae.

Lynx spider
While photographing some of the plants Rosemary noticed a small Lynx spider. This type of spider does not construct a web to capture its prey. It hangs out on flowers and vegetation and simply grabs any suitably sized insect and paralyzes it with a quick bite.

Praying mantis nymph on the back of someone's hand

Fall webworm nest; the black dots are caterpillar frass.
We found several nests of the Fall webworm on a single tree. This colony of caterpillars  caterpillar is the  Fall webworm is often confused with the Eastern Tent caterpillar (ETC). The ETC emerges in the early spring at the same time the leaves of its host plant, Black Cherry, emerge. The silken nest is built in the crotch of the tree and the caterpillars move out of the nest each day to feed on leaves. In contrast, the Fall webworm emerges much later, in mid- or late summer and encloses the leaves on the ends of branches in a silken web. To some extent the caterpillars are protected from predators by the web as they feed on the leaves. They progressively expand the nest to enclose fresh leaves. In my neighborhood I frequently see Fall webworm nests in the leaves of Pecans and Hickories, but many other kinds of trees are recorded as host plants. To some extent the silken nest prevents predators from eating the caterpillars, but over 50 species of parasitic flies and wasps have been recorded as attacking the caterpillars. I've seen paper wasps search in vain to find an opening in the nest. The nests are unsightly but the caterpillars do little harm to the tree, eating leaves from just a few branches. You will get more pleasure out of watching the caterpillars feed and develop than if you remove the nests.

A rolled leaf formerly containing a caterpillar
Another insect was not seen, but sign of its presence was obvious. A leaf was suspiciously rolled into a cylinder and when opened contained a small amount of frass (a polite term for caterpillar poop). No sign of the caterpillar, though. Leaf rolling is a common strategy that many insects and spiders adopt. It provides a shelter from rain and some protection from predators. I don't know how the caterpillar accomplishes the task of rolling up a leaf though. The layers are anchored with silk and it would be interesting to watch the process in action.

Female Katydid; the curved structure at the end of her abdomen is the ovipositor;
 the three white objects in front of the ovipositor are eggs she extruded.
In the beaver marsh Emily caught a female Katydid that was in the act of laying eggs. The photo shows a scimitar-shaped structure at the end of the Katydid's abdomen. This is an ovipositor – an egg laying device. She uses it to cut a slit in the stem of a plant and then deposits an egg in the slit. You can see several eggs at the base of the ovipositor.

Ecological Grass types

Grasses are divided into two general groups: cool season and warm season grasses. The cool-season grasses actively grow during winter, early spring or fall, becoming dormant in the summer; warm-season grasses are just the reverse. So grasses that flowered earlier this year are cool-season and will be setting seed right now. Examples of cool-season grasses we saw today are: Foxtail, Wild Rye Grass, River oats, Johnson grass, Rice cut grass and River cane.

Linda is raising cane
River cane

There are two species of native bamboos in our area: River cane and Switch cane. River cane (Arundinaria gigantea) is tall, reaching 10 feet or more in height while Switch cane (A. tecta) is much shorter – only 4 to 6 feet high. These native canes are little peculiar in that they don't produce seed every year. In fact, they only flower after growing 70 years, plus or minus. Furthermore, the entire population of cane flowers at the same time and then dies. During the years that cane is not flowering it is spreading vegetatively via rhizomes, so the large stands that in early colonial times covered the southern river bottoms may have been composed of only a few genetic types. (Vegetative reproduction produces clones of genetically identical plants.) This may explain, in part, their synchronous reproduction. The cane was used by Native Americans in many ways: making musical instruments, baskets, arrows and wattle-and-daub shelters.

Jimson weed
Jimson weed

Jimson weed is not native to the US, it was brought to America by the English, probably as a medicinal plant, and it first grew wild in the area around Jamestown. ("Jimson" is a corruption of Jamestown.) It is a member of the Nightshade family which are notorious for being poisonous and so are all parts of Jimson weed. It is also, at lower doses, hallucinogenic. One of the substances derived from this plant, scopolamine, is often featured in WWII movies where it is referred to as "truth serum" and administered to captured allied soldiers by their Nazi interrogators.

Muscadine grape leaves
Muscadine grapes

One of the many pleasures I receive from these rambles is when I am confronted with something that ought to have been obvious but that I had never thought about. One of the more abundant plants on forest floor in most of the SBGG is the Muscadine grape. In some areas it almost seems to be the only plant in the herbaceous layer. Year after year these small plants never seem to increase in size and I should have been aware of the obvious question: Why aren't these grape vines climbing trees? In many places in the SBGG there are large Muscadine vines growing up and hanging from trees, but I've never noticed any young vines climbing a tree. The solution to this puzzle is that grape vines can only grow up trees that are adjacent to them. All those little grape plants scattered over the forest floor and distant from trees are waiting for a tree seed to germinate next to them so they can literally grow up with it. Those large grape vines you sometimes see dangling from a tree are just as old as the tree is – they started out life together.

I've noticed another thing about these little grape plants on the forest floor. They don't show any signs of being eaten. And there are plenty of deer around to eat them, yet they seem immune. Do they taste bad? I googled "Do deer eat muscadine grape leaves" and found a lot of hits from sites that talked about deer eating grapes (the fruit), but few mentioned the leaves, let alone Muscadine leaves. One site suggested that Muscadine leaves didn't taste as good as ordinary grape leaves, but offered no evidence. Most websites were concerned with keeping deer out of their vinyards, chiefly to prevent loss of the wine-making fruits. They only mentioned that the deer would eat leaves in passing. I'm left feeling that the question is unanswered.

Succession on former cotton fields

Much of Clarke County was in cotton cultivation, if not continuously, at least at one time or another. The legacy of this era are our red clay "soils" that are really the mineral soil underlayment – all that is left after the top soil with its nutrients has been lost by years of erosion and crops that were "heavy feeders." One of the things Linda remarked on was the absence of plants with showy flowers growing dry shaded woods. Could their absence be due to the impact of cotton agriculture? Or is it due to the presence of deer? Deer were hunted nearly to extinction in the southeastern states in the 19th century. There was a program of reintroduction to Georgia from 1928 to 1979, some deer coming from populations as far away as Wisconsin. But the last 37 years have seen tremendous growth in the deer population and they could be an important factor affecting the herbaceous layer in our forests. Earlier this year I toured Walt Cook's property and was amazed at the number of seedling and sapling oaks and hickories I saw. I asked Walt if there were many deer on his property and he replied, "No." The difference between Walt's property and the SBGG was very dramatic.

Tipularia flower stalk with unopened flower buds
Cranefly orchid (Tipularia)

Linda told us that last winter she had seen the leaves of the Cranefly orchid in this area of the Garden and wanted us to look for the flowering stalks that should be appearing right now. She had failed to find any previously. Almost immediately Ed and Tim located some. The buds had not opened yet, so we will need to monitor this area carefully. Tipularia flowers are very small and colored brown and gray, just like the leaves on the forest floor, so they are difficult to find, blending as they do with the background.

Northern Red Oak snag

White Avens fruits; note the hooked bristles

White Avens flower
White Avens

White Avens is a plant we see almost year round, but we never seem to be present when it is flowering. At last, today we got to see both the flowers and the fruits. The plant in winter has a basal rosette that is composed of simple leaves. As the season progresses the new leaves emerge and are compound, looking almost like a different plant. Each of the seeds is surrounded by scales that bear hooked bristles to catch on the fur or socks of passing animals.

False nettle leaf

False nettle inflorescence with buds
False nettle

This plant resembles Wood nettle which is also found in the Garden. To distinguish them look at how the leaves are arranged. In False nettle the leaves are opposite; in Wood nettle the leaves are alternate. Wood nettle also has many hairs on its stems and leaves. Each hair contains the substance that stings if you brush against them.

Johnson grass

Johnson grass; the broad white mid-vein is characteristic, but not unique.

American Elm

American Elm leaf; note the oblique leaf base

Misc. Photos
Climbing Milkweed seed pod

Lurid sedge fruits

Elderberry fruit

Green Ash seeds on the path

Poison hemlock; the plant that killed Socrates

Wingstem flowers


Summary of Observed Species

Common Name
Scientific Name
European hornet
Vespa crabro
Yellow jacket
Vespula sp.
Red Admiral
Vanessa atalanta
Foxtail grass
Setaria sp.
Jimson weed
Datura stramonium
Poke weed
Phytolacca americana
Muscadine grape
Muscadinia rotundifolia
Northern Red Oak
Quercus rubra
Cross vine
Bignonia capreolata
White avens
Geum canadense
Wild Rye grass
Elymus glabriflorus
Hammock Spider-lilly
Hymenocalis occidentalis
False nettle
Boehmeria cylindrica
Ebony spleenwort
Asplenium platyneuron
Blood root
Sanguineria canadensis
Lemon Balm
Melissa officinalis
Acadian flycatcher
Empidonax virescens
Praying mantis
Fall webworm
Arctinae: Hyphantria cunea
Dwarf St. Johnswort
Hypericum mutilum
Climbing Milk weed
Gonolobus suberosus
Red spotted purple
Limenitis arthemis
Beefsteak plant
Perilla frutescens
Impatiens capensis
Johnson grass
Sorghum halepense
Verbesina alternafolia
Green ash
Fraxinus pensyllvanica
Box Elder
Acer negundo
Sambucus canadensis
Flat scale sedge
Cyperus sp.
American Elm
Ulmus americanus
River oats
Chasmanthium latifolium
Leafy elephant's foot
Elephantopus carolinianus
Bur cucumber
Sicyos angulatus
Common Day Flower
Commelina communis?
River cane
Arundinaria tecta or gigantea
Sensitive fern
Onoclea sensibilis
Carolina wren
Thryothorus ludovicianus
Heal all
Prunella vulgaris
Hooded warbler
Setophaga citrina
Red-tailed hawk
Buteo jamaicensis
Poison hemlock
Conium maculatum
Rice cut grass
Leersia oryzoides
Duck potato
Sagittaria arifolia
Lurid sedge
Carex lurida
Broad-winged hawk
Buteo platypterus

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