Saturday, October 22, 2016

Ramble Report October 20 2016

Today's Ramble was lead 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. Don also has posted another Facebook album with a lot of interesting nature photos he took in Sumter Co. )

Today's post was written by Dale Hoyt.

Attendees: 24
Announcements:Visit this page to see the current Announcements.

Today's reading: Bob Ambrose presented one of his latest creations.

For One More Flower

She was foraging a mid-autumn meadow
for one more flower in the dimming light
when a cooling breeze began to blow
as late day merged with chill of night.

Beneath a billion dying stars
in a deep black sky, a tiny soul
clings to a bumblebee body
latched to a tenuous bloom.

Perhaps there will be a bright new dawn
where a kind sun warms the dew-wet weeds
and she wakes to a golden-yellow dream
washed in the fragrance of fall.

And the final flower of a now-dead day
will serve the first nectar of morning.

Avis read a prose poem by Tom Hennon from his collection entitled Crawling Out the Window.


The autumn smell of earthworms has attracted an off-course migrating woodcock who explodes like a feathery firecracker into the aspen thicket when I come too close. After all these nights of frost, most of the insects have given up for the year and have buried themselves in the duff. But here are tiny flies yet, smaIl squadrons that dive and climb through the high reed grass. I don't know how these dark-eyed gnats have survived the cold beginning of fall. Perhap autumn has a back door left open to a summer afternoon in the world next to ours

Today's route:  We headed to the upper parking lot to examine the trees bordering the first row of parking spaces. Then we entered the Orange trail and proceeded until 10AM when we retraced our way back to the visitor's center.

A Valuable Resource: The USDA has two outstanding volumes of tree natural history titled Silvics of North America. These are available online or can be downloaded as .pdf files at this website. The books contain:

"The silvical characteristics of about 200 forest tree species and varieties are described. Most are native to the 50 United States and Puerto Rico, but a few are introduced and naturalized. Information on habitat, life history, and genetics is given for 15 genera, 63 species, and 20 varieties of conifers and for 58 genera, 128 species, and 6 varieties of hardwoods."

I highly recommend this resource for anyone wanting information about tree natural history.

Mockernut hickory nut plus 4 pieces of thick husk.

Emily brought a twig and a couple of fruits of Mockernut hickory to pass around. Hickories have compound leaves. That means that what most people would call a leaf is really not a leaf – they are leaflets. The real leaf is made of many small leaflets; it is a compound leaf. (Check out my Sept. 1 post for a discussion of how to tell the difference between a leaflet and a compound leaf.) In the case of Mockernut most leaves have 7 leaflets. The other common hickory in the SBG typically has 5 leaflets. Mockernuts also have thicker twigs and petioles, but these features are better seen side by side for comparison. It just takes practice to become confident of your identification skills. The fruits of the Mockernut fruits have thick husks split apart completely to reveal a large nut with ridges that mark where the husks were joined. In the other common hickory the fruits is smaller, sometimes pear-shaped, often with a husk that does not completely split and a nut that is without prominent ridges.

Tulip tree leaves 

The Tulip tree has leaves unlike any other tree in the SBG. They a large, squarish, with a shape that resembles a stylized profile of a tulip flower. But that is not what gives the tree its common name – it is the flowers that appear high in the tops of the trees in spring time. They resemble greenish-white tulips. The tree is also called yellow poplar or even tulip poplar, but it is not even close to being a poplar. Its closest relatives are the Magnolias. The Tulip tree is the tallest hardwood tree in North America, reaching a height of 200 feet and a trunk diameter of 10 feet. A place I once worked in has a cross section from a Tulip tree trunk that is 6 feet in diameter. The earliest rings in the section date back to around the birth of Christ. And the section was cut from a part of the trunk 60 feet from the ground.

Sourwood bark & trunk; note thick ridges and curved trunk

Sourwood fruits and leaves

Sourwood leaves; long & narrow
Sourwood gets its name from the taste of its crushed leaves, certainly not from the honey produced from its nectar. Sourwood honey commands a high price and rightly so. It is flavorful and resists crystallization – we've had jars sitting on a shelf for over a year that were still liquid.

Sourwood leaves are long and narrow, the sides of the leaf blades being almost parallel. It is one of the first trees to change color in the fall. One of the unique characteristics is the bark. On mature trees the bark is thick and heavily ridged. The trunk is almost never straight, twisting and turning as though the tree were seeking out a path to the sun while it was growing. In contrast, the shoots that sprout from the stump are almost perfectly straight and, because of this, were used by Native Americans for arrows. It flowers from June to August producing numerous small, white flower clusters. These later give rise to fruits that split open to release their tiny seeds.

Callery pear

A Callery Pear has made its appearance in the SBG, probably not for the last time. This invasive exotic is a descendant of the familiar Bradford pear that has escaped cultivation and become yet another potential alien plant problem. For the history of the origin of this plant read this post by Ellen Honeycutt.

Red Maple leaf; note the teeth on the lobe margin

Red Maple leaves with 3 prominent lobes
Red Maple usually has something red about it during the growing season. Its red flowers appear before the leaves in the spring; the petioles of the leaf are red in the summer and the leaves turn red in the fall. (The tree we examined lacked red petioles, but two out of three isn't bad.) Like all the maples, its leaves are opposite, i.e., at each point on a twig where you find a leaf you will find another on the opposite side of the twig. In the absence of leaves you can look for leaf scars, the marks left on a twig when its leaves fall off in the autumn.

The red maple leaf is usually three lobed, but you can find some leaves with five lobes. The lobes do not have smooth margins; they bear teeth of various sizes. The other simple leaved maples in our area have smooth lobes (These are the Chalk maple and the Florida maple, which is the southern version of the Sugar maple.) There is one other maple to be found in the SBG: the Box elder, which has compound leaves composed of three or more leaflets.)

Corky ridges (wings) on Winged Elm branch

Winged Elm leaves
Winged Elm is another early flowering tree, coming into bloom soon after the Red maples. The Winged elm leaf is small and eye-shaped. Unlike other elms it is symmetrical at the base. The leaves are alternate and they have coarse, saw-tooth margin (called serrate). The feature that gives them the "winged" name is the presence of corky ridges on some twigs or branches. Unfortunately many Winged elms lack these ridges, so you have to rely on the leaf characters for identification.

Wax myrtle is a shrub/tree that is widely planted. It has very aromatic leaves and berries. The berries are coated with wax that is/was used to make bayberry candles. The berries are collected and boiled, melting the wax, which can be collected by skimming it off the top of the water. You would have to grow a lot of plants to make a candle from just the berries, so it is usually combined with beeswax or petroleum wax to add the scent.

Was myrtle is also unusual in that its roots harbor symbiotic bacteria that fix nitrogen, enabling the plant to grow on poor soils.

Loblolly pine (L) and Shortleaf pine (R)
comparison of needle lengths

Shortleaf cone (L); Loblolly cone (R); Note the sharp points on the Loblolly cone scales
Shortleaf pine bark with pitch pockets
The two common pines in our area are Loblolly pine and Shortleaf pine. They are easily told apart by differences in their cones and needles. Loblolly pine has needles that are much longer than Shortleaf pine, a difference that is obvious if you compare them side by side. Pine needles grow in bundles of 1 or more needles. Loblollies have three needles per bundle and Shortleaf pines have only 2 needles per bundle. The cones of Shortleaf are about 1/2 the size of Loblolly cones and lack the sharp pointed prickles found on the Loblolly cone scales. (You can tightly grip a Shortleaf cone in your hand without much discomfort, but the Loblolly cone will be painful.) The plate-like bark of Shortleaf pine have pitch pockets. These are tiny pits in the bark that sometimes have slightly raised edges. The pitch is released when the tree is attacked by bark beetles. Loblolly lacks the pitch pockets on its bark, but still can produce pitch when injured.

Pine reproduction is a lengthy process. It takes 1-1/2 to 2 years for a cone to mature and begin to shed seeds. Like the pollen that is produced from male cones in the spring, the seeds are dispersed by the wind. Each cone scale bears 1 or 2 seeds and while still on the tree it opens and closes according to the humidity. Under wet conditions it remains closed but the scales open when the weather is dry and the humidity is low. The seeds are surrounded by papery membranes that catch the wind and they can be blown a considerable distance from the parent plant. Both the Loblolly and the Shortleaf begin dispersing their seeds in October and continue into November. The seeds remain dormant over winter and germinate in March of the following year. The cones are often retained on the tree long after they are empty, especially by Shortleaf pine.

Hophornbeam; note the "cat-scratch" bark

Hophornbeam leaves with doubly serrate margins

Hophornbeam fruits; compare to those of Hops, below.

Hop vine fruits; compare to those of Hophornbeam, above.
Hophornbeam is a small understory tree and is one of the commonest trees in the SBG. It can be found on dry ridges as well as stream sides. The unusual name derives from its fruits and the way its wood was used in the Old World. The "hop" is a reference to the similarity between the flower clusters of the European Hop vine and the cluster of fruits that develop on the Hophornbeam. (The Hop vine flower clusters produce the bitter flavor of beer, so they are well known to people who brew their own.) The "hornbeam" part of the name probably refers to the tough, dense wood of the tree and one of its uses. Oxen can be yoked by several methods but the simplest and cheapest is to tie a stick around the horns so that the animals can push against it. The cart can then be attached to the stick. Needless to say the stick must be able to withstand strong forces and not break. This method of yoking also has the advantage of preventing the members of a team of oxen from goring one another with their horns. If one member of a yoked pair swings its head to the left the other ox will have its head forced to the left as well, automatically avoiding being stabbed by the horn of its partner. Hophornbeam is almost impossible to split and just as difficult to cut, even with a chain saw. During a snow storm a few years ago a Hophornbeam in our yard accumulated so much snow that several of its branches were bent all the way to the ground. I thought I would have to prune them once the snow melted, but they returned to their normal positions with no sign of being damaged.

A neatly girdled hickory twig, courtesy of a twig girdler beetle.

Insects: Even with the chilly turn taken by the weather we found evidence of past and present insect activity. The Mockernut hickory twig we examined fell from the tree because it was girdled by a beetle, the Common twig girdler, leaving as evidence the smooth, circular cut around the broken end of the twig.The beetle lays an egg in the end of the branch and then walks toward the trunk, picks a spot and chews through the bark of the twig all the way around. The weakened twig breaks in a wind and the end of the twig, with its larval beetle feeding on its wood, falls to the ground.

Abandoned silk tent of Fall webworm moth (on Sourwood).
There was a silken tent surrounding the end of a branch on one of the Sourwoods – a sign of the Fall webworm moth. People commonly think this is the work of the Tent caterpillar, but the Tent caterpillar is a different species, active only in the spring, and has much different habits. They build their silken tents in the crotch of a tree, usually a cherry or apple tree. From this shelter they move out to the ends of branches each day to consume the leaves they find there. After eating they return to the safety of the tent and digest their meal. As they grow they increase the size of the tent but still use it as a central point from which to forage. The Fall webworm is active later in the year toward the end of summer. The caterpillars enclose the leaves at the end of a branch in silk and feed on the enwrapped leaves. As they consume the food they enlarge the area enclosed. In our area I have seen Fall webworms utilize pecans, persimmons and sourwoods, but they are reported to feed on a wide variety of other trees. In both species there is only a single generation per year.

Empty Luna moth cocoon
Tom found an empty cocoon of the Luna moth, one of the giant silk moths that used to be much commoner. (The Luna moth has apple green wings and long tails on its hind wings.) Unlike a many of the other silk moths it forms its cocoon in the leaf litter, usually wrapping itself in some of the leaves. (I was once raising a group of Luna caterpillars and one of them escaped while I was at work. I found it later after it had formed a cocoon in a stack of newspapers on the floor, wrapped in part of the cartoon section.)

Bug eggs on the midvein of a Beech leaf.
We discovered a long row of bug eggs on the underside of a Beech leaf, laid along the mid vein. Some appear to have either hatched or to have been eaten. This late in the season you would expect that the eggs would overwinter. True bugs have piercing, sucking mouthparts and many feed on plant tissues by sucking sap. This time of year, when the leaves are dying, is not a good time for young bugs to be starting their life.


Common Name
Scientific Name
Mockernut hickory
Carya tomentosa
Hickory twig girdler beetle
Oncideres cingulata
White oak
Quercus alba
Tulip tree
Liriodendron tulipifera
Oxydendrum arboreum
Callery pear
Pyrus calleryana
Loblolly pine
Pinus taeda
Winged elm
Ulmus alata
Sweet gum tree
Liquidambar styraciflua
Wax myrtle
Morella cerifera syn. Myrica cerifera
Short-leaf pine
Pinus echinata
Fall webworm
Hyphantria cunea
Red Oak
Quercus rubra
Red maple
Acer rubrum
Yaupon holly
Ilex vomitoria
Red spotted purple
Limenitis arthemis
American beech
Fagus grandiflora
Ascomycete fungus on
American beech twigs
Diatrype frutescens
Vaccinium aboreum
Pignut hickory
Carya glabra
Ostraya virginiana
Luna moth cocoon
Actias luna
Yellow jacket
Family Vespidae

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