Saturday, July 1, 2017

Ramble Report June 29 2017

Today's Ramble was led by Linda Chafin.
The photos in this post, except where noted, came from Don's Facebook album (here's the link).
Today's post was written by Linda Chafin & Dale Hoyt.
Thirty Ramblers met today.
Today's reading: Linda read The Summer Day by Mary Oliver.
A list of books that might appeal to Ramblers.
Today's route: From the Arbor to the International Garden, the American South section, then across the Flower Bridge, to the Threatened and Endangered Plants Garden, then to the Herb and Physic Garden. From there to the Heritage Garden and then back via the Visitor's Center.

Polyphemus moth; female (because of the thin antennae)
Polyphemus cocoon; exit hole at the bottom
Before leaving the Arbor Jeff showed us a female Polyphemus moth (Antheraea polyphemus) that emerged from a cocoon he found on his property.

Appalachian Bergamot with Bumblebee visitor
The group paused at the bed along the road into the International Garden. This bed has lots of native plants as well as a few exotics. Appalachian Bergamot, Monarda fistulosa, is in flower and we watched a bumble bee explore the flowers in a search for nectar. The long-tubular flowers of all the species in the genus Monarda are popular with long-tongued insects such as bumblebees, butterflies, skippers, and of course hummingbirds. According to the website Illinois Wildflowers, this species is useful to lots of insects: “The caterpillars of the moths Sphinx eremitus (Hermit Sphinx) and Agriopodes teratophora (Gray Marvel) feed on the foliage. A seed bug (Ortholomus scolopax) is sometimes found in the flowerheads.” The author goes on to say that Monarda leaves are not tempting to mammalian herbivores “. . .probably because of the oregano-mint flavor of the leaves and their capacity to cause indigestion; they may contain chemicals that disrupt populations of beneficial bacteria in the digestive tract.”  If so, this should be a good deer-resistant group of plants for gardens. Several ramblers mentioned seeing the bright red flowers of Oswego Tea (Monarda didyma) in the mountains at this time of year.

Genista broom moth caterpillar on Baptisia
We spotted a Genista broom moth caterpillar on the stems and leaves of White Wild Indigo. The same caterpillar was also seen feeding on Wild Indigo in the Physic Garden.

Hibiscus flower showing the epicalyx
An exotic Hibiscus plant sporting large, showy flowers caught our eye, the flowers being a perfect vehicle for talking about a couple of unusual features that characterize this group of plants. Hibiscus flowers have an “epicalyx,” a whorl of 5 – 10 narrow, green bracts that surround the base of the flower just below the calyx (or just above, depending on your perspective).  The epicalyx sticks around after the fruit develops and often persists through the winter, so you can identify this genus almost year round.

Hibiscus; multiple fused stamens; style with 5 stigmas
Even more noticeable than the epicalyx is the prominent structure extending from the center of the hibiscus flower. Sometimes as much as several inches long, this is the “business end” of the flower where pollen dispersal and pollination take place. The flower’s numerous stamens are fused into a tube that surrounds most of the length of the pistil.  The ends of the stamens, including the pollen-bearing anthers, are free and spread in every direction, starting about halfway up. After the pollen is dispersed, five styles emerge from the top of the tube and are tipped with sticky stigma pads, where pollen from other plants is (hopefully) deposited by visiting insects. By releasing the pollen before the stigmas emerge, the flower prevents self-pollination. Look closely at some of our common garden plants – Rose-of-Sharon, hollyhocks, and okra, all members of the same plant family – and you’ll see this same distinctive structure.

Lotus blossom
Gazing into the little pond below the Flower Bridge, ramblers admired the pink flowers of the Sacred Lotus (Nelumbo nucifera). Close kin to our own American Lotus, which flourishes in the water garden outside the Visitor Center, this plant is native to tropical parts of Asia. It is especially identified with India, where it is sacred to both Buddhists and Hindus. The fact that its beautiful flowers and impressive leaves rise from the mud is seen as a symbol of the potential for spiritual growth within every person.

Royal Catchfly
We moved out of the International Garden and into the Threatened and Endangered Species Garden. Royal Catchfly (Silene regia), with its velvety red flowers, is in bloom. This species is widespread in North America’s midwestern prairies, and reaches into only one county in the limestone region of northwest Georgia. Its flowers look nearly identical to the flowers of Fire-pink but the tips of Fire-pink’s petals are notched and Royal Catchfly’s are not. Also Royal Catchfly has stiffly erect stems whereas Fire-pink tends to be lax and floppy.
A close look at the calyx of Royal Catchfly illuminates the common name – insects were stuck all over it. Sticky surfaces like this serve at least two purposes for plants. To begin with, crawling insects, especially ants, are prevented from reaching the flower and its precious nectar; the nectar is reserved for flying insects like bees whose hairy bodies will pick up pollen at the same time the bee is sipping nectar. (So, should we rename the genus “Catch-ant”?) Secondly, the hapless insects trapped on the plant’s surfaces become dinner for predatory insects, including ants. Ants that are attracted to the stuck prey also patrol other surfaces of the plant, attacking and eating herbivorous insects like caterpillars that they encounter.

Plum-leaf Azalea
We also admired the deep red flowers of the Plum-leaf Azalea, found only in southwest Georgia in ravines feeding into the Flint and Chattahoochee Rivers, and also at the bottom of Providence Canyon.

Dwarf Sumac
Dwarf Sumac is also flourishing in the T&E Garden. Dwarf Sumac is dioecious, meaning pollen-bearing (“male”) flowers and fruit-bearing (“female”) flowers are on separate plants. The plants here are female and are in full bloom now. Georgia once had at least five populations of Dwarf Sumac, but this number had dwindled to two by the 1990s. One male population was located in Covington, and a female population was located in Elbert County near the Broad River. Members of the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance brought the two together one Valentine’s Day about 10 years ago by planting rhizomes from Covington at the Broad River site. That population is now thriving and happily producing offspring.

Hairy Rattleweed (gray foliage)
Tall Coreopsis (yellow flowers)

Plants of the Hairy Rattleweed caught our eye, its silvery-hairy leaves gleaming in the sun. This is one of the rarest and most endangered plants in Georgia, possibly even the world. Found in only two SE Georgia counties, it occurs mostly around the sunny edges of pine plantations that have largely displaced the native pine flatwoods that once blanketed that part of Georgia. The plant was discovered in the 1950s by UGA’s Dr. Wilbur Duncan, who gave it the species name of arachnifera, referring to the spider-webbed surfaces of the plant.

Culver's root

Rattlesnake Master
Plants in the Physic Garden, especially the section devoted to Native American medicinals, are blooming like crazy right now, including Rattlesnake Master, Culver’s Root, Beautyberry, and Wild Quinine.

Japanese Cornel leaf fragments suspended by intact vascular tissue.
The group paused at the fruiting Japanese Cornel tree and practiced breaking the leaves of this Asian dogwood species. By carefully dividing a leaf crosswise, the tough, elastic strands of vascular tissue are revealed, holding the leaf halves together. This stretchy tissue is a good identifying trait for native dogwoods too, along with the arcing veins that don’t reach the leaf margins but instead curve downward to the leaf tip.

Two varieties of Cotton in the Heritage Garden
Cotton flower starting to open
We found two more members of the Mallow (or Hibiscus) Family in the Heritage Garden: cotton and okra. Both are in flower and exhibit the characteristic fused reproductive structures in the center of the flower as well as the epicalyx. Other plants on display that are part of Georgia’s agricultural heritage include sorghum, squash, rice, and sunflowers. The sorghum especially drew comments from our ramblers who have lived and worked in Africa, where the grain (seeds) is used as food for both humans and animals. Some native Georgian ramblers grew up eating sorghum syrup, which is still produced in north Georgia by pressing the sweet sap from the stems and boiling it down. Wikipedia tells us that Sorghum is the “fifth-most important cereal crop grown in the world.”

Sweet Bay magnolia flower

Sweet Bay fruits developing
Heading back to the Visitor’s Center for some much needed AC and cold beverages, we came across Sweet Bay in flower. Both the flowers and the fruits are dead give-aways for this species’ family, the Magnoliaceae. Sweet Bay is one of three trees called “bays” that grow in Coastal Plain swamps. The other two trees are Loblolly Bay and Swamp Red Bay; none of the three are closely related, but they grow together in wetlands called “bayheads” or “baygalls.”

Tropical Bleeding Hearts
Once in the Visitor Center, some of us were short-stopped on our way to the cafĂ© by a pot of Tropical Bleeding Hearts (Clerodendrum thomsoniae), aka Glory Bower, a native of tropical west Africa. What strange flowers! Dark red petals emerge from an enfolding white calyx. The petals are clustered together in one plane with a small tightly coiled mass of some sort of filaments – name and function unknown to this botanist –  tucked beneath. Four long stamens and a pistil extend for several inches beyond the petals. The fruits are even stranger! They are black and split open to reveal a wrinkled orange lining and four black seeds. Even native plant enthusiasts like the ramblers are bowled over by something as beautiful and strange as the flowers of this plant.
According to Wikipedia, " Clerodendrum and its relatives have an unusual pollination syndrome which avoids self-pollination. The flowers are protandrous, meaning the male stamens mature first, before the female pistil is receptive. When the flower opens, the stamens stand erect, parallel to the central axis of the flower, while the style bends over, holding the stigma beyond the rim of the corolla. After the pollen is shed, the stamens curl up or bend over, and the style straightens out, bringing the stigma to the center of the flower."

Flowers and warm, sunny days are the right combination for insects. Although we weren't looking for them specifically we did see a number of interesting ones.
Dogban beetles
The Dogbane beetle is probably the most spectacular beetle we've seen on our rambles. This brilliant, coppery gold, green and blue beetle feeds on Dogbane and that is the plant we found it on.
Ambush bug
An Ambush bug is often overlooked because they are small and cryptically colored. They typically sit motionless on or near a flower, waiting for other insects to visit. Then they strike with their raptorial front legs, quickly seizing their prey, which they immediately stab with their piercing, sucking mouthparts. They inject two things: a substance that quickly paralyzes the prey and a complex mixture of digestive enzymes that begin to liquify its insides. Soon they suck up all the digested material, leaving a dried husk. Ambush bugs can't harm an animal the size of a human being, but their bite is quite painful and the damage to the tissue lasts a long time. I speak from personal experience.
Widow Skimmer (dragonfly)

Sunny gardens and meadows are good places to find insects and dragonflies seem to know this because they are often seen flying about. They are more typically found near wetlands because they have aquatic larvae and that is where they go to find mates and lay their eggs. A few species hunt their aerial prey and we saw one, a Widow Skimmer, in the garden today. Last year in the garden I observed a Widow Skimmer flying up to plant with a tall raceme of flowers. Instead of landing it bumped the flower stalk hard enough for the stalk to shake. I watched it for about 15 minutes and it repeated this behavior many times. I can only conjecture what it was doing – perhaps it was shaking the flowers to dislodge any insects that might be nectaring or hiding among the blossoms. I never saw it capture anything, nor did I notice anything flying away from the disturbance. I wrote to an odonatologist (that's a person that studies dragonflies) and they had never seen or heard of a similar behavior. Keep your eyes open. Maybe you'll see something interesting.
Oblique syrphid fly on Mistflower
We found an Oblique syrphid fly visiting a Mistflower. Many people have seen a syrphid fly and thought they were looking at a small bee or wasp. Syrphids are commonly called Flower flies or Hover flies because they are often found on flowers or observed hovering in mid-air in front of them. The adults are important pollinators of plants and their larvae are voracious consumers of aphids.
A "True" bug
The problem with identifying insects is that there are so many different kinds of them. Further, in many cases they can only be identified through close examination under a microscope. We saw an example today – all I can say with confidence is that it is a true bug, in the insect order Hemiptera, suborder Heteroptera, possibly related to the squash bugs. If you look carefully at the photo you will notice a large triangular structure on its back, behind the head and between the "shoulders." That structure is called a scutellum, and a large one is characteristic of true bugs. Entomologists tend to get annoyed when people use the word "bug" to refer to any kind of insect. They never know if a true bug is meant or just any insect. 
Red-banded Hairstreak on Rattlesnake Master
The Rattlesnake Master attracted a lot of insects this morning, including a Red-banded Hairstreak. The common name is derived from the tiny, hair-like projections on the back edge of the hind wings. They are hard to see in the photo but they are near the black spot at the edge of the hind wing. That spot resembles an eye and the butterfly will rub its hind wings up and down, making the combination of dark spot and moving hairs look like a head with wiggling antennae. On older hairstreaks you can find wedge-shaped pieces removed from the hind wings where birds or lizards attacked the wrong part of the butterfly. The predator got a mouthful of tasteless wing and the butterfly got away.


Bee balm
Monarda fistulosa
Wild indigo
Baptisia sp.
Genista broom moth
Uresiphita reversalis
Hibiscus sp.
Water lotus
Nelumbo sp.
Royal catchfly
Silene regia
Plum leaf azalea
Rhododendron prunifolium
Dwarf sumac
Rhus michauxii
Winged sumac
Rhus copallinum
Stemless ironweed
Vernonia acaulis
Wild petunia
Ruellia caroliniensis
Hairy rattleweed
Baptisia arachnifera
Tall coreopsis
Coreopsis tripteris
Hop vine
Humulus lupulus
"True" bug
Order Hemiptera, Suborder Heteroptera
Apocynum cannabinum
Dogbane beetle
Chrysochus auratus
Widow skimmer dragonfly
Libellula luctuosa
Rattlesnake master
Eryngium yuccifolium
Culver's root
Veronicastrum virginicum
Wild quinine
Parthenium integrifolium
Ambush bug
Family Reduviidae
Red-banded hairstreak
Calycopis cecrops
Japanese cornel
Cornus officinalis
Paw paw
Asimina triloba
Northern cardinal (female and fledglings)
Cardinalis cardinalis
Red buckeye
Aesculus pavia
Callicarpa americana
Gossypium sp.
Grasshopper (nymph)
Order Orthoptera: Acrididae
Cucurbita sp.
Abelmoschus sp.
Sorghum sp.
Oryza sp.
Unidentified bee
Order Hymenoptera
Oblique syrphid
Allograpta obliqua
Blue mist flower
Conoclinium coelestinum
Sweetbay magnolia
Magnolia virginiana
Glorybower or Tropical bleeding heart
Clerodendrum thomsoniae

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