Saturday, August 12, 2017

Ramble Report August 10 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.
26 Ramblers met today.
1) Last week our fellow Rambler, George, passed away after a brief illness. George had the keenest eye of all our Ramblers, including the young ones. He also volunteered as a trail guide at Sandy Creek Nature Center. We will miss him.
2) Gary informed us that our effort to obtain a row of seats at Cine is a success. We now have a row of twelve seats and two more, wrapped around one of the row ends. Thanks to everyone who made this possible.
3) Don announced that he will be leading a Nature Ramble at the Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory the second weekend in September, most likely on the Saturday. Details to follow.
Today's reading: Linda read excerpts from a Mary Oliver poem, “Work,” from her book The Leaf and the Cloud.

I am a woman sixty years old and of no special courage.

Everyday –– a little conversation with God, or his envoy

the tall pine, or the grass-swimming cricket.

Everyday –– I study the difference between water and stone.

Everyday –– I stare at the world; I push the grass aside and stare at the world.

The dreamy heads of the grass in early summer.

In midsummer: thick and heavy.

Sparrows swing on them, they bend down.

When the sparrow sings, its whole body trembles.

Later, the pollen shakes free.

Races this way and that way,

Like a mist full of life, which it is.

We stand at the edge of the field, sneezing.

We praise god, or nature, according to our determinations.

Then the grass curls or breaks, or we cut it.

What does it matter?

Do you think the grass is growing so wild and thick for its own life?

Do you think the cutting is the ending, and not, also, a beginning?

This is the world.

The pink globes of the peonies

Open under the sun’s early morning hands.

The vine of the honeysuckle

perks upward––

the fine-hold of its design

did not need to be so wonderful, did it?

But it is.

This is the world.

The bat squeaks.

The bat leans down out of dark July

With his elf’s face.

The twenty-winged cloud of yellow butterflies

Floats into the field.

The mustard-heads bend under their soft weight.

This is the world.

Today's route: We left the fountain plaza for the Shade Garden arbor, then went down the right sidewalk through the Shade Garden to the Dunson Native Flora Garden, crossed the road and explored the adjacent clearing to the power line right of way, walked uphill to the White Trail and returned to the Visitor Center.

Shade Garden:

Logs inoculated with mushroom spawn
In the upper part of the Shade Garden there is a row of small logs leaning against a wall. According to Joey Allen, curator of the Shade and Dunson gardens, these and many other cut log and limb sections seen around the Garden are inoculated with plugs of mushroom spawn to grow a variety of edible and medicinal mushrooms. (Mushroom spawn is a mixture of sawdust and living mushroom mycelia.) This makes beneficial use of limbs and tree trunks salvaged after summer storms. They are ordinarily taken to the UGA bio-reclamation plant on Whitehall Road where they are run through a chipper and added to other plant and food waste from campus dining halls to make mulch.

Bigleaf Magnolia leaves and fruits
Near the bottom of the slope in the Shade Garden we stopped at a Bigleaf Magnolia. All magnolias are characterized by their distinctive fruits–a cone-like structure made up of many fused follicles. (A follicle is a small pod that opens along one side to release a bright red seed.)

We have seven native species of Magnolia in Georgia. Here are some notes on how to tell them apart:

If you are in North Georgia (north of line drawn between Columbus, Macon, and Augusta):

Cucumber Magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) is the hardest of all these to recognize. Both bark and leaves are sort of generic in appearance. The leaves are small compared to those of southern magnolia and they are deciduous. The bark is grayish-brown (not too dark) with flat vertical ridges breaking into rectangular plates. This is similar to lots of other tree species, but distinctive among magnolias which otherwise have smooth, gray bark. The inner bark is cinnamon-colored. The leaves are green on the lower surface, not whitish, and taper to both tip and base. They resemble a lot of other tree leaves: sourwood, persimmon, and black gum, to name a few. It grows in nearly all counties north of the Fall Line and likes cool, moist slopes and bottomlands.

Fraser Magnolia (Magnolia fraseri) is a Southern Appalachian endemic, in Georgia found only in the 10 Blue Ridge counties of NE Georgia. It is easy to recognize: the bark is smooth and gray, and the leaves have “ears” at the base, i.e. the base of the leaf has lobes that curve down, one on either side of the leaf stalk. The lower leaf surface is a dull green. Remember: Fras-‘ear’ Magnolia. Its white flower opens in late April and early May but has an unpleasant odor. It is a deciduous tree that grows in cool, acidic forests with chestnut oak, sourwood, white pine, and hemlock.

Bigleaf Magnolia (Magnolia macrophylla) is also deciduous and its leaves are also “eared” at the base, but you would never confuse it with Fraser because its leaves are huge (!), up to 30 inches long. This is the largest simple leaf of any tree in North America! They are whitish on the lower surface. Its bark is smooth and gray. The flowers are also the largest of any tree on the continent–up to 16 inches across when fully opened–and each petal is marked with a deep purple splotch at the base. They are wonderfully fragrant. It has an unusual distribution in Georgia, growing in the cool, moist ravines along the Chattahoochee River and its tributaries down the west side of the state as far south as Fort Gaines, about 60 miles north of the Florida line.
Ashe’s Magnolia (Magnolia ashei) was once thought to be just a variety of Bigleaf but is now recognized as a separate species. It is not native to Georgia, but was planted in the Dunson Garden. It is more or less a miniature Bigleaf Magnolia–it stays shrub size and often has multiple crooked stems rising from the root crown. Its leaves and flowers are nearly identical to Bigleaf’s. It grows only in the Florida Panhandle (Torreya State Park is a great place to see it in its native habitat of moist slopes in ravines).

Umbrella Magnolia (Magnolia tripetala) is another deciduous Magnolia with large leaves, though not as large as Bigleaf’s, with tapering tips and bases, like Cucumber. What distinguishes this species is that the leaves are clustered near the tips of stout, upturned twigs, creating an umbrella-like effect. They are pale green but not whitened on the lower surface. It is an understory tree that generally occurs northwest and southwest of Atlanta, though it occurs naturally at Stone Mountain Park.

Three species most commonly seen in South Georgia (south of line drawn between Columbus, Macon, and Augusta):

Pyramid Magnolia (Magnolia pyramidata) leaves resemble Fraser’s–they have tapering tips and eared bases–but the ranges of the two species do not overlap; Pyramid Magnolia is strictly a Coastal Plain species. Like Umbrella Magnolia’s, the leaves are clustered near the tips of twigs, umbrella-fashion, but the eared leaf bases distinguish it from Umbrella. It has smooth, gray bark and creamy white or yellowish flowers, usually less than 7 inches across.

Southern Magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora) was once found only in South Georgia, but it has spread from cultivation so that now it is found throughout the state, except in the mountains. Some people consider it an exotic invasive in north Georgia, spreading into the understory of Piedmont Oak-Hickory forests where its dark, glossy, evergreen leaves look oddly out of place. In South Georgia, it occurs in a moist plant community known as the Beech-Magnolia-White Oak ravine forest. There its thick, leathery leaves help prevent the spread of fire into this fire-sensitive community from surrounding upland fires in the longleaf pine forest.

Sweet Bay (Magnolia virginiana) is one of four tree species in the Coastal Plain that are called bays: Sweet Bay, Loblolly Bay, Red Bay, and Swamp Red Bay. They share two traits: evergreen leaves and a lowland, moist to wet habitat. Except for Loblolly Bay, they all have sweetly spicy leaves. Sweet Bay leaves are less than 6 inches long, dark green and leathery above, and chalky grayish white underneath. Its bark is smooth and gray and its fragrant flowers are only about 3 inches wide. Primarily a species of South Georgia, it is also scattered throughout the Piedmont.

Along the sidewalk, we encountered a large planted patch of a fern known as Mariana Maiden Fern, a native of the Asian and African tropics including the Mariana Islands. It is invasive in some parts of the south, and has shown up in the Oconee River floodplain here at the Garden, where it is promptly eradicated. Unfortunately, it is widely sold, and often mistaken for a native

We quickly encountered another aggressive exotic species, Leatherleaf Mahonia, planted in the Shade Garden. A shrubby member of the barberry family (like Nandina), it has large blue berries that attract birds. Its leggy habit and prickly leaves would seem to make it an unlikely candidate for the landscaping, but it is highly popular and widely sold despite appearing on the Exotic Pest Plant list of several southern states.

Cardinal Flower
Crossing one of the stone bridges, we saw one of Georgia’s most striking native wildflowers, Cardinal Flower, with their velvety red flowers. It is the only lobelia in Georgia not having white or blue flowers. It’s found in wetlands throughout Georgia.

Near the entrance to the Dunson Garden, we saw much evidence of damage due to deer browsing. Particularly hard hit were Acuba and Sweet Shrub.

Linda pointed out the contour piles on the side of the hill above the Dunson garden. These have been created with limbs and twigs to reduce erosion and also make a friendly place for birds and small animals.

Oyster Mushrooms
We saw an enormous flush of Oyster Mushrooms on a large dead tree on the ground in the Dunson Garden.

White Trail:

Leaving the Shade Garden, we crossed the road on the White Trail, where we took up today’s theme: grasses.

There are two informal groups of grasses: cool season grasses and warm season grasses. Cool season grasses flower and go to seed in the spring and early summer. Warm season grasses flower and fruit in the late summer and fall. Cool-season grasses grow rapidly during spring and early summer when days are warm and nights are cool. When temperatures rise much above 90°, they stop growing or even go dormant. They begin to grow again in the fall when daytime temperatures drop and stop growing only when it gets too cold. Some cool season species may even remain green during Georgia’s mildest winters. Although warm-season grasses are the “backbone of prairies,” cool-season grasses play an important role in sustaining wildlife early in the growing season. On the other hand, warm-season grasses flourish in Georgia’s hot summers and dry autumns. They have adapted to such conditions by evolving a special kind of photosynthesis called C4 that reduces the amount of moisture lost during photosynthesis, allowing these plants to flourish in dry, hot, sunny climates. (Only about 3% of all plants use C4 photosynthesis.) Cool season grasses have the common type of photosynthesis, called C3. (C4 plants capture carbon dioxide in a 4-carbon compound in the first step of photosynthesis; C3 grasses capture it in a 3-carbon compound.) The truth is: not all grasses fall neatly into these two camps. Some species, like River Oats, a C3 grass, start flowering in the late spring and bloom till fall.

Coral Slime Mold
The recent rains stimulated the growth of several kinds of mushrooms found on downed limbs and twigs including a beautiful Coral Slime Mold (which is not even a fungus).

ROW and adjacent clearing:

Witch Grass with flower stalks
As we headed closer to the ROW, we stopped to look at two species of Witch Grass. Witch Grasses have an interesting life cycle. As a C3, cool season grass, Witch Grass flowers in the spring, usually producing several upright, unbranched stems topped with a small but open cluster of spikelets (a grass flower is usually called a spikelet). Each spikelet is tiny and oval, resembling a turtle’s head in profile. The plants then stop growing in the summer; in early fall they begin to produce sprawling, branched stems that have seed heads on the branches. After this second flowering and seed set, they produce a rosette of shorter, wider over-wintering leaves. Winter leaves allow the plants to photosynthesize on sunny winter days, giving the plants a head start in the spring.

We looked at the distinctive basal leaves of Poverty Oat Grass, a cool season grass that flowered back in May. There is no sign of their seed heads, but the base of the plant is surrounded by pale tan, dried, curling leaves from the previous year. These persistent leaves allow Poverty Oat Grass to be recognized year-round. It grows in the worst soil that Georgia can throw at it; where this species is abundant, its presence predicts a life of poverty for the farmers who try to till that soil.

Jeff pointed out several tiny toads or frogs hopping near the edge of the woods. We caught a couple and determined that they are recently metamorphosed Eastern Spadefoots. See last week's post for a rant about toads and frogs.

Beaked Panic Grass spikelets
Beaked Panic Grass, a C4 grass, is just beginning to flower. It flourishes along the trails and roads in the Garden wherever there is plenty of light. Ramblers’ interest was piqued by the genus name Panicum, and someone looked up its etymology. Chambers's Twentieth Century Dictionary says that the name derives from panicula a Latin word meaning “a thread wound around a bobbin.” No connection to Panic Grasses as we know them could be made. The genus name Panicum was first applied to Millet, so maybe there’s a connection there? Was Millet wound round a bobbin when it was harvested? Were its sheaves tied with a string? Big prize awaits the Rambler who can puzzle this one out.

Foxtail Grass
Foxtail Grass, a C4 grass, is also beginning to flower, putting up its distinctive flower cluster; each tiny Foxtail Grass spikelet sits just above one or many bristles, so that the whole cluster resembles the bushy tail of a fox fixed to the top of a slender stem. This is a common grass of roadsides and looks especially pretty on fall mornings when low angled sunlight shines through the bushy spikes.

Crab Grass flowers closeup
stamens are white with tan anthers
dark fuzzy structures are stigmas

Crab Grass flower cluster
Crab Grass also has a distinctive flower cluster held at the top of its slender stems. Two to several spikes radiate from the top of the stem like fingers from a hand (which accounts for its scientific name Digitaria). Each spike is covered with many minute spikelets. While there are a few native Digitaria species, most are exotic, invasive, and a bane to those who manage lawns.

Chinese Silk Grass is still hanging on in the powerline right-of-way. Widely planted in the Garden in the early days, clumps of Chinese Silk Grass are still turning up despite our efforts to eradicate it. It’s an invasive exotic, native to eastern Asia. Photos of it enveloping hills in North Carolina are frightening. It’s only recently showing up in natural areas in Georgia and may be inhibited by hotter weather. Unfortunately, it is widely sold and planted by commercial landscapers. Dozens of clumps of it were planted along the front edge of the EPA property on College Station Road.

Johnson Grass
Grasses are dominating the test plots in the right-of-way, including both planted natives and several species of invasive exotics, including large clumps of Vasey Grass and Johnson Grass. The wide leaves with broad white midveins of both of these grasses could be mistaken for those of our beautiful native, Silver Plume Grass. Fortunately, the flower clusters are very different. Several Silver Plume Grass flower stalks are up and just beginning to display the large, silvery-pink flower heads. Greasy Grass (aka Purple-top) also has its showy flower clusters in full form–the waxy coating on each spikelet is easily felt when you run the cluster tightly through a fist.

Mountain-mint (center) & Spotter Bee-balm (L&R)
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail, dark form female
The dark tiger stripes are visible on the underside of the wing, but obscured on the upper wing surface.

The test plots are also putting on quite a display of native mints. Mountain-mints and Spotted Bee-balm are in full glory and attracting lots of pollinators. A black form female Eastern Tiger Swallowtail could be seen moving from plant to plant. A Sicklepod is growing along the edges of the test plot.

The stems of Bluestems (Andropogon sp. ) are beginning to emerge from their basal rosettes. The leaf sheaths that enclose the stems have a waxy whitish coating that retards water loss and gives the plants a blue-green color. They are the last grasses to flower; we’ll examine them in detail in October.

Fragrant Flat Sedge
Fragrant Flat-sedge provided an opportunity to review the differences between sedges and grasses, with a recounting of the jingle that describes their stems:  “sedges have edges, rushes are round, and grasses are hollow down to the ground.” Most sedge stems are strongly 3-angled. Rushes have round stems that are solid with pith. And grasses have round or slightly two-edged stems that are hollow except at the leaf nodes.

White Crownbeard (Frostweed)
The emerging prominence of warm season grasses is one of the best harbingers of fall, along with the colorful flower heads of many Aster family species. As we approached the base of the Nash Prairie, we stopped to look at White Crownbeard, aka Frostweed. Ramblers are big fans of Frostweed because of the frozen sap “frost flowers” produced on the stems after the first autumn frosts. It is one of the alternate-leaved wingstems.

Elephant's Foot
Elephant’s Foot is now blooming. Although it is a composite, it does not follow the typical composite flower head model:  a central disk of tiny flowers surrounded by a whorl of petal-like ray flowers. Held only at the top of the stem, each Elephant’s foot flower head has 2 or 3 green, triangular, ½ - inch bracts and several pink or lavender flowers, each about ⅓ inch long and deeply dissected into 5 narrow lobes.

Carolina Desert Chicory
One Carolina Desert Chicory, aka False Dandelion, is still in flower, perhaps fooled by the recent heavy rains into thinking it's spring–it typically flowers March through June. Its flower heads also depart from the composite pattern, being consisting only of disk flowers. Its disk flowers are long and narrow and look a lot like rays.

Several Trumpet Vine flowers lay scattered on the ground at the edge of the right-of-way. They fooled us into thinking we’d lucked on a stand of chanterelle mushrooms. From a distance, they looked much like chanterelles because they had landed with the trumpets pointed straight up, looking like the mushrooms.

Peppermint Surprise Lily
The old display beds that were planted in the powerline when the Garden was young (1970s and 80s), and largely cleared about twenty years ago, are still producing some ornamental lovelies, in this case Peppermint Surprise Lily, one of the Lycoris species that seem to pop up out of nowhere with no leaves in sight (the more commonly seen Surprise Lily, the one with the ruffled coral-colored flowers, is Lycoris radiata). Lycoris leaves wither in early summer and will re-emerge in late winter. Surprise!  Surprise Lily is not actually a lily – it is in the Amaryllis Family.

Buckeye fruits
Two Buckeyes, probably Red Buckeyes, are still surviving in the right-of-way and are loaded with their large brown fruits, in one case splitting open to reveal the glossy brown seeds that resemble a deer’s eye. We noted how small the leaflets are compared to the Red Buckeyes growing in shady parts of the Garden, a classic example of how much smaller “sun leaves” are than “shade leaves.”

Scarlet Creeper
Scarlet Creeper, aka Red Morning Glory, with its heart-shaped leaves, is twining over some of the old plants and was loaded with bright red-orange flowers that are butterfly magnets. Though native to the SE US, its aggressive growth can become a problem for gardeners.


Big Leaf Magnolia
Magnolia macrophylla
Marianna Maiden Fern
Macrothelypteris torresiana
Cardinal Flower
Lobelia cardinalis
Mahonia sp.
Acuba sp.
Calycanthus floridus
Oyster Mushroom
Pleurotus ostreatus
River Oats
Chasmanthium latifolium
Coral Slime Mold
Ceratiomyxa fruiticulosa
Witch Grass
Dicanthelium sp.
Poverty Oat Grass
Danthonia spicata
Eastern Spadefoot
Scaphiopus holbrookii
Beaked Panicgrass
Panicum anceps
Peppermint Surprise Lily
Lycoris incarnata
Trumpet Vine
Campsis radicans
Foxtail Grass
Setaria sp.
Digitaria sp.
Aesculus sp.
Scarlet Morning Glory
Ipomoea coccinea
Chinese Silk Grass
Boehmeria nivea
Flat sedge
Cyperus sp.
Johnson Grass
Sorghum halepense
Vasey Grass
Paspalum urvillei
Mountain Mint (two species)
Pycnanthemum sp.
Spotted Beebalm
Monarda punctata
Eastern Tiger Swallowtail
Papilio glaucus
Purple-top/Greasy grass
Tridens flavus
Senna obtusifolia
Silver Plume Grass
Saccharum alopecuroides
White Crownbeard/Frostweed
Verbesina virginica
Carolina Desert Chicory
Pyrrhopappus carolinianus
Andropogon virginicus
Elephant's Foot
Elephantopus tomentosa

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