Friday, November 17, 2017

Ramble Report November 16 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 and Don Hunter.
37 Ramblers met today.
1.     Weds., Dec. 6, 2017, 9:00 am. Guided Walk at Sandy Creek Nature Center. Led by Mike Wharton who will explore the Managed Forest and the American Chestnut planting project.
2.     Weds., Feb. 7-8, 2018. Overnight at the Len Foote Hike Inn at Amicalola Falls State Park. Program on Georgia's Old Growth Forests Weds. evening and Tree Walk Thursday morning. Both presented by forest ecologist Jess Riddle of Georgia Forestwatch. Details on reservations will be available on or after Dec. 7, 2017.
Today's reading: Emily read a passage on Sassafras from A Natural History of Trees of Eastern and Central North America (pp. 291-293) by Donald Culross Peattie

"Against the Indian summer sky, a tree lifts up its hands and testifies to glory, the glory of a blue October day. Yellow or orange, or blood-orange, or sometimes softest salmon pink, or blotched with bright vermillion, the leaves of the Sassafras prove that notall autumnal splendor is confined to the northern forests. Deep into the South, along the snake-rail fences, beside the soft wood roads, in old fields where the rusty brook [sic] sedge is giving way to the return of forest, the Sassafras carries its splendid banners to vie with the scarlet Black Gum and the yellow Sweet Gum and other trees of which the New Englander may hardly have heard. The deep blue fruits on thick bright red stalks complete a color effect in fall which few trees anywhere surpass."

Today's route:
We left the Visitor Center entrance plaza and headed through the conservatory to the International Garden.  We made our way across the gardens to the head of the Purple Trail.  We walked the Purple Trail down to the old deer fence gate where we took the Purple Trail Spur back up the hill to the Flower Garden.  From there we headed up the path near the woods to the steps up to the Heritage Garden and then back to the Visitor Center and Cafe Botanica.  

International Garden:

Bumblebee (Bombus sp.) nectaring on Mexican Sage
Our first stop was a large bush of Mexican sage.  We saw a Painted Lady or American Lady (Vanessa sp.) butterfly and several  Bumblebees working the many purple flowers we saw on the bush.
Bumblebee colonies are annual affairs; unlike honeybees, they last one year only. Toward the end of the season the bumblebee colony begins to produce males. These will mate with fertile females (next year's queens). At this time the colony begins to disperse and all the occupants except the future queens will eventually die. The activity we saw today was probably mostly males and workers that have abandoned their nests. They are now just foraging for nectar to keep themselves alive until the first killing frost. The future queens will be looking for a protected place where they can overwinter and then, come spring, each will start a colony of their own.

Toothache tree; branch with thorns
Toothache Tree – There are two species of Toothache Tree in Georgia. The species planted here is often called Northern Prickly-ash because of its compound leaves (like ash trees) and its thorny stems. It occurs in rich forests over mafic bedrock (which produces basic, nutrient-rich soils).
You call that a thorn? These are thorns!
(Hercules Club trunk; photo from Wikimedia Commons)
The other species of Toothache Tree that occurs in Georgia is usually called Hercules’ Club after its stout stems that are covered with large, conical thorns. It’s a coastal species, found mostly on old shell middens on barrier islands. Chewing the twigs, bark, or leaves of either species numbs the inside of your mouth, tongue, teeth, and gums. It was used for both Native Americans to treat toothache.

Purple Trail:

Cranefly Orchid (Tipularia) leaf

Partridge Berry leaves
Linda stopped to point out evergreen species of wildflower that you might see during the winter, including the leaves of Partridge Berry and Cranefly Orchid at our stop. Wild ginger and Pipsissewa are also common along the trails at the Garden. Linda pointed out that Partridge Berry is in the same family as coffee – as with many plant families, tropical species in this plant family are mostly woody and temperate species are mostly herbs.

Hop Hornbeam with "cat scratch" bark and old Sapsucker sap wells
We stopped for a refresher on American Hop Hornbeam, with its “cat scratch” bark. This particular tree at the top of the Purple Trail has many rings of sapsucker woodpecker holes.

Green Ash bark; note the blocky divisions.
Richard showed us a large piece of Green Ash bark, and talked about how variable the bark is on this species. He has a chunk of bark with large blocky plates, but younger trees will have braided bark. In either case, the bark is soft and easily compressed with a fingernail.

We stopped to compare the fallen leaves of several common oaks and had a quick refresher in the leaf types of the two subgroups of oaks:  white oaks with their rounded lobes and red oaks with their pointed, bristle-tipped lobes. Georgia has about a dozen white oak species and about 20 red oak species.

Post Oak leaves

Post Oak, a member of the white oak group, has cross-shaped leaves with a prominent pair of blunt lobes above the middle of the leaf. Their leaves are adapted to the dry, upland forests they inhabit:  thick and leathery with hairy undersurfaces that trap moisture.

Southern Red Oak leaf
Southern Red Oak leaves have a long, curving midvein and lower surfaces covered with a tan, felty coating of hairs, the latter being an adaptation to dry conditions. Leaf shape is very variable but the base of the leaf is always bell-shaped, which leads to a mnemonic: southern red = southern bell (or belle).

Northern Red Oaks typically inhabit moister forests than either of the two species mentioned above, and their lower leaf surfaces lack the moisture-trapping hairs. They have many pointed, bristled lobes and shallow, U-shaped sinuses between the lobes. Scarlet Oak also has many bristled lobes, but the sinuses are deep and round, cut almost to the midvein.

Short leaf pine bark; pitch pockets are tiny and hard to see.
Large holes made by woodpeckers getting insect larvae; white streaks are pine pitch.
We also compared Shortleaf and Loblolly Pines.  Shortleaf has (surprise!) short needles, small cones, and many tiny resin pits (aka pitch pockets) on the bark surface. This particular tree also has many large holes in the bark, the result of pecking by woodpeckers. They were seeking the larvae of wood eating beetles.

Shortleaf Pine used to be the most numerous upland pine species in the piedmont of Georgia until Loblolly Pines were introduced. Loblollies have longer needles, larger and more prickly cones, and no pitch pockets.

Sourwood trunk
The Purple Trail cuts through an area with many Sourwood trees. These are easy to spot, with their sinuously curving trunks curving toward sunlight, and the dark, reddish-brown “alligator bark.”

Marasmoid muchrooms
We found a flush of a pale yellow brown marasmoid fungi. They have the ribbed or crenulated caps of other “parasol” fungi seen on previous Rambles.

We stopped to examine the little “grove” of Horse Sugar or Sweet Leaf. These plants have not bloomed for at least six years, most likely because they are not getting enough sunlight. Although they are usually described as deciduous, in this part of the country many of the leaves turn a deep burgundy red and hang on till spring (that is, they are “tardily deciduous”). The green leaves of these plant taste a bit like green apple, which the bravest ramblers experienced. This species is the only member of its family to occur in North America.

Persimmon trunk; note the blocky bark.
We stopped to admire the large male Persimmon tree growing off the trail on a lower slope. We know it’s a male because we’ve never seen any fruit; female trees near the Administration building bear fruit almost every year, probably thanks to this tree’s pollen. This is the largest Persimmon that most of us have ever seen. For some ramblers, its black, blocky bark answered the “burning question”: where do charcoal briquettes come from? (Kidding!)

Gilled Polypore mushroom; upper surface

Gilled Polypore mushroom; lower surface showing gills
Angeli found a rotting log bearing a small flush of (Multicolor) Gilled Polypore mushrooms. Curiously, most of the mushroom caps had a fringed appearance apparently caused by something eating the outer edges of the caps. The lower surface of the mushroom is gilled, which is unexpected for a polypore mushroom. There is a discussion of this peculiar combination of features here.

We stopped at a Possumhaw or Deciduous Holly. There were no fruits present, indicating that this plant is male, since this time of the year fruits are usually present on female plants. (A female Possumhaw plant, covered with red fruits, was later found nearby.) All hollies are dioecious, meaning that female flowers and male flowers are found on separate plants. Like most hollies, this plant sports “short shoots,”
Deciduous Holly showing berries on "short shoots."
The scales on the shoot mark the growth in previous years.
The shoot only grows about 1 millimeter per year.
stubby stems that arise along the longer shoots and grow only a millimeter or two each year (the annual growth is visible in rings of tissue around the short stem). Leaves and flowers usually emerge from the tips of short shoots. Possumhaw is a shrub, rarely reaching tree height, with numerous curving stems rising from ground level. It’s usually found on lower slopes or in bottomlands but this particular plant is thriving at the top of a moist draw. And it is not closely related to hawthorns!

Trunk of Northern Red Oak;
Note the white "ski trails" -- a good identification feature.
We stopped briefly to check out another recently blown-down Northern Red Oak. The large root mat with its clinging soil, now held perpendicular to the ground, will eventually rot and form a low mound. The mound and the hole left behind create “pit and mound topography,” a characteristic of mature forests that fosters microhabitat diversity on the forest floor.

Two Beech leaves attached by silk where they overlap.
Dale displayed a pair of American Beech leaves that were stuck together. The larvae of some unknown species of insect had taken safe harbor between the leaves, when the leaves were green, tacking them together with silk, to provide a safe and protected place for it to feed and mature. In between the two leaves, it was safe from predators such as parasitic wasps.

Linda passed around several examples of Pignut Hickory leaves as examples of compound leaves. Compound leaves are composed of two or more leaflets. Simple leaves have only a single blade. All leaves, whether simple or compound, have an axillary (“backup”) bud at the base of the leaf stalk – this will produce a leaf if the first leaf is damaged. Leaflets, on the other hand, do not have buds at their base. To determine if a leaf is compound or simple, look for the location of the bud. Everything from the bud out is a single leaf, sometimes simple or sometimes with leaflets.

Curly-leaf Yucca
Heading up the spur trail, we came on two large clumps of Curly-leaf Yucca, with many tan fibers curling off the margins of its stout, spine-tipped, spear-like leaves. Sometimes called Spanish Bayonets, yuccas are actually native and got that name from their use by Spanish explorers who planted them around their forts on the coast. Earlier this year, we admired Curly-leaf Yucca with large clusters of showy white flowers at the west end of the Dunson Garden. After flowering, the aboveground stem will die, but buds at the base of the stem will send up new plants, sometimes called “pups.” The flowers are edible though not particularly tasty.

Flower Garden Path (Off of Purple Trail Spur):

Dwarf Palmetto
After we left the Purple Trail and ventured out into the Flower Garden, we stopped at a planting of Dwarf Palmetto. Although tipped with sharp points, the large, flat, palm-shaped leaves of this plant can’t be confused with the yuccas which have narrow, strap-shaped, succulent leaves. These plants had flowered this summer and now bore large clusters of ripe, round fruits.

Several large amaryllis' were seen planted along the path through this section of the Flower Garden. They were beautifully flowering.

Bluebird and Robin eating Eastern Red Cedar berries

Cedar Waxwings foraging on Eastern Red Cedar berries.
As we made our way up the path, Gary quickly stopped us in our tracks. We were nearing a large, female Eastern Red Cedar tree, loaded with small, blue, berry-like cones. A flock of Cedar Waxwings moved back and forth in the tree, searching for the berries and sharing the bounty with several Robins and Bluebirds. Gary told us how the bright red tips on the wing feathers are waxy secretions derived from the wax that coats the Red Cedar’s berries. The red wing tips appear to be status signals that play a role in mate selection. Up to nine feathers may be tipped with wax–the older the bird, the more wax droplets.

Gary Crider provided the following information about the dangers of Nandina berries to wild birds, especially Cedar Waxwings.
During the late winter and early spring, Cedar Waxwings may have exhausted most of their normal food supplies, which is when they turn to eating Nandina berries. Waxwings are particularly voracious feeders and will be poisoned if they consume enough of the berries. Birds that survive the toxic effects of Nandina berries become the agents of seed dispersal to surrounding woodlands. Nandina is a non-native and highly invasive weed that displaces the native plants on which birds normally thrive.
WILDLIFE IMPLICATIONS: Nandina is an exotic, ornamental shrub. Consumption of any part of N. domestica by free-ranging wildlife could be a potential source of cyanide poisoning. Population impacts of consumption of this plant are unknown, but large scale mortality events associated with consumption of N. domestica berries have been reported in cedar waxwings.

Birds like Robins seasonally alter their diets. In spring and summer they are commonly seen foraging for worms and other invertebrates on suburban lawns. These food items are high in protein and easily digested. At this time of the year the Robin's digestive tract is relatively short, typical of a carnivorous diet. But the winter diet consist mostly of berries and seeds and digestion of these requires more time. The Robin's digestive tract actually changes in length in the winter, allowing it to extract more nutrients from its lower protein diet.

Most of us on today's Ramble

Mexican Bush Sage
Salvia leucantha
Bombus perplexus?
Toothache Tree
Zanthoxylum americanum
American Beech
Fagus grandifolium
Partridge Berry
Mitchella repens
Cranefly Orchid
Tipularia discolor
American Hophornbeam
Ostrya virginiana
Green Ash
Fraxinus pennsylvanica
Post Oak
Quercus stellata
Shortleaf Pine
Pinus echinata
Oxydendrum arboreum
Marasmoid Fungi
Marasmius sp.
Horse Sugar/Sweet Leaf
Symplocos tinctoria
Southern Red Oak
Quercus falcata
White Oak
Quercus alba
Northern Red Oak
Quercus rubra
American Persimmon
Diospyros virginiana
Mulitcolor Gilled Polypore
Trametes betulina
Possumhaw/Deciduous Holly
Ilex decidua
Pear-Shaped Puffball
Lycoperdon pyriforme
Pignut Hickory
Carya glabra
Curly-leaf Yucca
Yucca filamentosa
Sericea Lespedeza
Lespedeza cuneata
Dwarf Palmetto
Sabal minor
Amaryllis sp.
Cedar Waxwing
Bombycilla cedorum
Eastern Bluebird
Sialia sialis
American Robin
Turdus migratorius

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