Sunday, June 26, 2022

Ramble Report June 9 2022

Nature Ramble Report for June 9, 2022 
Leader for today's Ramble: Dale
Authors of today’s report: Linda and Dale

Link to Don's Facebook post for this Ramble All the photos that appear in this report, unless otherwise credited, were taken by Don Hunter.  

20 Ramblers today.

Today's emphasis: 
The Yucca plants in the Dunson Native Flora Garden, wildflowers in the right-of-way, and further discoveries in the Dunson Native Flora Garden.
Reading:  Don read from “A Long Island Meadow,” a chapter in Frances Theodora Parsons’ According to Season, published in 1902.
    “The brilliant coloring which is a feature of this midsummer meadow is intensified by the insect life which it sustains. Butterflies, especially, seem to abound. They float over the nodding grasses or poise quivering above a nectar-laden blossom or rest on some leafy plant, the dull undersides of their folded wings blending with their surroundings and diminishing the likelihood of attacks from their enemies.
    Not only is a butterfly endowed with unusual beauty, but its life-history is full of charm. Then, too, the very names of butterflies breathe romance (unlike those of birds and plants, of which “Wilson’s thrush” and “Clayton’s fern” form fair samples). Who would not yield to the spell of the Wanderer, the Brown Elfin, the Little Wood Satyr, and the Dreamy Dusky-wing?  Or who could resist the charm of the Painted Lady, the Silver-spotted Hesperid, the Tawny Emperor, or the Red Admiral?
    In the meadow, perhaps, the monarch or milkweed butterfly is one of the most omnipresent. Indeed, this is probably the best-known butterfly in the United States, as its broad, orange-red, black-bordered wings carry it many hundreds of miles and make it conspicuous everywhere. In addition to being the most widely distributed, it is one of the most interesting of our butterflies. Its career is an amazing one. How so fragile a creature can endure the fatigue and resist the storm and stress incidental to a journey of thousands of miles, such as it is believed to take when migrating to southern lands, and how such a “shining mark” escapes destruction from its enemies, it is difficult to understand. That this annual migration does take place seems fairly well established. The butterfly is known to have marvelous powers of flight, and along the coast in fall it has frequently been seen assembling in flocks numbering hundreds of thousands, changing the color of the trees on which it alights for the night.”


Gary brought some filamentous algae he collected from the water feature behind the Porcelain Arts Museum. Looks can be deceiving: the swaying masses of algae in the pool looked slimy but actually have a texture more like cotton candy.

Bill dissected a fresh Oak Apple Gall, exposing the larval Cynipid wasp in the fibrous mass suspended inside the gall. The gall formed when a female Cynipid wasp injected an egg into a vein of a developing leaf, hijacking the process of leaf development. Instead of producing a leaf, the plant responded to the invasion by forming a structure around the egg, both isolating and protecting it. The egg hatches into a larva then a pupa and ultimately into an adult wasp that chews its way out of the gall and takes flight. The gall doesn’t always succeed in protecting its larval resident however; birds such as woodpeckers and chickadees have learned to open galls to reach the snack that is captive inside.

Today's Route: 
We left the Children’s Garden pergola and took the entrance road to the lower end of the Dunson Native Flora Garden. We visited the Yucca patch, then the adjacent right-of-way, and returned to the Children’s Garden by way of the Dunson Garden and Shade Garden paths.


Monday, June 6, 2022

Ramble Report June 2 2022

Leader for today's Ramble, Linda
Link to Don's Facebook album for this Ramble. All the photos that appear in this report, unless otherwise credited, were taken by Don Hunter.

Number of Ramblers today: 32
Today's emphasis:  Trees (Lower Shade Garden, White Trail Spur and ROW)
Reading:  Dale read a passage about Johnny Appleseed from Treepedia:  A Brief Compendium of Arboreal Lore by Joan Maloof. Roger recounted how he and Pat recently came across a spring in Pleasant Valley, Ohio, that John Chapman (AKA Johnny Appleseed) used for water during his wanderings. 
Southern Magnolia flower
Stamens have fallen, exposing the dark red base of the receptacle; the golden stigmas are curling away from the ovaries that will comprise the aggregate fruit.

Although native to moist ravines in the Coastal Plain, Southern Magnolia is planted in parks and lawns throughout the south. Its flowering marks the beginning of summer for many southerners. Fossils from the Magnolia family are found in the fossil record as far back as 140 million years ago, making it the earliest flowering plant family to evolve (how we got from ferns and conifers to magnolias is still a multi-million year mystery). The flowers we see today resemble their ancient ancestors in two ways. Unlike most modern flowers, which have separate whorls of colorful petals and green sepals, Magnolia flowers (and other primitive families' flowers such as Sweet Shrub's) have undifferentiated "tepals," a word for petal-like structures that function as both petals and sepals. At the center of the flower, a cone-shaped receptacle holds whorls of stamens at its base with whorls of curled stigmas above. The stigmas are attached to the ovaries that will eventually form an aggregate fruit with many seeds.

Roger brought a branch of Chinquapin in flower. The fuzzy white spikes contain the pollen-producing flowers. The spiny green structures will mature into nuts.

Richard brought some immature Osage Orange fruits festooned with dried, blackened style branches, each attached to one of the ovaries that make up this "multiple fruit" 
Richard also brought a small wasp nest that we thought was probably made by Yellowjackets. It was partially enclosed by a fragile paper envelope.
Reading:  Dale read from the book "Treepedia:  A Brief Compendium of Arboreal Lore" by Joan Maloof.  The passage was about Johny Appleseed. Roger recounted how he and Pat, two weeks ago, while in Ohio, came across a spring in an area called Pleasant Valley, where John Chapman AKA Johnny Appleseed used to stop for water during his wanderings.

Today's Route:   We left the Children's Garden pergola, taking the walkway into the Lower Shade Garden. After several switchbacks, we took the mulched path leading from the Shade Garden and heading towards the Children's Garden forest play area. We stayed on the White Trail Spur and headed down the hill, eventually walking out into the power line right-of-way. We then took a right and headed up the road, back towards the Visitor Center.


Today's tour of trees began with upland species on the slopes above the Middle Oconee River and transitioned to trees adapted to life in the periodically flooded soils of the floodplain.

Black Gum

Black Gum, a tree of uplands, is a difficult tree to identify - its obovate leaves are pretty generic and, until it's quite old, its bark is not very distinctive. But one trait is very useful: its branches leave the main trunk at a nearly 90 degree angle, making them more or less parallel to the ground. Most trees hold their branches at an acute angle (less than 90 degrees relative to the trunk), seeming to be reaching toward the sun. The placement of branches, and leaves as well, evolved in all plants to maximize the capture of sunlight. In Black Gum, stretching laterally seems to be working just fine.
American Beech

American Beech trees are covered now with developing fruits or "beech nuts." Beech is in the same family as oaks, chestnuts, and chinquapins, and, with some imagination, you can see the similarity of the spiky covering on beech fruits to the rough caps of acorns. Beech leaves are thin-textured, almost papery, and have parallel, evenly spaced lateral veins. Beech trees have only a slim connection to Beech-Nut gum. The company that made Beech-nut gum began life as the Imperial Company making smoked bacon and ham (later expanding into baby food, gum, etc). Deciding that Imperial sounded un-democratic, the original owners changed the name to reflect the beech wood embers over which their meat products was cured.
Northern Red Oak leaf

Northern Red Oak bark with "ski trails"

Northern Red Oaks are common in upland forests throughout the Garden. They are easy to identify by the vertical, white "ski trails" that mark their bark and by the pointed, bristle-tip lobes of their leaves. Northern Red Oaks at the Garden seem especially vulnerable to wind-throw; most of the recently downed trees here are this species. It seems likely that climate change - hotter temperatures, longer droughts, more intense storms - coupled with the shallowness of our topsoils (legacy of 100+ years of cotton agriculture) is responsible for this.
Hickory bark

Hickory leaves

A large, old hickory marks the first switchback along the Shade Garden trail. Its bark shows the typical braided or diamond-shaped ridges of most hickory species. This tree may be Pignut Hickory or, more likely, Red Hickory which has shaggier, loose-looking braids. We'd need to see a nut to be certain. Both Pignut and Red Hickories have alternate leaves with five leaflets.
Sycamore camo bark

This American Sycamore has the typical "camo" bark found on the mid- to upper trunk of Sycamores. Myrna pointed out that the word "Sycamore" contains the word "camo," providing us with the best mnemonic of today's ramble. Sycamores are naturally bottomland trees that nevertheless thrive when planted in uplands.
Red Maple branches

Red Maple leaves

Red Maples are among the handful of tree species in the Georgia Piedmont with opposite leaves and branches. Their leaves are distinguished by being both lobed and toothed. (Chalk Maple and Florida Maple leaves are lobed but not toothed and look like small Sugar Maple leaves.) There is something red on a Red Maple in every season of the year:  in winter, it's twigs and buds; in late winter and early spring, it's flowers; in spring, the fruits; in summer, petioles; and in fall, the leaves.

Chalk Maple leaves

Chalk Maple leaves are lobed but not toothed.
Shortleaf or Loblolly pine?

Shortleaf pine bark with resin pits

From a distance it's hard to distinguish a Shortleaf from a Loblolly Pine, but up close the resin pits (or pitch pockets), resembling tiny moon craters, on the bark plates distinguish the Shortleaf.
Black Oak

Black Oak is the hardest of our upland oaks to identify but the consensus seems to be that these leaves - with the glossy green upper surface and the yellowish-green petioles and midveins - came from a Black Oak, courtesy of a squirrel. The inner bark of the twig was yellow, clinching the deal. We did not locate the tree from which it came.
Octagonal Casemaker Moth
caterpillar inside self-constructed case

On an American Beech leaf Bill Sheehan found an unusual moth larva living in a case of its own making. It is constructed by the caterpillar from its own frass (a polite word for caterpillar poop). The case grows longer and wider as the caterpillar grows.  It is basically a long, hollow eight-sided tube with unconsolidated frass at the largest end. The common name is Octagonal Casemaker Moth. 
Nymph of Annual Cicada

Bill also found a living crawling on someone's shirt. This seems to be too small to be one of the dog-day cicadas that we hear later in the summer. 

Jack-in-the-Pulpit is not a tree, but who can complain about going off-mission when a conspicuously tall one is growing right on the trail, with developing fruits and lush, five-leafletted leaves? The question arises: what is a wetland species doing on this high-and-dry upper slope? Maybe it's not the wet soils that this species requires but the extra nutrients washed downslope to floodplains? And maybe the soil on this slope provides those nutrients?
Hop Hornbeam

A positive answer to that last question is suggested by the presence along this trail of a number of Hop Hornbeams, with their "cat-scratched" bark. This species is an indicator of a soil high in the nutrient elements calcium and magnesium.
Mockernut Hickory bark
Photo courtesy of Janie K. Marlow, Name that Plant,

Mockernut Hickory leaves

Mockernut Hickory has the most conspicuously "braided" bark of all our hickories. The tight ridges look more like diamonds or expanded metal than braids to some people. Mockernut is as likely to have seven leaflets as five, and they are very hairy on the lower surface, the leaf stalk, and the rachis (the extension of the leaf stalk that holds the leaflets).
Leaving the upland slopes and entering the Middle Oconee River floodplain, we encountered what is probably the most abundant tree along this stretch of the river, 
Box Elder leaves

Box Elder (or Ash-leaved Maple). Its leaves have 3, 5, or 7 leaflets; when three, the leaf resembles those of Poison Ivy.
Silverbell bark

Silverbell leaves

Common (or Mountain) Silverbell is abundant in the floodplain at the Garden. Its oval leaves are not particularly distinctive but the bark, striped gray and tan, is a good indicator. When the dangling, four-winged fruits are present, you can narrow your choices to this species or Carolina Silverbell, which is mostly found in the Coastal Plain and is rare in the Piedmont.
Red Mulberry

Red Mulberry is a beautiful and ecologically important tree of the floodplain subcanopy. Its rough-textured, heart-shaped leaves are distinguished by elongated "drip tips," so named because they are thought to channel water away from the leaf surface, thus reducing the growth of fungi or other pathogens on the leaf surface. Drip tips are especially noticeable and quite elongated where they occur in the hot, rainy tropics. But recent research is calling this "just so" story into question, so the jury is still out. The berries in this photo are immature and will turn white then reddish- or purplish-black as they mature; they are relished by a variety of birds.
Silky Dogwood flowers

Silky Dogwood "elastic veins"

Silky Dogwood flower clusters are quite different from those of the upland Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida), completely lacking the showy white bracts that mark the latter species and attract pollinators to its tiny greenish flowers. Silky Dogwood flowers are larger and form a showy, flat-topped cluster that is plenty attractive to pollinators. Silky Dogwood is found in southern swamps and other wetlands as is Swamp Dogwood (Cornus foemina); they can be distinguished by counting the number of veins on one side of the midvein. Silky Dogwood leaves have 5 or more veins on each side of the midvein; Swamp Dogwood has only 3 or 4. Dogwood veins have an amazing feature: if you gently tear the leaf and carefully part the broken segments, fibrous threads will stretch across the gap. These threads are the vascular tissues that transport water and nutrients throughout the plant. In the Cornus genus, they are especially strong and elastic.

Common Eastern Bumble Bee     Bombus impatiens
Purple Beautyberry     Callicarpa dichotoma
Southern Magnolia     Magnolia grandiflora
Blackgum       Nyssa sylvatica
American Beech     Fagus grandifolia
Japanese Maple     Acer palmatum
Northern Red Oak     Quercus rubra
Prothonotary Warbler     Protonotaria citrea
Borage species     Family Boraginaceae
Pignut Hickory     Carya glabra
American Sycamore     Platanus occidentalis
White Oak     Quercus alba
Red Maple     Acer rubrum
Shortleaf Pine     Pinus echinata
Octagonal Casemaker Moth (cocoon)     Homoledra octagonella
Black Oak (tentative)     Quercus velutina
Annual cicada     Family Cicadidae
Jack-in-the-Pulpit     Arisaema triphyllum
Hophornbeam     Ostrya virginiana
Mockernut Hickory     Carya tomentosa
Box Elder     Acer negundo
Four-winged Silverbells     Halesia tetraptera
Chalk Maple     Acer leucoderme
Wild Rye     Elymus sp.
North American Tarnished Plant Bug     Lygus lineolaris
Flower weevil     Family Baridinae
Daisy fleabane     Erigeron sp.
Goldenrod gall fly     Eurosta solidaginis
Tulip Tree     Liriodendron tulipifera
Sweetgum Tree     Liquidambar styraciflua
Aaron's Rod     Thermopsis villosa
Swamp Dogwood     Cornus foemina


Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Ramble Report May 19 2022

Leader for today's Ramble: Dale
Link to Don's Facebook album for this Ramble. All the photos that appear in this report, unless otherwise credited, were taken by Don Hunter.
Number of Ramblers today: 31
Today's emphasis: Seeking what we find in the formal gardens.
Reading: Avis read a poem: Grass by Joyce Sidman. [link]
Today's Route:  From the pergola to the sidewalk between the Ceramics bldg. and the Visitor's center then the first right down the steps to the formal garden then past the Pawpaws and down the steps following the walkway to the right and past several beds and across the stepping stone to the steps back up to the formal garden and back to the parking lot.

Sidewalk between Ceramic museum and Visitor Center:
Swamp Milkweed beginning to bloom.

Swamp Milkweed
is developing flower buds in the bed to the right of the sidewalk. This plant is a food source for the larval stage of the Monarch butterfly, so it will be worth checking in future rambles. 
Monarchs are not the only insects that feed exclusively on milkweed species. There is a moth and several species of beetles that are specialized as milkweed feeders. Two true bugs, several aphids. The beetles and bugs are warningly colored in black and red. 
Herb Garden:
American Toad

An American Toad was captured in one of the mulched beds next to the steps leading into the Herb Garden. Toads, like all amphibians, have a moist skin through which they lose water by evaporation. They compensate for this water loss by rapid absorption of water through their belly skin; i.e., they find a wet spot and sit in it. Usually, they are most active at night when the relative humidity is higher. During the day they seek out moist areas like leaf litter or dense vegetation. Daily spraying of water at the Garden creates an ideal habitat for them.
Pill Bug

, Wood louse, Pill Bug are just a few of the common names for a terrestrial crustacean that rolls up into a sphere when disturbed.
What is a crustacean? Most people are familiar with edible crustaceans like lobsters, crabs and crayfish (crawdads). But these are just a few of the crustaceans. Most are marine (living in the ocean) or aquatic (living in fresh water), but a few have made it to the terrestrial environment. Those that live on dry land need to have access to water because they get their oxygen through gills and gills are effective only if they are moist. (Land crabs need to return periodically to the sea to moisten their gills.) Pill Bugs reduce  moisture loss like toads: by hiding under rocks or pieces of wood and only venturing forth when the relative humidity is high. That's why we saw a Pill Bug this morning on the brick surface of the Herb Garden. The Gardens are usually sprinkled early In the morning, raising the humidity of the bricks and allowing the Pill Bugs to venture forth in daylight for a short period of time.
Monarch butterfly; upper wing surface

Monarch butterfly; lower wing surface

A Monarch butterfly was nectaring on some of the open flowers in the Herb Garden. Judging by its bright colors this was probably a first or second generation descendent of the Monarchs that overwintered in Mexico. How do we know this? The colors of a butterfly's wings are produced by millions of microscopic scales attached to the transparent wing surface, like shingles on a roof. When a butterfly flies a few scales are knocked off with each flap of the wings. The older the butterfly, the more scales it has lost and the less intense its color pattern is. Because the Monarch we saw this morning was still beautiful it was probably recently emerged from its chrysalis.
Is it a boy or girl Monarch butterfly? Male Monarch butterflies have a swelling on one of the dark veins on the upper side of the hind wings. This enlargement contains scales that carry a perfume the male will use to court a female. This so-called "scent patch" is not found in females. The difference is clearly seen in a photo from the Journey North website.
Carolina Anole basking on bench

Eastern Fence Lizard

The bricks in the Herb Garden not only retain water when sprinkled, they also soak up sunlight during the day and radiate it away during the night. When the days are hot and the nights short the brick structures are favorite places for cold-blooded animals like grasshoppers and lizards to gather and warm up. For the lizards there is the added benefit of having their insect food supply on the bricks nearby. Today we found a Carolina Anole and an Eastern Fence lizard basking on the bricks and wooden benches. The fence lizard scooted away before most of the ramblers had a chance to see it, so I included a photo that Don took back in 2019.
Heritage Garden
Pawpaw fruit (only 2 seeds)

Pawpaw flower;
(usually dark maroon in color)

The Pawpaw trees had a lot of flowers earlier this spring, but didn't produce much fruit. This can probably be attributed to a lack of pollinators. We were able to find one small fruit, but, as they are the same color as the leaves, we may have missed some. Don located a late flower, but its green colored petals are not typical.
Longleaf Pine

Longleaf Pine
once covered most of the southeastern USA. It was maintained by periodic, low intensity fires set by lightning. It's thick bark and rapid growth to put its upper reaches above the flames make is fire-resistant. It has been replaced by faster growing species and suppresion of fire that allows non-fire resistant species to outcompete it.

Flower Garden:
Eastern Cottontail rabbit
An Eastern Cottontail rabbit sampled the greens while ignoring us. 
Bumble bee nectar robbing Foxglove?

is planted in several locations in the Flower Garden and an assortment of bees are visiting all of them.  The photo above looks like a Bumble bee cutting an opening at the base of a Foxglove flower to get access to nectar, bypassing the route through the open blossom.
Honeybee gathering pollen from Evergreen Rose.
Note the pollen carried in the pollen baskets.

Bumble bee gathering pollen from Evergreen Rose.
Masses of orange pollen are in both pollen baskets.

Species Observed:

Swamp Milkweed     Asclepias incarnata
American Toad     Anaxyrus americanus
Pill woodlouse     Family Armadillidiidae
Poppy     Papaver sp.
Western Honey Bee     Apis mellifera
Monarch Butterfly     Danaus plexippus
Yaupon Holly     Ilex vomitoria
Carolina Anole     Anolis carolinensis
Pawpaw     Asimina triloba
Evergreen Rose (tentative)     Rosa sempervirens
Eastern Carpenter Bee     Xylocopa virginica
Common Eastern Bumble Bee     Bombus impatiens
Long-legged Fly      Chrysotus sp.
Tumbling Flower Beetle     Mordell sp.
Japanese Spirea     Spirea japonica
Longleaf Pine     Pinus palustris
Eastern Cottontail Rabbit     Sylvilagus floridanus
Purple Foxglove     Digitalis purpurea
California Poppy     Eschscholzia californica

Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Ramble Report May 12 2022

Leader for today's Ramble: Linda
Link to Don's Facebook album for this Ramble. All the photos that appear in this report, unless otherwise credited, were taken by Don Hunter.
Number of Ramblers today: 26
Today's emphasis:  Cool season grasses, Carolina Milkvine and anything else we saw in the ROW.
Don announced the 2022 Pollinator Fair at the Madison County Library, on May 21st, from 10:00 a.m. until 4:00 p.m.  The event is hosted by the Ladies Homestead Gathering of Madison County.  Don will be presenting on his documentation of the common roadside pollinators in south Madison County.  In addition, there will be presentations by other speakers.  Carole Knight, Madison County Extension Coordinator and Ag Agent will talk about the importance of pollinators in Georgia and author Cathy Payne will talk about how to turn your yard into a pollinator sanctuary, in particular, addressing removing invasive plants and replacing them with beneficial native flora. Directions:  Take Hwy. 29 north to Danielsville.  At the redlight north of the old courthouse roundabout, take Hwy 98 west for 1.3 miles.  The library will be on your left.

Reading: Linda read "Spring" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Show and Tell:  Gary brought a handful of Eastern Cottonwood (Populus deltoides) fruits from the North Oconee River Greenway. Cottonwoods are bottomland trees that flourish in both the North Oconee and Middle Oconee river floodplains; they are distinguished by their dark, deeply furrowed bark and triangular leaves with flattened petioles. 
Cottonwood seed pods
The dark structures are the seed pods
The white fluff is the "parachute"

The pale green pointed object is a single Cottonwood seed, surrounded by its cottony hairs. 

The source of the common name is obvious when the trees go to seed. Each oval seedpod (the dark shapes in the photo) contains thousands of tiny seeds, each equipped with a tuft of long, cottony hairs. A single cottonwood tree can produce over 25 million seeds. This species is dioecious: only female trees produce seedpods. The seeds require bare mineral soil for germination, provided naturally by the scoured soils and sediment accumulations that follow winter and early spring floods.  Here's a short and interesting article about this amazingly prolific tree:
Today's Route:   We left the Children's Garden pergola and headed down through the Lower Shade Garden, exiting through the gate on to the White Trail Spur and over to the Georgia Power right-of-way.  We worked our way up the ROW to the Carolina Milkvine, near the top of the hill.  We then returned to the upper parking lot, much the way we came

Lower Shade Garden:

Oak Apple Galls

The paved path through the Lower Shade Garden was littered with Oak Apple Galls. These are the created when a Gall Wasp (Family Cynipidae) lays an egg inside a newly expanded leaf of a red oak. The leaf responds to the invasion by creating an enlarged mass of tissue, inside which the egg matures into a larva, suspended in the center of the gall by the radiating fibers seen in the opened gall, on the left. This helps protect the wasp larvae from parasitoids as well as providing food. Oak Apple Galls are green when newly formed; when the gall dries out and turns brown, the mature wasp escapes from holes that have formed in the exterior of the gall. 

Tulip Tree flower

The Shade Garden paths are also littered with Tulip Tree flowers, dropped by squirrels that bite off the young, tender twigs and lap up the sap that flows from the twig. Squirrels aren't the only forest animals that enjoy Tulip Trees. Most of the flowers we picked up had ants scurrying around inside the flowers, looking for the nectar produced by tiny glands in the orange patches on the petals. The nectar produced by these flowers is an important energy source for other insects, as well as birds, in early spring; according to one source, each flower produces about one-third of a teaspoon of nectar.  

Pipestem is blooming now. This tall evergreen shrub is in the Heath Family and closely resembles the shorter wetland plant Doghobble. Common in central peninsular Florida, it occurred historically in southeastern Georgia but hasn't been seen there in many decades.
Harvestman (AKA Daddylonglegs)

A small harvestman (aka Granddaddy Longlegs) was seen on its leaves.

Sweetshrub 'Athens'

The yellow-flowered cultivar of Sweetshrub, named 'Athens' by Michael Dirr, UGA horticulturist and former Garden director, is in flower. The pale greenish-yellow color is due to a mutation that leads to a lack of anthocyanin, the plant pigment responsible for reds and purples in plants. Though pale, the flowers are extra fragrant, something like a very ripe strawberry.

White Trail Spur:

Smooth Spiderwort will be flowering for months

Cool-season grasses are flowering and going to seed now. These are grass species that grow rapidly in the early spring, then flower and fruit while temperatures are still moderate; they cease growing during the summer and begin again when temperatures cool down in the fall. Many species overwinter as low leaf rosettes, continuing to photosynthesize and preparing for the spring growth spurt. Given Georgia's brutal summers, it's no surprise that most of our grass species are warm-season grasses that flourish in late summer and early fall; but even so there are plenty of interesting grasses to admire in May and June.

Eastern Needlegrass seeds + awns

My personal favorite is Eastern Needle Grass, a perennial grass with a finely tuned seed dispersal system. In Don's photo, you can see each dark seed partially enclosed by flower parts. Each seed comes equipped with a long spirally twisted bristle it into the ground. A patch of tiny upwardly pointing hairs at the seed's tip helps to hold the seed in place; barbs lining the sides of the seed serve the same purpose.
Needlegrass hairs at tip of seed

Needlegrass barbs (magnified)
photo courtesy of Bill Sheehan

The bristles, barbs, and hairs also ensure that a variety of animals carry the seeds long distances. As Don wrote in his Facebook album, "The more you walk with these in your socks, the deeper they bore into them, until they reach your skin, at which point, you are driven mad until you stop and pull your shoes and socks off to systematically remove every one of the bristles. I would imagine the sensation is something akin to standing on a fire ant hill, letting them attack you, unabated."
Needlegrass: The Joy of Socks

Little Barley
photo by Matt Lavin from Bozeman, Montana,

Little Barley is a native grass species; it is an annual that thrives in sunny, dry, gravelly soils. Like all grasses, it is wind-pollinated. Little Barley was domesticated by Native Americans before the arrival of maize; its seeds have been found in archaeological sites along with other domesticated plants such as squash. The grains are high in protein. Little Barley is easier to recognize than many grasses: it is short (less than 1.5 feet tall) with erect seed heads tightly packed with bristle-tipped spikelets (grass talk for flower clusters).

Two-flowered Melic Grass 

Two-flowered Melic Grass is another common native cool-season grass that is relatively easy to identify. The spikelets have only two florets and are widely spaced and drooping along a delicate, erect stem. It usually occurs in forests and woodlands in dappled sunlight.

Deer Tongue Witch Grass has the open, sparsely flowered seedhead typical of species in the genus Dichanthelium. The wavy branches are usually tipped with a single spikelet  which, though small, bears two florets.
Deer Tongue Witch Grass

In this photo, the maroon style branches can be seen peeking out of the tips of the spikelets and will soon be sweeping pollen out of the air.
Deer Tongue Witch Grass stem + leaf

The stems are usually softly hairy as are the leaf sheaths. Perhaps someone familiar with deer can tell us if the pointed, hairy leaf blades resemble a deer's tongue. 

Several non-native and invasive grass species are also in flower in the right-of-way.

Brome Grass

So-called Rescue Grass, one of many introduced Brome Grasses, is a common, highly invasive plant that is native to South America. Introduced as a forage crop, it's found throughout much of North America in disturbed openings, roadsides, pastures, etc. The spikelets, held at the tips of slender branches, are strongly flattened. Don's closeup photo captures the stamens dangling from the florets, waiting for a breeze to scatter pollen.

Meadow Fescue

Meadow Fescue (or Meadow Ryegrass), a native of Eurasia, is abundant in fields, pastures, rights-of-way, and other disturbed areas. It was introduced as a forage grass and is also widely planted for erosion control. In this photo, both stamens and brushy-tipped styles are visible. The styles, which comb pollen from the air, typically mature after the stamens to prevent self-pollination.

Annual Ryegrass

Annual Ryegrass
Photo by Harry Ross

Annual Ryegrass, another grass introduced as forage, is easy to identify even at 60 miles per hour. The flattened spikelets are held more or less in one plane and alternate up the tall erect stem. In Don's photo, a small mite is exploring a newly expanding spikelet.

A Vetch seed pod
(called a legume)

A non-native vetch with long, open seedpods remaining. As a member of the bean family, Fabaceae, this fruit type -- dry, several-seeded, and opening along both seams -- is properly called a legume 


Small's Ragwort

Small's Ragwort, with tufts of woolly hairs in the leaf axils.  These are described in irresistible terms as "persistent floccose tomentum" in Weakley's Flora of the Southeastern United States. 

Nodding Thistle

Nodding Thistle (also called Musk Thistle) is one of the most destructive plants in the U.S.  The developing head shown here (and the fully flowered heads soon to come) are attractive, but don't be fooled: these plants can ruin a pasture and degrade a native prairie in a few brief years. When the head matures, it begins to droop, hence the common name. The whole plant is spiny, from the bristly flower head to the winged stems and lobed leaves down to the leaf rosette. If you can't dig it up, at least break off the stem and flower head. Since they are biennials that bloom then die in their second year, you may have disarmed that particular plant by beheading it. However, the plants are capable of resprouting from dormant buds held in the stem below ground level. To really kill the plant, cut the stem 2-4 inches below the ground surface with a shovel. The plants are also susceptible to a variety of herbicides, a much easier and more assured way to kill them.  Our native Tall Thistle has broadly oval leaves that are densely white-hairy on the lower surface. Nodding Thistle leaves are narrower and green on both surfaces.

Sheep's Sorrel seeds

Sheep's Sorrel plant

Sheep's Sorrel, a European native, is found in disturbed areas throughout most of North America. In early spring, the red flowers are a common sight along roadsides and pastures in Georgia. Now, the female plants have gone to seed, giving the plants a pale appearance. The three-sided seeds have three showy wings, typical of many plants in the Buckwheat Family. 
Green & Gold

Green-and-Gold, still in flower, is scattered along the low bank of the road through the Nash Prairie.

Southern Beardtongue

Southern Beardtongue is also thriving in the Nash Prairie. The flowers, buds and stems are covered with glandular hairs and the flowers are white and pink, with "tongues" covered with golden yellow hairs. 
Foamy mass concealing a Spittlebug nymph.

The Spittlebug nymph revealed.

Foamy spittlebug masses are commonly found on a variety of grasses and other plants in the ROW.  Dale selected one, from an unidentified aster or daisy, and removed the foam to reveal a leafhopper nymph inside.  The foam is a froth created as the larva agitates the excreted plant sap upon elimination.  
Bracken Fern

Bracken Fern is one of the few Georgia ferns that thrives in full sun.

Wild Onion

The native Wild Onion, with both bulblets and pretty pink flowers. Unlike the weedy onion that pops up in lawns, which also has aerial bulblets, Wild Onion leaves are grass-like and flat not round. Wild Onion can reproduce asexually by both the aerial bulblets and an underground bulb.

Summer Bluet is getting an early start in the right-of-way.

Carolina Milkvine flowers and leaf

Carolina Milkvine flowers closeup

Carolina Milkvine thrives in the right-of-way in an area that is underlain by amphibolite, a type of bedrock that is high in calcium and magnesium. It is a close relative of the milkweeds and produces milky latex that discourages herbivores. There are reports that monarch butterflies use milkvine leaves as a larval host as they do with milkweeds
Blackberry fruits developing

Sue pointed out how pretty the young blackberries are.

Sparkleberry tree in flower

Sparkleberry bark

Ants climbing Sparkleberry tree trunk

Sparkleberry branches covered with silk of Fall Webworm caterpillars.

Fall Webworm caterpillars inside their silken tent.

A large heavily flowering Sparkleberry tree overlooks the patch of Carolina Milkvine. Sparkleberry bark is shaggy, peeling and flaking away to reveal rusty-red inner bark.  A parade of red ants were seen making their way up and down along a defined path between bark plates -- headed to the flowers for a bit of nectar?  Fall Webworms have spun a web on the tip of one of the limbs, with many tiny, slender new caterpillars. Fall webworms are often mistaken for Eastern Tent Caterpillars that build tents in the crotch of a Cherry tree. They never extend their tent to include the leaves they eat. Fall Webworms have three generations in our area; Eastern Tent caterpillars only one generation per year.

Nettle-leaf Sage

A small population of Nettle-leaf Sage has been hanging on for many years near the edge of the woods. A calciphile, it testifies to the presence of amphibolite beneath the right-of-way soils. Its square stems, opposite leaves, and two-lipped flowers testify to its membership in the mint family. The cobalt blue flowers are diminutive but gorgeous. 

Phylloxeran gall on hickory leaf.

Bill collected several examples of a hickory leaf gall on Mockernut Hickory.  The galls are caused by the Hickory Phylloxeran (Phylloxera caryaecaulis), a small aphid-like insect.  The phylloxeran survived the winter as an egg deposited on the bark of the tree or near an old gall from a previous year.  About the time when leaf buds are breaking, these eggs hatch into tiny nymphs destined to become breeders called fundatrices.  Each fundatrix hunkers down on the rapidly expanding leaf blade or its petiole and inserts its needle-like mouthparts into the leaf tissue.  This feeding brings about remarkable transformations as the leaf develops.  Chemicals secreted by the phylloxeran cause the hickory's cells to differentiate and create a strange globular gall. Within the hollow gall, the fundatrix develops into a fully mature female that lays hundreds to more than a thousand eggs parthenogenetically, that is, without the assistance of a male.

Opened Phylloxeran gall with eggs and 1st instar nymphs inside.

Opened Phylloxeran galls with winged adult and possible parasites in gall.

After hatching, legions of tiny nymphs feed within the gall and eventually develop into winged forms. By late May, galls split open and the winged phylloxerans exit and move to the undersurface of leaves where they lay hundreds of eggs. These eggs hatch and produce nymphs destined to become males and females that will ultimately mate and lay eggs to endure the next winter. Talk about a complicated lifestyle, phylloxerans certainly have one.
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Let Aldo Leopold have the last word on this week's ramble: "No matter how intently one studies the hundred little dramas of the woods and meadows, one can never learn all the salient facts about any one of them."

Oak Apple Gall Wasp   Amphibolips quercusinanis (synonym A. inanis)
Bigleaf Magnolia     Magnolia macrophylla
Oak-leaved Hydrangea     Hydrangea quercifolia
Pipestem, Florida Fetterbush     Agarista populifolia
Harvestman     Order Opiliones
Black Cohosh     Actea racemosa
'Athens' Sweetshrub     Calycanthus floridus 'Athens' cultivar
Tulip Tree     Liriodendron tulipifera
Smooth Spiderwort     Tradescantia ohiensis
Red-shouldered Hawk     Buteo lineatus
Black-seeded Needle Grass     Piptochaetium avenaceum
Little Barley     Hordeum pusillum
Deer Tongue Grass     Dichanthelium clandestinum
Two-flowered Melic Grass     Melica mutica
River Oats     Chasmanthium latifolium
Rescue Grass     Bromus catharticus var. catharticus
Meadow Fescue     Festuca pratensis, synonym: Lolium pratense
Annual Rye     Festuca perennis
Unidentified non-native vetch     Vicia sp.
Small's Ragwort     Packera anonyma
Nodding Thistle     Carduus nutans
Sheep's Sorrel     Rumex acetosella
Green-and-Gold     Chrysogonum virginianum
Southern Beardtongue     Penstemon australis
Spittlebug     Order Hemiptera
Mountain Mint     Pcynanthemum sp.
Bracken Fern     Pteridium aquilinum
Wild onion     Allium canadense
Summer Bluet     Houstonia purpurea
Blackberry     Rubus sp.
Carolina Milkvine     Matelea carolinensis
Sparkleberry     Vaccinium arboreum
Red ant     Family Formicidae
Fall Webworm Moth caterpillars     Hyphantria cunea
Nettle-leaf Sage     Salvia urticifolia
Mockernut Hickory     Carya tomentosa
Hickory Phylloxeran     Phylloxera caryaecaulis