Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Meadow Parsnip & Ground Beetle

This post took longer than most to finish because I was determined to find out what these mystery plants were. I first found them two weeks ago, growing about 15 feet apart, with similar leaves. Only one had the beginnings of flower buds. A few days later I went back to see them and found that the taller one's buds were red! Wow. I had no idea what this could be. The smaller one had young (still green) buds, but I assumed they would be the same. Back again and the smaller one's flower was yellow. Yellow? Yes, definitely yellow. By this time I could tell that the flowers were compound umbles, which would make identification possible. After drawing the plants and the beautiful ground beetle that scurried past where I sat, I headed home to my field guides.

They weren't easy to find. After some false starts, and thinking for a while the yellow one was possibly a Golden Alexander, then a Heart-leaved Alexander (but what was the red one?). I ruled those out when I found an entry online showing a photo of Meadow Parsnip (Thaspium trifoliatum) in yellow and an inset photo of the alternate color, purple. Purple? But the photo showed the same reddish flower as my plant - not what I call purple! Very satisfying.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

Hiked early with journal and camera under cloudy skies to check on the Bull Thistles, to see if they have fully opened. Walking into a breeze on a warm spring morning is such a delight it makes you forget some of the little irritants of the season, which were soon to appear.

Daisy and I headed downhill to Meetinghouse Creek. When we paused to admire the nice patch of Green and Gold blooming along the edge a few buzzy gnats appeared, but were gone as soon as we started again and headed uphill. We followed the path that cuts through the woods and out into another open field where the thistles grow. The first plant I came to was not open yet, although still pretty. I took a few pictures and then we continued on. The next plant was fully 3" open, its color a beautiful deep rose-purple with white dots of the pistols showing themselves. As I took a few photos of it a few gnats buzzed, but only briefly. Then I turned around. Now the breeze came from behind me and a million gnats were in my face. Daisy's too. Like me she started shaking her head and pawing at her eyes. Ugh! Gnats are one of Mother Nature's less lovable creations.

Luckily, spring breezes can be fickle, and as we high-tailed it downhill a stronger wind kicked up from the opposite direction and blew the gnats away again! I was able to slow down and take my time going home. We went back to where I'd left my backpack and journal in the woods behind the house. Over the weekend I happened to find a Jack-in-the-Pulpit growing and in bloom very close to the Catesby's Trillium, also still in bloom. That's where Daisy and I ended our outing, and although the gnats were not around, there was plenty of woodland bug activity to be heard - lots of scritch-scratching in the leaf litter. I finally saw who was on the move... Fireflies! I guess we'll be seeing them light up the night in the near future.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Sessile-leaf Bellwort, Yellow Stargrass, Lanceleaf Anemone

Wow! Springtime overload! Days are not long enough this time of year. I could have used about five more hours this afternoon.

I made so many discoveries today that I couldn't help but think about the early naturalists' experiences. Mark Catesby, for example, is one of my personal heroes, as he was the first to discover and record the beauiful Catesby's Trillium that grows in the woods behind our house. He wandered South Carolina in the 1720's, discovering brand new species day after day. He too would draw and paint them - but instead of looking them up in field guides, he named them!

Catesby's Trillium

Even if it's not as dramatic as being the first to ever see a species, I found and identified two new wildflowers today - Lanceleaf Anemone and Sessile-leaf Bellwort. Both were on the north-facing bank of Lawson's Fork, the Anemone down such a steep bank that my best view of it was through binoculars. While drawing it, I almost slid down into the river. Daisy watched, but didn't try to come down with me. The Bellwort is very subtle, but once I saw the creamy yellow flower I noticed the plants all over the hill down to the river.

On top of the hill is a rough trail wide enough for a truck, that makes an easier walk around the side of the rocky ridge, overlooking Meetinghouse Creek as it makes a U-turn and then heads down the other side of the ridge to the river. In the middle of that trail is where I found the strange (unidentified) mushroom, and when I sat to draw that, where I noticed the single blade that to me looks suspiciously orchid-like (luckily it didn't break when Daisy sat on it) and the little bright green seedlings (in the same family as the Bellwort?) that popped back up after being stepped on by you-know-who.

Later, as I was drawing the Morel mushroom, with Daisy on the bluff above my head, I had no fear that she would do anything as stupid as trying to come straight down the cliff to where I was... but sure enough, within five minutes she couldn't stand it anymore. She had to see what I was looking at so intently. Down she came, crashing/sliding through ferns and wildflowers, leaves, sticks and rocks, right past me and into the pool in Meetinghouse Creek. Geeze! Somehow the little Morel survived the event, but I quickly packed and moved away lest Daisy come back over to investigate. Besides, I wanted her to stay in the clear, clean water to help wash off the black muck she'd gotten into while I was admiring the wild azaleas down a steep bank near the river. I heard the PLOOP! as she jumped into a part of Meetinghouse Creek I've never seen (too much Dog Hobble!), but she was out of sight so I didn't realize until I heard her come to sit behind me and turned to speak to her, what had happened. Luckily I had my phone/camera in my hand to capture her beautiful feet.

Daisy shows off springtime mud!

Monday, April 11, 2011

Spring Growth along Meetinghouse Creek

Today Daisy and I hiked to Meetinghouse Creek to check on the Tufted Titmice I saw there, building a nest in a beech tree. Just before I came to the creek, I scrambled up the steep hill so that I could look across and be at eye-level with the nest. I located the beech tree and used my binoculars to zoom in. I looked and looked, hoping to see some activity, but saw nothing. I did hear many bright and cheerful CHIVA! CHIVA! CHIVA! titmouse songs in the woods though, and imagined the parent birds out there teaching the kiddies how to fly.

As I made my way back down the steep bluff I looked around the almost vertical hill and started noticing how many plants like to grow there. I pulled out my journal to make a list of what I saw and wondered... are there more plants growing there than elsewhere in the woods because of the relatively cool, damp environment, or is it simply that the deer can't reach them? Maybe a little of both.

I sat next to the creek and continued the list. So many plants I recognized, but wait - what was that? Opposite, spring-green leaves with long slender petioles grew at the top of a 5" woody stem. No idea... Then on the other side of me, practically in the water, grew another mystery plant, this one with purple leaves with bright pink midribs. In my excitement of discovery, I saw a third mystery leaf, drew it, but once home realized that it is the single leaf of the Barren Strawberry that I discovered just last week... a seedling perhaps?

Daisy followed my every move today as I slowly made my way up the creek in this area we call Coon Hollow, trying not to get my shoes wet. She walked right down the middle while I criss-crossed and rock-hopped, occasionally holding on to her for balance. This worked ok, but I did finally miss a rock and got one shoe wet. As I was checking out my wet foot I noticed another little mystery plant growing in the sand along the creek. Last years tiny stem, wiry and brown, sprouted this years new growth of two bright green stems holding pairs of equally bright, small round leaves. The plant was only four inches high.

Also along this stretch of creek I saw the expected Raccoon tracks in the sand, and found a new patch of Robin's Plantain about to bloom. I saw Chickadees, a Red-Bellied Woodpecker, several Tiger Swallowtails fluttering by, but I never did see the Tufted Titmouse family. Maybe tomorrow!

The steep bluff with new growth of Wild Hydrangea

Looking up at a patch of Solitary Pussytoes

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Barren Strawberry, Birdfoot Violet, Serviceberry

A thunderstorm blasted through last night, with high winds, thunder and lightning, making today's gentle weather particularly sweet. Daisy and I found these wildflowers as we hiked to the river. One, the yellow one called Barren Strawberry, is new to me. I had to come home and look it up!