Thursday, July 19, 2012

One Trail Tweleve Times - July

Blackberries (Rubus spp.) - sweet, tangy and seedy
To "mix it up" a bit, I scheduled July's One Trail Twelve Times walk on a Tuesday evening (instead of a Sunday afternoon).  Furthermore, I led the small group in reverse of the direction I have been following up to this point.  I chose the evening in order to straddle the natural world at twilight, and my timing was perfect.  As we set out, the cicadas strummed in the trees and wood thrushes fluted in the forest.  As we were nearing the end of the trail, the woodland avian chorus fell silent, lightning bugs began to rise from the meadows, and the katydid chorus replaced the cicada serenade.

I had three intelligent, interested, attuned folks join me.  We quickly dubbed ourselves the Four Musketeers, since all four of us had first names that began with J (well, my middle name begins with J).

This month, all the action's in the meadow along the Beech Springs Trail.  The woodland tree canopy, summer-dense, combined with the unbroken spicebush layer (Lindera benzoin), casts deep shade on the forest floor.  The spring ephemerals are gone, and only a few first-year garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) plants hang-on in the gloom.

Out in the meadow, though, growth is luxuriant.  The trail enters the meadow at the top of the hill, so the first plants we encountered were adapted to drier conditions.
A field of goldenrod (Solidago spp.), blooming well ahead of "schedule"
Joan capturing an image of early-blooming goldenrod
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Black-eyed Susans (Rudbeckia serotina) and Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)
Black-eyed Susans
Ripening seed pods have replaced the globular purple flowers of Common Milkweed (Asclepias syriaca) so abundant last month
Grape vines (Vitis spp.) sprawl over vegetation throughout the meadow
The delicate flower spike of Small-flowered Agrimony (Agrimonia parviflora), a plant whose leaves vaguely resemble those of marijuana (so I've been told)
Short-toothed Mountain Mind (Pycnanthemum muticum), a species with rather broad leaves.  Virginia Mountain Mint  (P. virginianum), which has narrow, needle-like leaves, also grows in the meadows. 
The Mountain Mints had us perplexed.  The flowers looked nearly identical, but we were presented with plants with distinctly different foliage, which left us scratching our heads trying to make an identification in the field.  Finally, we realized we were dealing with two different species.
A first appearance for Queen Anne's Lace (Daucus carota)
Butterfly Weed (Asclepias tuberosa), a denizen of the driest meadows
As the trail threaded through the fields, we gradually moved downhill.  Species adapted to dry conditions gave way to the distinctive plants of the wet meadow.

Eastern Joe-Pye Weed (Eupatorium dubium)
A closer view of Joe-Pye Weed's delicate flower

New York Ironweed (Vernonia noveboracensis) just coming into bloom

We found just one Swamp Milkweed (Asclepias incarnata).  This species always seems to be bedeviled by aphids.
Joan, Judy and Jim on the Eagle Scout Bridge
Skunk Cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus), fringing one of the Beech Spring runs, becomes less evident with each passing month
The gathering dark in the forest
The setting sun's nearly horizontal rays illuminated the woods


Carolyn H said...

Scott: Nice. And I'll bet the evening walk was at least a bit cooler, too!

packrat said...

You're a poet, Scott. Great post! I'm sure the Three J's really appreciated the hike. One thing I really miss from my youth is seeing the lightning bugs' awesome display. No lightning bugs here in the northern Chihuahuan Desert.

Scott said...

Carolyn: Kali and I had done the walk the evening before and came back pretty sweaty, but the humidity during the "official" walk must have been lower because we weren't that uncomfortable. The group members did concur that the temperatures were a bit cooler at the bottom of the hill than they were at the top.

Scott said...

Packrat: The firefly display was not as spectacular this year as it often is; I think that everyone with whom I have spoken agrees with me on that. Nevertheless, earlier in the year, it was still magical. We're nearing the end of the season now, so there were only sporadic flashes in the dark during the walk. The fireflies are a wonderful part of the summer natural world on the humid eastern half of the continent.