Tuesday, May 22, 2012

One Trail Twelve Times - May

Pine fireworks (enlarge for more dramatic effect)

The weather was absolutely perfect for May's installment of the One Trail Twelve Times trek, with mostly sunny skies, a light refreshing breeze, and temperatures in the mid-70s (F).  This year-long series of monthly walks along the Beech Springs Trail has been a  bit of a disappointment because I have not developed the "following" of dedicated participants that I had hoped the series would attract, and those who do join me seem more intent on a quick excursion rather than the quiet immersion in the natural world that I had hoped to encourage.  Hardly anyone totes a camera, let alone binoculars or a sketch book.  Kali agreed that last Sunday's walk was the least satisfying to date, with only two participants, both of whom were new, and neither of whom were particularly interactive.  Did they enjoy themselves?  We couldn't tell.

On a personal level, I have enjoyed the series even more than I originally anticipated.  Walking slowly, searching for interesting natural history tidbits to point out, and taking photographs has heightened my awareness, and the differences in the fields and forest each month are amazing.
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) with a developing "apple."  
A squirrel likely will have snagged this tasty fruit by the time I return in June.

Green and gray bracket fungi on a downed branch

Non-native multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) blooming about two weeks earlier this year, at the wood's edge

The Beech Springs Trail begins in a mature woodland, emerges into sunny old-fields that are reverting to a thicket, enters a second mature woodland that surrounds the eponymous springs, and then ends in an old-field bordered by an allee of old white pine trees (Pinus strobus).  There are myriad habitats to enjoy along the way--the main reason I singled-out this trail.
Blackberries (Rubus spp.) along the woods-field edge

Probably Common Hawkweed (Hieracium vulgatum), a beautiful but non-native ruderal species

Another non-native, Oxeye Daisy (Chrysanthemum leucanthemum), hosting a native bee

A native rose (Rosa spp.)
A Blue-eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium spp.), of which there are at least 5 species in the eastern US.  
This plant, of course, is not a grass at all, but a member of the Iris family.

A Ladybird Beetle (Coccinellidae) exploring a blade of Deer-tongue Grass (Panicum clandestinum)

Tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) blossom

A Tuliptree petal fallen to the forest floor

From the woods back into the sun

Monday, May 21, 2012

MOMIX ReMIX: Fasten Your Seatbelt!

One of my other real passions (besides the natural world) is contemporary dance.  In the past, I had often posted blog entries after I had attended a dance performance, but I stopped doing so after I received few (if any) comments; I assumed my readers were interested.
However, I'm breaking my silence for a short post here because of an unusual sensation that overcame me last Saturday evening at a performance by the company called MOMIX.  This company seamlessly integrates gymnastics, illusion and dance into their incredibly imaginative pieces, and they are among my favorite troupes--think Cirque de Soleil with dancing.
Last Saturday's performance was called MOMIX ReMIX-- a retrospective of some of the company's best choreography spanning its 24-year history.  The program was divided into two parts, separated by an intermission.  Energy in the nearly sold-out theater was high in anticipation of a great performance, and we were not disappointed by the first half.  Kali and I went into the lobby during intermission, and after 15 minutes the lights flickered to encourage the audience members to return to their seats.  

The crowd grew quiet as the house lights went down, and suddenly I was overcome by an entirely subconscious and overwhelming feeling of the need to fasten my seat belt.

They were that good.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Woodland Alien

One evening last week, one of my board members, who has the good fortune (and the fortune) to live in a beautiful mature forest, called me excitedly after work to tell me about a plant that he had never seen growing in his woodlands before.  He described it as looking like a weird pine cone standing on its base emerging from the forest duff.

I suspected that I knew what it was and, because it was a really nice evening, Kali and I decided to make the 30-minute walk to his house before dinner to check out the "alien" visitor.  As soon as I saw it, I knew that the plant was not an alien but was, as I suspected, Squawroot (Conopholis americana), also known as Cancer-root. 
Even though I knew the plant, I was glad that my board member called because (1) I don't see Squawroot very often, (2) I could show off my botanical prowess to a board member, and most importantly (3) I had never seen so many Squawroots in my life!  Plants were emerging from the ground everywhere over a rectangular area approximately 10 meters on a side.  I was really impressed.

Squawroot is a member of the Broom-rape family (Orobanchaceae) [isn't that a great name?], which in the eastern United States also includes Beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana) and two species of Broom-rape (Orobanche spp.).  All members of the family lack chlorophyll and are parasitic on the roots of other plants--in the case of Squawroot, on oaks.

Kali made the comment on our walk back home that she couldn't believe that botanists hadn't changed the politically incorrect common name of the plant.  Cancer-root, as a alternative, isn't much more appealing.
Also on the rocky hillside that supported the Squawroot I found this turkey feather lodged among rocks (and poison ivy).

Thursday, May 3, 2012

One Trail Twelve Times - April

                                                     The old dogwood leans forward
                                                     presenting perfection
                                                                                     -Sandra Burns

The fourth of my monthly One Trail Twelve Times walks on the Beech Springs Trail was washed-out on Sunday afternoon, April 22.  I was willing to walk to enjoy the trail in a rainy mood, but no one showed up, and I couldn't walk with my camera and take pictures at the same time for fear of getting the camera wet.  So, I took some time to capture the fields and woods on a lunchtime walk a few days later.  We'll start our walk in the meadows and woodland edge.
Flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) nearing the end of their bloom

 A tender sassafras leaf (Sassafras albidum) recently unfurled

Poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans)

Field Speedwell (Veronica agrestis)

Common Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)

One of the ever-more-common invasive bush honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.)

Eastern Tent Caterpillars (Malacosmos americanum) on a young black cherry (Prunus serotina)

Many multiflora rosebushes (Rosa multiflora) this year have become infected with rose rosette disease, a viral affliction that will eventually kill them (but which, unfortunately, also strikes commercial and ornamental roses).

 Golden Ragwort (Senecio aureus), very common in the wet meadow

 Young Red Maples (Acer rubrum)

Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) in the wet meadow

Into the woods

 Lush skunk cabbages (Symplocarpus foetidus) lining one of the Beech Spring runs

 Mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum)

 Mayapple flower

Green and grey Tuliptrees (Liriodendron tulipifera)

 Virginia Spring-beauties (Claytonia virginica)

Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)