Sunday, April 23, 2017

Tiny Spring Anemones

Small white wildflowers abound in spring. It can take careful examination of the plant’s parts sometimes to differentiate them: number of petals, leaves, seed pods – these are all helpful things. For me, it’s worth doing. I’d rather know what I’m actually seeing than just call it a white flower. This year I realized that I had 3 similar species in my yard – all of them with the word ‘anemone’ as part of the common name and all in the buttercup family (Ranunculaceae).

Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)
The most common of the three is called rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides). It has a single tier of leaves that are faintly bluish, sometimes tinged with pale burgundy with softly rounded edges.

The parts that we might consider the petals are actually sepals and there can be 5-10 of them; they surround a cluster of stamens and pistils. The sepals are most often white but can be pale pink. The plant is sparse in shaded woodlands but gets more robust in good light, up to 8 inches tall. There may be 1-5 flowers in a terminal cluster.

Rue anemone is native mostly to north Georgia, but there are some reported populations in the upper Coastal Plain. It is easily transplanted and happy to grow in part-shade gardens with good soil. It blooms for 3-6 weeks in the spring.

Pinkish coloration on rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)

The second anemone is called false rue anemone (Enemion biternatum). It has no reported presence in Georgia but is considered likely to be found. The population that I have was given to me by a friend. The slightly rounded foliage of this plant is similar to rue anemone, with rounded edges but more deeply divided lobes. According to this reference, false rue anemone will only ever have 5 sepals. In addition, it can be a taller plant than rue anemone. Both of the following pictures are from the same plant in my yard, several weeks apart.

Enemion biternatum
Enemion biternatum, notice the
leaves behind the flowers

Enemion biternatum seed capsule

If you can see the plant after flowering, the appearance of the fruit is markedly different. False rue anemone has beaked “follicles” that contain 2 or more seeds while rue anemone has beaked achenes (which is a single seed).

One source says that false rue anemone can get up to one foot tall, but that is not true in my garden. This is the earliest of the 3 to bloom for me. The first flower was on March 1 and it is still flowering 6 weeks later.

The third white anemone is called wood anemone (Anemone quinquefolia). Distribution in Georgia is all in the Piedmont and mountain regions, not in the Coastal Plain. The leaf is a compound leaf with 5 leaflets or 3 leaflets where the two side leaflets are deeply cut so as to resemble 5. The leaflets are coarsely serrated with lobes that taper to relatively noticeable points, a characteristic which is different from the other two plants.

Anemone quinquefolia
Anemone quinquefolia

Wood anemone’s flowers have 5 or more of the petal-like sepals. There are no leaves behind the sepals, the flower rises up on a leafless petiole; there might be hairs on the stems and the fruits. Often the population of wood anemone might have more plants with leaves than flowers. That is definitely true in my yard. Somehow I now have 4-5 separate populations of them and only one flower total.

I hope you get a chance to notice one of these tiny anemones in the spring. Take good pictures and you should be able to figure it out when you get home.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Cloudland Canyon State Park

Cloudland Canyon State Park is a 3,485-acre park on the western edge of Lookout Mountain in Dade County. It has deep canyons, sandstone cliffs, caves, waterfalls, beautiful creeks and abundant spring wildflowers. I have heard about it for many years as a wildflower hotspot, but this was my first visit to the park. It certainly lived up to its reputation.

Hemlock Falls, as view through a group of hemlocks
Cloudland Canyon became a state park in 1939 and has expanded several times from its original size of 1,924 acres. Its remote location in the furthest northwest county in Georgia was once only accessible from other states! The construction of Highway 136 finally made it possible to reach it from Georgia. The canyon was formed by the waters of Daniel and Bear Creeks which later converge to form Sitton Gulch Creek. Walks along these boulder-strewn, cascading creeks are quite scenic.

Cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)
Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Southern red trillium (Trillium sulcatum)

Yellowroot at waters edge (Xanthorhiza simplicissima)
We took the West Rim Loop Trail for a short distance until it intersected with the Waterfall Trail and then descended the 600 steps and joined up with Sitton’s Gulch Trail. The Waterfall Trail was indeed beautiful but strenuous. We passed huge rock cliffs and outcrops, including one that was dripping with water. Shrubs that we saw included southern bush-honeysuckle (Diervilla rivularis), mapleleaf viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), and yellowroot (Xanthorhiza simplicissima). Spring ephemerals included sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. acuta), rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides), saxifrage (Saxifraga virginiensis), solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum), yellow mandarin (Prosartes maculata), several species of violets, early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum), foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), Southern red trillium (Trillium sulcatum), star chickweed (Stellaria pubera), and more.

Spring beauty (Claytonia)
Northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum)

Wild oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
As we joined Sitton’s Gulch Trail, a spring beauty with wide leaves was spotted and discussed. While it appeared to be Claytonia caroliniana, more research seems to be required. It was very happy there. Huge slopes to our left were so crowded with boulders that plants were not even growing among them in places. The creek on our right was loudly rushing through its own collection of boulders. Eventually we came to areas rich with Christmas fern punctuated with trilliums (T. cuneatum and T. sulcatum), jacks (Arisaema triphyllum), foamflower, northern maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum), yellow mandarin, and slender toothwort (Cardamine angustata). We found shrubs like gooseberry (Ribes cynosbati), fragrant sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus), and I was very excited to see oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) in the wild!

Forkleaf toothwort (Cardamine dissecta)
Larkspur (Delphinium tricorne)

Trout lily (Erythronium americanum)
Woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum)

Sitton’s Gulch Trail passes through some rather flat areas towards the end. We found dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), fernleaf phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida), woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), trailing trillium (T. decumbens), woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), spotted geranium (Geranium maculatum), two kinds of bellwort (Uvularia), and huge patches of Canadian white violet (Viola canadensis). A couple of special plants that we found included a few left over blooms on American trout lily (Erythronium americanum) and a few early blooms of dwarf larkspur (Delphinium tricorne). We found our third toothwort, “forkleaf” toothwort (Cardamine dissecta) in small patches.

It's a great place to see some of our best spring wildflowers and I look forward to going back again one day.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Violets Are Complicated

Last weekend I attended a violet workshop and hike with the Georgia Botanical Society at Cloudland Canyon State Park. Dr. Harvey Ballard of Ohio University led the workshop and then accompanied us on a hike through the park to find as many of the 11 known species of violets that have been found there in the past. We found most of them and something new too.

Violets are in the Violaceae family, and two genera in that family are represented in Georgia and also in Cloudland Canyon: Viola and Cubelium (formerly Hybanthus).  In general, the southern Appalachian area (like Cloudland) has about 40% of the US violets. Violets do hybridize, so that can make identification a little hard sometimes. Most violet species can make two types of flowers: chasmogamous flowers which are showy and attract insects and cleistogamous flowers which are closed to insects (and obviously not showy). In Georgia, one species that does not make cleistogamous flowers is bird’s foot violet (Viola pedata).

Viola blanda with reddish petiole
Viola canadensis with noticeable stem;
it was abundant on Sitton's Gulch Trail

Identification of violets involves several characteristics. A particular Viola species may be “stemmed” or “stemless.” If the flower grows from a stem, then it is stemmed. If it appears to grow directly from the ground, it is stemless. An example of a stemmed white violet in Georgia is Viola canadensis. Examples of stemless violets in Georgia include the sweet white violet (Viola blanda) and bird’s foot violet (Viola pedata).

Viola eriocarpa has unlobed leaves
Viola tripartita has lobed leaves

Other characteristics include hairs on the leaves, shape of the leaves, hairs (or beards) on the petals, and even the look of the seeds and their capsules. Dr. Ballard says that for best identification, one would consider the flowers, foliage, and fruit from the same plant across the seasons.

For our hike, we started with a list of 11 likely species that we would find: Viola blanda, V. canadensis, V. eriocarpa, V. hastata, V. hirsutula, V. palmata, V. pedata, V. rostrata, V. sororia, and V. tripartita, as well as the green violet, Cubelium concolor. We hiked from the West Rim Trail to Cherokee Falls to Hemlock Falls and finished at the end of Sitton’s Gulch Trail. We found 9 of our target species, several hybrids in the Viola sororia group (the common violet) and one species that we didn’t have on our list, Viola affinis.

Viola hastata has a nice pattern on the leaves
The green violet (Cubelium concolor)

We enjoyed our educational experience with Dr. Ballard. We learned that what many people consider to be a simple little flower is much more complex than we might have thought. The ability of violets to hybridize within related groups creates possibilities beyond the defined set. It was a relief to see Dr. Ballard get just as vexed with a particular plant as I might have done. Violets aren’t simple, they’re complicated!

Common violet (Viola sororia)
Viola sororia with odd color form

Of course, we saw many other beautiful flowers and I will package up pictures of those for next week’s blog. This was my first visit to this beautiful park; it is a very large park (3485 acres) so there is clearly a lot more to explore in the future.

Sunday, April 2, 2017

Before Us

It’s not uncommon to hear someone say that something in their yard, usually in a natural area, must be native because it was there when they got there. Often they are speaking of privet bushes, wild honeysuckle vines, or some other plant that came in via bird poop (face it, that’s how a lot of stuff gets there).

In my area, I believe it is likely that 99% of what we see is second growth (even for some of the large trees we see), and that the land was highly disturbed by humans over the last 500 years, largely for agricultural reasons. Georgia’s oak-hickory forests in the Piedmont were cleared to grow food for families and crops to sell. There weren’t nearly as many loblolly pine trees as we have today, by the way.

When we got to this house 13 years ago, I was excited to discover what might be here. One of the first plants I noticed was an elderberry (Sambucus nigra ssp. canadensis) in the backyard; it was probably brought in by birds. There was a small amount of privet (Ligustrum sinense) and a fair amount of Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica). These non-native plants were brought here by birds too (you get the good and the bad when it comes to birds).

Trillium cuneatum in the middle of the woods at my house

I also saw a sweet Betsy trillium (Trillium cuneatum) on that first walk around the property. The next year I think that I saw two. Over the years, I learned that if I didn’t protect them, the deer would eat them. While a deer meal is not fatal to a trillium, the plant will take in less energy and grow smaller over time; of course, reproduction by seed is less likely too. I’ve been careful to spray or cage them and “new” ones are popping up now. They might have been there all along, dormant, saving their energy.

A trillium seedling on the wooded edge overlooking the stream

I do think that trilliums are a good indication of plants that were probably here before us. Their seeds are dispersed by ants so they don’t move very fast from one place to another (unless soil is relocated). From seed to blooming plant takes a long time; they are visible as a single leaf after 2 years of growth and may take 5 years to get 3 leaves. Each time that I see a small 3-leaved plant, I think “Wow, look how far you’ve come to get all 3 leaves!” It takes at least 7 years before it is mature enough to bloom. 

If you have plants that were there before you, consider carefully how they may have gotten there. Plants may or may not be native.  You might have to play detective to figure it out.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

What’s in this Pocket?

Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana)
Last week, on March 17th, I returned to the Pocket at Pigeon Mountain for the second time this year. This visit was 4 weeks after my first visit on February 19th (documented in this post).  This visit was with a group of girlfriends and had been planned for some time. Based on some of the early blooms elsewhere, I expected to find lots of new blooms at the Pocket. This post describes what we found.

In particular, this area of the Pocket includes the Shirley Miller Wildflower Trail, an example of a mesic forest. As explained in TheNatural Communities of Georgia, a mesic forest has deep, rich soils. This location is the featured place (page 171) and is described as a trail that “winds through a narrow valley with steep cliffs on either side … formed from Fort Payne Chert interbedded with limestone, the talus of which forms a rich valley floor.” The floral composition is incredibly diverse and always makes me think of how rich in beautiful native plants Georgia must have been when Europeans first arrived.

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica)
Trailing trillium (Trillium decumbens)

The plants that I found 4 weeks ago were still blooming: harbinger of spring (Erigenia bulbosa), sharp-lobed hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. acuta or Anemone acutiloba), and star chickweed (Stellaria pubera) were still there in enough abundance to get good pictures. Also still blooming was trailing trillium (Trillium decumbens) and the early Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), just starting before, had plenty of company now. 

Erythronium americanum - not sunny enough
for the blooms to open that day
Newly blooming on this trip were some colorful newcomers like Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana), the last few blooms of American troutlily (Erythronium americanum), spotted geranium (Geranium maculatum), large-flowered bellwort (Uvularia grandiflora), Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus), rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides), cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata), longspur violet (Viola rostrata), Canadian violet (Viola canadensis), downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens), sweet Betsy (Trillium cuneatum), woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), Dutchmen’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria), blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides), bishop’s cap (Mitella diphylla), pussytoes (Antennaria plantaginifolia) and more.

Cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata)
Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)

Dutchmen's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria)
Woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Plants with signs of blooms opening within a week included woodland stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum), fernleaf phacelia (Phacelia bipinnatifida), eastern ed columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), bent white trillium (Trillium flexipes), and foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia).

Farther off in the bloom cycle are wild hyacinth (Camassia scilloides), dwarf crested iris (Iris cristata), buckeyes (Aesculus spp.), crinkleleaf toothwort (Cardamine diphylla), wood betony (Pedicularis canadensis), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum), false garlic (Nothoscordum bivalve) and many things whose foliage hadn’t even made an appearance! There will be something pretty to see until mid to late April. I think maybe a third trip might be in order.

Erigeron pulchellus
Star chickweed (Stellaria pubera)
Bishop's cap (Mitella diphylla)
Rue anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides)

By the way, here is a good link for this place with a nice long list of what usually blooms when:

Sunday, March 19, 2017

The Price of Ignorance

When I go for a walk around my neighborhood, I always expect to find both good things and not so good things in the natural world. Good things are thriving native plants, birds, and butterflies. Not so good things are increased populations of invasive plants and humans doing harmful things.

Sassafras tree killed by human
The humans doing harmful things aspect is frustrating because I know of a lot of it comes from ignorance. To most people, the plants they kill are just plants. Cutting down the bush on the left is no different than cutting down the one on the right. How were they to know that the one on the left was a native shrub that is a host to butterfly eggs while the one they left on the right is a non-native plant that doesn’t host anything? Or worst, it’s a non-native shrub that has berries with the potential to kill native birds!

When I talk to my neighbors while they’re working in their yard, I try to point out the native plants and say positive things about them. “Oh, look you have several sourwood trees. I love how they bloom in the summer and have such great fall color. Have you had sourwood honey?” I want them to realize that they have good things there - things that are worth their attention. I offer to help identify plants if they are planning any removals or are just curious.

With the Internet today, it’s not hard to find out what a plant might be. Many times I’ve heard someone say “We’re just going to pay someone to clean out the back.” That means chopping and spraying what they don’t recognize so it is “tidy.” The hubris of humans when it comes how that bit of wild woods behind the house needs to look is harmful to the other species we live with … cover the place in dyed mulch while you’re at it, ok?

My recent walk discovered a mature Sassafras tree that was hacked to death. It was the remaining of two original ones. The first was killed two years ago by utility contractors installing a new pole. I’m not sure why someone decided two years later that this one should go now. It was healthy all through last fall. Just twenty feet away, invasive plants are moving in. This picture shows monkey grass (Liriope), Nandina, Mahonia, and Elaeagnus.  Bird poop planted the last three. The Nandina has fruit so there will be more. Across the road, tree of heaven (Ailanthus) is trying to muscle out a thicket of privet (Ligustrum) and a few pieces of Nandina. In ten years, this deciduous woodland will be full of these non-native plants.

A group of invasive plants near the Sassafras that is no more

Let’s be a bit more curious about what’s around us. Figure out what that plant is and then decide if you should keep it or not. Insects and critters depend on our willingness to share this space with them. That includes supporting the plants that they need, and they need us to know better.

In the natural world, the price of ignorance is paid by the many species affected, not necessarily the one who was ignorant.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Bee Welcome

On your path to nature, what did you fall in love with first? It probably wasn’t bees, was it? We grow up from childhood with a healthy respect for creatures that can pack a powerful sting. The one I remember first was during 3rd grade recess – a honeybee in a patch of blooming clover. Today I look for bees in my garden because they are a sign of a working ecosystem, and they are always welcome here.

Southeastern blueberry bee
In my current appreciation for bees, I am naturally curious about what kinds are visiting and what I can do to make them feel even more welcome. I was excited to get a new book recently, “Bees: An Identification and Native Plant Forage Guide.” It is written by Heather Holm, author of “Pollinators of Native Plants.” Her first book was great and so my expectations were high for this new book.

How did she do? The book is amazingly detailed and so full of information that my expectations have been exceeded. Chapter 1 sets the stage for detail with 30 pages of background on bees: life cycle, anatomy, nesting, their relationship with flowers, and the latest issues that impact bees. All of it is beautifully illustrated with close-up photos. This section closes with a 4-page spread that illustrates key characteristics “at a glance.” I love the pictorial illustrations that highlight the sizes; they really help me envision one bee relative to others. 

Chapters 2 through 6 get up close and personal with bee families: Colletidae, Andrenidae, Halictidae, Megachilidae, and Apidae. Each family is divided into several genera. I didn’t know that the Apidae family included the European honeybee as well as the native bumblebees (plus several others). Profiles vary in size but each includes basic information: size, months of activity, presence in the Eastern US, how they collect pollen (if applicable), nest details, life cycle, and common forage plants. Each profile has numerous photos of the bee, often both male and female.

Example of a bee profile, we have these bees in Georgia

Monarda punctata stems
I feel fortunate that I read this book so early in the season. My understanding of “leaving stems in place” for bees to nest in was obviously wrong. First, bees that nest in stems need cut or broken stems so that they have a way to get into them. Second, it is in the springtime that they use them and they need them for a whole year. I used to think they needed them over the winter and I could cut them to the ground in the spring.

Here’s an example of what they need: in spring of 2017, cut the old stems of 2016 to 15 inches. Bees will lay eggs in them during the spring. Leave those stems in place all during 2017; the new foliage will grow up around them. In spring 2018, new bees will emerge from them and then the stems will start to naturally break down. You don’t need to remove them. Repeat this every year. You could also cut some stems and stick them in other areas or in pots so that they are available to bees elsewhere. I did that with some super long stems from tall meadow rue (Thalictrum pubescens).

Chapters 7-10 cover native plants that are good for bee forage:  Large Trees, Small Trees & Large Shrubs, Small Shrubs, and Annuals/Biennials/Perennials. Heather’s love of native plants really shines in these chapters.  Plant profiles include flowering time, distribution, habitat, what bees use them as well as helpful symbols to indicate if they support other insects, birds, or are larval host plants. Just like the bee profiles, each one is packed with information.

Example of a plant profile, Geranium maculatum is native to Georgia

A Colletes bee from 2014
I plan to use this book all through the spring and summer to watch certain plants for bee activity as well as to identify bees. Even though the book indicates its plant profiles are for the Northeast and Midwest regions, many of the plants featured are also native to the Southeast.