Sunday, May 31, 2015

Mountain Pilgrimage – DeSoto Falls

DeSoto Falls in Lumpkin County is a scenic stop that has options – there is a shorter trail that leads to the lower falls and a longer trail to the middle falls. The two falls are not related (one is not above the other). There is also an upper falls but the trail to it is no longer open. Our hike, part of the Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage for Georgia Botanical Society, went to both falls, looking for interesting and beautiful plants along the way.

Lower DeSoto Falls, an easy hike

We examined a number of interesting plants before even entering the trail. The parking lot had a large cucumber magnolia (Magnolia acuminata) that was not yet ready to bloom. We headed for the trail, passing an elegantly-blooming pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) before crossing a sturdy footbridge over Frogtown Creek to reach the trails.

Waldsteinia fragarioides
The hike to the lower falls is only a quarter of a mile but the climb is steadily upward and includes a switchback.  The trail was popular with hikers interested only in reaching the waterfalls. Our slow-moving group frequently allowed others to pass.  We stopped early to admire the tiny yellow flowers of a plant that we would see frequently along the way, Appalachian barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides).

Gall on Symplocos tinctoria

We discussed both the unusual and the ordinary – no plant is beyond being discussed when it comes to the inquisitive folks in the Georgia Botanical Society. We found a number of plants with galls, but those on the horse sugar (Symplocos tinctoria) were the most spectacular. Nearby, American chestnut sprouts (Castanea dentata) had fresh leaves.

Pyrularia pubera, buffalo nut flowers

We found a blooming buffalo nut (Pyrularia pubera) and a huge population of rattlesnakeweed (Hieracium venosum), both plants that I think only plant nerds would love.

The walk to the middle falls was long but easy with the pleasant gurgle of the creek along for much of the way and we walked quickly. The area adjacent to the creek was thick with evergreen doghobble (Leucothoe fontanesiana).

Leucothoe fontanesiana, doghobble flowers

We admired the showy middle falls and the series of 3 rock ledges that created the scenic drops. Someone spied large-leaved trilliums near the base of the falls and we peered over the edge of the wooden platform until someone else found one where we could see the flower – it was white trillium (Trillium simile).

Upper DeSoto Falls

We slowly walked back, stopping to examine plants that caught our attention such as huckleberry (Gaylussacia) where our trip leader pointed out the presence of small gold glands on the back of the leaves as a helpful way to distinguish it from blueberry (Vaccinium). A nice group of blooming fairywand (Chamaelirium luteum) started a discussion about the differences in the flowers between male and female plants. Once again, I left a BotSoc trip with more knowledge than I took in and a brain well-exercised!

DeSoto Falls is one of the top ten North Georgia waterfalls as rated by Atlanta Trails. Use this Forest Service link to find directions and information and have $3 for the day parking pass (use the envelopes provided to make your payment). If you haven't already, you can read about my other two field trips on this pilgrimage: Sosebee Cove and Raven Cliff Falls.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mountain Pilgrimage – Raven Cliff Falls

Each year the Georgia Botanical Society holds a 3-day Spring Wildflower Pilgrimage. The location of the event varies from year to year. Last year it was in the southern part of the state, in and around the Okefenokee Swamp. This year it was held in Dahlonega and waterfall trails were a popular field trip option. This post is about my trip to Raven Cliff Falls in White County.

Raven Cliff Falls
The trail to Raven Cliff Falls is long but well-traveled (and quite crowded on a weekend). This trail follows Dodd Creek through the Raven Cliffs Wilderness Area to 80 foot cliff formation about 2.5 miles from the parking area. The area is large and full of a wide variety of native vegetation as well as abundant birds so there is opportunity for birding as well.

Cordyceps-infected bug, frozen in time

Our first find was spotted by our trip leader –it was the corpse of a Cordyceps-infected bug. Cordyceps is a fungi whose spores invade insects and take over their brain, directing them to crawl to and then die in a spot where the fungus can have the best spread, in this case at the end of a branch.

As we proceeded along the trail we spotted fat magnolia petals on the ground. Looking up we spied a tall mountain magnolia (Magnolia fraseri), blooming far above (we used binoculars to see the blooms). 

Medeola virginiana

Alongside the trail we found a large colony of Indian cucumber root (Medeola virginiana). Small but elegant blooms were abundant among the colony; the plants are showier in the fall when plump purple berries are present.

Nearby, the creek alternately roared and gurgled while the path meandered through small feeder streams that we had to hop over.

Hexastylis shuttleworthii

Further down the path we found the large and showy flowers of Shuttleworth ginger (Hexastylis shuttleworthii) close enough to examine and photograph.

Rhododendrons grew nearby but it was too early to see their blooms. Moss-covered birch trunks (Betula lenta) and rocks, as well as abundant fern colonies, contributed a deeply lush feel to the forest.

Trillium vaseyi

Determined to reach the falls, we increased our pace, walking quickly past Catesby’s trillium (Trillium catesbaei), Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus), Appalachian barren strawberry (Waldsteinia fragarioides), large Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and so much more.

We stopped briefly to admire Vasey’s trillium (Trillium vaseyi) but moved on with the expectation of seeing the species again at the falls.

With fewer people than we started with, we finally reached the falls. In order to see them, you must scramble over some large boulders so that you can peer into a split between two 80 foot cliffs. Next to the path, the rich red blooms of Vasey’s trillium and dainty foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) were nestled among poison ivy and blackberries.

After a brief rest and some pictures, we hit the trail for the 2.5 mile walk back to the parking area, anxious to make it back to Dahlonega in time for dinner and the evening program.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Roses and Raspberries

Winding down on the side of the road is a floral show of thorny branches with white flowers. One might tend to think that they are all blackberries and raspberries, but tucked here and there is an invasive impostor – the multiflora rose. As delicious as it may smell, this rose is no friend to our native roadsides, and learning to distinguish it from our native Rubus plants will help you be able to remove it.
Rubus occidentalis

The native Rubus genus contains a bountiful collection of edible berries: raspberries, blackberries, dewberries all have bright white flowers that turn into a fruit that is actually an aggregate of drupelets. These fruits are much loved by animals, birds, and humans alike. Raspberries and blackberries grow on stiff canes while dewberries ramble along the ground like a prickly vine.

You can distinguish raspberries from blackberries most easily when you pick the fruit. When you pick a ripe blackberry, the stem inside the fruit stays with the fruit. When you pick a raspberry, the stem stays with the plant, leaving a hollow center. You can see this on the fruits you buy in the store as well.

Blackberry fruit
The canes on blackberries and raspberries take two years to mature enough to flower and bear fruit. So if you whack them down each year on the wild edges of your property, you’ll just have thorny plants and none of the benefit.

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora)

Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is a non-native rose that was imported sometime in the 1700-1800’s as rootstock for ornamental roses. It was recommended as a “living fence” to control livestock, a crash barrier for highways, and as a cover plant for wildlife. It is adaptable to a wide variety of conditions, from roadsides to fields, forests, and some wetlands. It develops huge thorny branches that catch onto other plants, allow it to climb and then cascade back down.

Rubus occidentalis

The tight clusters of small white flowers on the rose as well as the compound leaves might allow you to mistake it for the native raspberries and blackberries.

At a distance, you might notice that the rose grows higher than the grounded native Rubus. The native Rubus has arching, stiff canes that are often 4-5 feet tall and wide while the rose is hanging down from where it has climbed over a nearby tree, shrub or fence.

Fringed stipules on Rosa multiflora

Once you get up close, the rose is more noticeably fragrant and the compound leaves have more leaflets (5 or more). Examine where the leaf joins the stems and you’ll find distinctive fringed stipules, a sure giveaway for Rosa multiflora. The thorns are fierce, especially when dead.

If you find that you have this invasive rose on your property, please get rid of it. The growth of this plant creates dense shade, outcompeting native vegetation and reducing plant diversity. Any stated or perceived benefit to having this plant can be easily satisfied by a number of native plants which would also contribute to the local plant community in other ways as well.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Sosebee Cove Trail in Spring

Spring wildflowers are some of the most beautiful native flowers and several groups organize pilgrimages around viewing them. Georgia Botanical Society’s spring wildflower pilgrimage is this weekend, and you can be sure that I am happily tiptoeing through some beautiful sites even as some of you read this. As one of the field trip leaders this year, I made an exploratory trip up to Sosebee Cove in Union County two weeks ago so that I could speak knowledgeably about what we’ll find there.

Yellow mandarin (Prosartes lanuginosa)

Sosebee Cove is a 175-acre area in the Chattahoochee National Forest located between Vogel State Park and Wolfpen Gap on Hwy Georgia 180. There is a very easy trail that makes a figure 8 loop, allowing visitors and photographers to see some beautiful flowers up close. Although this is actually a second growth forest (it was last logged around 115 years ago in 1900), the state champion yellow buckeye (Aesculus flava) is found here as is one of the tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) co-champions.

Sosebee Cove is a high-elevation cove forest whose north-facing aspect allows it to remain moist and support a rich diversity of wildflowers. Wolf Creek runs through the trail area and if you make the full loop you will cross it three times, twice on wet rocks and once on a foot bridge. A boulderfield on both sides of the road nestles the flowing creek and the sound of running water compliments the calls of birds that pass through.

Trillium simile

As a result of the rich and moist soils, plants are abundant, crowding the trail almost as if clamoring for your attention. We visited there in the third week of March and found early flowers such as toadshade trillium (Trillium cuneatum) and springbeauty (Claytonia caroliniana). The emerging leaves of many other plants were a tease of the show yet to come. By the time we returned 4 weeks later, the Dutchman’s breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) were already finished but I think that was the only one we missed.

Pale colored flowers make up the bulk of the April flowers. Two white trillium species were blooming, the creamy white Trillium simile and the white-pink Trillium grandiflorum. Star chickweed (Stellaria pubera) and toothwort (Cardamine diphylla) decorated the ground level while white-pink spires of foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) rose above.

Trillium grandiflorum, white phase
Trillium grandiflorum, pink phase

Rich stands of early meadow-rue (Thalictrum dioicum) stood shoulder to shoulder with the similar looking blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides). Blue cohosh’s tiny yellow flowers were being worked over by pollinators.
Blue cohosh (Caulophyllum thalictroides)
Scattered throughout were the pale yellow flowers of mandarin (Prosartes lanuginosa), the still greenish bells of Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum) and the mostly tight buds of Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum). I was glad to have the ability to recognize them among the sea of vegetation and pointed out several plants to other visitors.

Umbrella-leaf (Diphylleia cymosa)

Moisture loving mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) were just beginning to open their single flowers while the similar (and related) umbrella-leaf (Diphylleia cymosa) plants were blooming along the creek’s edges. That is a very special plant to see. Also there were jacks in the pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) and waterleaf (Hydrophyllum canadense) with tight flower buds.

Purple violets, yellow violets and buttercups (Ranunculus hispidus) provided shots of color here and there until suddenly we spotted the first showy orchis (Galearis spectabilis) tucked close to the ground. This was my first experience with this colorful orchid and I photographed the heck out of it. What a treat to find it over and over as we continued along the trail.

Showy orchis (Galearis spectabilis)

Already we could see the foliage of summer blooming plants like turk’s cap lily (Lilium superbum) and plenty of others. It looks like it will be worth a trip back in late June.

Favorite Wildflower Walks of Georgia by Hugh and Carol Nourse
The Natural Communities of Georgia by Leslie Edwards, Jonathan Ambrose, and L. Katherine Kirkman

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Spring Roadside

I’ve posted blogs on summer and fall roadside flowers before and now I’m inspired to post a bit about the spring ones. Native roadside flowers are important sources of pollen and nectar for native bees and butterflies. As we transform land into sterile acres of carefully clipped turf grasses, insects are running short on supplies.

Erigeron philadelphicus
Wild and free roadsides are thick with tiny white flowers this week with punctuations of blue and yellow. The white flowers are fleabane (Erigeron spp.), small white aster-like flowers that range in color from bright white to pale pinks and purples. They do belong to the Asteraceae family and therefore have both disk (center) and ray (outer) flowers.

Erigeron philadelphicus

I believe the one flowering in my area now is Erigeron philadelphicus, which is considered a biennial or perennial. We also have an annual species, Erigeron annuus, but several differences distinguish them. First of all, E. annuus blooms later in the spring, and second, E. philadelphicus  has leaves which clasp the stem.

Last weekend I visited Union County and had a chance to see a species which has become very popular at native plant sales: Erigeron pulchellus, known as Robin’s plantain. This species is a true perennial and the soft white-to-lavender colored flowers are quite lovely. The patch that I stopped to photograph was quite popular with bees.

Erigeron pulchellus - how many bees can you count?
As I wandered the back roads around my house, it was also clear which flowers the bees favored. The small bees were always on the Erigeron while the larger bees worked the tubular blue flowers of lyre-leaf sage (Salvia lyrata). Note: In the same area, non-native honeybees preferred the non-native ground ivy (Glechoma hederacea) mixed in with the native flowers, and I don’t think that is a coincidence.

Salvia lyrata
The tall blue flowers of the sage are gorgeous in large swaths, and they have a nice long bloom period. Given how adaptable it is on roadsides, you’d think people would want it for their low maintenance areas. The shape of the foliage, as indicated by its name, is also attractive.

Dashes of yellow are also lighting up some roadsides. In some cases, it is the non-native buttercup that most of us remember from our childhood. Taller yellow flowers might be golden ragwort (Packera anonyma). Ragwort is in the Asteraceae family and has disk and ray flowers.

Packera anonyma

Support the bees!

I hope more roadside flowers can hang around. Every time that I get a chance to look at them closely, I realize just how important they are to local insects.

Plus, they are a lot more attractive than clipped turf grass!