Sunday, March 30, 2014

Nature Ramble

Early spring days are the sweetest when the sun is shining and the temperature is mild. Last Sunday was just such an occasion, and I had the opportunity to join a scheduled “nature ramble” through parts of the State Botanical Garden in Athens, GA. 

The trip was organized by the Georgia Botanical Society as one of their field trips, but the leaders of this trip ramble through SBG’s gardens on a regular basis (weekly it seems according to their blog).

Trillium decipiens
For this trip we started out in the Dunson Native Plant Garden along a lovely winding trail through a collection of ephemeral spring wildflowers. Although the wildflowers were planted by humans originally, they have moved and spread into new areas, creating pleasant drifts of color and texture. The garden has good signage although the squirrels have etched some embellishments on some of them.
Always exciting for me is to be able to see new plants. Trillium decipiens (known as the Chattahoochee trillium) is a sessile trillium with strong markings on the foliage. In areas where different species have mingled, it is noticeably different from Trillium cuneatum by way of a strong contrast on the leaves between the pale stripe on the center and the dark mottled sections.

Claytonia caroliniana

Next on the new list is the Carolina spring beauty (Claytonia caroliniana). I am more familiar with Claytonia virginica, Virginia spring beauty. While the blossoms are similar, the foliage is bolder on the Carolina species, and less grass-like. Neither species appears to be native to this county, but the plants appear very happy here.

We wound our way through the trail, enjoying the blooms of other trilliums, bloodroot and trout lilies. Soon we came upon toothwort (Cardamine), ragwort (Senecio) and liverwort (Hepatica). 

Dirca palustris
Among the leafy young buckeyes (Aesculus) we began to see a smallish shrub with bright green oval leaves and the remains of small yellow flowers. It was identified as leatherwood, Dirca palustris. The common name comes from the strong yet flexible property of its branches, used by Native Americans as a type of binding material.

Nearby were sweeps of Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), lovely with a mixture of blue and pink flowers. A small population of Trillium persistens brought a story of why some folks call it “Edna’s trillium.”

Sanguinaria canadensis

Throughout the area, the crisp white petals of bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) offered a delightful juxtaposition of fresh new growth against the dry, drab leaves of winter.

We continued to ramble through the different trails of the garden, identifying weeds and flowers alike as we went. Every plant had a story or its own tale to tell. Our trip through the Endangered Plant Garden found a huge stand of Alabama snow-wreath (Neviusia alabamensis) beginning to bloom. The delicate blooms and the endangered status seem at odds with the reports from people that have this in their garden. When it’s happy, you can be sure you’ll have plenty of this colonizing shrub to share.

Neviusia alabamensis

We moved on to the Heritage Garden where tall blooming paw paw trees (Asimina triloba) were admired for their unusual blooms. We were told that flies pollinate these flowers which smell like rotting meat, but our noses were apparently not attuned to that frequency. I could not detect any malodorous scent.

Asimina triloba

The garden was filled with old-fashioned (and non-native) ornamentals as well as a variety of fruit trees. A mason bee box was included to help support the bees that are so effective in the pollination of fruit trees.

We plunged back into the woods to complete our walk. Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum), violets (Viola spp.) and Geranium maculatum were naturally scattered along the trail. As we paused, someone spotted a small orange butterfly. One of our leaders identified it as a Harvester butterfly (Feniseca tarquinius), a species that is right at home in this stream-lined deciduous woods. The caterpillars of this species are carnivorous, eating woolly aphids, scale insects and treehoppers. The adults feed on aphid honeydew, not flower nectar. What an amazing discovery on our ramble!

At the end of the day, the ramble was a delightful low-key way to reconnect with the natural world. From being outside, to admiring plants, to learning about new insects and creatures ... I can't imagine a better time.



  1. I've done that walk before and it is really exciting to see all the native plants coming up in spring. What a fascinating butterfly! I am not familiar with this one. Thanks for the introduction.

  2. I can't imagine a better walk either....I am hoping to find more of these in my area too.

  3. Thanks for the spring preview! It will be weeks before I start seeing anything similar around here (NE PA). :)