Sunday, October 30, 2016

Day 2 of a Bog Visit in South Georgia

Rayless sunflower (Helianthus radula)
The afternoon of our visit to Dixie Bog took us to new areas. If you missed reading about part 1 last week, you can read about it here. As a person who spends most of her time immersed in Piedmont plants and habitats, I am always thrilled to experience the plants and places of the Coastal Plain. The afternoon explorations did not disappoint.

A swing by a large pond was engineered to see a particularly special orchid that had just finished blooming: the waterspider bog orchid (Habenaria repens). Growing at the very edge of the pond (don’t fall in!), this orchid obviously needs special habitats to survive. We paused to admire the blooming water lilies and use binoculars to spot birds further out. Goldenrod (Solidago sempervirens, I think) was blooming among the scrubby growth around the pond.

Habenaria repens
Solidago sempervirens
Nymphaea lily

Our next location was a large and open area with a woodland edge. Black titi shrubs (Cyrilla racemiflora) were there and palmetto (Serenoa repens) grew among herbaceous plants like vanillaleaf (Carphephorus odoratissimus), blazingstars (Liatris spicata), toothache grass (Ctenium aromaticum), thick stands of cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea - a testament to the moist soil), and more. It started raining so some of us took shelter in the woodland (botanizing the whole time!) and unfortunately I only got a few pictures before we moved on. By the way, some people said they could smell the vanillaleaf in the air, but I couldn’t.

Vanillaleaf (Carphephorus odoratissimus)

Ctenium aromaticum
Liatris spicata

Our last stop for the day was a bit more wooded. On the edge by the road, the area with the most sun, we admired some of the grasses in flower (yes, in flower). My favorite was the lop-sided Indian grass (Sorghastrum secundum). Sometimes we are so distracted by forbs (flowering plants) that we overlook these plants.

Sorghastrum secundum
Elephantopus elatus

In the woods we found two different species of milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa in fruit and a faded clasping milkweed, A. amplexicaulis). Most plants were past flowering (including a whitetop aster or Doellingeria that I really wanted to see!) but we did manage to locate a couple of cool things. The rayless sunflower (Helianthus radula) was far more beautiful than I expected when I first heard of it. We also found a relative of the elephant’s foot that I know from the Piedmont.

It was a great day with amazing Coastal Plain native plants and awesome people. I love Georgia Botanical Society field trips for the interesting places we see, the beautiful plants, the people who share their knowledge, and the enthusiastic participants who soak it up.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

A Bog Visit in South Georgia

Sarracenia flava
Trips to the Coastal Plain region of Georgia are often on my mind but seldom turn into reality. It’s not for lack of opportunity - Georgia has an awesome resource in the Georgia Botanical Society (BotSoc), a group of botanical enthusiasts since 1926. In late September, I finally got a chance to participate in a trip to a southern bog; it was part of their Year of the Bog focus.

A little background on BotSoc field trips: Volunteers put together a field trip calendar each year; it is an enticing schedule of over 40 trips from January to November in locations throughout the state. Field trips are open to members and the public, although occasionally the number of participants is limited. This trip to ‘Dixie Bog’ (in Dixie, GA) was limited to 15 people. Participants were a mixture of experienced botanists, conservation professionals, and amateur enthusiasts.

The drive south was long but an interesting travel through some of Georgia’s agricultural areas. We saw pecan orchards and big fields of cotton – some cotton plants were still blooming, others ripening, and some of them were already harvested into great rectangles of baled cotton. We also saw miles of morning glories – it was the perfect time of the morning to see them.

Once we arrived at the site, we loaded up with bug spray and piled into the vehicles that would transport us around to the places of interest on this large tract. On our way to the first stop, we passed through wooded areas, some dripping with Spanish moss, and open fields. This area is managed for quail hunting (we flushed just one as we drove past where it was resting). The open areas are maintained with occasional use of fire, a practice that has benefited the herbaceous plants as well.
Helianthus floridanus
Eryngium integrifolium

We walked in to an area with pitcher plants, yellow (Sarracenia flava) and hooded (Sarracenia minor), as well as an amazing array of other plants. Florida sunflower (Helianthus floridanus) and savanna eryngo (Eryngium integrifolium) caught my eye first because they were so prevalent. As we looked closer, we found pineland rayless goldenrod (Bigelowia nudata), several species of blazing stars (Liatris spicata was one), and the curvaceous stems of toothache grass (Ctenium aromaticum).

Ctenium aromaticum
Bigelowia nudata

As the group spread out to explore, cries of excitement rang out with each new treasure discovered. A fruiting fevertree (Pinckneya bracteata) was identified. The first of many green lynx spiders was found, and Coastal Plain tickseed (Coreopsis gladiata) and Nuttall’s thistle (Cirsium nuttallii) were examined closely. Thick stands of Indian plantain (Arnoglossum ovatum) were breathtaking to see so much of it.

Coreopsis gladiata
Cirsium nuttallii

Green lynx spider (thanks to Henning for holding it)

We got back into our vehicles for the next stop where there were not only more pitcher plants but also dewthreads (Drosera tracyi), a member of the carnivorous sundew family. Another new (to me) plant in this area was blacksenna (Seymeria pectinata), a prolific annual plant whose flowers were very popular with bees.

Sarracenia minor
Drosera tracyi

Seymeria pectinata

Bee on Seymeria pectinata

Marshallia graminifolia

Again the group spread out, different groups examining and discussing plants in more detail.

The hooded pitcher plants (S. minor) were very nice in this location, and we found one of the last flowering Barbara’s buttons (Marshallia graminifolia) as well as a few meadow-beauties (Rhexia) with their urn-shaped seedpods.

Open area with sunflowers and blazingstars

As we headed back for lunch, we saw great stands of purple false foxglove (Agalinis fasciculata) with buckeye butterfly caterpillars on them.  We had also seen several adult buckeyes flying around, visiting Eupatorium, bluemistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) and other flowers. Seeing insects in their natural relationships is one of my favorite sights and these caterpillars were a highlight for me.

Agalinis fasciculata
Caterpillar of buckeye butterfly

We relaxed with our brown bag lunches at the owner’s house while a quick rain shower blew through. There were several more hours of exploring ahead of us in new locations, but I’ll have to do a part two for those adventures.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Thug Buddies

Not everyone appreciates a thug in the garden, but there is one way you can deal with them if you still want to keep them around. Get them a thug buddy! They are perfectly suited for working around each other. I can just imagine them saying “You’re growing there? I’ll just go around you over here ….”

Bushy aster (Symphyotrichum dumosum)

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum) is a wonderful fall nectar plant but a well-known thug. In a dry month like October (traditionally our driest of the year), however, it can be nice to have the blooms so I always try to keep some of it. Last year, it got a bit out of control so I pulled out a ton of it this spring (knowing that what was left would bounce back).

Blue mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum)
Bumblebees love asters!

This fall I was surprised to realize that small-flowered white asters - which can be a bit pushy - had jumped in the bed with it. What a gorgeous combination they make, weaving in and out among each other. The bees are happily visiting the asters while the skippers and butterflies like the mistflower. It’s been fun to watch them all dashing around each other, not unlike what a wild roadside might look like.

Growing above them is tall thoroughwort, Eupatorium serotinum. It has mostly finished flowering now and, while a bit of a thug itself, was never a bother to these guys. Occasionally a stem of tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) pops up, adding a cheery splash of yellow. This goldenrod is also a thug but it doesn’t get much of a chance here.

Thug life!
Come spring, some of these will get pulled again just to keep the place a bit more tidy (for the neighbors, you know) and to let the spring things have their turn. In between the editing and the competition, most of these will be just this side of rambunctious for next fall.

So, if you’re got a thug in your garden, at least get him a friend to keep him company!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

What Happened to the Asters?

Eastern tailed-blue on Symphyotrichum dumosum
A friend of mine has a wonderful expression to describe certain plants – she calls them “ex-Asters.” If you haven’t been paying attention the last 10 or so years, the North American plants that were in the plant genus Aster have all been moved to new genera (yeah, that’s plural!). The “Old World” asters got to keep the name, and all our plants now have an assortment of real tongue-twister names.

Here’s a short accounting of the ones in Georgia. Most of the reclassifications went to Symphyotrichum. Other Georgia ones went to Ampelaster, Doellingeria, Eurybia, Ionactis, Oclemena, Oligoneuron, and Sericocarpus. With 30 different species in Georgia, Symphyotrichum alone is enough to keep me flipping through identification resources. Of the other genera, I have only found Eurybia, Doellingeria, and Sericocarpus species so far. I hope to come across the others one day (and this is probably a good time of year to be looking).

Eurybia spectabilis
Sericocarpus asteroides

Guy Nesom has a webpage with a great explanation of the changes. In case you don’t like any of the “new” names, apparently we can’t fault any living person for what we have to deal with:
“Some of these Latinized scientific names were ‘invented’ and published long ago and, by the rules of nomenclature, must be used.  The ‘principle of priority’ establishes that the first name published in a specified manner is the correct one.  Symphyotrichum, which displaces the more euphonious Aster in the majority of the species, seems especially peculiar and tongue-twisting, and although it has almost never been used until very recently, it was first proposed in 1832 and can’t be denied its rightful place.”
Georgia aster, Symphyotrichum georgianum

Late purple aster, Symphyotrichum patens
Of course, all our plants have kept the old names as synonyms so you can still find them in search engines (Aster georgianus = Symphyotrichum georgianum). Did you know that for a time it was also proposed as Virgulus georgianus? Let’s hope the taxonomic studies have paused long enough for us to learn how to pronounce the new one (sim-fee-oh-TRICK-um)! I’m not averse to using “ex-Aster” in a pinch!

Symphyotrichum cordifolium (flowers not very blue)

Symphyotrichum shortii

You can see one of my earlier aster posts here; it features some of the other species I've photographed. If you are looking to add more native asters to your garden, there is one more week left for the fall sale at the State Botanical Garden. They have the finest offering of native asters and goldenrods that I've seen in Georgia. Look for it each October - about the time that asters start blooming.

Sunday, October 2, 2016

A Butterfly’s Place for the Winter

Many people wonder what happens to butterflies in the winter. Aside from the now well-known story of the Monarch butterfly’s migration to Mexico, many of us don’t know where others go. We do know that not all of them migrate; some of them overwinter as caterpillars, in pupas, or even as adults in sheltered places. This week, a trip that I made to Florida revealed where the Gulf Fritillary goes. It was like finding the end of the rainbow!

Gulf Fritillary on Bidens alba
According to NABA (the North American Butterfly Association), the following butterflies do spend winters in warmer places: Cloudless Sulphur, Little Yellow, Gulf Fritillary, Painted Lady, American Lady, Red Admiral, Common Buckeye, Long-tailed Skipper, Clouded Skipper, Fiery Skipper. I had certainly noticed that some butterflies don’t arrive in my garden until summer when their favorite flowers are in bloom, but I didn’t realize they might be traveling to get there.

Our trip to St. George Island on the Gulf side of Florida had us traveling through south Georgia where the roadsides were lined with fall flowers.  In sunny places, I saw yellow goldenrod (Solidago), white thoroughwort (Eupatorium), and tall pink false foxglove (Agalinis). Tucked into part-shade areas was a prolific white flower that I finally realized was Bidens alba (which has various common names like beggarticks).

After arriving on the island, I began to notice the orange Gulf Fritillary butterflies, but I didn’t think anything of it as they are still flying at my house. They were happily nectaring on the Bidens. After a while, it became apparent that there were a LOT of them. One patch of roadside would contain dozens if not hundreds of them! Something was different here.

Gulf Fritillary on Liatris (St. George State Park)

I searched on the Internet for more information and found references that they do migrate into Florida for the winter. Now the name “Gulf” Fritillary makes more sense – we were on the Gulf side! It was an amazing aspect of our visit to see them in such large quantities wherever we went on the island. Thank goodness for the fall flowers like the Bidens, beach morning glory (Ipomoea imperati), false rosemary (Conradina canescens), blazingstars (Liatris), and October flower (Polygonella polygama).

Tattered Gulf Fritillary on Conradina canescens
Many other butterflies were there too but not in such abundance. I even found one Monarch among them – noticeably different in size despite the similar color. All in all, finding the butterflies was a great addition to an already fun trip.