Sunday, April 25, 2021

Local Hike: South Peachtree Creek Trail


A friend invited us to see this local (Atlanta) trail and an adjacent park, Mason Mill Park. We were fresh off a trip to see gnome houses at Chattahoochee Nature Center with our grandson, and she promised a nice trail with good native plants and gnomes too.

After the hike, she shared a copy of “Hiking Atlanta’s Hidden Forests: Intown and Out” by Jonah McDonald. This hike is featured on page 39. [We actually entered via Mason Mill Park (good parking) instead of the Scott Circle entry point.] This is a wonderful book, full of trails to hike and the details needed to get there, plus a map of the hike, some of the history of the area/trail, as well as important details like fees, hours, and facilities. While documenting hikes both inside and outside the Perimeter, this book also offers some details about interesting trees (noted as Sentinel Trees) on the trail and birds you might see. Pick up a copy if you’d like ideas for hikes without having to drive to the mountains.

The arrow shows where we started

The hike is one of the PATH Foundation’s trails and it has some wide paved areas as well as some dirt footpaths. There were a fair number of walkers on the paved areas with much fewer on the footpaths (which is also where we found the gnomes). From the parking area, we turned right to walk that part of the trail (best viewing for gnome houses), passing over a railroad track and Burnt Fork Creek.

Our favorite gnome house

Invasive plant removal continues to be a task for the folks maintaining the area. We immediately saw blooming bush honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) in addition to the usual privet (Ligustrum sinense). As we crossed over the creek on a stone bridge (turn left after the bridge to see a few gnome homes), two different non-native ferns were colonizing the high streambank: autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora) and Mariana maiden fern (Macrothelypteris torresiana). Local parks are a good place to volunteer to help manage invasive plants as a community project.

Autumn fern and Mariana maiden fern

Natural stands of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia) were just starting to bloom along the trail near our first gnome house. We also passed sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus), see photo on  left, on the climb back to the paved trail. 

There we found blooming fragrant yellow azaleas (Rhododendron austrinum), part of an earlier beautification project. Nearby were two fringetrees (Chionanthus), both of them were blooming. However, the larger one is a Chinese fringetree (C. retusus); it was my first time to see one in bloom. Next week’s blog will compare the two.

Hexastylis arifolia
Maianthemum racemosum

We transitioned again to a dirt path to find more gnome houses and saw some great native perennials such as heartleaf ginger (Hexastylis arifolia), Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), and Solomon’s plume (Maianthemum racemosum). During a break on a large rock next to Burnt Fork Creek, we explored the sandy edges where the creek occasionally jumps the bank (kids love sand, you know). Here we found more infestations of autumn fern, undoubtedly being spread by the water; one clump was partially uprooted, ready to be washed downstream in the next big rain event (increasing the spread even further).

Autumn fern washed into this beech's root zone

From here, we walked back towards the paved path, passing a nice stand of Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica) along the way. Our friend then took us to an area where a group of volunteers have been working to eradicate English ivy and other invasive plants (and doing a fantastic job). A blooming native azalea, apparently naturally occurring, was a bright orange-red; I believe it is Oconee azalea (Rhododendron flammeum). If you get a chance, explore this trail for yourself and, if you have some time, volunteer to help remove some of the invasive plants. You’ll learn a lot in the process and help nature grow just a little bit more.


Perhaps this tire is protecting the azalea?

Sunday, April 18, 2021

A Moment in Nature for April

Following on the post I shared for March, #amomentinnature for April is an Eastern tiger swallowtail (Georgia's state butterfly) enjoying the blooms of my biggest Piedmont azalea (Rhododendron canescens). It stayed for a long time, floating from bloom to bloom, allowing me to take lots of photos (and enjoying the sweet fragrance of the azalea the whole time).

Eastern tiger swallowtail on Piedmont azalea

Large butterflies like the Eastern tiger swallowtail are thought to be important pollinators of native azaleas. You can read more about our native azaleas in an earlier post that I did: A Parade of Native Azaleas.

Get out there and find your moment in nature; spring is racing along and every day seems to bring something new.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

Orange Slime on the Muscadine


This has been a better than usual year for spotting bright orange slime on native muscadine (Vitis rotundifolia) vines. Almost every large vine on our property has it compared to just one that had it a couple years ago. This is Fusicolla merismoides, a fungus or, more often, a complex of fungi and yeast that colonize the sap that leaks from a tree wound.

It doesn’t hurt the vine (or tree if it is on some other woody plant) and usually is just a springtime occurrence as sap is rising and leaking from wounds on woody plants. Obviously the bigger the wound or amount of sap, the more orange you might see.

So if you see an orange smear, take a moment to appreciate what’s happening and then go happily on your way. I visited all of ours this year with grandson in tow and we admired them and remarked on the small bugs enjoying the slime.

The slime on the upper right is fading while the left is gooey

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Go Forth and Multiply


Packera aurea
Valeriana pauciflora

Multiply the supply of native plants in gardens, that is. As I’m prowling through my garden this time of year, admiring flowers and pulling early weeds, I always find extra plants to pot up. In years past, I’d pot them up to donate to plant sales. I’m not participating in a local sale this year so they’re going to friends and neighbors. The two plants shown above were given to me by friends as extras from their gardens.

As I wrote in January, my son’s family has a new yard. They’re getting beardtongue (Penstemon sp.) for the mailbox. It’s a tough as nails perennial that is fairly deer resistant (they have deer). I have two species to share with them: Penstemon digitalis and Penstemon tenuis. As the season progresses, I’m sure there will be more for them – we’ve been removing nandina shrubs at their house to create a new area for pollinator plants.

Even Max potted up some small trees
Penstemon ready to go

Several friends who are building their native plant collections are getting an assortment of extra perennials and shrubs. I love how I can get extra room for my garden while still making other people happy!

I’m also creating a grouping of native perennials along the property line with my neighbor. This has to be composed of deer resistant plants. So far I’ve planted beardtongue (Penstemon), mountain mint (Pycnanthemum), sedges (Carex), perennial rye (Elymus), and bushy St. John’s wort (Hypericum densiflorum). Helping to hold the sloping ground around it is the native dwarf cinquefoil (Potentilla canadensis). As the plantings grow, I reduce the cinquefoil.

If you’re a native plant gardener, take advantage of new spring growth to find plants to help other gardens grow. It’s as nice for you as it is for them. Pot them up with a lightweight mix of topsoil (house-brand from a big box store is good) mixed with shredded mulch (not dyed) or bagged soil conditioner. Sometimes I use a small amount of perlite in it. No need to buy expensive growing mix. Now you’re ready to go forth and multiply the amount of yards with native plants!