Sunday, November 28, 2021

Saving the Wild South (the book)


Inspirational nature writing doesn’t come nearly as often as we need it, but there’s a new book out now that is excellent for folks in the Southeast. It is a book rich with research, yet engaging to the average plant-minded citizen, plus a dip into the lives of some of the people who champion plant and habitat conservation. 

I thoroughly enjoyed author Georgann Eubanks’s profiles of 12 plants across 10 chapters; these chapters don’t just inform but they seek to help raise our awareness and appreciation of efforts to conserve plants and habitat in the South.

Yadkin River goldenrod (Solidago plumosa) and Heller’s blazingstar (Liatris helleri) is the first chapter and it starts with botanizing in late 1891 in NC with J.K. Small and A.A. Heller. This story hooked me from the start with the feel of being there followed by the present-day efforts of folks like Alan Weakley, who found the goldenrod again in 1994.

Florida Torreya (Torreya taxifolia) was discovered by an amateur botanist in 1833, overharvested and then attacked by a blight perhaps brought over on imported plants. The chapter focuses on the efforts of a local group, the Torreya Keepers, and conservation organizations such as Atlanta Botanical Garden (ABG) that are growing more plants and installing them in protected areas. Learning about folks that are so passionate and dedicated to a specific plant was inspirational and heart-warming.

Alabama canebrake pitcher plant (Sarracenia alabamensis) and green pitcher plant (Sarracenia oreophila) – this chapter includes fascinating details on these very unique plants, bringing a new appreciation for some of our special native plants. Here again, the interviews with passionate young people, ABG, and Nature Conservancy staff provide both hope and reality in the story of protecting and propagating these plants.

Miccosuke gooseberry (Ribes echinellum) is a prickly shrub that is clinging to its existence after surviving thousands of years. In this chapter, history once again provides the backdrop to the plant’s story, a most appealing combination to me. I was surprised to realize that I have seen this plant myself, on a 2013 trip with the Georgia Botanical Society to Stevens Creek Heritage Preserve. I certainly don’t remember realizing what a special plant it was (but then those trips tend to have so much to discover).

Miccosuke gooseberry (Ribes echinellum

Shoals spider lily (Hymenocallis coronaria) or Cahaba Lily has a passionate group of folks looking out for it in South Carolina, Georgia, and especially Alabama. I grow the related Hymenocallis occidentalis, one that is happy to grow in soil, unlike the Shoals species that needs flowing water.

Morefield’s Leather flower (Clematis morefieldii) discovered relatively recently in 1982, one of many special native Clematis that are being classified more recently. My favorite part of this chapter was learning how new plant locations were found by creating “a spatially explicit predictive map of possible sites.” The people involved in conservation are amazing!

Michaux’s sumac (Rhus michauxii) is a story that I’ve read about before because it is one based in Georgia, but the efforts of dedicated folks to make a difference for this plant is worth reading in more detail. Mincy Moffett of Georgia DNR and Jenny Cruse-Sanders of ABG were part of a team to bring two disjunctive populations together: females from Newton County and males in Elbert County. According to this article, there has been some success (fruit!). The chapter also includes some details on the Georgia Plant Conservation Alliance (GPCA).

River cane (Arundinaria gigantea) was a chapter where I learned a lot – such as how widespread it used to be (acres and acres of it!), how much it was used by indigenous peoples, as well as how very important it is to its native ecosystems. It clearly should be used more in conservation efforts.

Schweinitz’s sunflower (Helianthus schweinitzii) is a plant that I’ve heard about from my NC native plant friends. This story highlights the importance of "restoring and maintaining open grasslands, meadows, and savannas" even at the county level, demonstrating that it’s not just federal and state level efforts that matter.

American chaffseed (Schwalbea americana) is a loner that I had never heard of. The only species in its genus, this prairie perennial also depends on open habitats. This chapter was a perfect one to showcase the efforts of Dwayne Estes, The Prairie Preacher, and his work with the Southeastern Grasslands Initiative (SGI). Many plants are waiting to be rediscovered (or discovered) as we better understand what was here before we arrived.

I hope these little summaries whet your appetite to read this book. It is a well-written mix of plant specifics, history, and profiles of dedicated people. The extensive research is reflected in the bibliography by chapter in the back.  I enjoyed reading about some of the folks whose names I’ve heard for many years. The book covers people and plants throughout NC, GA, SC, AL, FL, and TN. I also like the way she weaves topics from one chapter into the others, a bit of a reminder of how interconnected the ecosystem is.

The thoughtful Epilogue at the end is worth reading too. It includes some additional conversation quotes that she didn’t use in the book. Page 221-22 has a list of ways that ordinary folks can help. The Acknowledgement section includes a bit about how she chose the plants to include. It's all good!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Rhus copallinum – A Name to Remember

Double nerd alert! I have a few passions in my life, one of which is native plants, as you know. Another is grammar and that includes understanding parts of speech and usage (don’t forget to spell your family’s name right on your holiday cards). So I was thrilled to learn something new about words this week when I asked about the species name for winged sumac.

A little background on why I asked: over the years I have developed a little memory trick for myself to help remember how to spell species names in the same genus. Please note that I never took Latin in school (although botanical Latin is quite not the same) but I have vaguely learned that species endings have something to do with gender of the genus and generally match others in the same genus. I’ll use cherry (Prunus) for an example. Black cherry (Prunus serotina) is the one that I remember the best but sometimes I forget if Chickasaw plum is Prunus angustifolius or Prunus angustifolia. So I think back to black cherry and remember it ends in an ‘a’ and therefore it must be Prunus angustifolia.

Winged sumac (Rhus copallinum)

I noticed this week that winged sumac (Rhus copallinum) does not agree with its relatives -- smooth sumac (Rhus glabra) and staghorn sumac (Rhus typhina) -- or it would be “copallina.” I asked why and got the reply that “Copallinum is a non-declinable noun” and to check Weakley 2020 for more details. In that document I found “The Linnaean epithet "Copallinum" (traditionally capitalized) is grammatically a noun in apposition rather than an adjective, and therefore does not change grammatical gender.” A noun in apposition? Off I went to research that.

This is a good source to understand that a noun in apposition is one that further describes the noun but which of course is still a noun itself. Indeclinable nouns are those that don't display grammatical relations with other words in a sentence by means of declension. What we normally have is an adjective that must agree in gender with the generic name (e.g., glabra which means smooth). In searching Weakley 2020, that description is mentioned 5 times; the other four are Nabalus serpentaria, Packera millefolium, Smallanthus uvedalia, and Orbexilum lupinellus.

So this is one that we must just memorize (and I’ll likely not forget it now). If you’d like to know the meaning of the noun copallinum, according to this source: “copallinum means "gum copal" and refers to the resemblance of the dried sap to that of the copal tree.” Several other sources indicate that it is related to the word copalli which means gummy or resinous.

If you’d like to read more about our native sumac species, check out my earlier blog: Sumac – Roadside’s Rowdy Rhus.

Sunday, November 14, 2021

Vogel State Park – A Place for Fall Color


Lake Trahlyta at Vogel State Park

Fall color in North Georgia is much sought after when it comes to this time of year. Scores of people drive up to get a glimpse of mountainsides decorated with red, gold, orange, and green quilts of color. The photo at left is from the drive on US-19/US-129 near Neel Gap.

When a friend posted on Facebook about his trip to Vogel State Park, I decided quickly to schedule a visit this past week while the weather was good and the leaves were still on the trees.

I had never been to Vogel State Park before but have visited lots of places near it around Blairsville, Suches, and Dahlonega. I had heard that it is a great place for fall color and once I saw Lake Trahlyta I could see why. The long lake provides an excellent reflection of the trees on the mountains.

Red maple (Acer rubrum)

The park is the second oldest Georgia state park, established in 1931. From the park’s website, “Located at 2500 feet above sea level, Vogel sits at the base of Blood Mountain, the highest summit on the Appalachian Trail in Georgia, and is surrounded by Chattahoochee National Forest. The North Georgia Mountains around Vogel were linked to Native American people for generations before European settlement.” On our way there, we stopped briefly at Neels Gap and admired the trees in the parking lot festooned with old hiking boots, a tradition for those who finish the Appalachian Trail.

Vogel has a number of well-marked trails of various lengths and difficulties. We opted for the shortest and easiest, the Trahlyta Lake Trail and the spur to Trahlyta Falls. The color was fantastic, the trail was easy, and a few floral goodies were found as well. I was thrilled to find a large witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in full bloom, the fresh flowers juxtaposed nicely with the crispy leaves. I also found a flower that I had never seen, stiff gentian or Gentianella quinquefolia.

Awesome maple in the parking lot 

Trahlyta Falls 

American witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) in bloom

If you’d like to read about my other visits to Georgia State Parks, here is a list of them. Each one is special in its own way and season, and several make for excellent winter visits, especially when waterfalls are involved.

Red Top Mountain State Park

FDR State Park – Winter and Spring

Hard Labor Creek State Park

Cloudland Canyon State Park

High Falls State Park

Chattahoochee Bend State Park

Providence Canyon State Park

Tallulah Gorge State Park

And if you'd like to add more fall color to your landscape using native plants, here is a blog I wrote about plants with Dependable Fall Color.

Sunday, November 7, 2021

A Moment in Nature for November

I'm a big fan of roadside plants (native) as well as very fond of asters so it should be no surprise that I appreciate the tiny white asters on the side of the road and abandoned fields each fall. I appreciate them because I know they are a major source of pollen and nectar for migrating butterflies and late bees.

This week I had to kill some time waiting on someone at a medical appointment and the property adjacent was a field with native grasses and tiny white asters. I wandered over to explore the species found there (you may remember my blog from last October about those tiny white asters) and found the usual oldfield white asters Symphyotrichum pilosum and S. racemosum covered in tiny flowers.

Bee on Symphyotrichum pilosum

As I watched, each plant had stems dipping and swaying as bees worked them over. The very occasional butterfly came by, several each of Gulf fritillary and Common buckeye. As I moved closer to the flowers to see who was visiting, the gentle hum of the bees replaced the sound of the cars going by and a bird called in the distance. The bumble bee in this photo thoroughly examined every flower on the plant, sure to get every bit of available pollen and nectar.

Take some time to appreciate #amomentinnature like this when you see these oft-ignored plants supporting our pollinators right until the end of the season. And we can feel good about them all winter as they provide seeds for resident birds.