Ramble Report April 14 2022 | Nature Updates

Leader for today’s Ramble, Linda

Link to Don’s Facebook album for this Ramble. All the photos that appear in this report, unless otherwise credited, were taken by Don Hunter.

Today’s emphasis:  Today, we Rambled at Sandy Creek Park, seeking what we found on the White Trail, heading west and north from the boat launch area on the Lakeside Trail.

Ramblers today: 22


”       Gary told us that some of the River Cane at the Botanical Garden has bloomed, something that only occurs after many years of growth, as much as 50 – 100 years. River Cane is monocarpic, a term that describes plants that flower and set seeds only once in their lives, and then die. Since River Cane is clonal, forming patches of many genetically identical stems that are essentially one plant, an entire clone of several to many stems flowers at one time then dies. In this case only a small clone within this particular River Cane stand bloomed, so most of the stems in that part of the Garden will remain alive. The patch probably comprises several clones. It is not known what triggers a particular clone to flower and set seed, though fire or other disturbance is one likely possibility.

”       Emily announced Georgia Museum of Natural History events:  May 20-22 there will be a trip to Broxton Rocks; and, on May 7, the annual meeting for the Friends of the GMNH will be held at the museum annex across Jimmy Daniels Road from the Sam’s Store.

”       Roger announced that the Athens/Clarke Green Lights Awards Festival will be held at the Terrapin Brewery on April 22, beginning at 4 pm. The Oconee River Land Trust and Friends of Sandy Creek Nature Center will both have booths set up.  At 6 pm, the awards ceremony will be held. Pat Nielsen will get an award for her volunteer work at the Botanical Garden.

Reading:  Robert recited a recent nature poem, the epilogue to his in-progress manuscript, “A Dream of Reading Bartram.” [link]


Cramp Balls (AKA Carbon Balls)

o       Richard brought a piece of decaying wood, bearing a patch of “cramp balls,” a fungus in the genus Annulohypoxylon that breaks down organic matter in order to extract nutrients.  The balls are semi-shiny, black spheres, with tiny perforations on top of each sphere from which spores are released.

Today’s Route
:   We left the boat launch area, taking the white-blazed Lakeside Trail west and north, staying close to the lake for the entire route.  We walked for almost two hours and returned back to the vehicles.


Pussytoes flowers

Pussytoes leaves

o       A small patch of Pussytoes is flowering near the trail head. There were four or five flower stems, each topped with several fuzzy flower heads, the eponymous “toes.” Pussytoes are on the short list of spring-flowering composites (members of the Aster family) in our area. Each “toe” is a separate head consisting of many tiny whitish flowers held tightly by a whorl of green bracts. The flowers on a given plant are either female or male. Even when they are not in flower, Pussytoes are easy to identify by the dense layer of white, felted hairs on the lower surface of the spoon-shaped basal leaves.


Two Great Blue Herons and a single Osprey were seen flying over the lake.

PHOTO AND TEXT: Several Asian azalea cultivars are in glorious bloom at the beginning of the trail, in shades of white, coral, and pink. These evergreen azaleas are imports from the Himalayan Mountains of south-central Asia, and have been in the horticultural trade for centuries.

A burl, looking
somewhat like a Koala climbing a tree, appears to engulf the trunk of
this young Sweet Gum. Burls are formed when an insect or pathogen of
some kind (fungus, virus, or bacteria) invades a tree. The tree responds
by growing a woody, tumor-like tissue that isolates the invader. Burls
continue to grow along with their tree host, but faster as this example
demonstrates. They often have unusually patterned grain, making them
highly desirable to wood turners and furniture makers, but removing a
large gall is usually fatal to the tree.

Southern Grapefern sterile fronds; fertile fronds will appear in late summer or early fall and release a host of spores

Solomon’s Seal is
common along the trailsides, most with buds that dangle below the stem
on slender stalks that arise from the leaf axils. Don was lucky enough
to photograph a Red-spotted Ant Mimic Spider crawling on this plant.

Solomon’s Plume is
often confused with Solomon’s Seal when in vegetative condition, but two
features are useful. Solomon’s Seal has a waxy, white coating on its
leaves and stems, giving it a blue-green color. Solomon’s Plume stems
are bright green and slightly zigzagged. Once the terminal cluster of
flowers appears on Solomon’s Plume, they are easily distinguished.

Downy Rattlesnake
Plantain is one of several Piedmont forest species whose leaves
overwinter. The leafless canopy allows them to photosynthesize
throughout the winter, compensating for the greatly reduced light during
the summer months.

Pippsissewa is
another overwintering wildflower found in Piedmont forests. “Wildflower”
is stretching it-these diminutive plants are actually “subshrubs” with
woody stems.

Last year’s dried
stems and fruit (note the slits from which seeds were released) persist
on some
Pipsissewa plants. Other plants are already in bud.
A beautifully
camouflaged American Toad was seen in the leaf litter beside the trail.
The loud, high-pitched nasal trill of the similar Fowler’s Toad followed
us along the first part of the trail. To relive the experience, click here

Green Frog was hanging out in the area where the Fowler’s Toads were
calling. Green Frogs are smaller than Bull Frogs and have a
dorso-lateral fold that runs along the side of the back from the eye to
the pelvic region. Bull Frogs lack this skin fold. (photo by Robert Ambrose, Jr.)

Common Yellow
Wood-sorrel, with its clover-like leaves and hairs that are soft and lie
flat along the stems. The leaves fold up at night and on cloudy days.
It is a close look-alike to Southern Yellow Wood Sorrel (Oxalis
dillenii), which is covered with hairs that spread stiffly from the
Japanese Stilt
Grass is abundant along the first part of the trail, especially near the
first creek crossing. Small green seedlings have recently emerged from a
persistent seed bank. Mats of dry, brown stems of this rampant invasive
grass also persist through the winter, earning it another common name,
Nepalese Browntop. The dead stems accumulate into dense, sodden mats
that, over time, completely suppress germination and growth of native
ground cover species.
A native aquatic
species, Arrow-arum, surrounded by Water-milfoil, one of several species
of aquatic invasives in the genus Myriophyllum. These invasive species
have degraded many lakes and waterways throughout the south, by way of
boat propellers that carry fragments from one water body to another.
Some ramblers asked if Arrow-arum is related to the edible Taro
(Colocasia esculenta), native to South Asia and cultivated widely around
the world; they are in the same family, Araceae, along with
Jack-in-the-pulpit and the famous shopping mall plant called Peace Lily
(not a true lily).


Netted Chain Fern
grows with Arrow-arum in the tiny stream we first crossed. Its leaves
closely resemble those of Sensitive Fern, which we commonly see at the
Botanical Garden. It takes a 10X hand lens to see the difference until
fertile fronds emerge in the summer. The lower surface of Netted Chain’s
sterile fronds has a line of small veins that parallel both sides of
the main veins and appear to form a series of chain links.

Dwarf Cinquefoil,
another bright yellow spot along the trail, grows all along the trail.
Its leaflets are toothed only in the upper half; Common Cinquefoil
(Potentilla simplex) leaflets are toothed nearly to the base.

Blackberry brambles
with large, white flowers. Their five petals and abundance of stamens
are two clues to their membership in the Rose family.

Large Sweet Gum
trees are a common member of Georgia’s hardwood forests, both in uplands
and lowlands. The spiny female fruit is well known to irate homeowners
and barefoot children but the female flower clusters, held high in the
upper branches, are rarely seen. However, the male flowers are familiar
to anyone who visits the woods this time of year. Our trail today was
littered with fallen clusters of staminate (male) flowers. Although
colorful, Sweet Gum flower clusters are not pollinated by insects.
Instead, vast quantities of pollen are released to the winds. Luckily,
Sweet Gum pollen does not seem to trigger allergies in humans.

At first
acquaintance, it’s hard to hate the sprawling shrub Multiflora Rose: the
flowers are so pretty and they smell so sweet. But these traits
disguise one of the worst invasive shrubs in eastern North America.
Brought from Asia for erosion control, Multiflora Rose is now legally
prohibited or listed as noxious in a number of states. To distinguish it
from native roses, or even benign non-natives, look at the very base of
the leaf stalk. A structure known as a stipule lines the base of the
stalk and is divided, comb-like, into segments.
Witch Grass, with its small oval flower spikelets held at the tips of delicate branches, is beginning to flower.

Basal rosette of
Wild Lettuce.  These plants will soon send up a stout, waxy,
purple-spotted stem bearing dozens of yellow flower heads in the summer
and fall. All parts of the plant ooze a milky latex when broken.

Soft Rush
Closeup of flowers

Several examples of Soft Rush provided an opportunity to recite the graminoid poem: “Sedges have edges, Rushes are round, and Grasses are hollow all the way to the ground.” (Graminoid is a term applied to the three unrelated families of grass or grass-like plants.) Rushes do indeed have round stems (like grasses but unlike sedges) and they are filled with pith (like sedges but unlike grasses). This particular species, Soft Rush, also has another distinguishing feature that can be very confusing if you’re using one of the older technical manuals to key it out. The key will describe this species as having a “terminal” inflorescence (flower cluster), which means the flowers are located at the very tip of the stem. However, the “terminal” flower for Soft Rush is located several inches from the top of the plant. So, what gives? The tricky thing is that what looks like a length of stem above the flowers is, believe it or not, actually a bract (a modified leaf) – a bract that looks just like the stem. Should this plant be re-named Deceptive Rush, or should the keys be modified? I am happy to report that the most current key has done the right thing. Here is the relevant portion of the Rush family key, written by Bruce Sorrie and Bill Knapp, and published in Weakley’s “Flora of the Southeastern United States” (2020):

-Inflorescence appearing lateral; inflorescence bract erect, appearing to be a continuation of the stem
-Inflorescence appearing terminal; inflorescence bract not appearing to be a continuation of the stem.

The first line of that key will take you to Soft Rush.

Oak Apple gall detached from oak leaf

Gall above, opened to show interior.

 An Oak Apple Gall had fallen from a leaf of its host, probably a White Oak, and was lying on the ground.  The interior tissue is developed around a gall wasp larva and the suspension system keeps it away from prying predators. Here is a great description of this fascinating example of the complexity of forest ecosystems:

Little Brown Jugs

Heartleaf, also known as Little Brown Jugs and Wild Ginger, pictured here with five fresh, jug-shaped flowers. New arrowhead-shaped, mottled leaves have appeared and will last for about a year. The flowers are formed by the fusion of three fleshy sepals; there are no petals. Well inside the “jug,” twelve stamens and a six-lobed ovary comprise the sexual parts of the flower. The flowers are pollinated by crawling insects or possibly self-pollination. The ovary develops into a fruit entirely within the jug, and its seeds are dispersed by ants. Wild Ginger plants may live to 20 or more years.

Smooth Spiderwort.
The common name refers to the cobwebby look of the hairy stamens.

or Strawberry-bush, has odd-looking, reddish-green flowers that usually
lie on top of the leaves (a tan cluster of Beech flowers has slipped
into this photo at top center). Dominating the flower is a central,
round, nectar-producing disk with five stamens fused to its rim. In this
photo, you can see the pistil beginning to develop in the middle of the
disk. As interesting as the flowers are, we were all mostly amazed that
this plant, and several other examples we saw along the way, has not
been  grazed to death by deer. Another common (and local) name for this
species is Deer Ice Cream (thanks, Dr. Cook!).

Catesby’s Trillium flowers were a highlight of today’s ramble.  

Sweet Shrub tepals and petals are a rich, deep burgundy and give off a
fleeting sweet fragrance before they are pollinated. The flowers are
visited by beetles who are lured inside by tiny food bodies attached to
the tips of the inner tepals. As they bump around inside the flower,
eating the tasty treats then trying to escape from the inwardly curved
petals, they deposit pollen picked up from previously visited flowers.
Painted Buckeye, a Piedmont specialty, in full flower.

Mockernut Hickory leaves emerging from a large terminal bud. Their characteristic hairiness is on full display in Don’s photo.

Coral Honeysuckle vines are abundant along the trail. Their bluish-green leaves and burgundy stems easily distinguish this species from Japanese Honeysuckle. When in flower, they resemble no other native wildflower. Needless to say, they are pollinated by hummingbirds.



Partridge Berry fruit derives from the fusion of two separate ovaries
from two otherwise separate flowers. The remnants of the bases of both
flowers can be seen on this fruit.

Ebony Spleenwort fern with its characteristic black stem.


Perfoliate Bellwort at peak flower.

Common Yellow Wood-sorrel     Oxalis stricta
Southern Yellow Wood-sorrel     Oxalis dillenii
Japanese Stilt Grass/Nepalese Browntop     Microstegium vimineum
Water-milfoil     Myriophyllum sp.
Netted Chain Fern     Woodwardia areolata
Arrow-arum     Peltandra virginica
Dwarf Cinquefoil     Potentilla canadensis
Violet Wood-sorrel     Oxalis violacea
Blackberry     Rubus sp.
Sedge      Carex sp.
Multiflora Rose     Rosa multiflora
Witch Grass     Dichanthelium sp.
Wild Lettuce     Lactuca canadensis
Lyre-leaf Sage     Salvia lyrata
Soft Rush     Juncus effusus
Eastern Red Cedar     Juniperus virginiana
Hearts-a-burstin’/Strawberry Bush     Euonymus americanus
Oak Apple Gall created by a gall wasp    Biorhiza pallida
Heartleaf, Wild Ginger     Hexastylis arifolia
Smooth Spiderwort     Tradescantia ohiensis
Resurrection Fern     Pleopeltis polypodiodes
Painted Buckeye     Aesculus sylvatica
Catesby’s Trillium     Trillium catesbaei
Sweet Shrub     Calycanthus florida
Mockernut Hickory     Carya tomentosa
Coral Honeysuckle     Lonicera sempervirens
Whorled Loosestrife     Lysimachia quadrifolia
Lion’s Foot     Prenanthes sp. (synonym Nabalus sp.)
Partridgeberry     Mitchella repens
Ebony Spleenwort     Asplenium platyneuron
Possumhaw Holly     Ilex decidua
Autumn Olive     Elaeagnus umbellata
Green Frog     Lithobates clamitans
Lavender/purple fungus (no common name)      Chromelosporiopsis coerulescens

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