Wildflowerin’ gone bad

He who limps is still walking. ~Stanislaw J. Lec

I love wandering in the woods to find the first sleeping plants that awaken from the forest floor. It’s something of a rite of spring for me, despite the fact that I no longer have to suffer through a cold northern winter. Many of these spring ephemerals, as well as being beautiful, are important food sources for the first foraging butterflies and bees that emerge. Many are even downward-facing to better serve the insects that cruise the forest floor.

A couple weeks back we took an impromptu Friday evening walk to the nature trail at Stone Mountain Park; a friend had mentioned that it’s one of the best local places to see a few of my favorites. It’s an easy 3/4 mile trail that meanders beside a stream. It was lovely; the azaleas were blooming and as a bonus we saw our first Louisiana waterthrush of the season! Timage2here were many blooming mayapples – so hard to photograph nicely – and some pink lady slippers that I want to go back to check on. I found foamflower, I think, though it’s much taller than what I’m used to seeing in NJ. The common name comes from the delicate white flowers that look like foam. I love the extra long pistils on the flowers that rise above the white petals like little golden crowns. Books say that these flowers were often presented by Greeks as tokens of their love.

We also found green-and-gold which is another favorite. It blooms in shady woodland places. So pretty! I believe it’s in the aster family, so you know pollinators love it. We finished off our easy evening hike by deciding to head off the nature trail and into the forest proper. We didn’t gimage1et very far before we had to cross a wet area where the stream ran across a bunch of flat rocks. Despite being extra-super careful when crossing those slippery, moss-covered rocks, I managed to fall and twist up my leg. Bummer! Two weeks later and I finally worked up the courage to see a doctor today… the pain wasn’t going away and walking/sleeping/sitting haven’t gotten any easier. I have to go back for an MRI, but the chance is that I’ve torn a meniscus.

:-(

I’m studying up IMG_6814on knee anatomy (in between wildflower guides!) and hoping that rest and time and the brace the doctor gave me will fix it up. I welcome any suggestions for how to include/disguise this hideous-looking brace in my professional attire. I hope next time I’ll be more careful; wildflowers are a risky habit to have!

Season’s end

There is something deep within us that sobs at endings. Why, God, does everything have to end? Why does all nature grow old? Why do spring and summer have to go?
~ Joe Wheeler

My summer of sun and fun at the Jersey Shore has come to an end and I’m back in ATL to wait out the off season…

We packed up the cars, the dog, the bunny and at least 5 gallons of beach sand in every nook and cranny of my belongings and took the long way home along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I’ve seen these mountains in Spring, but in late Summer they show their true glory framed by blooming Joe Pye and Black-Eyed Susan. It was already feeling like Fall last week at 6,000 feet above sea level, even if there were still a couple Least Tern chicks waiting for the sky back on my NJ beaches.

lookingglass

I’d thought I’d be despondent at leaving the beach and its birds, but it was time; the work I was there to do was done. My last week on the beach had been filled with gray days and a cool northeast wind. I felt the season beginning to shift gears, felt the summer fading into the wind. The birds, for the most part, had already moved on.

The idea that I’d have time to blog about any of the work that I was doing was ridiculous! I hope to revisit some of the highlights (and the failures) here in the weeks to come, and to process all that I saw and learned. I miss the beach already, of course; I miss staring out at the sea for hours, miss the little dramas that played themselves out among the beach-nesting birds that I was privileged to know, miss being a part of something important.

Anyway so… stay tuned! And in the meantime, tell me about what you’ve been up to…

Heggie’s Rock

Heggie’s Rock Preserve is owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and is yet another example of a granite outcrop community, much like Arabia Mountain. I was curious to see it because it’s said to be the most pristine of Georgia’s flat rock outcrops.

So last Saturday, I went along on a special guided tour meant for “serious” photographers. I was concerned with not being “serious” enough, of course, but no one checked my credentials.

: )

Granite outcrops are difficult places for the plants that try to make a life there. The temperatures are extreme and there’s not much soil. In fact, the plants arrange themselves into zones according to soil depth. The hot, dry conditions foster plant life that dramatically differs from that of the surrounding forest… many are perennials that grow very slowly; others are winter annuals that survive the desert-like summer months as seeds.

Many of the winter annuals have adaptations like whitish hairs to reflect sunlight and smallish leaves that reduce surface-area water loss; others, like the Elf’s Orpine (pictured here and above) are succulents that store water in swollen leaves and stems.

This environment was a first for many in our small group of “serious” photographers; this lady earned innumerable points in my book for forgoing the tripod and getting down on her belly in the dirt to make her photos!

(Instant friend.)

Mosses and lichen dry out and darken (or turn silver like this one!) but immediately turn green with moisture. We tested this out with our water bottles; the response was almost immediate.

Unfortunately, there was no “serious” plant person in our group to tell me the name of this one.

There’s something in the experience of an outcrop that’s very difficult to convey in a photograph; a wide-angle view mutes the beauty somehow, but the color contrasts feel lost without the context of the whole expanse. I dunno… I love the contrasts of texture and color in this pic. That’s enough, I guess!

Occasionally, there’s a brighter view where the soil is deep enough to support it. Just ahead of the woody shrubs, the yellow blooms are Rabbit’s Ear, I think.

The Elf’s Orpine is the star of the show, of course. The environment here is very, very dry but the blooming things still manage to arrange themselves artfully among the lichen-covered rocks.

Pretty, no?

I’d really like to know what this stuff is… any guesses?

Another artful arrangement… especially interesting because you can “see” the soil depth based on the plants that are growing… the unnamed plant in the deepest part of the solution pool, leading to the Elf’s Orpine blooming in the dry sand on the right, and the lichen covering the bare granite.

Pretty.

Pretty with pinecones.

: )

I love the weird moonscape of granite outcrops here in GA; I love how stark they are and I especially love how surprising the color and beauty can be when you get down on your belly to find it. I love The Nature Conservancy for putting this place behind a fence to protect it for all of us “serious” folks to enjoy.

Heggie’s Rock is open to the public on a limited basis… check here.

Please go; it’s beautiful!

The camera’s virtue

“The virtue of the camera is not the power it has to transform the photographer into an artist, but the impulse it gives him to keep on looking.”
-Brooks Atkinson
Elf’s Orpine, a granite outcrop specialist
Rock moss and lichen
Fern unfurling into Spring
Rock moss and lichen, in a battle for dominance
Trailing Arbutus, a new find this year

Was has your camera helped you find lately?

: )

Trout lilies, by the millions

We very purposefully stumbled upon the Wolf Creek Trout Lily Preserve near Cairo GA this past weekend. Cairo (pronounced like the famous syrup) is not a place that you can easily stumble upon… it’s really in the middle of nowhere. There’s no hint from the roadside to the casual passer-by of the miracle contained beneath its trees.

 

Probably, I expected that the people who wrote the brochure were exaggerating.

: )

Nope… millions of Trout Lilies bloom in this very special place beside a stretch of highway that looks like every other stretch of highway in GA.

Trout lilies as ground cover, can you imagine?

I suspect that this was, for many years, a closely guarded “secret spot” of the local wildflower enthusiasts. I also suspect that it was only made available for public enjoyment when it became threatened by a road crew or a developer and the locals needed money to preserve it. Not that it matters any; it’s now owned by county government and protected as the treasure it is…

Trout Lilies are a common harbinger of Spring in the Northeast; I don’t believe they’re very common in this part of the country and certainly not in this number. It’s said that this is the largest concentration anywhere. The day we visited was overcast and it was almost dark by the time we found the spot… that’s evidenced by the nearly closed flowers. We also found many, many Spotted Trillium and a couple (impossible to photograph) Twayblade Orchids. I’d think with more time there, I might’ve found all sorts of interesting things.

If you want to go out looking for Trout Lilies in your part of the world, pick a sunny afternoon (when the flowers will be fully open!) and look for them blooming on wet hillsides near streams. They’re a spring ephemeral, so do all their work of blooming and setting seed before the forest canopy puts them into shade for the season. Go early while it’s still freezing cold out. It makes finding them sweeter, trust me. Happy hunting and let me know what you find!

Elf Orpine, blooming

An Atlanta Audubon Society bird walk at nearby Panola Mountain gave us an excuse to check in with the Elf Orpine at Arabia Mountain

It was blooming, finally, that last weekend in March.

The wildflowers carpet the outcrop in pleasing patterns of pink and white… 
Sandwort was in full bloom, too!
Enough soil accumulates for these neat little plants to grow…
Enough water had accumulated in this one depression for baby froglets to grow! I hope they mature before the pool dries up…

Arabia Mountain is such a neat place; I can’t wait to see what is has waiting at our next visit.

Elf orpine

I know you’re thinking, “Oh my God! What IS that? It’s red!”

If so, you may be a plant geek like me.

; )

I had the very same reaction when I saw photos of it in my copy of Favorite Wildflower Walks in Georgia after it was gifted to me on my very first weekend here. I couldn’t wait to see this unique little plant in person.

Elf Orpine or Small’s Stonecrop (Diamorpha smallii) is a succulent that grows on granite outcrops in the Southeastern US.

We first went looking for it back in late September… it’s a winter annual, so it was still dormant on that first try. The cool and moist weather of the Georgia “winter” allow it to germinate when conditions are most favorable for the seeds to survive.

The plants are getting ready, now, to shoot up and flower in the early Spring.

(I’m not too sure, yet, when Spring hits here, but I’m guessing they’ll flower in mid-March.)

I can only imagine how hot the rock on Arabia Mountain must get in summertime. It makes sense for these plants to sprout, grow, flower and set seed before the summer furnace comes on, I’d guess.

Elf Orpine grows here in shallow depressions in the granite, in very little soil. It’s part of a small community of specially adapted plants that grow in the hollows, in something like dish gardens on the rock surface. Fascinating and pretty spectacular to see when blooming, I bet.

Stay tuned.

The full report

The full report on the New River Birding and Nature Festival will have to wait a bit; for now there’s just these couple images… of perfect roadside wildflowers, of rivers rushing across bared toes, of ghost towns nestled in the mountains, weathered barns along the way, of impossible to photograph birds, memories of twisty country roads, lush hillsides and scenic saw mills, the laughter of an impossible-to-imagine mix of friends, graffiti as art and, finally, a hug between two beloved Flock-mates for the sake of a little bird colored blue like the spring sky.

Some poems

some poems
you do not write

you wait
hushed
as the soil strains
its urgent whisper

this

listen
and remember
this

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Bloodroot is peeking through the forest floor now; stepped over and unseen by all but those who know to look for it.

The Wiki link above is worth a read for its explanation of myrmecochory that I referred to in this prior post, but which I almost believed to be a fable.