Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Treasure Hunting: June 1 and 8

As spring slowly turns to summer--much later on the mountain than in the valleys below--our WIB walks require increasing attention to detail as we search for botanical treasures. Ferns are becoming larger and more abundant, obscuring the wildflowers beneath and among them, and some once-conspicuous blooms are becoming less-obvious fruits as plants shift to later phenophases (stages in the yearly life cycle of a plant). These changes makes our task a bit more challenging, but no less rewarding! Walking the same path week to week allows us to watch the same species, and often the same individuals, change over time. Continuous monitoring is helping us learn to identify wildflowers not only by their blooms, but also by their foliage and fruits.
Uvularia perfoliata foliage
Uvularia perfoliata fruit
For instance, perfoliate bellwort (Uvularia perfoliata) is one of two bellworts with "perfoliate" leaves that wrap around the stem. When the flowers are gone, the shape of the fruits can help distinguish it from the large flowered bellwort (U. grandiflora).
Zizia aurea (golden alexander) fruits
Vaccinium sp.
Early June is the perfect time of year to observe multiple phenophases within a single species. For example, many golden alexanders (cheerful members of the carrot family), are gradually losing their small yellow petals and developing fruits, but some individuals are still flowering. Many blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) can also be found both in flower and in early fruit.
Aralia nudicaulis
Aralia nudicaulis
Ginseng is a highly sought-after plant…but the plant pictured at left is NOT it! Wild sarsaparilla (Aralia nudicaulis) is common at MLBS and is often mistaken for ginseng (Panax quinquefolius). Both are members of the Araliaceae family and have superficially similar foliage, but ginseng's flowers and fruits arise from the leaf stalk, while wild sarsaparilla's arise on a separate, leafless stalk, as indicated by its latin name: nudicaulis = "naked/bare stem".

Gaylussacia baccata 
Galax urceolata
While some species are transitioning from flowers to fruits, others are only now shifting from buds to flowers! Examples of these later-blooming species include black huckleberry (Gaylussacia baccata, a blueberry relative), Galax urceolata, and raspberries (Rubus spp.). In addition, minniebush (Menziesia pilosa) and Michaux's saxifrage (Saxifraga michauxii) are now in bloom on the rock outcrop at Bear Cliff.
Menziesia pilosa- note the mucronate
leaf tips, a distinctive feature
Of course, no WIB walk would be complete without a few wildlife sightings!  On June 8 we were lucky enough to see a fawn, 4-5 garter snakes intertwined with one another at Bear Cliff, and a host of newly-emerged spiders clustered between the leaves of a plant.
Even though the lady's slippers and trilliums are past their prime (mostly in fruit now, their lovely petals withered away until next year), there is much to see on the mountain! Walks occur Saturday mornings at 10:00 AM. Please join us, and check back here soon for June 1 & 8 species lists. Also stay tuned for an update from our June 15 walk!

All photographs copyright J. Jones.

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