Monday, September 24, 2012

One Trail Twelve Times - September

Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana) and Goldenrod (Solidago spp.
I had two newcomers during the September 16 installment of "One Trail Twelve Times."  They were a husband and wife that I knew slightly from seeing them walking in the preserve.  The claimed that they'd looked for the Beech Springs Trail several times but couldn't find it; I don't think they tried very hard because the trail map is pretty accurate and the trail is very well marked.

Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) presaging autumn
Flowering Dogwood fruit
The Flowering Dogwoods (Cornus florida) trees still bore many fruits.  Migrating birds typically strip the trees bare pretty quickly, so this must mean that migration is not yet in full swing.  In the woodlands, in contrast, where I expected to see Spicebush (Lindera benzoin) shrubs heavily laden with berries, but the branches were bare--not a fruit to be had anywhere.

Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
Goldenrod is in its full glory right now.  The preserve has eight species; I don't even bother trying to distinguish among them.

Goldenrods (Solidago spp.), bull thistles (Cirsium vulgare) and native grasses
Aster spp.
Horse-nettle (Solanum carolinense)
Horse-nettles (Solanum carolinense) are a native, weedy member of the tomato family.  The fruits are supposedly edible, and some people use them to make jam.  I was tempted to try one, but the fruit had a strong, off-putting, unpleasant tomato-y scent, so it never got any further than the bottom of my nose.

Rose hips (Rosa spp.)
New England Aster (Aster novae-angliae)
Nearly all of the "action" is in the meadows now.  The woods are quiet and much less dramatic.

We came across the poor American beech tree pictured below.  It was completely surrounded by a dense carpet of beechdrops (Epifagus virginiana), a parasitic, non-photosynthetic plant of the Broom-rape family (Orobanchaceae).

Beech drops flower spike (Epifagus virginiana)
The Beech Spring runs held no flowing water, just soggy soil.

Looking for something in the woods to show the group, I overturned a downed log, hoping to find some redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus).  Instead, I found these two, large, handsome "tiger" slugs snoozing on the cool, damp ground.  There was also a colony of termites sharing the log with the slugs.

Then it was back into the meadows.

Indian-grass stems (Sorghastrum nutans)
Bumblebee on bull thistle
Handsome 'hopper
The ginger spines on this two-inch caterpillar must be good protection; otherwise, what bird could resist such a tempting treat?  Our Caterpillars of the Eastern United States key, an excellent but expensive book, has been mis-shelved, misplaced, or stolen, so I can't even hazard a guess to the caterpillar's identity.

Black Knapweed (Centaurea nigra)
Ever since I've been guiding this monthly hike, the walkers and I have been coming across knapweed, a European import that has been blooming since late spring.  I contended that it was Spotted Knapweed (Centaurea maculosa), but one of the walkers was just as adamantly sure that it was Brown Knapweed (C. jacea).  So, during September's walk, I finally decided to try to key-out the plant.  Identification is based partially on the shape of the leaves, but even most definitively on tiny bracts pressed against the globular base of the flower heads.  While I didn't have a hand lens with me, the walkers and I felt fairly confident in identifying the knapweed as...Black Knapweed (C. nigra).

My new walkers loved the Beech Springs Trail and vowed to bring some of their friends back with them to enjoy the walk.

P.S.  The Pennypack Preserve experienced a tremendous windstorm on September 18.  My staff reported that the crown of a huge tuliptree (Liriodendron tulipifera) blew out of the canopy and fell across the trail just inside the woods near the wooden bridge, effectively blocking the path.  It will take a few days to clean up the jumbled debris.

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