Juneteenth, historic Stagville and wildlife at Horton Grove

volunteer IMG_3788© Maria de Bruyn resSeveral weeks ago, in honor of Juneteenth, the local Triangle Land Conservancy partnered with the Stagville Foundation to inform people about the remnants of a former plantation and its surrounding meadows and forest. I attended and was indeed educated and enlightened about the local history and excited by the local wildlife.

Juneteenth (June 19th) is the oldest celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. “Historic Stagville” was once the largest plantation in the state of North Carolina. The almost 30,000 acres were tended by some 900 slaves, most of whom lived in family groups as the plantation owner families tended not to sell the laborers they “owned”.

Stagville IMG_3824© Maria de Bruyn res Stagville IMG_3747© Maria de Bruyn res

Local volunteers were dressed in period costume and demonstrated Southern cooking as they prepared a one-pot (non-vegetarian) meal for visitors and a more sumptuous traditional dinner to be served to all the volunteers at the end of the festivities.

Stagville IMG_3813© Maria de Bruyn res Stagville IMG_3810© Maria de Bruyn res

Stagville DK7A4791© Maria de Bruyn resThey cooked over open fires and explained which local vegetables they were using to prepare the dishes.

Meanwhile, other volunteers gave us some history about Stagville as we visited the Great Barn, one of the multifamily houses built for slaves and another home constructed by freed slaves who became sharecroppers after the US Civil War ended. The structures were produced by the slaves, who included a number of skilled craftsmen.

great barn IMG_3759© Maria de Bruyn resThe 3-story Great Barn was the largest structure of its kind when it was built in the space of five months in 1860, housing some farming tools and equipment but primarily serving as an enclosure for 75 mules.



Great barn IMG_3721© Maria de Bruyn resGreat barn IMG_3728© Maria de Bruyn res Great barn  IMG_3720© Maria de Bruyn res

slave house IMG_3791© Maria de Bruyn resThe houses for the slave families were well built with wooden floors and fireplaces. This was not benevolence on the part of the plantation owners but done from an economic perspective – it would cost less to have the workers housed a bit decently rather than to have to pay medical bills to keep them healthy enough for labor.

Slave house IMG_3750© Maria de Bruyn res sharecropper house IMG_3752© Maria de Bruyn res

A couple slaves were freed before emancipation and a very few escaped. In North Carolina, some slaves were taught to read and write and letters written by two individuals who left Stagville provide some written history about the conditions there. Today, some descendants of freed Stagville slaves still live in this area.

slave house IMG_3771© Maria de Bruyn res quilt IMG_3779© Maria de Bruyn resquilt IMG_3780© Maria de  res

deer skull IMG_3770© Maria de Bruyn resAfter the tour of the remaining buildings and seeing two quilts on display in the sharecropper home open to the public, I joined a few others for a walk through the surrounding forest. We came across the skull of a white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) with an odd shape – the Conservancy tour guide explained that the top of the deer’s head had been sawed off so a hunter could take home its antlers.

Indigo bunting DK7A4816© Maria de BruynAfter the walk, I went on to the Horton Grove Nature Preserve, up the road from Stagville. The walking and hiking trails are all named after slave families that lived on the plantation.  For example, the Justice trail commemorates a family that included a man who was interviewed for a slave narrative project in 1937. I saw some indigo buntings (Passerina cyanea), who sang loudly, a couple red-eyed vireos (Vireo olivaceus) who were collecting nest materials, and a male common yellowthroat (Geothlypis trichas) who was having a meal.

red-eyed vireo DK7A4922© Maria de BruynCommon yellowthroat DK7A5611© Maria de Bruyn

Some great spangled fritillary butterflies (Speyeria cybele) were very busy feeding in a part of the meadow that was crowded with common milkweed flowers (Asclepias syriaca) in full bloom.

great spangled fritillary DK7A5377© Maria de Bruyn res great spangled fritillary DK7A5350© Maria de Bruyn res


great spangled fritillary DK7A5011© Maria de Bruyn resGreat spangled fritillary DK7A5052© Maria de Bruyn res

The dogbane beetles (Chrysochus auratus) were numerous and looking for mates as they trundled around on the dogbane plants (Apoynum cannabinum).

dogbane beetle DK7A5209© Maria de Bruyn resdogbane beetle DK7A5441© Maria de Bruyn

summer tanager DK7A5572© Maria de Bruyn


The morning ended with a brief glimpse of a male summer tanager (Piranga rubra) in the distance, a bright note to end the outing.


volunteer IMG_3782© Maria de Bruyn resUnfortunately, recent events in Charleston have emphasized once again that the racism underlying the system that created Stagville still exists and still leads to violence against non-Caucasian people. This blog does not intend to imply that the Stagville plantation and its heritage contribute to making my world more beautiful – what IS beautiful is the way in which the Stagville Foundation volunteers work to inform and educate others about the history that affects our current society.

We must all continue to address the aberrations of hatred and discrimination based on race (and other culturally assigned characteristics such as gender and ethnicity) and work to educate ourselves, our fellow adults and young people on the need to simply treat everyone as we personally wish to be treated — we are all part of the human race and no other “races” (should) matter.


Blue jewels of the insect world

dogbane beetle IMG_4382©Maria de Bruyn resMy original interest in wildlife often centered around mammals; as a child, I was especially fascinated by the larger ones I saw at the zoo like lions, giraffes and bears. Eventually, in my later adult life, I became a birder and then Project Noah led me to begin paying much closer attention to the insect world. Nowadays, I find almost any type of wildlife of interest and look forward to learning more about diverse species.

Investigating insects has taught me that not only are some moths incredibly beautiful – so are some beetles and dragonflies, like the two brilliant blue species described here. I first encountered the dogbane beetle (Chrysochus auratus) on the plant for which it’s named, the white-flowering dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum). This plant is also known as rheumatism root since herbalists have used it to treat that disease, as well as conditions such as syphilis, fever, asthma and dysentery. It is also known as the hemp plant and has been used to make rope.

dogbane IMG_9002©Maria de Bruyn res     dogbane beetle IMG_4298©Maria de Bruyn res

dogbane beetle IMG_4351©Maria de Bruyn resThe iridescent beetle, which measures less than a half inch and lives 6-8 weeks in summer, feeds on the dogbane as well as milkweed plants. The insects’ wings are blue-green in color and have a gorgeous shimmery shine that looks like metallic copper; depending on the light, the highlights can also look golden or crimson in color.

They have widely spaced antennae with 11-12 segments and their legs look a bit as if they end in heart-shaped pads. Their left mandible is longer than the right one and it fits into a groove in the right (why, I don’t know!).

dogbane IMG_1372

dogbane beetle IMG_4046©Maria de Bruyn res

dogbane beetle IMG_2461©Maria de Bruyn res

They mate once a day during the summer and the male will stay on top of the female afterwards for some time to ensure that his sperm can fertilize eggs. After mating, the female lays her eggs on the underside of host plant leaves or on the ground. The larvae feed on roots and pupate underground. After 6-8 weeks, the adults die and we have to wait until next summer to see these little beauties.

dogbane beetle IMG_4006©Maria de Bruyn res  dogbane beetle IMG_4035©Maria de Bruyn res

A larger metallic blue insect is the ebony jewelwing damselfly (Calopteryx maculata), which can grow to about 2 inches. It is the black-winged males who exhibit the deep blue color on their bodies. The females are a smoky brown-gray in color and display white spots near the tips of their wings.

Ebony jewelwing IMG_7773©Maria de Bruyn res   Ebony jewelwing IMG_7870©Maria de Bruyn res

These damselflies have been studied extensively, so that we know they shelter among a wide variety of plants, including water plants (pickerel weed, duckweed, lilies, cattails) and land plants such as orange jewelweed, button bush, Joe pye weed and poison ivy. The adults frequently rest on low shrubs in sunlit patches.

Ebony jewelwing IMG_7808©Maria de Bruyn resEbony jewelwing IMG_7890©Maria de Bruyn res

These damselflies have a large variety of prey that include tiger mosquitoes, gnats, flies, beetles and even dragonflies. If they see you observing them, they will watch you in return, turning their heads to follow your movements

Ebony jewelwing IMG_7909©Maria de Bruyn resEbony jewelwing IMG_7919©Maria de Bruyn res.

Ebony jewelwing IMG_7831©Maria de Bruyn resEbony jewelwing IMG_7821©Maria de Bruyn res

Ebony jewelwing damselfly female IMG_1085© Maria de BruynThese damselflies are not strong fliers, often fluttering – even when resting on a leaf. Females will also rapidly open and close their wings if they are receptive to a courting male. If they reject the male, they will keep their wings open.

(If you click on the photo, you can see it enlarged.)





Ebony jewelwing IMG_7812©Maria de Bruyn res1The male will raise his abdomen as part of his courting display.Ebony jewelwing IMG_7738©Maria de Bruyn res

Females lay their eggs in the soft stems of water plants. And then, after about two weeks of flight, the adults pass away and we await new generations to admire. I’m looking forward to finding out if I discover any more blue jewels in the future!