A wildflower walk with surprises!

owl IMG_3036© Maria de Bruyn resThis past Saturday morning, we awoke to water streaming from the heavens in quite a heavy downpour. A local conservation group, Friends of Bolin Creek, had scheduled a wildflower walk to see some of our ephemeral spring blooms but the wet conditions were not inviting. A decision to postpone the walk to early afternoon was taken – and the weather-people had gotten it right – the sun began shining at mid-day and the temperature rose, creating lovely conditions for a walk after all. A large owl (later revealed to be granddaughter Kate of the group’s president) greeted the small group of intrepid walkers and we set off to see what we could find.

Southern arrowwood IMG_3039© Maria de Bruyn res

Our first flowers were the not-yet-open blooms of a Southern arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum). We passed numerous black and yellow millipedes on the paths and then found another millipede species (Narceus americanus) curled up next to a little brown jug (also known as arrowleaf heartleaf, Hextastylis arifolia var arifolia).

millipede IMG_3052© Maria de Bruynlittle brown jug IMG_3048© Maria de Bruyn

We came across other nice specimens of the plant, including one with four small flowers.

little brown jug IMG_3138© Maria de Bruynlittle brown jug IMG_3141© Maria de Bruyn

The painted buckeye trees (Aesculus sylvatica) were blooming profusely with their greenish-yellow flowers.

painted buckeye IMG_3070© Maria de Bruynpainted buckeye IMG_3492© Maria de Bruyn

 

Eastern spring beauty IMG_3089© Maria de Bruyn

 

Clusters of Eastern spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) were in their vicinity.

 

 

star chickweed IMG_3095© Maria de Bruyn

 

Some of the star chickweeds (Stellaria pubera) were near another white bloom, the rue anemones (Thalictrum thalictroides).

 

 

rue anemone IMG_3110© Maria de Bruyn rue anemone IMG_3109© Maria de Bruyn

Both the trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) and cranefly orchids (Tipularia discolor) had already bloomed, the trout lilies about 7-10 days ago and the orchids in the winter (when there are no leaves). One orchid had left behind its brown stalk as a witness to the flower that had seen the light.

trout lily IMG_3156© Maria de Bruyncranefly orchid IMG_3148© Maria de Bruyn

Tiny bluets (Houstonia pusilla) in clusters here and there provided some variation from the ubiquitous white blooms that we were seeing. The mayapples (Podophyllum peltatum) were just emerging and it will be a little while before we see their flowers emerge underneath the leafy umbrellas.

tiny bluet IMG_3118© Maria de Bruynmayapple IMG_3196© Maria de Bruyn

 

Bolin creek IMG_3165© Maria de BruynThe creek was running high and fast and we debated on crossing it at the first branch. Only two of us had wellingtons (and one lady found that her boots leaked); others were wearing running and walking shoes but everyone made it across by using stones, canes and walking sticks that some of our group had brought along. Our immediate reward was a view of a gorgeous pinxterbloom wild azalea (Rhododendron periclymenoides).

pinxterbloom azalea IMG_3174© Maria de Bruyn

foamflower IMG_3180© Maria de Bruyn

 

A sighting of a foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), followed by a cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) provided a bit more color, as did the littleleaf buttercup (Ranunculus abortivus), although its blooms were not fully expanded yet.

 

cutleaf toothwort IMG_3187© Maria de Bruynlittle leaf buttercup IMG_3092© Maria de Bruyn

Only the jigsaw puzzle-like leaves of the bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) were in evidence as that flower had stopped blooming already. A tufted titmouse singing overhead (Baeolophus bicolor) gave us a nice little concert as compensation.

bloodroot IMG_3198© Maria de Bruyn tufted titmouse IMG_3201© Maria de Bruyn

Eastern tiger swallowtail IMG_3428© Maria de Bruyn resAnd then we came across our three surprises of the walk. We had already seen several Eastern tiger swallowtail butterflies (Papilio glaucus) fluttering by in one’s and two’s and we remarked how welcome they were because of the paucity of butterflies we had had the past couple years. But then across another branch of the creek, we spotted some 12-20 butterflies congregating over some delicacy of unknown (to us) origin.

Eastern tiger swallowtail IMG_3259© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern tiger swallowtail IMG_3263© Maria de Bruyn res

The water was fairly deep and flowing fast, so we did not cross but we surmised that someone’s dog had left a pile of poo to provide a mud-puddling butterfly feast.

Eastern tiger swallowtail IMG_3443© Maria de Bruyn res Eastern tiger swallowtail IMG_3447© Maria de Bruyn res

Then we noticed on a rock just below the bank under the butterflies where two Northern watersnakes (Nerodia sipedon) were having a little rest.

northern watersnake IMG_3406© Maria de Bruyn

northern watersnake IMG_3408© Maria de BruynThey were a bit dull in color, which became quite obvious when compared to a third northern watersnake that we spotted on a rock closer to the creek – perhaps a younger individual who had decided that a sunbath was just the thing for a Saturday afternoon.

northern watersnake IMG_3241© Maria de Bruyn northern watersnake IMG_3349© Maria de Bruyn

While we were all enamored with the flowers we’d seen, the butterflies and snakes gave our walk a special feel.

bugleweed IMG_3501© Maria de Bruyn

 

On our return trip through the woods to reach our transportation, we came across an invasive plant, the bugleweed (Ajuga reptans). We had already seen plenty of Japanese wisteria, mahonia, privet and autumn olive and agreed that another volunteer day to weed out some invasives would be a good contribution to the preserve. But that is for the future – right now, we are happy to think back to our surprise spottings!

Spring has sprung – at last!

While we did have some nice days during the past winter months, we also had some very cold and icy periods in North Carolina. The way the temperatures were yo-yo-ing up and down (70s F and then 20s, 60s then 30s, etc.), the cold and nasty days seemed even worse than usual. I was going to post photos of birds in the snow but “life got in the way” and my time was preoccupied with other tasks. So I’ll jump right into spring with some floral beauties that are blooming.

Eastern spring beauty IMG_7866©Maria de BruynThis past Sunday, I went on a wildflower walk organized by the Friends of Bolin Creek and led by Dave Otto, who helped point out and identify the blossoms we were seeing. The Eastern spring beauties (Claytonia virginica) were exactly that – some almost completely white, others with lots of pink and a few with pink stripes on white backgrounds (below left). Some butterflies but especially different types of bees and flies collect nectar and pollen from these flowers and I have been told that the stripes help guide the insects to the pollen. I haven’t found confirmation of that theory, but it’s a nice idea.

 

Eastern spring beauty IMG_7876©Maria de Bruyn resRue-anemone IMG_7903©Maria de Bruyn resRue-anemone

Another small bloom that can be white or with shades of pink is the rue-anemone (Thalictrum thalictroides). Its leaves are more rounded, in contrast to the elongated leaves of the spring beauties.

Rue-anemone IMG_7899©Maria de Bruyn res

We saw a few that looked almost lavender in color, stunning little blossoms that sway to and fro as the breeze moves their stems, undoubtedly contributing to their nickname of windflower.

Star chickweed IMG_7858©Maria de Bruyn

A third white springtime flower is the star chickweed (Stellaria pubera), a cheerful springtime bloomer. While they appear to have 10 petals, the flower actually only has five that are almost split in two.

 

Crane-fly orchid IMG_4312©Maria de Bruyn res

The crane-fly orchid (Tipularia discolor) only has one or two leaves (with dark purple undersides) that emerge in the fall and begin to die off in the springtime. By the end of summer, when the leaves are gone, the flower emerges.

Large-flower heartleaf IMG_4308© Maria de Bruyn

Large flower heart-leaf IMG_4306©Maria de Bruyn res2

The large-flower heartleaf (Hexastylis shuttleworthii), also known as wild ginger, does produce a flower in the spring that resembles a small brown jug.

 

 

Even thViolet IMG_7868©Maria de Bruynresough they are fairly common, the violets (Viola sororia) are among Azure bluet IMG_7864©Maria de Bruynmy favorites. Their deep blue or purple blooms look wonderful against the deep green leaves. The azure bluets (Houstonia caerulia), on the other hand, have a very subtle bluish tinge.

 

Slender toothwort IMG_7881©Maria de Bruyn resThe slender toothwort is known by two scientific names (Cardamine angustata and Dentaria heterophylla) and depends on an appropriate habitat for survival. It can disappear as a result of land development or changes in land use.

 

 

Another favorite of mine in spring are the fiddleheads of the ChristmasChristmas fern IMG_4322©Maria de Bruyn ferns (Polystichum acrostichoides). These curled fern fronds are collected to be cooked and served as vegetables, although the fiddleheads of this particular fern are not recommended as being particularly edible. It is a useful fern, though, as the full-grown leaves lie flat on the ground and contribute to controlling erosion and conserving soil by keeping fallen leaves in place as they decompose.

 

 

The heath woHeath woodrush IMG_7871©Maria de Bruyn resodrush (Lazula multiflora) is not such a spectacularly beautiful flower from my perspective but perhaps it is because of the muted colors. The turkey tail mushrooms (Trametes versicolor) also often appear with browns, rust and blackish colors but I find that they always create a beautiful image as they grow on stumps with bands of different colors.

Turkey tail IMG_7909©Maria de Bruyn res

All the spring bloomers brought smiles as we walked. Next blog, I’ll describe some of the other spring harbingers and then feature some of the wildlife emerging into the sunlight these days. (And hopefully have more luck with layout; this remains challenging!)