Saturday, July 1, 2017

An Unexpected Surprise: Monotropa hypopitys (Pinesap)

June 23rd. We’ve had almost 28 inches of rain this year; more than half our annual rainfall during a good year. The moisture has brought out some surprises, and this was one.
I was walking my usual trail. There’s an area where eastern fence lizards and anoles seem to gather in the spring. For some reason, I keep an eye on this short section of trail throughout the year, even after the lizards have disappeared for the season. 

So… On this morning as I walked along, it was a…

shape ‘that didn’t fit’ that caught my attention. I knew immediately what it was: Pinesap (Monotropa hypopitys). Although I knew what it was, it was hard to believe that it was flowering here.

A closer view from the trail.

This is one of those occasions when I lie in the leaf litter to get better photos of the plant.

It was blooming at the base of a relatively steep slope in a predominantly hardwood forest.

Close-up views of the flowers.

I went back few days later to see if the stems had darkened at all.

They hadn’t. 

These flowers were pale, which is typical of flowers early season flowers. Later in the year, the stalks would be red and the flowers a slightly deeper yellow with reddish tints on the flowers.

Monotropa hypopitys is distributed widely in North America. The plants are pale because they don’t produce chlorophyll; they obtain nutrients though mycorrhizal fungi with micorrhizal  association with tree roots.

I’ve walked this trail for several years and know many individual plants by name. I’ve never seen Pinesap in this park before, which I why I believe the rainfall we’ve had this year is responsible for its blooming this year by providing good conditions for growth of the mycorrhzal fungus that feeds the plant. This particular location gets morning sun, but is shaded by large oak trees with a healthy layer of leaf litter. It is similar to other areas where I’ve seen Pinesap later in the season. 

- Native and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia: Monotropa hypopitys (Pinesap) 
- Tom Volk’s ‘Fungus’ of the Month, October 2002. Monotropa uniflora (Ghost Plant, Indian Pipe) 
- USDA Plant Database: Monotropa hypopitys

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Close Encounter of the Armadillo Kind

June 21, 2017. I was summoned by an announcement that there were some armadillos on the front patio. When I got there, I could see two. One was snuffling in the leaf litter for food.

The other gave me the only opportunity for a head shot.

I’ve had the opportunity to watch a couple of armadillos in the wild on a few occasions. On one occasion, I watched on burrow under a layer of pine needles in search of food. When it emerged from one pile of pine needles, it immediately burrowing into another pile. 

As I watched these armadillos, I became aware of a third and then a forth. They were challenging to photograph. They were like little perpetual motion machines with their heads down as they searched for food.

I was afraid that I’d scare them off, so I circled around quietly and approached the other end of the patio. They were scampering back and forth across the patio, concentrating so intently on foraging that they seemed unaware of my presence and worked their way along the patio until…

a couple arrived at my feet. Even then they appeared unaware of my presence. Another one ran right up to my feet and seemed puzzled when it encountered an object in its path.

They worked there way around the corner, heads buried in the grass and leaf litter. Finally, when they ran out of promising foraging, they…

scampered off into the woods. It was an enchanting encounter. They seemed like such little free spirits. 

I was surprised that I didn’t scare them. Then I wondered about their eyesight and did some reading. Turns out that they don’t have the greatest eyesight and use hearing and smell to locate food. It certainly wasn’t clear that they were using their hearing and sense of smell to warn them of potential danger in running right up to my feet. I nudged one gently with my foot. It made the strangest noise, a combination of grunt and a strangling sound, as it scampered a few feet away and stopped, seemingly bewildered. Apparently they don’t have many natural predators.

Armadillos have been moving north in Georgia. The map in the reference below shows their range as being limited to the southern third of the state. They reached our county, Walton County, about two-thirds up the state in the last few years. We saw the first one – an adult = on our property at the north end of the county, last year. This is the first time we’ve seen youngsters.
Armadillos are unique in usually producing litters of four identical young of the same sex. 

While they are cute, armadillos may be infected with Mycobacterium leprae, the bacterium that causes leprosy. In fact, M. leprae can’t be grown in artificial media and was cultivated in the footpads of the nine-banded armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) that have a lower body temperature that is favored by the organism. The risk of contracting leprosy from armadillos is low because 95% of the population is not susceptible to leprosy. However, there is a small risk of contracting the disease from handling infected armadillos. A good rule-of-thumb, common to encounters with any wildlife, is to stay safe and enjoy them from a distance.

- University of Georgia Museum of Natural History: Nine-banded Armadillo (Dasypus novemcinctus) 
- Sharma R, Singh P, Loughry W, Lockhart J, Inman W, Duthie MS, et al. Zoonotic Leprosy in the Southeastern United States. Emerg Infect Dis. 2015;21(12):2127-2134.

Monday, June 5, 2017

Calycanthus floridus (Eastern Sweetshrub)

March 2nd - .  Eastern Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus) are among the earliest plants to flower.  At Fort Yargo State Park, shrubs grow in two areas on east-facing slopes above the reservoir. Shrubs are quite small, ranging from two-to-six feet tall. 

The first location is south of the Fishing Area, in an area that receives early morning sun. Shrubs in the southernmost location bloom first.

I spotted the first buds on March 2nd, and the first flowers on March 27th. Flowers don’t have the ‘traditional’ petals and sepals; the maroon structures are called tepals.

The early flowers in this area, that have some sun exposure, have a brownish tone.

Flowers in more shaded areas in this southern location are pink. The tepals on these flowers are flat and thin, like ribbons.

Shrubs also grow in a shaded area north of the Fishing Area.

The tepals on flowers in this location are more fleshy and a deeper maroon color.

Soon after the earliest plants had bloomed, I was on the lookout for signs of developing seed capsules I did spot a couple, but these didn’t develop any further. I haven’t found any more developing this year.

In 2015, however, several capsules developed to maturity.

The capsules continued to swell, and…

reach their final size by November, and then…

matured to a brown color. These may persist on shrubs through winter until spring, when they fall. 

- Native and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia: Calycanthus floridus 

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Panellus stipticus (Bitter Oyster)

March 8th. I hadn’t been checking the Lenzites betulina (Gilled Polypore) log each week, so I had missed the early stages of another fungus growing on the log: Panellus stipticus (Bitter Oyster) mushrooms. Typically, they may be found growing in overlapping clusters on dead wood.

These were quite beautiful, with a sculptured, cracked-scaly appearance characteristic of old specimens. The caps were semicircular, 1-to-1.5 inches wide, convex with flattened tops, and with margins slightly curved under.

A peak at their undersides to look at their gills.

Older specimens look quite different from young specimens. I found some young specimens last year, on a fallen tree limb.

The caps of young specimens were ‘boring’ compared with older ones. Caps were a bland tan-brown, and almost flat. These caps had a depressed zone near their attachment point. The cap surfaces were uneven. Descriptions say young caps may be hairy or woolly.

The undersides of the young specimens were more interesting than the caps. Gills were close and a pale yellowish brown. Descriptions say the gills may be forked. I didn’t find any forked gills, but I did fine crossveining, which is visible in the largest cap. 

Panellus stipticus mushrooms are known for another characteristic that makes up for their bland appearance; they luminesce in the dark. There are nice pictures of the bioluminescence, including a video, in the link to the Cornell Mushroom Blog. I haven’t seen their luminescence yet. I’ve only found the mushrooms on pieces of wood too large to move, so viewing their luminescence is still on my bucket list. 

Geographically, Panellus stipticus is distributed widely.

- Michael Kuo, Mushroom Expert: Panellus stipticus 
- Messiah College: Panellus stipticus 
- Cornell Mushroom Blog: Evening Glow 
- Discover Life: Panellus stipticus

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Lenzites betulina (Gilled Polypore)

March 2nd. Lenzites betulina (Gilled Polypore) is another one of the Turkey Tail (Trametes versicolor) look-a-like fungi that is often misidentified as a Turkey Tail… unless we look on their undersides.

I’ve been following this fungus at Fort Yargo State Park since last August. It’s pale now, although it still shows concentric zones of brown and white colors. When I first found it last August, it...

had concentric zones of pinks and oranges. This particular specimen is composed of two brackets that have grown into a rosette shape because they’re growing on the top of the log. When growing on the sides of logs, they form semicircular brackets. I picked one of the smaller brackets to examine its…

underside that shows the deep, white gills typical of L. betulina. In contrast, Turkey Tails would have white undersides with small pores. Thus, it’s easy to identify these species just by looking at their undersides.

Within a week, the pink shades had faded, leaving shades of orange and brown.

A couple of weeks later, the oranges had also faded; brown tones dominated.

The fading continued during the next month in dry weather, but…

the colors brightened a little after some rain. This enhanced color was temporary, and…

these specimens continued to fade, although they didn’t disintegrate. 

This is the first time that I’ve seen Lenzites betulina with pink tones. Usually I’ve found young specimens with the orange and brown tones that I found on the second visit.

- Michael Kuo, Mushroom Expert: Lenzites betulina: The Gilled Polypore 
- Messiah College: Lenzites betulina 
- Discover Life: Lenzites betulina 
- Atlas of Living Australia: Lenzites betulina

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Vaccinium elliottii (Elliott’s Blueberry)

March 2nd – 14th. Elliott’s Blueberry is the earliest of the Vaccinium species to bloom, and fruit in Fort Yargo State Park.

Plants flower before they leaf out. I photographed these flowers on March 2nd, and returned on March 14th to photograph the plant.

This is a particularly large bush, probably 6-to-7 feet tall and 10-to-12 feet in diameter. It’s growing in a shaded location at the water’s edge in an inlet on the reservoir. (These photographs were taken when the water level had been lowered for maintenance/construction activities.)

These blueberries ripen relatively quickly and are quite tasty. The birds, however, devour them as soon as they ripen. 

Elliott’s Blueberry is distributed in the Southeastern United States, from Virginia to Texas.

- Native and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia: Vaccinium elliottii 
- US Wildflowers: Vaccinium elliottii
*USDA Plant Database is currently experiencing some difficulty in displaying distribution maps. I’ve provided a link to the page in the hope that you may be able to see the maps. Alternatively, an embedded distribution map is available at the US Wildflowers site.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa (Round-lobed Hepatica)

March 10th.  The ‘last’ wildflower I was looking for at the Oconee Heritage Park (OHP) was the Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa). 

This species, H. nobilis, which has three-lobed leaves, has two varieties: H. nobilis var obtusa, the Round-lobed Hepatica, and H. nobilis var acuta, the Acute-lobed Hepatica. The Round-lobed Hepatica occurs in our area; the Acute-lobed Hepatica does not. As the scientific and common names imply, the leaves of the Round-lobed Hepatica have rounded lobes, and the leaves of the Acute-lobed Hepatica have pointed lobes.

Leaves of the Round-lobed Hepatica persist through winter. Thus, plants can be spotted, by their characteristic leaves, before they bloom in early spring. 

Until visiting OHP, I had found plants in moist environments near creeks or seeps. In OHP, however, I’ve found plants growing high on hillsides and ridges. In each case, they were growing and at the base of a tree on its north side, whether on a north- or south-facing slope. I assume that these spots are shaded during the heat of the day, and retain moisture that supports growth of the plants.

The characteristic round-lobed leaf.

Leaf and flower.

A flower. Flowers are usually a deep, intense purple when they first open, and gradually fade to white as they age.

I finally found the distribution for the Hepatica nobilis varieties. They are widely distributed in the eastern United States and Canada. 

- Native and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia: Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa 
- Native and Naturalized Plants of the Carolinas and Georgia: Hepatica nobilis var. acuta
- Wildflowers of the United States: Anemone americana - Round-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa) 
- Wildflowers of the United States: Anemone acutiloba - Sharp-lobed Hepatica (Hepatica nobilis var. acuta)