09 December, 2014


On last Sunday's forest ramble, I visited a large beech tree growing bank-side on Old Field Creek. There's a lot going on with that old tree. Slender beech saplings ring close round. The shady north side of the old tree's trunk is covered in green moss. On the sunnier side, a flat, spreading patch of lichen grows well above the arm's reach, the color of an oxidized copper statue. A well-healed scar marks the old beech's upstream side, a vestige of a lightning strike from the west.

I was admiring the old tree while standing in the winter-dried creek bed. This vantage point brought the tree's base into closer view. It appeared that seven or so nails had been driven into the base of the trunk--driven right up to their round heads. Moving in still closer, I saw movement and picked one up. Soft, light, spherical: apparently fashioned from finely shredded lichen, perhaps gathered from the same tree. Before I could get a better look, the wind blew the tiny puff out of my hand. I took a quick photo (below) of one still clinging to the trunk, not wanting to molest another one with handling.

A quick internet search back home suggested that these "beech-combers" were likely larval lacewings. Lacewings camouflage themselves with covering of debris, including fine hairs snipped from leaves and even parts of dead insects, some of which may be remnants of meals past. This time of year, with the leaves off the trees and most insects also taking their leave, lichens would be a dependable sartorial choice. Garbed in their fluffy sweaters, the little larvae were likely headed off to secure a cozy crevice for the winter--maybe even in base of that same beech. Wherever their refuge, there they will pupate and, if they survive the next few cold months, emerge as adults in spring.

Posted on 09 December, 2014 21:15 by scadwell scadwell | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment

16 February, 2013

Johnston Mill Nature Preserve- Old Field Trail

It's the first time in several weeks that I've made it back to JMNP. While my partner had her horseback riding lesson, I wandered out into the rain (later snow) to review what I've learned from NCBG classes.

Time of day and weather conditions didn't make for great picture taking, so much of what I noticed I didn't shoot: heartleaf, crane-fly orchid, striped wintergreen, and trout lily leaves with flowers closed tight.

Looking for other bits of green while on the wooded portion of the trail, I noticed running cedar growing amidst some Christmas fern (photo). That area of the woods appears to have sustained significant damage from Hurricane Fran (1996).

Dawdling as I do, I didn't make it far down the trail before having to turn back. I made it to the Shagbark hickory, which I was the first I'd noticed. There were many old, shaggy-barked white oaks visible from the trail before then. But the tree that really caught my eye was a sourwood with three large, interwined branches.

Speaking of sourwood, there's an area where red maples and sourwood are the predominant understory trees. When I was focused on the trunks of the sourwoods, I noticed that some stump sprouts were very smooth-trunked and easy to confuse (at least for me) with the red maples. I also noticed a red maple sapling with branching as crooked as a sourwood, and it was only when I looked at the bud arrangement that I figure out what it was. When I have more time, I want to spend some time further disambiguating this for myself!

Posted on 16 February, 2013 16:58 by scadwell scadwell | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

06 February, 2013

Smilax: more smile than ax

I had never paid much attention to greenbrier, but the abundant fruit clusters on this individual really caught my eye. It was late October, and the vine had clambered seven feet up into a sweetgum growing on the northwestern edge of the old field at Johnston Mill Nature Preserve. The visually-enticing fruit was bland to taste, more skin and seed than pulp. With later reading, I learned that these berries are important late winter and early spring fare for a variety of birds and mammals, presumably when tastier options are lacking. We have a greenbrier in our backyard scaling about 18 feet up an American elm. In late February, it still has a few brown-green leaves, but never has had any berries.

Greenbriers, like hollies, are dioecious, so ours may have fertile staminate but infertile pistillate flowers. When blooms come in April or May, I will keep eyes peeled, looking for identifying flowers.

According to a cross-check of the USDA’s and UNC Herbarium’s online distribution maps, there are seven other Smilax species in our area:
S. bona-nox, S. glauca, S. herbacea, S. hispida, S. pulverulenta, S. smallii, S. walterii.

Posted on 06 February, 2013 14:37 by scadwell scadwell | 1 observation | 0 comments | Leave a comment