Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park

on the vergeA meadow in early fall means a goldenrod clinic for the experienced, but I shied away from genus Solidago and concentrated on the easier plants. Charles Smith ably led a VNPS field trip to Bristoe Station Battlefield Heritage Park, which features more than 100 acres of upland that are being restored to meadow. (The park is so new that it doesn’t register on Yahoo! Maps.) A field of fescue aside, the place looks pretty good (especially compared to another old field that I have visited recently).

The country around Bristoe (or Bristow) Station, on the railway line that connects Manassas to the Virginia hinterlands to the southwest, was the site of Civil War battles in 1862 and 1863. The line is still in heavy use (we heard freights come through about once an hour), and Bristow is just beyond the Broad Run terminus of VRE commuter service. Some of us complained about noise from the general aviation airport nearby. No two ways about it, this park is wedged in close to the built environment of exurbia and its housing subdivisions. According to a trailside map, the park also lies in the headwaters of the Broad Run watershed.

driftingCharles (who is part of Fairfax County’s Resource Management team), along with field trip participants who volunteer at Fairfax County’s Huntley Meadows Park, was a good source of peripheral resource management information and opinions. He calls the alien grass Arthraxon hispidus “the Microstegium of wet, open places.” Apparently the county champion Winged Sumac (Rhus copallinum) can be found in Huntley Meadows Park. Charles encouraged us to get a whiff of the maple syrup-scented Sweet Everlasting (Pseudognaphalium obtusifolium); pointed out the cunning fruits of Seedbox (Ludwigia alternifolia); and found a loosestrife with the hard-to-spell name Cuphea petiolata, otherwise known as Blue Waxweed. Charles does birds, too, and he reports that Grasshopper Sparrow (Ammodramus savannarum) is uncommonly cooperative in this patch—worth a return trip.

targetin fruitOthers in the group found several examples of a Ground Cherry in flower and fruit that we consensus ID’d as Smooth Ground Cherry. USDA gives the nomenclature as Physalis longifolia Nutt. var. subglabrata (Mack. & Bush) Cronquist. The ornamental plant Chinese Lantern is in the same genus.

getting the shotthe native oneNo fruits, but a native Red Mulberry (Morus rubra) was doing well (the common White Mulberries [M. alba] you see everywhere were imported by colonists in a failed attempt to establish a silk trade). I believe I heard Charles say that the leaves on rubra are more regular, a statement borne out by the image at right. David Sibley’s book also points out the lenticels in young bark, which you can also see in the photo.

A couple of Monarch butterflies made an apperarance; a skipper or two—the weather remained cloudy and cool. While I was stroking the greasy top of Purple-top (Tridens flavus), we spotted a lettuce and a spurge, each with their own milky sap.

mistyA lovely composite, no longer in the genus Eupatorium with the bonesets and Joe-Pye weeds, this is Blue Mistflower (Conoclinium coelestinum).