Three very satisfying field trips at the Virginia Native Plant Society annual meeting, hosted by the Jefferson chapter (Charlottesville).
Saturday morning we looked mostly at mushrooms with Mary Jane Epps at Preddy Creek Trail Park. Notice the word “trail” in the property’s name: we often found ourselves making way for mountain bikes, as well as one rider mounted on a horse. We found Old Man of the Woods (Strobilomyces floccopus) mushrooms, an nondescript and unidentified slime mold, a tiny rove beetle on a Lactaria mushroom, some fine examples of Pinesap (Monotropa hypopithys) (at left), and Polyporus mori (at right).
In their walks, both Devin Floyd and Tom Dierauf emphasized the subtle shifts in species composition that can be attributed to aspect and drainage, as when an oak-hickory forest on one side of a slope gives way to an ash-tuliptree forest on the facing side. Devin (co-founder of the Blue Ridge Discovery Center) took us through the Secluded Farm tract of the Monticello property. Bonus champion tree for this walk: the North American champion Blackhaw Viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium), mistaken for many years for an apple tree. Counterintuitive fun fact: Slippery Elm (Ulmus rubra) leaves are not slippery, but rough as sandpaper.
Back to the north side of Albemarle (a two-syllable word in the local parlance) County for a visit to Ivy Creek Natural Area with Tom. Tom’s looks at the woods with a forester’s eyes, so we looked at a lot of trees in various stages of growth and decay, and we forgave his references to “Yellow Poplar.” He pointed out several examples of Red Hickory (a/k/a Oval Pignut Hickory) (Carya ovalis), a tree that he describes as very common in Virginia, and often overlooked. It’s certainly been overlooked in my prior field instruction, as we only had learned C. tomentosa, C. cordiformis, and the closely related Pignut Hickory (C. glabra). He gave me the idea for a little field experiment to perform in my weedy back yard: an oak cut back to the ground can resprout from its root underground, but a maple can’t. Tom showed us a single Paulownia tomentosa tree, in the process of being shaded out by taller trees, and spoke of the tree’s economic value rather than its potential invasiveness. He’s much more concerned about the depredations of Oriental Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) at Ivy Creek.
An atmospheric image of the bark of an older Black Birch (Betula lenta) beginning to peel. Tom took a small scraping from a younger tree: the inner bark smells intensely, wonderfully like Clark’s Teaberry gum.