On Friday, Herb and I walked to the Osprey nest site on Little Horseshoe Creek to see whether the early spring weather had encouraged the ospreys to return early. The ospreys apparently were unconvinced by our warmer weather and there was no sign of them.
Normally I would kayak along the creek to reach the site, but Herb had found some interesting plants up the hill that he was eager to show me. So we wandered along the hillside to find the stands of painted buckeye and of paw-paw. The plants were as unimpressed by the warmer weather as the ospreys had been, making identification more difficult. However Herb being sharp-eyed spotted the paw-paw, Asimina triloba, with their distinctive pointed leaf buds at the tips of the stalks. They would have been ideal prototypes for a spear design. No green was showing at any of the leaf buds yet, so we will have to make a return trip later. They will probably be blooming the second week of April.
The Buckeyes were a little easier to spot as some had started to leaf out already. But the majority was still closed, and likely to stay that way with the promise of damp cloudy weather for the five days.
Now I have become an enthusiast for the Hop hornbeam trees, Ostrya virginiana, since first seeing them in bloom at Rockcliff Farm seven years ago. The female blossoms form in little clusters like a hop blossom, or perhaps an abbreviated wisteria, resembling a little lantern. The male blossoms are elongated catkins. When the female flowers ripen into seeds, the lantern-like structure is continued, making this a charming tree. Generally the Hop hornbeams are small trees that are readily identifiable even in winter by their “cat-scratch” bark. So it was with delight during our search for buckeyes that I found we had entered a grove of Hop hornbeams. And then I encountered the tallest Hop hornbeam I had ever seen, and even that was dwarfed by a nearby tree that had the thickest trunk. These provide an extra incentive to revisit the site during bloom season.
Herb had told me of rock ledges he had seen that reminded him somewhat of Zeagle’s Rock. Near another creek, we came upon such a rock ledge. It was not as prominent as Zeagle’s Rock as it was buried in a hillside but if the soil was eroded away by water, it might become just such a landmark. The formation was a hard metasedimentary rock that clearly showed waves of deposited sediment, tinted by the white of quartzite, just like the more famous formation.
To my surprise there were few herbaceous perennials on the hillside. We only spotted three small colonies of cranefly orchids. No trout lilies were to be seen. But there were many small leaves of wild ginger scattered about, but no blossoms yet. My disappointment at the lack of herbaceous plants was compensated by the rock ledge and the Hop hornbeam trees.
Feb 23, 2012
The unusual warm weather this winter is encouraging the wildflowers to bloom early. The American Hazel (Corylus americana) seems to be about two weeks ahead of last year’s progress, blooming on February 6th this year, while last year they waited till February 20th.
Three of us went to Rockcliff Farm today to see whether the Trout lilies (Erythronium americanum) were in bloom as we had a report that they were in bloom at Hemlock Bluffs. This concerned us greatly as Trout lilies are usually in bloom for our Heritage Day event on the last Saturday in March. We felt re-assured as we viewed the wildflower areas, where the trout lilies were mere tiny leaves showing just above the soil. We can only conclude that the Trout lilies reported at Hemlock Bluffs are a different species. What was interesting was that we found few plants in the customary areas along the wildflower trail. This year there is a large colony near the intersection of the white and yellow trails, and another colony near Soapstone Point.